The Spirit Of St. Louis issue of Dronin' On 05.20.17
Controlled burn

Hi all –

Well I moved my snappy opening down a notch to update you with the late breaking news that the United States Court of Appeals has ruled against the FAA and in favor of John Taylor saying that “The FAA’s Registration Rule violates Section 336 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act. We grant Taylor’s petition for review of the Registration Rule, and we vacate the Registration Rule to the extent it applies to model aircraft.” Thanks to Alan Perlman for the heads up.

To be clear this is all about the Five and Fly hobby/model registration program. It has nothing to do with Part 107.

  • More from John Goglia in Forbes here,
  • Jonathan Rupprecht in his Drone Law blog here,
  • Gary Mortimer in sUAS News here wondering if the FAA will have to refund all 770,000 registrants,
  • Leah Froats in Drone360 with a statement from the FAA is here,
  • Miriam McNabb in DroneLife with Lisa Ellman is here and
  • Mark McKinnon in Plane-ly Spoken is here.

Regular contributor Frank Mellott wrote me to point out that Taylor accomplished what the AMA could not.

I asked Jonathan for his thoughts about the impact of the decision and he was quick to point out thatThis did not somehow give recreational model aircraft operators free reign to fly wherever. If a person is flying a drone near an airport, they will most likely not be falling into the Section 336 protected category (i.e. flying contrary to AMA safety code by flying recklessly); thus, the FAA can register those guys and prosecute them all day long.”

As to what happens next, we’ll have to wait and see but if you think about the electronic identification requirement set forth by Congress last year, and for which the FAA just created a DAC taskforce, it raises some issues. Like how to identify someone you haven’t registered.

Which is why in the DroneLife story, veteran Hill watcher Lisa Ellman notes that “If this ruling stands, the FAA may need a statutory change from Congress to continue to require hobbyists to register their drones and to provide accountability and enforcement of unauthorized operations.” Mark McKinnon expressed a similar sentiment “With the new FAA reauthorization working its way through Congress this summer, we may not have to wait long for an answer.”

Clearly, this is the beginning, not the end of the story.

Now back to our regularly scheduled programming. I opened my email Monday and got a nice dash of cold water to start the week.

Notice of event cancellation: Thank you for supporting ASCEND Conference & Expo. We regret to inform you that we are canceling this event…We did not meet our goals for expo booths and registrations. Therefore, we are re-evaluating the format.

2016 will be remembered as the year of the manufacturers’ meltdown. 2017 may turn out to be the year of the tradeshow shakeout – that’s two so far. With Drone360 magazine behind them, and I assumed a solid sales organization, I gave Ascend a chance. But without exhibitors and paid attendees, the economics just don’t work.

Which isn’t stopping anyone from jumping in the pond.

An hour later I got a request for a media partnership from the Midwest Drone Fest coming up in Chicago in September. Why you would want to put a three-day event right smack dab between InterDrone and Drone World Expo is beyond me, but hey there’s no accounting for original business insights.

Want to know why this is so hard? Because despite all the irrational exuberance this is still a small market. Forecasts aside there are only so many pilots. Which means there is only so much gear getting purchased, software seats being licensed, policies being issued and accessories being ordered. Which generates only so much money to rent booth space and attend conferences.

Tech strategist and columnist Ira Brodsky has just published a killer piece in Computerworld, 5 Challenges Confronting Enterprise Drones. I love his opening line “Forecasts for the drone market have been very aggressive.” Ya think?

What is fascinating is his analysis of the factors slowing adoption which (and I am paraphrasing) are limited flight times, a preference for known solutions, drones flying locally but being regulated nationally, UTM is overkill and the public has big issues with my own personal Big Three privacy, safety and security. Please book this man to speak at one of our conferences.

Someone you are likely to hear from at one or more conferences is Dronin’ On reader Art Pregler from AT&T. The Harvard Business Review just did a story about the work AT&T is doing with drones, FLYING COWS AND OTHER DRONE APPS: How AT&T is disrupting itself with its drone program. Good quick read – definitely some out of the box thinking.

One upcoming event is getting by with a little help from their friends. Betsy Lillian reports that “U.S. Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., will be hosting U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao for the 2017 Drone Focus Conference, starting on May 31 in Fargo, N.D.”

As far as I know, this is the first time that Ms. Chao will address a drone audience, so it has the potential to be a very significant keynote, especially as the lines are already being drawn on Capitol Hill for the 2017 FAA Reauthorization Act.

The Avionics headline is US Lawmakers to Consider Future FAA Structure. “During a U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee meeting, lawmakers will consider a proposal that committee chairman, Bill Shuster, has been pushing in recent years to establish a federally chartered air traffic control (ATC) corporation.”

There is also the question of the FAA’s willingness to protect their turf.

IEEE Spectrum’s A Weird Time for Drone Operators looks at the steady expansion of the patchwork quilt – and why the FAA didn’t get involved in the recent Kentucky DroneSlayer case.

“Why not? An FAA spokesperson answers simply: “The FAA does not intervene in civil litigation to which the FAA is not a party,” adding that it would file an amicus brief if asked to do so by the court. Still, that doesn’t really explain why the FAA took no enforcement action against the guy wielding the shotgun. After all, the FAA has been loudly asserting its authority over drones flying in federally protected airspace, which it’s been claiming extends down to the level of the grass.”

And of course, now there is the matter of model registration… Which based on what we have heard from the Heritage House folks the FAA might be inclined to let go – if they could.

A mind-blowing Part 107 waiver was announced by DroneSeed, a Seattle-based start-up that is solely focused on controlling competitive vegetation. (Now that is a niche!)

Big news! DroneSeed is the first and only company to receive FAA approval to use drone swarms to dispense agricultural payloads (fertilizers, herbicides, and water) …With both a 107 multi-vehicle waiver to use drone swarms and a 137 Exemption to spray agricultural substances.”

I looked at their FAQ where I found “Our secret sauce is in writing the software to fly swarms of 15 drones and manage payloads. Our drones can fly for 15-20 minutes and carry 4 gallons.” It is hard to imagine how cost effective this will be, but it is noteworthy as one of the few peaceful applications of swarms I am
aware of.

The National Defense University Press recently published The Rise of the Commercial Threat: Countering the Small Unmanned Aircraft System. An excellent overview of an ever-moving target, it touches on several aspects of the sUAS threat, the state of CUAS solutions and the need for the government to collaborate with commercial parties lest they find themselves outflanked.

“In the history of modern warfare, there have been few purely commercial technologies that so readily lend themselves to immediate weaponization as the sUAS. The threat lies not only in the technology itself, but also in the degree to which that technology is sufficiently capable and available to all potential nefarious actors. In this sense, the potential threat from sUASs should catalyze new thinking in DOD about the uses of commercial technology.” 

The paper’s focus on commercial technologies provides a segue to Kevin Finisterre’s (@d0tslash) recent presentation on CUAS at sUSB Expo. Entitled “The Fine Art of Double Dipping” Finisterre pulls no punches taking both 3DR’s Chris Anderson and DJI’s Brendan Schulman to task for “fraying” the community.

In the presentation, Kevin shares what he has learned about the large numbers of DJI drones in Mosul. He asks the obvious question “How are these drones getting in theatre?” And shares the DJI database which appears to integrate owner information, serial numbers and sellers which just might hold the answers… You can also download the Prezi presentation he used in his talk which contains many relevant links as well as plenty of amusing pop culture references.

If you are concerned about your DJI flight data you need to read this well-researched article by Kevin Pomaski in sUAS News which picks up where Kevin Finisterre leaves off – A Global Information Gathering Network for UAS – DJI data collection. It includes actionable information about how to protect at least some of your data.

So. Just how important are drones becoming on the battlefield?

Defense One presents a view from inside – here is one tidbit to chew onThe threat is really changing — this explosion of commercial technology, of super-empowered commercial technology, of each individual technology path on an accelerated schedule,” James “Hondo” Geurts, who leads SOCOM’s acquisitions, technology and logistics efforts, said Tuesday at a National Defense Industry Association event.

“When you start stacking accelerations on top of each other, pretty soon you’ve got autonomous swarms of drones with facial recognition attacking you on the battlefield. And so how do you get out in front of that?”

One idea is to pair a manned aircraft with one or more unmanned aircraft. The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratories and Lockheed Martin have demonstrated a mixed formation of manned and unmanned F-16s in a simulated
combat environment.

UASVision reports that “The ultimate goal of the Loyal Wingman initiative is to pair manned, fifth-generation stealth fighters with unmanned versions of older jets — in order to boost the lethality of both in air combat. But the Loyal Wingman concept could also work with other planes and drones — some already in service, others still on the drawing board.”

The idea of pairing manned and unmanned aircraft is also being applied on wildfire lines. UASVision did an interview with Justin Jager, an interagency aviation officer for Grand Canyon National Park.

“We would have a fixed-wing pilot circling high above the area, giving a general overview of the situation to other agency pilots in the area, along with crews on the ground. Then we might have a drone operator searching the outskirts of the fire area, looking for areas for fire lines. All of the information comes back to the point of command, so decisions can be made in real time about fighting the fire safely and effectively.”

Finally, today marks an important reminder of the potential impact our industry.

90 years ago, Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic flying the Spirit of St Louis from New York to Paris’s Le Bourget airport where he was greeted by hundreds of thousands of people

I was astonished at the effect my successful landing in France had on the nations of the world. To me, it was like a match lighting a bonfire.
– Charles A. Lindbergh

Lindbergh’s account of the flight is here, you can watch Pathe News footage here, and see the May 30, 1927 edition of Aviation here with the headline New York – Paris Flight A Reality.

Thank you for reading and for sharing. Back issues of Dronin’ On can be
found here.


Christopher Korody
follow me @dronewriter


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