Up, up and away – Taos 2017 Balloon Fiesta

Hi all –

To all of our veterans, thank you for your service.


Let’s open with a splash of drama and a frisson of fear, Drone Crash Injures Six in Japan. Yes, overflight fans and rabid boosters; the unprintable has happened again. A drone dropping candy on a crowd at Ogaki Park fell from the sky injuring six. “Those hit by the drone suffered minor injuries, such as scratches to their foreheads and shoulders.” Check out the video.


While disaster is too strong a word, the Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) meeting on November 8 so far has failed to meet expectations. Instead, one short week after the ‘triumphant’ launch of the UAS Integration Pilot Program (DIPP), the DAC appears to have blown its own deadline to make task group and/or subcommittee reports available to the public for the first time – after months of promises.

Radio Technical Commission for Aeronautics(RTCA), which manages the DAC under contract to the FAA, publicly posted that “All material that will be presented to the DAC will be available via the RTCA website prior to the November 8th meeting.” None to be found.

Dan Elwell, Deputy Administrator of the FAA made what reads to me like an “everything is coming up roses” speech to open the November 8th conclave in Seattle.

Here are the highlights of Mr. Elwell’s remarks which were notable for their concision. [Emphases are mine.]

DIPP: Once the pilot program becomes official with its announcement in the Federal Register today, we expect to see applications start pouring in… We hope to be truly surprised by the number of applications we receive  

… As you know, tech and ops advice often have policy and budget implications.  But going forward, we will not be asking you for policy or funding advice.  This group is not about policy and politics. This is a place where we need you to leave your company credentials at the door.  But we do need the DAC’s insight on how to integrate unmanned aircraft into the NAS. 

The big question is simple and profound:  How are we going to meld the ops? 

Task Group 1: Task Group 1 was initially asked to boil the ocean. Undoubtedly, we asked you to work through a seemingly impossible task. But I do feel compelled to say that the lack of consensus within Task Group 1 was neither unexpected nor a fatal flaw. Congress itself couldn’t reach agreement on many of the questions we asked of you.

With the announcement of the UAS integration pilot program, the UAS landscape has changed.  To keep pace, we will soon reconstitute Task Group 1 and give them a new tasking more closely aligned with providing us the technical and operational recommendations we need to implement the pilot program.

LAANC: Over the next three months, we’ll add six more air traffic facilities to the LAANC prototype evaluation.  [i.e. Ten will be operational by March 2018] All told, we’ll cover about 50 airports.  AirMap and Skyward – both of whom are on the DAC subcommittee—are already participating in this evaluation, and we anticipate more companies will join them in the prototype evaluation. 

UAS ID & Tracking ARC: To keep you updated, the UAS ID & Tracking ARC submitted its report to the FAA last month.  We’re reviewing it. 

Despite what the media reports have said, the report is much less divisive than suggestedThe vast majority of the dissent is focused on the issue of who should have to be equipped with identification and tracking technology. Given the volatility of the topic, this comes as no surprise. 

I think putting negative spin on the report diminishes the progress we can make from the report itself

It’s a nice spin but let’s remember that the ARC report, including the dissenting opinions, has yet to be made public. I covered that in Broken ARC on October 14 – a month ago. At that time, Bloomberg reported that “A majority of members on the committee didn’t sign on to its final report, which was submitted to the FAA.”.

Patrick Egan has been on a tear about this, his latest op-ed is The FAA Private Rule Making Process:

Was it a registered lobbyist from a Chinese company or the RTCA that decided the deliberations and desired outcomes were too important to share with the end-user or American public.

One interesting side note – Mr. Elwell mentioned that there are now 66,000 RPICs which means that we have added ~6,000 since Mr. Huerta’s announcement at InterDrone the beginning of September. It appears that growth is flattening. Please consider that the only way we get these numbers is when they are randomly peppered into FAA executive presentations… There needs to be a
better way.


Not so much a disaster as a missed opportunity. In May, the White House published Official Actions To Address Threats Posed By Unmanned Aircraft Systems To Public Safety Or Homeland Security. As you undoubtedly remember, the proposal takes a Gordian knot approach to the problem of interdicting a drone over federal facilities by eliminating both the FAA aircraft protections and the FCC jamming rules.

The bill was to be incorporated into the National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2018 – a 2,427-page monster that will fund the DOD to the tune of ~$650B.

It hasn’t showed up, but something else has. Friday, Morning Transportation reported that:

The defense authorization bill (H.R. 2810 (115)) agreed to by House and Senate negotiators this week includes language to reinstate FAA’s registration rule for small drones. The regulation was scrapped in May by a federal appeals court who agreed that an earlier FAA authorization law forbade the agency from setting such a mandate for “model aircraft.” The House and Senate FAA bills ( H.R. 2997 (115)S. 1405 (115)) addressed the issue, but a final deal on the FAA reauthorization is going to take some time.

In at least one spot “The conferees acknowledge the growing threat posed by nefarious use … [And] Therefore encourage DOD to closely collaborate with the FAA… to develop measures that address this threat.”

Elsewhere in the bill, there is considerable emphasis on the development of sense and avoid technologies to facilitate integration of DOD UAS into the NAS. (see pps. 827-829) I think that it is important to keep an eye on this, since standards developed for this mission could well “trickle down” to BVLOS. I imagine folks will be beating a path to Hoot’s new door and also to the North Dakota test site – and we’ve got plenty of sky in New Mexico.

The bill is scheduled to go to the House floor for a vote this week.

Coincidentally, Aviation Week just published Inside View: Automatic Integrated Collision Avoidance System the world’s first combined air and ground collision avoidance system for combat aircraft. Pretty interesting to see planes going head to head to test the collision sensor at speeds in excess of 350 knots.

“You are forcing yourself to make gross errors to the point where you can prod this bear but at the same time stay far enough away to avoid a collision.”


Specific to registration, unfortunately it looks like it’s back to the same poorly conceived, ineffective rules for registering and marking “That were vacated by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in Taylor v. Huerta (No. 15-1495; decided on May 19, 2017) shall be restored to effect on the date of enactment of this Act.” 

This rule never had a chance to be an effective tool to promote safety in the NAS. It takes time to build a program.

When the registration rule was rushed into service almost two years ago (12/2015), there were (at least?) a million fewer drones flying than there are today. In the past 23 months ~ 800,000 have been registered. Ms. Chao recently used 900,000 so who really knows.

According to the FAA’s own forecast, another million recreational drones will be added to the firmament by the end of 2020.

But despite registration, the reports of drones threatening air traffic, impeding fire fighters and scaring puppies continues to increase. Registering recreational pilots for $5 clearly did not accomplish the stated purpose of education, which has been compounded by a widely decried lack of enforcement. Both are expensive to do and even harder to do well… and not in every budget or wheelhouse.


It had to happen. The Unmanned Safety Institute just announced their Elite Certification Program for Professional Remote Pilots. I think that this could be a great boon to enterprise adoption – end user nightmare number one is how do I know that the person can fly up to the necessary standards for my CONOPS.

DJI hosted AirWorks 2017 targeting the enterprise market in Denver this week. They used the occasion to introduce DJI FlightHub, which is billed as “The ultimate solution for managing your drone operations.” Includes some very interesting Live View video streaming features to facilitate remote team interaction, as well as a lot of features offered on what just became competing programs. Not a good feeling.

And Holy Cow – the cow flies – and no this is not a Chick-fil-A ad. Ars Technica reports that An AT&T Drone Is Now Providing Cellular Service to People in
Puerto Rico

…The drone—AT&T calls it a Flying COW (Cell on Wings)—is providing wireless connectivity in an area of up to 40 square miles. “As we work to permanently restore our network, this experimental technology is providing data, voice, and text services to customers,” AT&T said in an announcement today. “This is the first time an LTE cell site on a drone has been successfully deployed to connect residents after
a disaster.”

Great to see this dream come true. Props to the team.


Security Risks with Commercial Drones, webinar. Commercial drones represent a serious security risk to major public events, but also to sensitive infrastructures and facilities such as industrial testing grounds, large industrial plants, critical infrastructure, military and even correctional facilities. Of particular risk is the unauthorized use of micro unmanned air vehicles (MAVs) for espionage, provocation or even criminal and terrorist purposes.

How serious is this threat? What are the current range of detection and
mitigation techniques?

What moved this up to a must-see for me, is that the moderator will be General Jim Poss (Ret.), CEO of ISR Ideas. Jim is one smart guy who stood up much of the Predator system, so he knows something about security.

Here is an updated link for the NASA Industry/Workshop Day coming up November 30 in San Diego from reader Chuck Johnson, Senior Advisor for UAS Integration, UAS-NAS Project. This is for those of you interested in playing with big boy toys in the NAS – over 55 pounds operating above 500’ AGL.

It will be a mix of NASA briefings on the near-term plans of the UAS-NAS Project and the vision to enabling Emerging Aviation Markets (especially Urban Air Mobility).  There will also be three specific panels related to the 2020 Systems Integration and Operationalization (SIO) demonstration including the Concept of Operations, the SIO Technologies, and the SIO Certification methodology.

Who Should Attend: Industry aircraft manufacturers, industry sensor manufacturers, industry communications providers, FAA UAS Test Sites, aviation service providers, other government agencies, and others interested in testing specific UAS technologies.

Benefits of Attending: NASA is offering an opportunity for industry to demonstrate their UAS system/subsystem technologies in a relevant environment offering industry partners resources to help substantiate a safety/certification case. NASA will explain how industry can participate in the SIO demonstration at this Industry/Workshop Day.


Ever wonder how public opinion about drones is shaped? How about television…

State Farm’sTogether opens with a drone crashing into Aaron Rodgers otherwise pristine F-150. The culprit is revealed to be Clay Matthews… Cute dog too – in heavy rotation (regular play).

Papa John’s2017 Drones shows the misadventures of drone pizza delivery with pies falling out of the sky and drones crashing through windows. Says Papa “Gimmicks don’t make better pizza.”

The US Army’sMicrodrone features the diminutive Black Hornet PD-100 and was running in rotation during the World Series.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. You can find all of the back issues of Dronin’ Onhere.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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