The 'Whole Lotta Shaking' issue of Dronin' On 05.19.18
screen grab: Kilauea erupting from the International Space Station – courtesy NASA

Hi all –

A whole lotta shaking going on. A new bill to permit interdiction by DHS has been introduced in the Senate, along with a call to ban the use of foreign drones by the DoD. More about drones as weapons in Iraq and Israel. A conversation about interdiction with Mark Bathrick at DOI. The state of things including UTM and UAS IPP. A new grab bag, Accomplishments! And Eye Candy.


On Monday, Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, Ranking Member Claire McCaskill (D-MO), and Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) introduced the Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018, S. 2836, “A bill to assist the Department of Homeland Security in preventing emerging threats from unmanned aircraft and vehicles, and for other purposes.”

The press release provides the following summary:

  • Gives the Department of Homeland Security and Department of Justice the authorities they need to protect important buildings and assets (“covered facilities/assets”) when there is a security risk posed by a drone (“unmanned aircraft”).
  • The legislation contains a sunset provision, Congress will reevaluate the authorities in five years.
  • Directs DHS to perform research and testing of technology.
  • Requires DHS to conduct several assessments to evaluate emerging threats that drones may pose to state or private critical infrastructure entities and domestic airports and that vehicles may pose if used to inflict violence and intimidate people.

Not every outlet has reported it this way, but looking at the sponsors this must be understood as a bipartisan bill with more significant support than the bill that Rep. Vicky Hartzler, (R-MO) introduced in March, H.R.5366, the Safeguarding America’s Skies Act.

Morning Transportation reported the reaction:

Starting with the DOD in the mirror:DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen thanked Senate Homeland Security Committee members for introducing the bill during a hearing Tuesday and noted that DHS was “unable to effectively counter malicious use of drones” with its current authorities. She said the department planned to model its counter-drone technology development and testing on work currently being done at the Department of Defense, which already has the drone authorities DHS seeks.

Small UAV Coalition put the ultimate spin on it, writing that:

The Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 is an important step towards the development of a regulatory framework that enable ubiquitous expanded commercial UAS operations in the United States, including those beyond the visual line of sight, over people, and carrying property. 

Betsy Lillian’s article, Bill Would Give DOJ, DHS Power to Take Action Against ‘Malicious’ UAS offers some additional detail.

Adding fuel to the fire is this WaPo article, Stadium and Team Owners See Drones as Major League Threat which offers a good overview of the intertwined issues:

Major league teams are increasingly anxious about the more than 1 million drones that government officials estimate are already in use. They are asking Congress to give local law enforcement permission to seize or reroute drones flying over stadiums. And they are trying to get in a position to protect themselves.

“There’s technology out there that we can use, and we do use,” said Cathy L. Lanier, the NFL’s senior vice president of security, including tools to detect when drones are flying nearby. “But the technology we really need is not yet legal to use.”

If you are interested in critical infrastructure issues, take a look at the DHS Critical Infrastructure Partnership Advisory Council (CIPAC). It includes a UAS Working Group drawn from a wide range of infrastructure owners who met in March. Take a look at the fact sheet. Considerations for Law Enforcement Action is also of interest – among other things it lists the specific Federal statutes that must
be considered.

I asked Counter Drone Conundrum author Travis Moran for his take. He told me that “It’s going to be hard to get anywhere on the commercial side without a certification methodology, a 2209 type of assessment and inclusion program, delegation of authority (which is the snake in the grass here), guidance for use, liability protection, and then managing the program to include training.”

VERY LATE NEWS “UAS Flight Restrictions Near Critical Infrastructure Facilities” has just been placed on the DOT Unified Agenda for the first time. More next week.

Speaking of DHS, in a TSA Pre moment, Bloomberg reports Drone Maker Accused of Covering Up Bomb in Bag on Flight. “AeroVironment Inc. was accused of trying to conceal that employees transported a drone rigged with explosives [as carry on!] on a commercial flight and retaliating against a manager who told the government.” Plenty of dumb to go around – or this isn’t the real story – which is even dumber.

Elsewhere in the hallowed halls, Homeland Preparedness News reports that:

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-CT) recently sent a letter to U.S. Department of Defense Secretary James Mattis asking him to consider a ban on DoD use of foreign-made drones until the completion of further threat-assessments.

A look at Murphy’s website reveals that the junior senator is all about jobs:

“The burgeoning domestic UAS industry is currently competing with artificially priced foreign products that have been dumped in our domestic market,” Murphy wrote. “With some assistance, U.S. manufacturers are ready to fill your Department’s needs. Our adversaries will always see value in surveilling our critical infrastructure, and without a trusted domestic source of UAS, we will continue to
be vulnerable.”


War On The Rocks offers a fascinating article written by Pablo Chovil who served as an officer with the 82nd Airborne in Mosul,  Air Superiority Under 2000 Feet: Lessons From Waging Drone Warfare Against ISIL,.

Pablo takes us deep into the tactics:

Previously irrelevant to conventional air superiority paradigms, the strip of sky between ground forces and high-end air assets has become highly coveted terrain. Conventional air supremacy does little good against the capabilities of modified off-the-shelf drones, which now contest airspace under 2,000 feet.

“An uneducated man with an iPhone and a commercially available drone quickly approaches the effectiveness of a trained forward observer with a proprietary laser rangefinder.”

The implications are much larger:

Exploiting the link between battlefield leaders and the technology helping them fight will offer valuable perspective on the adversary’s command and control structures, communications architecture, and operational network.

For instance, following the drone may prove that the high-value target is not the mortar team or the rifle squad, but rather the senior leader coordinating his troops from a hidden location while keeping an eye on the fight through the lens of a $600 drone he ordered online.

To get some context I shared this with URSA CEO David Kovar, who did his Master’s thesis on Defending Against UAVs Operated by Non-State Actors. David wrote back: This is the best first hand recounting of the broad impact that sUAS had on coalition forces that I’ve seen.

It is ironic to be writing about violence during Ramadan – but then the US could probably have picked a better week to move the embassy. Some novel uses for drones are emerging from the carnage.

The Drive has a comprehensive story replete with videos, Israel Uses Drone Racers To Down Incendiary Kites And Drones To Dispense Tear Gas Over Gaza saying that Low-end drone warfare is becoming a centerpiece of the IDF’s strategy for dealing with unrest along the Gaza border.

Kites pose a particular challenge:

Facing more indiscriminate wildfires as a result of the Palestinian’s incendiary kites, the Israeli Defense Forces came up with a novel countermeasure to a very simple yet vexing tactical problem. They enlisted local drone racers to set up along the border and fly their maneuverable and fast drones into the kites or snag them with fishing hooks to bring them down. 

The tear gas has gotten most of the media attention:

The use of drones to deploy tear gas comes primarily in two flavors. One is using the drone as a dispersal platform, actually spreading the aerosol formula as it flies overhead. This is less invasive, less dangerous, and less effective than the other form, in which a larger drone drops canisters of tear gas down onto protestors below. Doing so does risk harm from the impact of the falling canisters. It seems that the IDF has quickly gone from the first method to the second over the last
two months. 


Wednesday I sat in on the LeClair Ryan webinar, Drones and Natural Disasters: What can you do after a disaster and how do you get permission to do it. One thing that was new to me is a little-known FAA process designed to facilitate emergency responses called SGI – Special Governmental Interest.

As the FAA website explains:

Through its SGI process, the FAA may expedite the issuance to qualifying UAS operations of: 1) addendums to pre-existing Certificates of Waiver or Authorization (COA); or 2) waivers and authorizations to Part 107 operators.”

The mechanics of it are laid out on the site. Mark Dombroff made the point that this is as close as true integration into the NAS as one currently gets. It can only come together with pre-planning – everything must be in place ahead of time.

Speaking of pre-planning and CONOPS, Mark Bathrick at the Department of the Interior (DOI) announced that the DOI has awarded their first contract for
sUAS services:

As part of a broader strategy to aggressively combat wildfires, the U.S. Department of the Interior has awarded a Call When Needed contract to four U.S. companies for small-unmanned aircraft systems services. The contract, which is Interior’s first of its kind, will allow the agency to obtain fully contractor-operated and maintained small drones that are ready when needed to support wildland fire operations, search and rescue, emergency management and other resource missions in the Contiguous 48 States and Alaska.

This is the third tier of an air strategy that begins with small tactical units (mostly 3DR Solos) supporting Hot Shot teams, a new VTOL fleet supporting division commanders and now the extended duration drones that can loiter over the scene to provide the strategic picture from higher altitudes. Mark told me that all of the contracted units will squawk ‘Mode C’ so that they can be integrated into the overall air operation.

I asked Mark for his thoughts on Remote ID and the growing groundswell for interdiction. Specifically, I was interested in how DOI is managing unauthorized intrusions (noncooperative UAS) coming into the TFRs.

Mark said that their efforts will continue to rely on public outreach using the If You Fly, We Can’t campaign that was launched in 2015, and the #KnowWhereNotToGo program launched in 2017 which provides expanded public access to real-time fire location mapping.

If you don’t know Mark’s background, he is a 25 year USN combat pilot – I find these comments to be a sort of voice of reason in an increasingly reactive (hysterical?) discussion.

  • We still think that the careless and the clueless can be educated. Even though 2017 was one of the worst fire seasons we’ve had, drone incursions were down 14%. The criminal are a law enforcement problem.

“People need to understand that no Remote ID system is going to work perfectly. Relying on electronics is a fool’s errand. No matter what you do, it will not eliminate the last 1-2%.”

  • We train our UAS teams on deconfliction with tankers and choppers; and we know who is supposed to be where in our TFR. Then we rely on eyeballs on the ground to identify someone who doesn’t belong. If we can’t find the operator, we have no choice but to ground our assets, because planes on the ground don’t crash.
  • Interdiction is a very complex issue. There needs to be a lot more thought about the rules of engagement because of the possibility of unintended consequences. Every time that I deployed, the squadron was briefed on very specific rules of engagement – a lot of people are still alive because we followed those rules.


Nice story from Guinn Partners including a ten minute ‘splainer video, Analysis Skycatch & Komatsu.

One of the most discussed topics in 2018 is Skycatch and DJI selling 1000 commercial drone units (DJI’s biggest commercial sale ever), to Japanese construction giant Komatsu. We break down the sale, what was purchased, how the units are deployed, the timeline of the companies working together, and what an enterprise sale of this size entails.

I began following the story in 2015 – this is a deal that came together the old fashioned way, they earned it.

Bloomberg Technology has a well-researched article by Thomas Black, Drone Pilots’ $2,000 Paydays Drop 90% in ‘Race to the Bottom’.

Three years after federal regulators began allowing commercial drone flights, the fever to cash in has turned into a pitched battle for business. Prices for collecting airborne data have plummeted amid a flood of competition equipped with cheap, hi-tech aircraft that practically fly themselves. That’s pressuring operators, while handing customers new opportunities for affordable drone inspections, pictures and other services.

The challenge for providers is to figure out how to profit. Companies are rushing to carve out turf in an industry that’s convulsed by fast-paced breakthroughs in sensor capabilities and machine learning, while at the same time being throttled by slowly evolving regulation focused on keeping the skies safe.

Scientific American looks forward with Here’s What’s Needed for Self-Flying Taxis and Delivery Drones to Really Take Off.

Even after the UTM is fully tested it will likely be years before the FAA can implement a system that scales quickly enough to accommodate the expected demand in commercial drone delivery services across the U.S., says Parimal Kopardekar, NASA’s senior technologist for Air Transportation Systems and principal investigator for the UTM project. There are currently up to 6,000 drones flying through U.S. airspace at any given time, but that number will likely increase 100-fold in some places once the FAA opens the skies to drone-based commerce, Kopardekar says. 

In late breaking news Recode reports: Uber’s chief product officer Jeff Holden, who led the company’s flying car effort, has stepped down. The article includes a report on the Elevate conference. Aviation Week has a podcast, The Wild Ride at Uber’s Elevate Summit.

PK’s comment provides some balance:

…The prospect of drone deliveries in the next few years is up in the air. “Speculation is not a very good sport,” he says. “[Some people] are saying there’s a possibility to have point-to-point air taxis in certain locations, although not everywhere. Is that enough for economics? That’s a question that the individual companies will have to address… Whether it’s possible technologically, that’s what we’re researching.”


The stories behind the UAS IPP wins are beginning to surface. DroneLife has Who’s Down with IPP? North Carolina’s Drone Division.

The DOT will work with UAV delivery companies such as ZiplineMatternet and Flytrex, to create a network of medical distribution centers that deploy drones to make medical deliveries.

“Blood and other supplies currently travel by courier to hospitals and testing facilities. With drones, medical providers would get the test results and supplies they need much faster,” an agency press release notes. NCDOT has already collaborated with Raleigh based PrecisionHawk to create an Unmanned Traffic Management system.

The complexity of the partnerships is mind-numbing. UAV Expert News has Flirtey Partners With Four Governments Selected for Nationwide Drone Integration Pilot Program. The article details one partnership to deploy AEDs (Automated External Defibrillators) in Reno:

Flirtey and the City of Reno, with support from Reno Police Department and Reno Fire Department, have partnered with FedEx, Regional Emergency Medical Services Authority, Alpine Insurance, Northern Nevada Medical Center, The Reno-Sparks Indian Colony, Truckee Meadows Community College, Reno Fire Department, Reno Police Department, City of Sparks and Sparks Fire Department, Carson Fire Department, Iris Automation, AirMap, T-Mobile and The American
Red Cross.

Out of San Diego is this report which includes Cape, AT&T, Qualcomm, Intel, Uber, and GE. A mix of telecom, LE and delivery initiatives.


Brett Hoffstadt, the Vice President of the Drone Pilots Federation, has a new book out, Success with Drones in Civil Engineering: An Accelerated Guide to Safe, Legal, and Profitable Operations. Brett told me that the book includes some 50 lessons learned since Part 107 went into effectSo that readers can benefit from others’ often painful and costly experience.”  Get it.

Ted Bahr, the founder of BZ Media, has opened Bahr Gallery in tony Oyster Bay, NY. For once I can say that this is really a trip – the gallery specializes on the psychedelic posters from 1966-69. Ted offers framed first editions, many signed by the artist and/or performers. Buy some.

Props to K2 Unmanned Systems – I’ve been following these California boys for a year now. The headline is K2 Unmanned Systems Releases The First US Designed And Assembled Law Enforcement Tactical Drone. Knight Hawk should make Senator Murphy happy.

Ready for Father’s Day? POWERUP Toys lets you expand your sense of play and experimentation by adding power, mobile controls and video streaming to paper airplanes. Pretty fun. Go fly.

The Final Program and Abstracts for the upcoming 2018 International Conference on Unmanned Aircraft Systems is out. Impressive line-up. Exceptionally rich content. Attend.


Call this one mandatory – or hi/lo. (Hilo, get it?) By now you know that Kilauea has blown its top. Heck, you can see it from space. The area is under a National Park Service TFR and the FAA has put in 30,000 AGL minimum ceiling. So you know that they gave Gab707 permission to take his drone out for a spin, Fly Around Hawaii’s Erupting Kilauea Volcano With This Up-Close Drone Footage.

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


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter







This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.