The 'Forever' issue of Dronin' On 08.18.18
Screen grab from her last performance, “Say A Little Prayer’ in 2017. Click and listen, still amazing.

Lots of wonderful tributes out there – loving Aretha Franklin’s Most Legendary Live Performances from VF. Long live the Queen.

Hi all –

Another week and fresh hope for an FAA Authorization. More on wildland fires. All about the battery wars. A few words about CUAS after Venezuela. Inside the A380 drone shot. And quick tech including Intel’s debut of Open Drone ID at UAS IPP and some autonomous myth busting.


The purpose of an FAA Reauthorization is to provide stable funding for a four or five year period. You know, like a budget which is a useful management tool if you employ 49,000 people and spend $17B a year.

So it may come as a surprise to casual readers that getting this bill passed is the exception, not the norm. To try and give the Senate a much-needed kick in the pants, thirty companies including AUVSI, The Commercial Drone Alliance and the Small UAV Coalition joined together to send a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY). In part the
letter read:

It is essential that the FAA is provided long-term authorization for its activities and programs to maintain and advance the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world. The U.S. aviation sector supports nearly 11 million jobs and contributes $1.6 trillion in economic activity.

A five-year reauthorization of FAA activities passed the U.S. House of Representatives on April 27… Prompt consideration by the Senate will enable discussions with the House to resolve any outstanding differences between the two bills, prior to the expiration of authority on September 30.

So aside from politics, what’s the hold-up? For most of the year, the Senate version of the bill was stuck on a 1,500 hour pilot training provision. (The House was done with their version, H.R 4, months ago.)

Morning Transportation reports that now there is more to it – because bills are kind of like PacMan, gobbling up everything they see (the resemblance is uncanny and entirely coincidental):

In late July, Senate Commerce ranking member Bill Nelson (D-FL) told us that a provision on trucker meal and rest breaks was holding up a Democratic hotline of the chamber’s reauthorization. Whether self-driving car legislation (S. 1885 (115)) will be tacked on is also TBD.

These are not minor issues. And while they clearly fall somewhere under DOT, they have little to do with the FAA. On Wednesday Sen. John Thune (R-SD) said:

“Republicans and Democrats are negotiating to “get another 30 or so amendments in the manager’s package.” [Does that mean from 40 to 70?] He also mentioned that some GOP senators “have amendments that are probably gonna be difficult
to resolve.”

With headlines like GOP Leader Criticizes Republican Senators for Not Showing Up to Work, and The Senate Worked Two Whole Days This Week none of us should be holding our breath.

Jim Williams was kind enough to send along the second edition of a five-year roadmap for the introduction of civil UAS into the NAS. As much as anything it’s an interesting history. Keep in mind that this definition of UAS goes way
beyond sUAS.

click for the document

This roadmap is intended to meet the requirement in Section 332 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. It provides an update on the progress to date in achieving UAS integration, the challenges we continue to face, and near-term strategies for addressing these challenges.


A lot of positive comments on last week’s wildland fire section. More this week from DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke explaining to anyone who listens to Breitbart News that “Environmental terrorist groups are preventing the government from managing forests and are largely responsible for the severity of the fires”, and the Heritage Foundation’s solution to the “If you fly, we can’t” problem.

Since Ryan doesn’t really want to talk (global) climate change as a factor, for a little context check out this WaPo article, Red Hot Planet: This Summer’s Punishing and Historic Heat in 7 Maps and Charts:

The swelter has intensified raging wildfires in western North America, Scandinavia and Siberia, while leading to heat-related deaths in Japan and eastern Canada.

To be fair, Sec. Zinke is correct when he talks about USFS management practices dating back to Smokey the Bear, that can be summarized as putting them out instead of letting them burn. 

“We’re spending probably, this season, over $2 billion fighting forest fires when many of them could be prevented by better forest management techniques.”

He then said US builders are being forced to import lumber to build homes.
Yes but.

According to the World Bank the US is both the leading exporter and importer of wood in the world.

Here’s a clue to what this is really all about:

In 2015, major trading partners for the United States in wood were Canada, China, Mexico, Japan and the United Kingdom for exports; and Canada, China, Brazil, Mexico and Germany for imports.

The Heritage Foundation weighed in last Friday with an op-ed in The Hill, When It Comes to Drone Tech, Wildfire Officials Need the Right Tools for the Job.

Compared to the Heritage position on ULC which is presented in the Bright Line issue, this is a thoughtful article, even though the solution falls under the heading of entirely theoretical. As you would expect, the gist of the argument is that:

There already are laws on the books… And those laws are doing little to stop drones from interfering with wildfire operations… The tool that state and local first responders need from Congress isn’t another law criminalizing the same conduct; they need a meaningful way to deal with hazardous drone operators

He then suggests that:

Congress can find one model for sharing counter-drone enforcement with state and local officers in the current Homeland Security 287(g) program, which allows federal immigration officials to deputize local law enforcement officers to enforce federal law pursuant to a memorandum of understanding. 

Nice idea but as I reported in Is This Really All?, it was directly addressed during the June 6 hearing for S. 2836:

Under the very pointed questioning of Senator Margaret Hassan (D-NH), there was an extended discussion about whether DHS would be able to confer their proposed powers to state and local law enforcement – the answer is no, that is not part of
the bill.

The good news is that sUAS’ continue to prove their worth in the firefighters’ toolkit. I liked this idea, New Incendiary Ping-Pong Balls Dropped by Drones Tested on Local Wildfires.

The drones are equipped with infrared cameras and a hopper filled with the incendiary ping-pong balls… Not only can the drones release balls with great accuracy, they can find hot spots that are difficult to detect with helicopters or planes because those craft operate at higher altitudes or can’t fly when the smoke becomes too thick.

Interesting story by Dr. Gregory Crutsinger in sUAS NewsForty Eight Hours as a Drone Data Analyst in a Major Wildfire in California

And while of necessity, the first job is putting the fire out, that is only
the beginning.

360-Degree Drone Images Show the Devastation of the Carr Fire shows the misery that is left behind.


No serious discussion about drones goes past the first round before the subject of battery life rears its pointy head. So I was pleasantly surprised to stumble across an entire issue of The Verge, The Battery Issue: The Past, Present, and Future of the Lithium-Ion Battery.

Li-Po or Lithium Polymer is more commonly used in sUAS, so I wanted to understand the difference. I found a site called RAVPower,a one-stop resource for all things related to charging’.

The most significant difference between lithium-ion and lithium-polymer batteries is the chemical electrolyte between their positive and negative electrodes. In Li-Po batteries it isn’t a liquid…The catch is that plenty of companies are actually selling you a Li-ion in a more flexible casing.

One of the feature stories that many of you will find interesting is Electric Flight Is Coming, but the Batteries Aren’t Ready which focuses on UAM (urban
air mobility).

For batteries to be at a point where they make sense in small-scale aviation, they will need to achieve about five times their current density. At the current pace of battery and electric engine technology, it probably won’t be until 2030 that even hybrid electric technology is used in commercial aviation.

The writer credits the forecast to the famously prescient Teal Group, so
caveat emptor.

Since war is a new and popular thing, you may find a reason for concern in The US Is Losing the High-Stakes Global Battery War. Which starts out with a bang:

By 2025, it’s estimated that lithium-ion batteries will become a $94 billion global market.

It’s a fascinating interview with journalist Steve LeVine who wrote about “the Great Battery War” in his book The Powerhouse: Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World.

It touches on subjects as diverse as why South Korea is the battery leader and how important Elon Musk is to the growth of the market. As for futures – apparently, there is nothing imminent.

Even if the super battery were made today, you would not have the actual commercial battery on the market in five years.

Driving home the opportunity, the MIT Technology Reviews Download reports that:

Investors led by Sutter Hill Ventures have staked $70 million in a Series D round on Sila Nano’s upgrade for lithium batteries…The startup’s announcement adds to more than $1.5 billion that’s poured into the energy storage sector this year.


While not entirely on topic, I very much liked Atlantic’s The Lessons of the Seattle Plane Crash. I include it because this is really what LE and the physical security community is dealing with:

Bizarre, frightening, and tragic this certainly was. But was it a sign of an alarming failure in security practices, as some press accounts immediately asserted? … It’s not possible to eliminate all risks from modern life—but airlines and regulators work hard to reduce them after each new incident, anyway. 

Here’s something I hadn’t seen before, Dedrone has a nicely designed page listing the last 100 drone incidents around the world – the first one is from September 2017 so that’s less than a year. A listing from July 17 takes us to…


Screen grab from YouTube footage. Unknown poster.

This Emirates A380 was photographed departing  Plaine Magnien Airport of Mauritius bound for Dubai.

When you go to the video on YouTube you will read:

This is claimed to be drone footage of an Airbus A380 departing from Mauritius Island. If genuine, it represents a major breach of airline safety. It was originally uploaded to a Facebook page but then immediately removed, fueling speculation that it was genuine.

Nearly a million people have watched it, and there are almost 2,000 comments. As is often the case, there is a poorly informed debate about whether this footage is real or artfully produced CG (computer graphics.) So good is the state of the art that either answer could be correct – and I will provide both. Beyond that are a lot of opinions like this one from Malar S: 

You godam man it risk the entire plan for fun…drone strike is worst than bird strike don’t ever do this again. [sic]

The video was brought to my attention by a long time reader, Paul DeMers who has been running The Media Masters in Southern California for almost 40 years. He has over 10,000 hours shooting out of helicopters, and is currently building a next generation blimp for extreme resolution aerials. Paul is a huge 380 fan and we had an interesting exchange.

“The 380 is 239 feet long with a 262’ wingspan – that’s 65’ wider than a 747-400. Fully loaded it needs about 9,500’ feet to get off the ground. Yet, it is an amazingly agile bird. Just to look at the profile, as it heads down the runway, is a pure delight. They say that it performs like a fighter jet.” Check out this video Paul sent along for your enjoyment which makes that point.

If you’re in the market, a nicely equipped version is about US$445B.

I am intrigued that the drone pilot knew exactly where and how high to locate the drone even before the 380 was lined up and cleared for takeoff.   

He did not chase the 380, at all. All he had to do was to pan the camera as the 380 passed by. He was almost perfectly positioned, well ahead of V2, wheels up and rotate. He knew exactly where he had to be to get a nicely framed 380 flyby.

Once he was positioned, he did not move more than a foot or so in any direction.  Period. 

My guess is that he has done this before.  He knew the GPS coordinate to use and the flight elevation to use. This could not have been his first time. Because in 3D space, it’s almost impossible to predict the frame that accurately without going up to “look”. 

FStoppers, a photo blog, covered the story as Dumb and Dumber: A Drone Flies Dangerously Close to an A380 During Take Off. The article addresses the provenance of the footage:

The video had originally been published on Facebook by Thierry Paris, an Air France A380 captain. He wrote in the video caption: “That’s what a little crazy guy managed to do with a drone in Mauritius. Hello flight safety!!!”

The author also posited that “The prepositioned drone films the plane passing dangerously close at about 300 feet from the tip of the left wing.”

Paul said he doubted it was quite that close.

I can’t tell what lens is being used to do the drone photos. I would guess that the video shot was about 600 feet away, because they did not fill the frame with the aircraft.  Again the drone operator could not not know exactly where that aircraft was going to be.  It wouldn’t have taken much to slide that beast a few hundred feet closer than anticipated.  Yes, the drone could have aborted and dropped out of the sky, but why take that chance? 

Though personally, I think that the 380 could ingest that little drone and not bat an eye… but why try?

As for why the tiny drone wasn’t buffeted by the massive plane – a question that came up a lot, Paul explains that “The turbulence, especially from the 380, goes DOWN and not up or out… Laws of Flight.

This is consistent with what other pilots told me when we reviewed the drone intercepting the plane on final approach into Las Vegas in the ‘Our Common Cause’ issue in February – another too close encounter that people were also sure was CG video. And another one we have yet to hear anything more about from either the FAA or NTSB…

There is another point of view which is that it is all too perfect and so it must be Computer Graphics (CG). In practice that means that someone put a drone (or a helo) up to shoot what is called the backplate – the physical environment – i.e. the island and the ocean – and then “comped” or composited the plane into it matching the CG model to the motion of the live action shot.

I’ve been working with Brad Hood my entire career. He is a brilliant creative director and few people know as much about this as he does. Here’s his take:

It looks like CG to me. Only seeing on my iPhone at the moment…

But watching things like sharpness of focus on the aircraft and the black levels of elements of the plane, like the engine intakes, this is either CG or the sharpest lens ever made and a zero level of optical density in the air at that location. At a great distance to the aircraft, all the blacks are really black. The atmosphere has density and blacks and sharpness soften at distances due to things like humidity.

I’m calling CG here.

Let me know how you call it.


This GPS story is getting to be a ‘thing’. This week, GPS Denied Navigation for UAS Using Aviation Transponders.

Researchers at the University of Washington have developed a new method that gives aircraft a backup system in case GPS fails: An antenna on the ground that can tell a drone where it is. The team successfully tested their system in June.

“Right now GPS is the one ring to rule them all: Without it, tiny drones all the way up to commercial aircraft can’t do their jobs. It’s a huge liability,” said Dr. Christopher Lum, the director of the Autonomous Flight Systems Laboratory. “Before GPS was widely used, pilots had myriad other techniques for navigation. Now we need to fall back to some of those older techniques to keep unmanned vehicles like drones in the air without GPS.”

UAS IPP is getting underway and the first reports are coming in. This may be one of the most significant, Intel Unveils New Open Standard for Secure Remote
Drone Identification

The Open Drone ID project is managed through a workgroup within ASTM, an international standards body. Intel is leading the ASTM F38 Remote ID Standard and Tracking Workgroup. It is important that Open Drone ID is a global standard, like Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, to provide broad scalability to many end users and use cases.  More information can be found at the Open Drone ID website.


Came across this interview and thought it worth sharing, Opinion: Consortiq’s Paul Rigby Debunks Drone Industry Myths. Consortiq is an interesting company that has expanded its training offering from the UK to the US. Here is what drew me:

A drone could be on the ground, in the water, underwater or in space. This article will focus on the aerial drone however some of the ideas are equally applicable to other vehicle domains.

Thanks for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On are here:


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter





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