Doug Toppin's Blog

My thoughts on technology and other stuff

Comfort Level With a UAS (Drone) Flying in Your Area?

MITRE, in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Aviation sent a survey request to me which I just completed. The survey was on aspects of modern technology in aviation (weather, situational awareness), on Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) as well as my thoughts/comfort level on flying with UAS aircraft in my area This is a fascinating subject as it covers a number of issues including things such as what does the UAS do in a communications loss situation, software or hardware faults while in flight and the resulting predictable (or unpredictable) behavior or the aircraft, visibility (it is probably small-ish implying that it might be harder to visually acquire), it is potentially slower than most aircraft around it, allowed airspace usage and the flight rules that it operates under. This survey is more evidence that UAS are coming (and they are coming fast). The primary result will be increased usage of drone applications for cargo, law enforcement, utility (line inspections) and so on as well as the obvious military applications. My chief concern would be predictable behavior in the UAS so that one would not suddenly perform a course reversal (or intercept) when other aircraft are around it. ATC should always be in contact with the Ground Control System (GCS) involved and be able to determine what the aircraft will do next when it is out of contact and to be prepare to advise and re-route other aircraft in the vicinity. This area is bristling with opportunity. The main thing is managing and mitigating the risk. Recently, Northrop Grumman successfully demonstrated that the X-47B UCAV (combat drone) was able to perform a touch and go on an aircraft carrier with the next milestone being a full stop landing (tailhook). I suspect that Naval Aviation will experience a sea change (so to speak) upon successful completion of this. The implications of carrier based combat drones will change everything (also having implications on USAF). There are numerous goods/bads on this subject and I’m looking forward to seeing what comes.