Recently a local radio station asked me to comment on an interview relating to the current status of "drones".

I am enclosing the letter I sent to them declining phone interview for the reasons specified, but putting my "opinions" in writing instead for them to use as the wish.

I appreciate your interest, unfortunately, my hearing is quite compromised from racing boats and open exhaust race cars, so phone interviews don't really work to well for me.
However, I am happy to share some of my insights regarding this by Email if you don't mind.
I've been involved with Multicopters and autonomous and semi-autonomous flying for the past 4 years and was involved with RC flying since the 1950's on and off.
I'm a retired electronics engineer and was the primary contributor and lead editor of the DIYDrones instruction wiki on Multicopters, Fixed Wing and "Rovers" until recently.
I have strong opinions on the topics you mention, but I am not one sided about them.
In my opinion there are some genuine issues and several that are misrepresented and misunderstood by the general public.
The potential actual problems are: Safety of both people and property, intentional misuse, annoyance and invasion of privacy.
Safety is the most significant real issue and as these things are becoming commonplace and are being used by less and less well informed and well trained people there are going to be increasingly more "accidents".
Even the small and very popular, DJI Phantom quadcopter is definitely something you do not want falling on your head or being flown into you by some neophyte who thinks it's automatic capabilities should keep him out of trouble.
In the RC flying community accidents are taken with a grain of salt because generally all the people involved are already in the RC community itself.
However, increasingly the small multicopters are being used more and more by people with no training and no involvement in the RC community and are particularly being used to photograph or video people in public settings. (What can possibly go wrong?).
These are actually great little photo and video platforms, but to use them without an extensive piloting capability and not mindful of the potential problems and dangers is a serious liability.
That said, to this point there have been incredibly few noticeable and a tiny number of serious accidents with them world wide to this point in time.
Intentional misuse is another as yet virtually unrealized, but inevitable problem with "drones".
We already know what you can do with drones as demonstrated by our own military and various subsets of that can be easily adapted to the hobbyist market as well.
Current examples have been limited to abortive attempts to delivering contraband goods into prisons and moving drugs across the Mexico border, from all accounts entirely unsuccessfully, but undoubtedly that will change.
And criminals who already have free access to firearms and with an existing willingness to shoot anyone who gets in their way, obviously drones can be used for nefarious purposes.
Of course terrorists will eventually try to use these as well; for the most part we should be thankful they are generally as anti-technology as they are. (Which is why our US Military drones are sitting 5 miles away blasting away at their strongholds with Hellfire missiles and not vicea-versa.)
On a lesser note, annoyance and invasion of privacy are real public perception problems.
These can definitely introduce a discordant note buzzing overhead in a public park and given the general public heightened negative perception of "drones" this doesn't help.
As for invasion of privacy, this is much hyped but little in evidence at this time, sure there is potential to use these for some kinds of surveillance, but since the advent of cameras in cell phones and the proliferation of public surveillance cameras, there is really no longer any reasonable expectation for not being recorded.
Clearly the capability to invade property boundaries and take pictures through your window is possible, but it is difficult to implement and is subject to exactly the same laws that any trespasser would face right now.
I think that covers the bulk of problems.
However, the reality is that the potential uses of Drones / "UAV" - Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) have so much benefit that in the long run the problems simply have to be dealt with in a reasonable and balanced way.
Hobbyist stuff (including the new breed (non RC enthusiast) aerial photographer) needs to be regulated in a simple and clear fashion to prohibit flying unsafely and to include clear consequences for doing so.
And commercial stuff needs to be regulated more thoroughly with greater accountability of pilots, equipment and flight procedures.
Ostensibly this is what the FAA is supposed to be doing right now.
Unfortunately, in my opinion, they couldn't be doing a worse job of it if they tried.
Drone, "UAV" use is exploding World Wide right now both in hobby and in commercial use and virtually every other non-autocratic country is ahead of ours, almost entirely because of the FAA dragging it's feet and worse coming up with grossly unrealistic requirements and restrictions.
In fairness to the FAA, Drones are a can of worms with no upside for them, if they allow anything and something goes wrong they get all fingers pointing at them.
And that is completely unrealistic, even in manned airplanes, things go wrong, there are accidents and people die.
Drones are no different $%#@ Happens!
So of course the FAA is between a rock and a hard place, damned if they do and damned if they don't.
Sadly what this has meant is that first, they did nothing at all, then  they stalled and then finally they implemented such onerous and difficult requirements that only existing military contractors and major movie studios could afford to meet them. 
And actual commercial activity was effectively limited to less than 1% of what would actually be importantly useful.
As an example, for any commercial use an actual private pilots license is required and this may be upped to a commercial pilots license.
The fact is that while the ground school training could be of some use the requirement for the horribly expensive flight time and training (over $50,000 for private and many times that for commercial) is virtually useless for this application and in fact has been shown to even be counter productive because of the differences in flying a remote vehicle versus from the cockpit.
This is simply the FAA using an existing and inappropriate training regimen rather than developing an appropriate one.
And frankly a Real Estate Agent flying a phantom around a potential house for sale can learn everything he/she needs to know to safely get their photos/videos) in an afternoon with an experienced multicopter pilot.
I haven't really covered the potential uses of civilian drones, but they are huge in their potential impact.
Agriculture is the single biggest one, inexpensive fixed wing (airplane) and multicopter drones can deliver continuous timely updates on crop condition, adequacy of water and fertilization, pest infestation on a minute scale so remedies can be applied just where they are needed.
In many cases, production could be hugely increased, even doubled and expenses slashed.
This is about trillions of dollars and greatly increased crop production world wide.
Drones are also massively useful in finding and monitoring all other resource oriented operations as well, mining, oil, water, quarrying.
They are already being used on anti poaching and wildlife management operations in Africa.
They are also being put into use for Shark Watch and search and rescue operations in Australia.
Several organizations have tried to put them to use for fire spotting, disaster relief and search and rescue in the US, but have been effectively thwarted by government and bureaucratic agencies. 
News agencies are also finding them more and more desirable for gathering significant footage of unfolding events, but not surprisingly, government agencies and police and fire officials have sought to block access to drone over flight (because they don't really want to be scrutinized themselves with irrefutable video evidence). 
Ferguson recently being an example where exactly that was put into place with specific mention of no flight zones relating exactly to the areas of rioting and where police statements to the FAA were direct that they didn't want pictures being taken by the media of what they were doing.
The bottom line is drones are coming, specifically, quadcopters are coming, toy, hobbyist and photo / video (non-commercial) quadcopters are already multiplying like rabbits and are already beyond the reach of any simple ban or Draconian control. 
You can buy them on Amazon and EBay and at Walmart and Toys R Us.
We need to learn how to live with them.
They can be made safer by making them smaller and building them out of foam and other absorbent components as well as by making it very clear that they have to be flown responsibly or suffer the consequences.
The original foam bodied French Parrot and the new Parrot BeBop are excellent examples of intrinsically safe yet useful small quadcopters.
And the possibility to go smaller and safer still is going to be the main trend for non-commercial quadcopters (and other drones as well) from now on.
I am hoping the FAA eventually figures this out and establishes a specific size and weight below which there will be simple rules even for limited commercial use.
So far they have given no indication that this is something they are even vaguely interested in doing.
I've said way too much here, but this is a complicated issue, for me the pros far outweigh the cons, but for the public at large it is not clear cut.
I will stop now, if you have any additional questions, please ask, I am passionate about this topic and will be happy to respond.
If you haven't already done so you might also want to take a look at my web sites accessed from the main web site at:
Best Regards,
Gary McCray
I am sure many of you will disagree with some of the things I have said, but the fact of the matter is that we really need to take a realistic look at the issues shaping our hobby / passion and I thought this might stimulate some discussion.
So, please take it with a grain of salt and feel free to put in your own thoughts.
One thing I am certain of is that this is going to be a very interesting year for "drones" with a lot of good stuff and a lot of bad stuff.
Best Regards,
Gary

Views: 916

Comment by Arnold Kokaram on February 12, 2015 at 7:48am

That was a great read. This letter should be sent to the FAA, and congress.  

Comment by Superwalloon on February 12, 2015 at 9:09am

Excellent summary. I live in Belgium, this is not easier here. There is currently a complete ban on multicopters unless you flight them at a legal flight club. The DGTA (kind of equivalent to the FAA) is willing to issue new rules which are extremely prohibitve and unrealistic. They too want zero risks, which is not even something that exists in "normal" aviation. And next to this, the legislator completely bypasses the explosion of small "rtf" machines like the Phantom and so on. They hope that by keeping them restricted to flight clubs this will help. The point is most people who buy this type of machines do not have a single experience in r/c. They buy their machines in supermarkets and go fly everywhere doing mistakes, which then further hurts the public perception of "drones".

Our issue, on top of that, is that we don't have an association which battles for us, like the AMA is doing for you in the US. Our R/C association is basically still stuck at the age of foamies and regular r/c helicopters.

Comment by Quadzimodo on February 13, 2015 at 3:39am

Great letter Gary!

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