3D Robotics

"How to become a police UAV pilot"


From PoliceOne.com: an article on how to prepare for the new career of Police UAV Pilot. Includes advice from Curtis Sprague, a retired SWAT Officer and former Federal Air Marshal who now serves as director of the aviation division for a company called Tactical Electronics. TE offer a vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) system known as Remote Aerial Platform/Tactical Reconnaissance (RAPTR; shown). Sample:

“First, inform thyself,” Sprague explained. “There is a lot of information to sift through on the subject of unmanned aircraft systems. Subjects range from types of UAS, how to fly, cost, FAA regulations, law enforcement applications, peripheral equipment, training... the list goes on.”

The best way to gain this information, Sprague said, is to get involved in hobby flying RC aircraft. Although this hobby “can be addictive and expensive,” it is the best way to quickly educate yourself in the UAV/UAS operations.

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  • @Doug:  You are correct, although, there is no need to wait or require any new development to remove the need for “piloting” from unmanned helicopters.  That is how some of the systems that are already on the market operate today.  With the need for “piloting” taken away, it is true, anyone can fly one of these.  Check out these two companies for example.  Adaptive Flight (http://adaptiveflight.com/) and Guided Systems Technologies (http://www.guidedsys.com/) (I know…I know…there are certainly other companies out there doing the same thing, but these are the two companies I have personal experience with). 

    Looking specifically at the AFI system.  This system operates in three different modes, one is purely waypoint flying, you setup the plan and it executes that plan (from takeoff all the way to landing).  Simple as that.  The second is using a gamepad controller with a laptop.  In this mode, the operator is moving the helicopter around the sky by changing its commanded position, heading, and altitude with the sticks on the gamepad.  The third is operating form a tablet.  That one is more of the point and click style flying you spoke of.  The operator can position the helicopter, monitor the onboard sensor, and modify the flight profile as required to complete the mission just by clicking on the screen.  All of these modes have one thing in common, the computer does ALL of the flying.  The operator does not have to have ANY manual flying experience to operate these helicopters.  All of the training that the operators receive on these systems follow in line with what Jared S stated.  We first teach them how to use the software to operate the vehicle, then we teach them how to maintain the helicopter, prepare it for flight (mechanical checks, charge batteries, ect.), plan the flight (where and where not to fly and how and how not to fly), and execute the flight safely.

    Jared also stated it perfectly “… there is more to a UAV than flying and that it takes someone with a certain mindset to operate it safely and reliably.”  You can make the vehicle so simple “anyone” can fly it, but it still cannot (and arguably should not) think for itself.  It is up to the operator to maintain the proper level of safety.  That includes properly preparing for the flight as well as flying in a safe manor and in safe locations.

    In my opinion, if you want to become a UAV operator you can follow one of two paths right now.  The first is finding a company that flies UAVs today and get trained to be an operator on their system.  The second is somewhat in line with the article and that is to get into the hobby side of things.  Not everyone is going to be able to fly helicopters manually, but you can always pick up a multirotor and an Ardupilot (or whatever other autopilot you choose) and build it from scratch.  In building and learning to fly that system, you will learn the basic information that can be applied to almost all unmanned systems.  This will help start you on the road to becoming a competent UAV operator.  There will certainly be more resources (school courses, online material, ect) available in the next few years for learning to fly UAVs, but for now, getting to know the hobby side will put you ahead of the curve.

    My 2 cents…=)   

  • Developer

    The Camcopter crash seems like it might be a good example of what happens if the pilot does not have RC experience, and the AP fails.

  • I agree with that as well.  Today's airliners can pretty much fly themselves, but you don't see any Joe Blow being allowed to use them.  The regulations still require trained pilots.

  • T3

    Ellison, I think we are saying the same thing. It sounded like Doug was saying that virtually anyone can (or will) be able to operate a UAV because the UAV will fly itself. I was pointing out that there is more to a UAV than flying and that it takes someone with a certain mindset to operate it safely and reliably.

  • Jared, perhaps in the pioneering days, running a UAV will be a one man, jack of all trades, deal.  However, I suspect that as time progresses, it's most  likely involve flight crews, and the pilots will become specialists.  I suspect the government regulations would drive us toward that state by favouring licensing for companies with qualified flight crews, and pilots.

  • T3

    @Doug: A uav operator typically acts as mechanic, flight planner, safety officer, pilot, etc. Only one of those can be automated (until robots become self aware). For example, a uav operator needs to look at the flight vehicle before it takes off to make sure there aren't parts missing. The uav operator needs to make sure batteries are properly charged and taken care of. The uav operator needs to have common sense about when and where not to fly. The uav operator needs to take responsibility. Some people do not have the aptitude for all of this. Being an RC pilot is a great way to demonstrate that you have the aptitude. Also, being an RC pilot means you know it can crash, you know it has limited power, you know it isn't magic, you are aware that YOU can be responsible for a crash so you take responsibility and care.

    In the same way that cars, airplanes, and computers are only so good on their own. The more skilled the operator/maintenance person is, the fewer problems will occur.

    Obviously, for very small inexpensive platforms, it may not make financial sense to use a skilled UAV operator. It is worth the risk. The larger the system, the more it pays to have skilled operators.

  • I think Arizona's Sheriff Joe Arpaio should take your suggestion to show how tough his deputies are. After all, he makes the prisoners wear pink underwear! 
    Wan't there a Susan Korman breast cancer movement recently, where they asked football players and other men to wear pink with the motto: "Tough enough to wear pink" ? 

  • Alex, I was talking about the drones, but come to think of it, I think we should force all cops to wear neon pink.  That would make them less likely to go on power trips.   Here in Canada, there's going to be a lot of cops in Toronto being charged for excessive force usage during the G20 summit in 2010.  I bet there wouldn't have been that problem, if they were all wearing the right coloured uniform.

  • @Ellison: It would be hard to take a cop seriously if he/she were wearing pastel (powder blue?) uniform, I think. The cop has to look like he/she means business. Having said that, however, maybe it would be easier to apprehend a perpetrator if he just fell to the ground, laughing because of the cop's uniform!

  • Doug, spoken(written) like a software developer. ;-)

    Personally, I would not trust an autopilot completely.  There's always got to be a competent pilot behind one, in case of any unforeseen issues.

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