Long article in Smithsonian magazine about civilian UAVs

"Drones are Ready for Takeoff" from the June issue of Smithsonian. Many of the usual suspects and a good bit of journalistic naivete, but worth reading. It focuses on Aerovel Corp, a small company in Washington State founded by some folks who helped develop the Scaneagle (picture above of their Flexrotor UAV). Exerpt:

 

Until now, drone aircraft have been confined largely to war zones—most recently in Libya—and they have become controversial for killing civilians along with insurgents. But critics and boosters alike say unmanned aircraft will increasingly be used for peacetime work. They disagree about the likely scale of the industry, but the Federal Aviation Administration is already considering new rules and training staffers to adjust to unmanned aircraft in U.S. airspace. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when,” says Peter Singer, an analyst with the Brookings Institution. “Is it going to be 2012 or 2014? The point is, it’s going to happen.”


 

 

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Comment by PeteD on June 23, 2011 at 7:37pm

I'm always confused when I read things like this:

somebody will need to work out some glitches: a few months after that drug bust at sea, Navy operators in Maryland experienced a “lost link”—like losing your wireless connection—with the same model drone, a
Northrop Grumman Fire Scout, as it was traveling at 70 miles an hour
straight toward Washington, D.C. The drone briefly entered restricted
air space (within 40 miles of the capital). Military officers
contemplated shooting down the 3,000-pound robotic helicopter over a
heavily populated metropolis. But before anyone could scramble the F-16
fighter jets, technicians on the ground regained control and turned the
drone back to base.

An automatic RTL in the event of a lost connection should be the easiest thing in the world. Predators and heli's like the Firescout might have been fancy FPV RC planes in their infancy, but (correct me if I'm wrong) that is not the case anymore.

somebody will need to work out some glitches: a few months after that drug bust at sea, Navy operators in Maryland experienced a “lost link”—like losing your wireless connection—with the same model drone, a
Northrop Grumman Fire Scout, as it was traveling at 70 miles an hour
straight toward Washington, D.C. The drone briefly entered restricted
air space (within 40 miles of the capital). Military officers
contemplated shooting down the 3,000-pound robotic helicopter over a
heavily populated metropolis. But before anyone could scramble the F-16
fighter jets, technicians on the ground regained control and turned the
drone back to base.
Comment by Seth on June 24, 2011 at 12:07am

The lost comm logic for some UAV systems can be rather arcane. I can't speak for the Fire Scout, but correct placement of a lost comm route by the operator is required in many systems. Placing such a route to deconflict with terrain, airspace, traffic, and line of sight can be a challenge. Air traffic control doesn't know how each system might respond to a comm or GPS failure, and they don't like surprises... The FAA is working with several manufacturers to test the integration of a standard Flight Management System similar to what you'd find in a 737 in a GCS. This would allow the UAV to follow airways, execute standard FAA FAR 91.185 lost comm procedures, and have the GCS automatically send a message to ATC if the aircraft lost link, and what path it would follow.

 

 

Comment by Jack Crossfire on June 24, 2011 at 1:29am
The main progress since the last Aerovel story is if the buzz doesn't work, go for the mane.
Comment by Paul Mather on June 24, 2011 at 5:44am

Is that Mr Rogers and his neighborhood?


Developer
Comment by Mark Colwell on June 24, 2011 at 6:20am
I want one of those shipping crates with fold out work UAS bench and cooling fans!

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