The First Dragon Fire issue of Dronin' On 08.12.17
Dragon fire

Hi all –

Are we in Westeros? The big dragons are furiously playing with fire. I hope that no one gets burnt. Sign of the times – one of the most interesting questions might be where are the drones?

One month ago, I led off with a story about how the USAF wanted the authority to down sUAS intruding into the airspace of the 133 US bases that had been identified as no-fly zones. I expressed surprise that this was even an issue as the 2017 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) seemed to provide the necessary go ahead to fire when ready.

This week the Military Times reported New Policy: Military Bases Can Shoot Down Trespassing Drones:

The Pentagon has signed off on a new policy that will allow military bases to shoot down private or commercial drones that are deemed a threat, Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. Jeff Davis said Monday.

 “The new guidance does afford the ability to take action to stop these threats and that includes disabling, destroying and tracking.”

I searched the 2018 NDAA bill currently in Committee to see if either chamber added broader authority to interdict. I didn’t find it, but Jonathan Rupprecht found something in his article 7 Big Problems with Counterdrone Technology.

“The House version of the proposed NDAA of 2018  seeks to expand the use of force to those locations that are “part of a Major Range and Test Facility Base (as defined in section 196(i) of this title).”

He also references the May 25, 2017, New York Times article about the proposed Drone Security Law which I covered here. According to the article, this was to be inserted into the 2018 NDAA but again I can find no trace of it.

Not that I in any way disagree with the idea of interdicting trespassers in restricted airspace, but it seems as though there is something murky about where the authority is coming from.

In their report, added that:

Anti-UAV technology is already available, but the U.S. Army hasn’t shared the methods in which they will disable or destroy drones. If they wish to fully prosecute trespassing drone operators, then they will have to disable a drone without fully destroying it and trace back the drone pilot.

Jonathan’s article looks at the legal issues surrounding counter drone technology. It goes well beyond the FAA aircraft rule and the FCC jamming rule. Turns out that the patchwork quilt is already alive and well.

The states have also made some of these counter drone technologies illegal!  States have anti-hacking laws, anti-messing with aircraft laws, etc.  Worse yet, these laws are all over the place with how broad they are, their safe harbors/exemptions, and their punishments. Basically, what is said in this article x 50 states.

Nice! (Not.) As is the conclusion:

I fear, however, that Congress will not move on this quickly, and neither will the agencies. I believe what laws and regulations do come out will most likely be, as the old legal adage, written in blood. reports that on their way out of town, Dems Introduce Legislation to Protect Manned Aircraft From Drones. This ostensibly in response to the ever-increasing number of unconfirmed drone sightings.

A pair of Rhode Island Democrats on Friday rolled out legislation that, if passed, would regulate drone use more tightly, with the intention of protecting
manned aircraft.

Rep. Jim Langevin (D-RI) HR 3644 and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse‘s (D-RI) SB 1755 legislation would make it illegal for individuals to fly drones near airport runways without permission from air traffic controllers and make it a criminal offense to fly a drone in a manner posing a safety risk to manned aircraft. 

Ya know, once again I am mystified. First of all, there is the question of getting permission from ATC. Without it, you are already breaking the law. Once again Jonathan to the rescue with his in-depth analysis of the Drone Operator Safety Act of 2017.

The Drone Operator Safety Act is the culmination of the overall growing sentiment in Congress that drones should not operate near airports… There needs to be “teeth” as to how to counter the actual flyer of the drone, not just the aircraft.

As Jonathan points out, a similar bill died in 2016. Given that both bills are a) coming from the wrong side of the aisle and b) Congress is seriously behind achieving its agenda, I am not sure what if anything is going to happen. I will keep an eye on it for you.

Whether this bill becomes law or, it’s increasingly clear that a whole lot of legislators are feeling the need to legislate something. As is too often the case, it is likely to be prompted by something bad happening… the genesis of the phrase “written in blood.”

Last week I reported that a civilian oversight committee wanted the LA Country Sheriff’s Department (LASD) to stop flying their drones. (And they kept right on flying.) Not to be outdone, the Los Angeles Times reports that the LAPD has decided that this is an opportune time to try and launch a one-year pilot program. Should the LAPD Use Drones? Here’s What’s Behind the Heated Debate. The LAPD tried to put things in a reasonable light:

“The LAPD’s drones would not be weaponized and officers would still need to get a search warrant signed by a judge when necessary. ”What we’re looking at … is really just another set of eyes,” LAPD Chief Charlie Beck said after the
commission meeting.”

Meanwhile, protesters chanted “Drone-free LAPD, no drones L.A.!”

The article also points out that:

At least 18 states have adopted rules requiring law enforcement agencies to obtain warrants before using drones to conduct surveillance or searches, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A similar proposal by the California Legislature was vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2014.

Lest you think it went away, the DJI controversy swirls on. In their report, Ars Technica adds that the US Army has purchased hundreds of off-the-shelf DJI drones. Check this out:

The Army Aviation Directorate has provided “airworthiness releases” for DJI drones over 300 times for a variety of missions, according to a memorandum issued by the directorate’s deputy chief of staff. 

Ars Technica IT editor Sean Gallagher speculates about the possible gotcha:

“Since the drones are so ubiquitous and the control protocols are well known, ARL may have found that an adversary could hijack a control session through a bug in DJI’s protocol, or obtain telemetry, audio and video covertly.

For some coincidental but on-point context, David Kovar at Kovar & Associates just posted Why UAV Telemetry Data Is a Cyber/Physical Security Risk. He went out of his way not to name names but offered up the following insights about the kinds of information that can be gleaned from telemetry data.

  • It is much more compact. [Then sensor data.] The launch point alone reveals a lot of information.
  • The location where you are flying says “There is something interesting here.”
  • How you are flying tells an adversary something about what you are interested in.
  • If you are doing lawnmower tracks at 100m twice a day, you are performing some sort of change detection task.
  • If you are flying a semi-random profile that often ends in an abrupt termination of control or of the flight, you may be testing counter
    UAS systems.

Flying straight into the storm is DJI’s brand new President, Roger Luo. Betsy Lillian reports that Luo has been DJI’s VP Operations for two years and has both Apple and Foxconn experience.

CEO Frank Wang will continue to oversee product development. Introducing Luo, he said:

“DJI now has over 11,000 staff worldwide, with offices in 17 cities around the world. As we continue to expand our global footprint, we need to strengthen our management in the area of operations.”

Who knew. What’s for sure is that if Luo can improve customer service he will make a lot of people happy. More about him here.

Gary Mortimer shared that Yuneec took advantage of the opportunity to reach out to the press with a little positive positioning of their own:

“Yuneec’s customers recognize the importance of keeping data and images secure. The Yuneec data ecosystem empowers users and organizations to control their data at all times. Yuneec commercial UAV do not share telemetry or visual data to internal or external parties.”

One of the questions that I like to ask end users is how they go about assessing the risks – and accordingly the prerequisite skills – necessary to fly a specific mission. Peter van Blyenburgh of UVS International posted the following catchy headline in LinkedIn:

Drone Operators Wake Up! The Specific Operations Risk Assessment (SORA) Has Been Published

This document recommends a risk assessment methodology to establish a sufficient level of confidence that a specific operation can be conducted safely. 

You can find the document here. It proposes a Holistic Risk Model (HRM) that will be familiar territory to anyone who has spent time with Safety Management Systems (SMS) or Concept of Operations (CONOPS). If you are an operator or are responsible for UAS operations, this should be a valuable tool to test your
SOPs against.

Industry leader Global Aerospace just released a whitepaper from the Unmanned Safety Institute, Developing an Ecosystem for UAS Safety that specifically addresses adding UAS to a corporate flight department. While this seems like it should be a no brainer, a number of people I have spoken with have been very explicit about just how unwelcome drones have been in those hallowed hangers.

Big idea here. reports New Research Investigates Automated UTM Algorithms out of the UK. The six-month long research project conducted by Altitude Angel and Imperial College London, supported by Microsoft, investigated new UAS route-finding algorithms. The outcome is that this is a solvable problem:

Using just a modest amount of computing power in Altitude Angel’s cloud, the students proved that over 1,000 drones could successfully co-exist with both manned and unmanned aviation in a dense, 1 km² area, avoiding no-fly zones and crossing paths at a safe distance without human intervention, achieving a 0% rate of conflict.

Learn more about the Altitude Angel project here.

Where is it all going? Aviation Week offers up a pretty good guess from the UBS aerospace, airlines and logistics sector analysts, Pilotless Commercial Aircraft? Follow the Money.

The UBS analysts see a potential profit opportunity worth about $35 billion for the aviation and aerospace manufacturing sectors. Technically, remotely controlled aircraft for carrying passengers and cargo could appear by around 2025… But analysts admit it would take heavy lifting in rewriting regulations, and an even greater turn in consumer sentiment.

And that ladies and gentlemen is one good guess as to why UTM is ultimately going to get built.

Thank you for reading and for sharing. All of the back issues of Dronin’ On
are here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter

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