Hi all –

Never a dull moment in our little corner of the sky.This week the FAA, an assassination attempt in Venezuela creates Chicken Little chick bait, more GPS aha’s and oh no’s, some very wild fire – and a stunning 336 finale.

THE FAA

AirTransportWorld reported US Senate Approves FAA Budget of $17.7 Billion
for FY2019
:

The funding bill was included as part of a “minibus” appropriations package, which consists of four separate appropriations bills.

The $17.7 billion amount is roughly $1.6 billion more than the FAA budget request and $300 million less than the FY2018 enacted level.

Here is a summary that I prepared in June, UAS Items: 2019 Appropriations Bill

Commercial UAV News has some feel good in Bipartisan Effort in Congress Prioritize the Integration of Drones into National Airspace:

On Jul 31st, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) introduced a bipartisan amendment sponsored by Sens. John Hoeven (R-ND) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) to the FY19 Transportation, Housing and Urban Development (T-HUD) portion of the ‘minibus II’ spending package that would provide $6 million towards unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research…

While it may be bipartisan, the unifying theme is that the three Senators all represent test site states. And this does not fund UAS IPP – something the FAA has already been taken to task for.

FYI This is not the same thing as the FAA Reauthorization. I am not quite sure how you fund something that hasn’t been authorized, but that’s one reason that the Swamp is such a special place.

Was happy to hear from Erik Amend in the FAA’s UAS Integration Office that the FAA recently published an RFI for a Public Private Partnership to Continue the B4UFLY (Mobile Application) Mission. If it were up to me it would include access to LAANC. The RFI closes at the end of August.

Wednesday I did an interview with Randy Goers of the Drone Radio Show. We talked about a bunch of stuff including the upcoming panel I am moderating at InterDrone, FAA Regulations: The Latest Outlook.

The panelists – Bill Goodwin (AirMap), Lydia Hilton (Berman Fink Van Horn), Doug Johnson (CTA) and Anthony Zakel (DOT) – will have a lot to say about LAANC, UAS IPP, ULC, 336 and some of those nasty audits suggesting that the FAA is dragging it’s heels.

Since we will be following Acting Administrator Daniel Elwell’s keynote I have asked Ted Bahr and K-Flash if we can do the panel as a CNN kind of commentary. Come see what we end up with.

DBIED

This week a new phrase entered the lexicon – DBIED. Drone Borne IED. While not quite perfect, it’s the kind of set up that Chicken Little has been waiting for to start slamming the doors. Which is why we need to do what we can to ensure that cooler heads prevail.

Annotated screen grab from NYT video

It’s a complicated, not entirely coherent story. As we used to say, consider the source. What we saw is Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, resplendent in a tri-color sash, making a speech when two explosions went off some 14 seconds apart.

  • Which individually or severally may or may not have been from drones since a gas main (or was it a propane tank) happened to explode at virtually the same time at #2.
  • Which were probably but maybe not definitely both DJI Matrice 600s.
  • Which were probably carrying 1kg shaped C4 charges.
  • Which may or may not have been launched by the US or Colombia or some poor bastards from the “T-Shirt Brigade” who have since been arrested.
  • Which may or may not have been thwarted by CUAS technology deployed to protect El Presidente, who to be clear did not win the popular vote. (See The Economist.)
  • Which was shown in footage that neither CNN nor Telemundo would credit the source for but at least in part turns out to be State TV which cut away when the attack started.

The most comprehensive report I have seen is from Bellingcat, which is very proficient at deconstructing this sort of thing. Did Drones Attack Maduro
in Caracas?

Since then the NYT International has put together an excellent ‘splainer video, How the Drone Attack on Maduro Unfolded In Venezuela, which ties many of the pieces together and removes many of the initial ambiguities.

There are some important takeaways here.

As you can see from the map, this was not a piece of precision flying. The first one blew up 100 yards from him in mid-air, the second slammed into a wall even farther away 14 seconds later. That contributed to the early skepticism.

Whether someone actually tried to assassinate him (and failed), or Maduro staged it (unlikely) or someone was testing responses (long game) doesn’t matter much here in El Norte. What people remember is clickbait, not details.Of course, had “they” succeeded it would be a very different story. Today the headline is:


For the first time, drones have been used for an attack in the Western hemisphere.


The LA Times averred Venezuela Attack Shows Drones Can Become Assassins: Here’s How They Can Be Grounded

While David Axe writing for Motherboard piled on with Assassin Drones Are Here. Now What? It was perhaps inevitable that would-be political assassins would turn to off-the-shelf drones.

“We will see more attacks, as the technology has a very low barrier to entry,” Peter W. Singer, a drone expert at the New America Foundation, told me. “Indeed, it is harder to get the bomb than it is to get the drone.” (my emphasis)

I checked in with resident LE expert Travis Moran. He reiterated what Singer said:

Getting one’s hands on such types of explosives to weaponize drones in the US is not an easy task. Even thefts of domestic TNT used in construction are typically vigorously investigated.  I have attached the unclassified 2015 United States Bomb Data Center Explosives Incident Report for context. The worldwide surveillance of suspected terrorists inhibits not just their travel to the US, but also their ability to acquire HE (high explosives). The most likely threat comes from cartels since HE can be brought across the border from Latin America.


Chicken Little can now claim that the sky is falling.


You had to know this was coming: DHS Calls for Action After Explosive Drone Incident in Venezuela.

Since the incident in Caracas, there has been a flood of news reports warning of the dangers of weaponized drones. Brendan Schulman, [vice] president of policy and legal affairs at DJI, suggested to the Wall Street Journal($) that the attack demonstrates the need for enhanced technology solutions – specifically, it “highlight[s] the importance of implementing remote identification solutions.” Importantly, Schulman noted he does not feel the incident will set back “the progress of commercial drones.”

From your lips to God’s ears. Travis has a very different take:

As news of this spreads, and incidents of this type – no matter how small or insignificant happen – public fear, particularly during gatherings, will IMO further slow adoption.

As is becoming customary, DJI issued a statement “If people decide to misuse our products in any way, they have to be responsible for their actions.”

Which provides a handy segue. To the one thing that no one is talking about yet…

Do you remember when the drone crashed into the Blackhawk over New York last September? And a small piece of the of the arm and a motor was found inside the Blackhawk? And on said piece was a serial number which, with the help of DJI, led the investigators straight to the pilot’s door?

photo courtesy Bellingcat

Well guess what. There are pictures of much bigger pieces from one of the two drones. (Or both?)

That motor is certain to have a serial number. Which means that investigators will soon know (if they don’t already) who purchased this drone and where.

Might this increase the pressure on the Senate to get their FAA Reauthorization bill done? As I have reported for the last two weeks, it contains S. 2836 – Preventing Emerging Threats Act of 2018 as an amendment.

GPS AHA’S AND OH NO’S

Rockwell International 1977 promo piece

My first aerospace client was Rockwell International Space Systems Group. We helped to market two products – the Space Shuttle which was still some years from launch and the NAVSTAR Global Positioning System. No one had a clue that 40 years later the entire world would depend on those satellites.

Last week in The MILESTONE issue, I featured two articles. The first one from Bloomberg Businessweek was headlined ‘The World Economy Runs on GPS. It Needs a Backup Plan.

The small satellite network, which keeps global computer systems from freaking out, is shockingly vulnerable to all kinds of interference.

The second one was closer to home, Inside GNSS reports Deadline Near: DHS Program to Assess GPS Jamming, Spoofing Resilience

“What we’re looking at is what kind of technology is available to protect our aircraft from bad guys buying illegal jammers or spoofers to keep the bad guys’ location hidden from us or allowing them to take over an aircraft…” 

It turns out that I unwittingly stumbled onto the tip of an iceberg. This week it’s gotten a lot bigger.

Flaw in Some Satellite Communication Terminals Can Expose US Troops’ Location reveals that:

Some satellite communication terminals that the military uses in forward-deployed locations are highly vulnerable to a pervasive flaw… which could be used to intercept GPS downlink signals that reveal the location of a terminal and the soldiers using it… 

Bill Carey in Aviation Week reports FAA Mulls Recommendations For Planned GPS Interference. ADS-B, which becomes mandatory in 2020, is totally dependent on GPS. Meanwhile there are more and more “GPS signal interference events caused by Defense Department testing.”

While the tests are carefully planned and managed, the vulnerability is real:

Loss or degradation of GPS signal reception because of interference could affect pilots’ use of GPS-based required navigation performance (RNP) procedures, disable terrain awareness and warning systems and degrade pitch and roll accuracy of GPS-aided attitude and heading reference systems.

But the really big problem that first emerged in The End of Secrets issue in February, has to do with devices that share GPS data.

screen grab of Strava Global Heat Map showing all activities

In a brilliant marketing ploy, Strava generated a heat map that overlaid 13 trillion user generated GPS points on a world map – the problem was that some of them weren’t supposed to be there. Oops.

After six months of study, The U.S. Military Just Partially Banned Geolocatable Cellphones. That’s a Start. The story in Defense One read:

Now, it’s been revealed that the Polar fitness tracker was exposing user data as well. Researchersreportedly discovered 6,400 users in sensitive locations, “including the NSA, the White House, MI6 in London, and the Guantanamo Bay detention center in Cuba.” The researchers could even apparently trace—as explained in a disturbing report—the movement of a single intelligence officer to their home.

The Pentagon has begun to grasp the implications. On Aug. 3, Defense leaders issued a department wide edict: “Effective immediately, Defense Department personnel are prohibited from using geolocation features and functionality on government and non-government-issued devices, applications, and services while in locations designated as operational areas.” 

The “disturbing” report comes from a Dutch blog called De Correspondent. They headlined the story, Here’s How We Found the Names and Addresses of Soldiers and Secret Agents Using a Simple Fitness App.

As the kids say, this is crazy:

Western military personnel using Strava have unwittingly drawn global attention to themselves and their colleagues.

In the Netherlands, Foeke Postma follows the outcry with interest. He’s a diehard runner… In April, Postma starts using a fitness app made by the Finnish company Polar;  he’s curious what data on him the app will collect. Like so many other users, he turns the app on at his front door and doesn’t turn it off until he’s back home.

Polar’s map shows him a growing collection of runs near his house. Postma realizes what this means: if he makes his profile public, anyone can see where he lives. His inner detective comes to life. He scrolls through Polar’s map to find Volkel, a Dutch military base where nuclear weapons are stored.  Bam: there’s a run, logged by a jogger who’s used his real name. Postma zooms out and finds additional routes the jogger’s run. The thickest cluster begins and ends at a house in a
nearby town.


On LinkedIn, Postma learns that the jogger is a senior officer in the Dutch military. One whose home address he now knows. He repeats the trick at other sensitive locations, with success.


Bravo for their conclusion:

…Employers must ensure that existing security measures are not undone by this kind of digital sloppiness. And tech companies must realize how sensitive the data they collect, store, and share with the rest of the world really is – and the responsibility that comes with it.

I am going to leave you to figure out what kinds of trails your UAS operations are leaving. As more than one commenter has drily noted – this was never the plan – what happened was everyone camped on to the free tech. Kind of like WiFi it
just spread…

LIKE WILDFIRE

According to the National Interagency Fire Center, to date in 2018 “One hundred large fires have burned about 1.7 million acres across the United States.”

So it’s encouraging when Mark Bathrick at the Department of Interior reports that UAS incursions on wildland fire operations have dropped for the second year in a row. Nice to know that education and self-interest still works!

The article doesn’t have a clickbait headline, OAS Briefing Paper – Drone Incursions on Wildfires – Key Messages – July 2018 Update but the content
is terrific:

Drone incursion awareness and notification initiatives are mature and ongoing. DOI is working closely with local law enforcement and the FAA to promote increased enforcement. As of July 27, 2018, there have been 18 drone incursions on wildfire, 25% fewer than at the same time last year (24).

If you are curious, you can read a description of each of the incidents here.

Of course, just when I thought everything was going well, I came across Report: Drone Nearly Caused Mid-Air Collision at Grassy Ridge Fire. By now, we all know how the story goes…

… A drone flew within several feet of their aircraft. …just in time to take
evasive action…

All aircraft were immediately grounded and will remain so…

Then an unexpected break…

A flight crew member was able to take a photo of a white pickup truck
speeding away.

The LA Times offered up A ‘Game Changer’ Helps California Firefighters Pierce the Haze and Target Hot Spots which describes the use of a California Air National Guard MQ-9 Reaper.

“You can actually see at 25,000 feet when they shoot down on the fire line, you can actually see people walking around and see fire trucks through infrared.”

You know that it’s a really bad fire season when Yosemite is closed and you start seeing articles like these:

What It’s Like to Fight Wildfires in the West A photojournalist and firefighter describes the challenges of battling wildland blazes.

Counties are often reluctant to turn away development in dangerously flammable areas because they get tax benefits. They know they won’t have to pay for suppressing disastrous wildfires, because taxpayers fund the Forest
Service’s work.

The author notes that >55% of the US Forest Service budget is now spent fighting wildland fires – up from 15% 25 years ago.

TIME tells the story in The Way America Fights Wildfires Changed 30 Years Ago — But People Keep Making the Situation Worse

Fire management has gone from a national matrix governed by a single agency and single strategy to an interagency, even intergovernmental collaboration to advance a variety of goals. Meanwhile, there is little political support other than for more firefighting, which is like reducing national health care to emergency medicine. A suppression-only policy merely aggravates the underlying causes.

What is unanimous is the conclusion that the fires are fiercer than ever because of climate change. As the NYT reported, We’re Not Ready For Climate Change:

“It’s not a wake-up call anymore,” a scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies said of global warming. “It’s now absolutely happening to millions of people around the world.”

Please be careful when you play with matches – bad things can happen.

GreenTechMedia reports PG&E Sets $2.5B Charge for Wildfire Liabilities on the ‘Lower End of Range’. Thursday’s filing added hard evidence to the talk this week that PG&E may be facing bankruptcy as a result of its liability for last year’s fires.” (my emphasis – are you kidding me?!)

A 336 FINALE

21:05 Just when I thought that this issue was safely to bed, this showed up from retail powerhouse UAV Expert News with the headline Section 336 Is
Under Attack
.

What is it? A remarkable piece of calculated rabble-rousing by aviation attorney and hired hand Jeffrey Antonelliwho makes his living off Part 107 Waivers and public COAs and really should know better…

Or to put it charitably, another belch from the ‘fly free or die’ crowd sponsored by retailers who must calculate that there is ‘bro’ brand value in being seen as ‘not complying’ – knowing that they can and will have to pivot later to stay in business. But for now:

Not our fault dude, we fought for you

Sounds awesome! Remember, the rule is that I am not allowed to make this stuff up. Here we go:

Section 336 Is Under Attack.. Here Is What You Need To Know

Rotor Drone reports that efforts are being made to repeal Section 336, known as the “Special Rule for Model Aircraft”.

Section 336 is the reason why today’s drone pilots and generations of model-aircraft fliers have been able to fly without a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) pilot’s license, equipage mandates, and regulatory paperwork. Section 336 is a safe tradition that has been around for many decades. (my emphasis – since 2012)

If you like flying your drone or model aircraft for recreation without mandates that include pilot licenses and remote IDs, action is needed now. 

I am stunned that anyone, especially an attorney, is advocating completely doing away with licensing and registration. The other thing Antonelli neglected to say is that flying under 336 is not free. Joining the AMA so you can fly under CBO rules is $75/year. Finally, while they had no way of knowing, given the DBIED attempt on President Maduro, this could quickly become an untenable position.


Don’t be confused. Read the words. This is very much an us or them proposition.


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

best,
ck

Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
chris@dronebusiness.center
follow me @dronewriter

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

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