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Comment Re:Yeah, that's sound about right (Score 2) 226

1) I've been flying helicopters 30 years and I think I know what will and will not take down a helicopter. Ask PHI and the families of the 9 people who were killed when a 2.4 pound bird went through the windshield. You think a 2.4 bird is going to cause less damage than a 2.5 pound drone? And... are you willing to limit drones to a maximum weight of 2.5 pounds or would you like to be able to fly larger ones in the airspace?

By the same token, I expect private and commercial aircraft to stay the *F%$* above 500 feet unless taking off or landing.

2) You might expect aircraft to stay above 500 feet, but you have no regulatory basis for that belief. The current situation is that we are allowed to operate below 500 feet when we take certain precautions, even when not taking off or landing. You might not like it, but until you get the FAA to change those regulations (which they are very unlikely to do) the fact is that even at 100 feet you may be sharing the airspace with us.

Buy a drone, fly it, *learn how it works*, then you can contribute seriously to this discussion.

3) So, I have to buy a drone before I can contribute to the discussion? Do you have to get a pilot license before you get to contribute to the discussion?

Your attitude is exactly what is going to polarize people against drone usage. I was talking with our FAA Tower chief last night and he mentioned that MedFlight has been complaining about so many drones around the hospitals and around scene calls that the Massachusetts State Police air wing now is on alert to chase down drone operators who are not following regulations. They've specifically asked us to keep an eye out for drones and report them to the police, much like has had to happen with laser pointer attacks.

If you'd like access to the airspace, I suggest you tone down your attitude and try cooperating with the people who are on the side of drone usage, otherwise you could easily see people throwing up roadblocks. Sure, drones are going to eventually happen. Would you rather have it happen in the next 2-3 years or would you like to polarize the aviation community and have it delay drones for 10 years? Right now I'm still on the side of sharing the airspace with drones if the safety concerns can be met, but after the last couple of discussions on Slashdot I'm starting to wonder whether it's worth it.

Comment Re:Yeah, that's sound about right (Score 1) 226

You know how much damage my 2 lb "drone" will do if it hits your thousand pound helicopter?

Yes, I do. And, even in the 4,000 pound helicopter I fly, a drone strike will absolutely take it out of the sky. The rotor wash will not move the drone out of the way. This is the second time I've heard this (maybe you're the same person as last time). Your assumption is faulty on a number of levels. A helicopter produces thrust by either moving a smallish amount of air very fast (in a hover) or a large amount of air relatively slowly (when we are in motion). If I flew a few feet over your head at 50 knots you would only feel a very gentle breeze, because in this case the helicopter is moving a huge volume of air down just a little bit. It's certainly not enough to move an object, whether that be a bird, drone, or such.

Secondly, there's a time issue: With a 30-40 foot rotor diameter, that means 15-20 feet of it is in front of the rotor mast. If the helicopter is moving at even 40 mph (i.e. slow flight) or even if the helicopter is stationary and the drone is moving at 40 mph that's 58 feet per second (40*5280/3600), so the time the object is under the rotor disk before it reaches the mast is 1/4 of a second. Even if there was a lot of downwash (which there isn't) it wouldn't move an object significantly in 1/4 of a second. It's actually a lot worse than that, because the windshield is 10 feet in front of the mast - the distance from rotor tip to windshield is actually closer to 10 feet - less in some ships like a MDHC-500 so, maybe 1/8th of a second. It doesn't matter, the basic idea is that even at slow speeds like 40 mph, that drone (or bird) is going to go through the windshield. It's ballistics not aerodynamics at that point. The reason most birds aren't struck is because at about 100 feet away they actively dive out of the way. If a bird doesn't do that, trust me it will strike the helicopter (speaking from experience).

As for ADS-B, it apparently costs several thousand for a system (including transponder), there's no battery-powered version (you really want it sucking power from the flight battery?), and it's going to weigh more than the drone.

This is just totally made up and wrong. First of all there are battery powered ADS-B-IN systems (I use a Stratus 2 with about 8 hours of battery life while doing ADS-B plus AHRS plus providing a WiFi hotspot plus built in GPS) - an ADS-B system running for the length of a typical drone flight would use very little power. The transmitter required if you were going to implement ADS-B-OUT wouldn't need to have the reach of a full blown ADS-B system because you'd only be interested in talking to nearby aircraft, but even a full blown ADS-B OUT system would use a small amount of power because of the intermittent nature of the transmission. Lots (most?) drones implement a video downlink transmission - this uses tremendously more power than an ADS-B system would need (video encoding, and a constant bitstream requires a fair amount of battery). The only reason there aren't battery powered ADS-B-OUT systems is the FAA won't currently allow it, but there is no doubt in my mind that the power requirements of ADS-B for a 1/2 hour flight are extremely modest.

In my opinion, and given that the drone already has a functioning GPS system, adding a battery powered ADS-B IN/OUT system to a drone should be able to be done for well under $100.00. I think FAA will seriously consider an ADS-B Lite for usage by drones, ultralights, etc. in order to further reduce the cost (and frankly, to not flood the current ADS-B frequencies with drone data). There is no reason we can't have drones participate in an affordable and low overhead fashion.

Comment Re:Rules v. consequences (Score 1) 226

I really disagree with this. We were doing a lot of construction and real estate photography work which went 100% away to drones and no pilot I know ever complained or tried to stop it. It would be silly to try - the economic benefit is impossible to argue with. One person I knew who's entire business was aerial photography saw the business changing and just decided it was time to get out of that business, rather than try to be competitive with a low cost solution like a drone. She certainly never tried to obstruct the new way of doing that work.

The pilots I know just want to share the airspace without getting killed by someone with a drone who doesn't know what they're doing. It'll take some time to figure out a good way to coexist, and all pilots want is to avoid loss of life while we're figuring it out.

Comment Re:Rules v. consequences (Score 1) 226

For example, when it comes to drone flights, why should drone flights be encumbered by general aviation at all? Why are low-flying executive joy rides more valuable than energy efficient, low cost commercial drones?

Because General Aviation is a lot more than low-flying executives and it's been around and well regulated since the 1930s. Drones and GA can coexist. Why do you argue as if it's an either or situation?

Comment Re:Yeah, that's sound about right (Score 1) 226

Helicopter pilot here. I agree with you about geese vs drones. Not sure whether you meant that drones should require a full pilot license? I think maybe just a license that would take about 8 hours of study in order to pass the test. Make sure people understand the regs/airspace, and give the FAA something to take away if they abuse the privilege.

I also was posting recently in a Slashdot discussion on drones suggesting that requiring ADS-B is not such a big hardship, especially if they develop an ADS-B lite that is low power/low range. Also, I think it's reasonable for the drone to automatically land if an aircraft is close. I was a little surprised by the responses I got: basically, there should be no requirements on drones, even a small expense is too draconian. I think it's going to be an uphill battle with some people.

I also think that FAA should exempt smallish drones (say, the size/weight of a sparrow) if operated below 400 feet. Small enough that a collision with an aircraft is unlikely to cause a problem, low enough that it won't bother anyone but us helicopter pilots. Probably need to include some maximum speeds that the drone will move at (i.e. slow enough that it won't be slamming into a helicopter).

Agree with you we should fix this before someone gets hurt.

Comment Re:Why should the FAA allow drones without COAs? (Score 1) 184

Sure, as soon as we institute a mandatory death penalty for any general aviation pilot who causes any fatalities.

Well, that was exactly the point I was trying to make - that's exactly what we have now - when there is a collision in flight the pilot most likely is going to die. Right now there is a disparity in the taking of risks, in that the pilot and his passengers are in mortal danger, and in general the drone operator is taking no risk to his person at all. This, and the low cost of entry to having a drone, mean it's possible (likely?) for people to operate drones in a reckless manner endangering airborne people. I think that whatever solution we arrive at needs to take into account that the average person who buys a drone probably can't be relied upon to understand and respect the risk they can be placing upon the other users of the airspace.

Comment Re:Why should the FAA allow drones without COAs? (Score 1) 184

You make some good points, and I don't really disagree (except that the pilots will scream bloody murder) but I'd like to make a few comments:

1) I don't think General Aviation will be untouched, and in fact if what I hope happens (drones incorporated into the ADS-B system) there will probably be an expense to all of General Aviation to modify our ADS-B equipment. Additionally, we're already affected in that part of preflight planning for a mission now includes identifying NOTAM'd drone operation areas and marking them on the chart so that we're able to avoid those operations. As the numbers of drones increases, that workload will increase (I pointed out in another posting that currently there are 6 areas around my local airport). I would be surprised if in 10 years the airspace I work in (eastern Massachusetts) doesn't have at least 10,000 drones in the air when I go flying.

2) I agree that lots of stuff that was done in manned aircraft will be done better by drone. We've already seen this - construction progress photography work and real estate photography are pretty much 100% gone because it's now being done by drones. And you're right that some people will lose their jobs (or already have lost their jobs) and yet the pilot groups are not screaming bloody murder. We realize that there are jobs that are done better with a drone and it's pointless to argue against that.

3) What I don't want to see is tasks that can not be done by drones no longer be able to be done by aircraft (at all) because it would be too dangerous with all the drones around. For instance, if medical evacuation flights can't land at the site of an automobile crash because the area is swarmed by drones taking pictures, that would be a problem. Or the recent example of fire fighting being shut down because of the presence of drones in the area.

4) As an engineer I tend to think of technical solutions, and this one seems pretty easy to solve. We already mix it up with small drone like animals (birds). If you make a drone autonomously act like a bird (gets out of the way when an aircraft approaches) you'll be 50% of the way there. If you then allow the pilots to know of the presence of the drone through a cockpit system like ADS-B displays, I think you'd be 100% there. If the equipment is required on most/all drones the cost should be less than $100 (maybe closer to $25) and would give the added benefit of allowing drones to operate higher than 4-500 feet.

Comment Re:Why should the FAA allow drones without COAs? (Score 1) 184

I didn't mention the windshield because I truly don't think a quadcopter would remain airborne long enough to hit it (my assertion that the main rotor would move it), unless the pilot is intentionally trying to run through it. If that's the case, no amount of regulation is going to help.

No, it doesn't work that way. The downwash of the rotor at speed is not going to move something like a drone out of the way. It won't move a small bird out of the way, nor even a child's balloon. You're probably thinking of a hovering helicopter, not a helicopter that is in flight. In the case of a helicopter in flight if the object is at the altitude of the windshield, it's pretty much going to go through the windshield and take out the crew. Any bird larger than maybe a sparrow will go through the windshield. Certainly a DJI will...

In the case of the DJI F550 Hexacopter video, it's not a question of stability. It's not a question of whether it fell or not. It's a question of an object hanging in the air where an aircraft could have hit it. He says in the comments:

My arguments for performing a high altitude flight at all were as follows:
- No airplanes in this area ever fly as low as I did in the video
- There is generally not much air traffic in this area at all
- I checked with flightradar24.com before flying
- Military, police, and emergency flights are virtually non-existant in this area
- The multirotor was supposed to go straight up and straight down again

The problem with this is:

1) 99% of helicopter flying is done below 3,000 feet (so, he was definitely in the airspace we fly in).
2) "generally not much traffic" is not the same as "I know there was no traffic in the area"
3) flightradar24 (which is a relay of approach radar) only shows tagged aircraft - it's not going to show VFR/1200 traffic, and it's not going to show traffic at low altitude (where he was), i.e. it will almost never show my aircraft as most of my work is flying as untagged and often I'm below radar coverage anyway.
4) "Military, police, and emergency flights are virtually nonexistent"... But what about commercial operators operating off airway? How would he know?
5) "The multi rotor was supposed to go straight up and straight down again"... how would that prevent me from hitting it? If it happens to be there as I fly through the airspace, whether it's going up or down is immaterial. Just being there at the wrong altitude at the wrong time is a potentially fatal problem.

This also illustrates the problem with both him and you. He took these steps (like looking at flightradar24) not understanding that it wasn't showing the traffic that he was actually endangering. You think you know what you're doing, and you think you are taking precautionary steps, but in fact you don't know what you are doing and you're endangering people's lives .This is the best argument of all for the FAA to require an operator license in order to fly a drone. At least then there can be a course of training about how to avoid being a danger to air traffic, rather than people thinking they are being safe when they are not, just like your assumption that main rotor downwash or tail rotor downwash will help to avoid a collision which is totally wrong.

Apologies for the brashness, but is this lined with tinfoil, as well? Do you actually see them around Boston (directly see, not 'think you see'), or are you just playing into the media fear? You yourself even noted that the chance is low.

No, we don't see them and that's the problem!. We know they are out there: at this moment there are 6 NOTAMs for drones in the local area of my home airport. These are just the ones that people have bothered to notify the FAA about. There is no doubt in my mind that there are many many others. I can't see them. How do I avoid hitting them?

Your last few sentences are pretty much the only reasonable thing you've said. I am wholeheartedly with you on the need for better QA, both for public safety, and to protect the investment. Speaking about DJI products specifically, the motors are actually pretty solid, but the rest of it is very cheaply produced. I'd love to see higher standards. On the other hand, the fact that these are relatively flimsy is precisely why I think the blind fear and potential for serious damage is overstated.

It seems you are not understanding the problem at all. My point about the FAA requiring the manufacturer of my aircraft to achieve something like a billion to 1 chance against a mechanical failure that will result in a fatal accident means: I'm asking how you're going to guarantee me a billion to 1 chance against a fatal drone strike on my aircraft. I don't understand whether you are thinking this is extremely unlikely to occur, or whether you don't think a collision is going to cause a fatal crash. Drones are going to be very very popular, both with hobbyists and commercially. There will be a ton of them added to the airspace in the next decade. I think collisions are inevitable if we don't provide some sort of collision avoidance. If you don't think a small drone will take out a helicopter you only have to look at the fatal crashes due to bird strikes, like the 8 people who died in PHI's S76 that hit a 2.4 pound bird.

We can't mandate ADS-B for birds, but we certainly can for drones.

Comment Re:Why should the FAA allow drones without COAs? (Score 1) 184

It's not a question of the people in the aircraft being more important than the drone operator. It's that their lives are at risk and his is not. I don't know where you got this idea that I don't think the people flying quads are real people. What I am saying is that you don't seem to see the difference in that you're asking aircrews and their passengers to accept additional risk to their lives and you aren't accepting the same risk. Yes, I think we need to integrate drones into the airspace. No, I don't think we're going to be willing to just trust you to yield to us. I can think of several ways this can work out:

1. Addition of ADS-B or similar system so that we can identify the presence of drones with other than visual means
2. Require drones to be visually easier to identify, i.e. make a requirement that drones can not be smaller than 30 feet in size nor operate > 30 mph.
3. Reverse ADS-B where all drones listen to ADS-B and land automatically when a manned aircraft is within 1 mile and 2,000 feet.
4. Maximum weight of 10 ounces for drones operated above 50 feet or within 1/2 mile of an aircraft landing area.
5. Spend billions of dollars to upgrade the current fleet of aircraft to make them drone-strike-proof.
6. Require NOTAM'd airspace before a drone flight. Charge $100 fee for each hour of NOTAM'd airspace to offset the cost of automated NOTAM notification for aircrews.
7. Mandatory death penalty for drone operators who cause a fatal crash due to the presence of their drone in the airspace

Any one of these solutions would probably work.

I know #7 sounds crazy and of course I'm not really serious, but it's exactly what you're asking us to do: risk our lives so that you can share the airspace with us. Why should we have to risk our lives to accommodate you if you're not willing to take on the same risk? How are you going to guarantee me that all the drone operators are serious careful operators like yourself, and that I won't have to deal with drunk/stupid/careless people putting drones in my path without regard to my safety?

The airspace below 18,000 feet is currently see and avoid airspace. Anytime an aircraft is operated in VFR conditions in that airspace, the pilots of all aircraft are required to see and avoid each other. It is not sufficient for one type of aircraft to see and avoid the other, it has to be possible for everybody to see and avoid everybody else. There are aircraft that are very difficult to see and avoid, for instance some ultralight aircraft (I'm thinking ultralight gyrocopters here). These aircraft are not much bigger than a person, and are extremely difficult to visually acquire. Frankly the reason this works is that there aren't very many of them, they don't fly that often, and typically only in good weather, and we tend to know where they fly from. Now we're talking about adding many vehicles to the airspace that are an order of magnitude smaller (and thus probably several orders of magnitude harder to see) and operating them all hours of the day. Basically, it will not be possible to see and avoid the average small drone like a DJI. I submit you need to incorporate a different method of collision avoidance because see and avoid will not work with drones.

Comment Re:Why should the FAA allow drones without COAs? (Score 1) 184

Tail rotor pulls air in one side and pushes it out the other, so if the drone is on the wrong side it would actually get sucked into the tail rotor. Tail rotors are actually very delicate and losing even one blade can easily cause the aircraft to be uncontrollable (if, for instance, the gearbox comes off) which would almost certainly result in a fatal accident.

Main rotors are indeed much more substantial, however a main rotor strike on anything but the smallest of ultra-mini drone would most likely require replacement of the blade (generally figure $30,000-$50,000 per blade).

You also didn't mention the windshield, but you may not be aware that we don't have a windshield like a car in a helicopter. It's just a piece of cheap flimsy plastic. There's no way it will prevent a drone from coming through the windshield and striking the crew. I've started to consider wearing a helmet as protection against a drone coming through the windshield, but a helmet visor will only provide protection against the smallest of drones. If a larger drone with say a DSLR camera on board was to come through our windshield at even 50 mph (i.e. pretty darn slow flight for the helicopter) there's no doubt in my mind the pilot would be incapacitated (and therefore killed in the subsequent crash).

We don't think the strike was likely to be a bird because of a few things: the shape of the dent, the fact that bird strikes usually leave some feathers or blood behind, and the fact that the helicopter was struck sideways (i.e. the bird would have had to fly itself into the side of the helicopter, not something birds usually do). Bird strikes are usually when the helicopter flies into the bird, i.e. the strike is typically on a front facing surface of the helicopter.

As for the 3000 foot statement you make - what about that youtube with the guy flying the drone above the clouds? That was thousands of feet above the ground. I don't remember whether it was 5,000 or 10,000 but it was high.

Why would ADS-B be overkill? Drones already have up/downlink radios. They already have GPS. What more do you need for ADS-B? If it was a low power version it could probably be produced in volume for well under $100.00. A passive system (that basically would act like a bird, i.e. dive for the ground if an aircraft got too close) could probably be built for under $25.00.

The danger isn't being overstated. It might be true that right now, at this moment, there isn't a huge chance of a drone strike, but it's going to increase tremendously in the very near future. We definitely need to come up with workable solutions to sharing the airspace. To put it in perspective, the FAA requires the manufacturer of the helicopters I fly to make it extremely unlikely that a part of the helicopter will fail in a way that will cause a fatal crash. Generally by that they mean odds on the order of 1 in a billion. We need the same sorts of guarantees when we share the airspace between drones and manned aircraft. It needs to be extremely unlikely that drones will be causing fatal crashes.

Comment Re:You don't own the sky (Score 1) 184

I think the big disconnect here is between those of us who believe we are entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of our property and those who feel they are entitled to fly there drones wherever and whenever they choose. Both believe that any intervention will be an encroachment on their rights. As much as hate government regulation, this is one of those cases where it is necessary.

What about people who live near an airport? Are they entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of their property? Because I've visited people who live near a major US airport and the noise of a landing airplane every 30 seconds is awful. I'm not saying that's right, I'm just asking whether some people are entitled to peace and quiet and others are not?

Hopefully a combination of laws and common sense will apply to drones: basically "thou shall not annoy your neighbors with great regularity". An occasional drone flight over my yard is not going to get me upset... Having a drone hovering constantly over my yard making a racket will, as will one that is so low over my backyard that I worry about getting hit, or having it knock me off my ladder!...

Comment Re:Why should the FAA allow drones without COAs? (Score 1) 184

I don't understand what you want. Unlicensed use of drones above 400 ft and close to airports is already prohibited. What benefit is there to imposing additional restrictions?

Furthermore, we may need to rethink priorities. Threats from drones to large commercial airliners and airports are small and fairly easy to deal with. So, the conflict mainly arises between drones and small private aircraft, and between those two, I think it's clear that drones are far more valuable to society than small private planes. So, instead of imposing draconian restrictions on drones, maybe we should strongly restrict the use of small private planes.

It's not just private planes. Or even planes. What about crop dusters? What about helicopters? Are we going to ground all of them because drones present an almost unavoidable hazard? (they're really too small to see until the collision is not preventable). There is lots of commercial work that takes place in commercial aircraft at very low altitude. As a helicopter pilot, our main hazards at low altitudes are wires and birds. The birds tend to get out of our way, and I would suggest that we need automation in the drones to do the same thing - we can share the airspace with them but there needs to be aids to help us see/avoid them, and they need to be able to autonomously get out of the way when a human occupied aircraft gets too near.

Comment Re:Why should the FAA allow drones without COAs? (Score 1) 184

Right, but we can't have drones flying over 500' because that's where the aircraft are flying. We don't let aircraft fly at less than 500' because of the danger of crashing into something, not because of privacy considerations. Let the drones have the area between 250' and 500'. If there are privacy considerations, they apply to planes, only even moreso because planes are bigger and you can mount more advanced optics on them.

As I mentioned a few postings above, there are aircraft (helicopters) that work below 500'. And even airplanes are allowed to operate below 500' when landing or taking off (for instance, from your backyard). Merely setting an altitude limit for drones won't prevent all collisions. I think we need a more complete solution (and as an engineer I tend to think of technology based ones like including drones in the ADS-B system).

Comment Re:Why should the FAA allow drones without COAs? (Score 1) 184

You've quoted the minimum safe altitudes regulation without any of the exceptions. Airplanes can fly lower than 500/1000 if they are taking off or landing. For instance, if you have a field in your backyard and you want to land your airplane there and then take off again, you can legally fly below those altitudes. I'm a helicopter pilot and we work jobs below 500/1000 all the time. There are requirements on us when working below those altitudes - we basically need to insure that we don't present a hazard to persons or property on the ground while doing such operations, even if we have an engine failure.

The problem for us with the drones is that they are small enough to be difficult to see, yet large enough to cause a fatal accident if we take a drone strike through the windshield or into the tail rotor, and they will be operating at the same altitudes we already have to work in for some jobs. In fact, we believe we may have already had a drone strike on one of our aircraft - the crew heard a bang and set down immediately. We found a dent in the helicopter that was very unlikely to be a bird strike... so what else flies into the side of the helicopter at 1000 feet? It may have been a drone. Luckily nobody was hurt, and the helicopter was repairable.

The national airspace is in the process of switching over from transponder equipped aircraft (radar) to ADS-B (radio+gps). Talking with one of the guys involved in the definitions of ADS-B it seems like they may have spec'd the system in a way to make it more difficult than it should be to require drones to be ADS-B equipped, but I'm pretty convinced that's the way we should go. That way drones will show up on my cockpit display and I'll have a better chance of avoiding them. Plus, I think there should basically be a requirement on the drone that "if an aircraft gets within (a certain small distance) the drone will autonomously land" so that the drone operator has a chance to land, but if they don't the drone lands by itself before it can be a collision hazard (again, think of landing the airplane in your backyard while your neighbor is flying his drone). Drones already have GPS; requiring them to have a low power implementation of ADS-B could be a relatively inexpensive solution.

In Nature there are neither rewards nor punishments, there are consequences. -- R.G. Ingersoll