The 'Feel the Burn' issue of Dronin' On 06.30.18
Sardinas Canyon Fire from the West Rim, temperature 102˚ –  Photo copyright Geraint Smith

Hi all –

A hot, smoky week here in Taos. All but one section of the 1.5 million acre Kit Carson National Forest is closed, as is the BLM land and the state parks. We have a TFR up over the Sardinas Canyon fire. Take a look at the “If you fly we can’t” campaign which has evolved to “If You Fly, Someone Could Die.”

A special thanks to Geraint Smith for the use of his image – you are looking east from the Rio Grande Gorge perhaps 25 miles to the fire – which at the time was 800 acres. Geraint is a wonderful photographer – please take some time to enjoy his work.

Check out this amazing time lapse sequence of the fire literally blowing up.

For my part I am trying to convince the city fathers that the planned 4th of July fireworks show is a bad idea. Ya think?

This week we’ll look at activity on the Hill, contrast Here and There, celebrate the UAS-NAS program, check in on Big Business and enjoy some Eye Candy.


Many people I talk to don’t realize that UAS is part of NextGen. Avionics has a nifty piece, NextGen Program Needs an Integrated Approach, Stakeholders Say:

130 different initiatives are occurring within the system of systems that is NextGen, according to a panel of experts that discussed air traffic modernization at the AIAA Aviation Forum 2018 Wednesday.

“You have commercial space, you have UAS, you have what we currently have in the NAS. How does this become one big package? The NAS is the most complex, most efficient airspace system in the world and you’re talking about making it a lot
more complex…”

Small UAV Coalition went to press on their June newsletter before Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement writing that:

With limited floor time – and outstanding leadership priorities like FY19 appropriations, the farm bill, and the Water Resources Development Act (WRDA) still pending – there is potential that Congress will need to send the President another short-term extension of FAA authorities. 

Now it’s worse. As you already know, the announcement has galvanized the R’s – dropping the FAA Reauthorization another step down in the pile. Morning Transportation picks up the tale:

SAVE A DANCE FOR FAA? Remember how we said getting floor time for the Senate’s FAA bill was like your dream date saying they’ll go to prom with you? Well, now our underdog FAA reauthorization is competing with the most popular kid in school: a Supreme Court nominee. Senate Commerce Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.) told reporters Thursday that the push to confirm a justice before the midterms “obviously affects the legislative calendar on a lot of issues,” including the FAA bill. But Thune is optimistic. “If we can get a time agreement on this — and we’re running the hotline to see where the issues are — and we can get everybody to sort of agree that we can wrap this up on the floor in a couple of days, I still think we can get it done in the July work period,” he said.

I have no idea what ‘running the hotline’ means – I think it has to do with whipping (in the Congressional sense), but I do understand this story from a parallel legislative universe:

NOT-SO-HAPPY ANNIVERSARY: Wednesday marked one year since the House Energy and Commerce Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee held the first hearing on its self-driving car bill (H.R. 3388 (115))… “We’re running out of time,” [said]Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R-Ohio). “I’m very concerned that if we don’t get this done, we’ll have this patchwork [of state regulations] and we’re going to have companies from other countries developing this technology and it won’t be here.”

Our poor overburdened legislators are also trying to figure out how to integrate rocket launches transiting the NAS… This is all too familiar stuff from

‘SAFETY MIGHT BE COMPROMISED.’ Congress and the Trump administration were also warned this week that the urgent timeline to reform the FAA’s licensing process for commercial space launches could have a downside: new rules that scrimp
on safety.

“We’ve heard from some stakeholders that FAA’s regulations were drafted 25 years ago and are in fact in desperate need of a rewrite,” Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington, the top Democrat on the House Transportation Committee’s aviation panel, said during a hearing that included reps from SpaceX, Blue Origin and United Launch Alliance. “But we’ve also heard from folks who caution safety might be compromised if the FAA is forced to streamline its regulatory framework in just 12 months.” Trump’s directive from earlier this year requires the FAA to issue new proposed rules by Feb. 1.

And don’t forget about the Space Force. So much to do, so little time.


Another near miss story from May, Drone Flown ‘Above the VLOS’ Misses Commercial Jet by 10ft:

The commercial A320 pilot reports departing London Luton when the captain saw a drone in the 2 o’clock position that passed about 10-20ft above and down the right-hand side of the aircraft. The captain commented that there was insufficient time to manoeuvre out of the way but he also assessed that it would not hit the aircraft.

In fact, it is highly doubtful that the pilot assessed anything – or saw what went down the right side from the left seat. He certainly would not have had time to juke, bad form that. Given the ever growing number of encounters of the too close kind, this headline is not surprising, World’s Leading Airlines Voice Support for Global Drone Registry.

According to Reuters, the International Air Transport Association is backing the United Nations’ work to introduce a registry which would have the ability to track the number of incidents involving drones and jets.

It has also been reported that IATA could collaborate with the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) to use the registry for data analysis to improve safety.

Compare and contrast is hard to do well, but can be illuminating. offered up US, European Air-Safety Agencies Follow Different Paths on Drone Regulation based in part on a paywalled story in the WSJ. Their lead is:

Europe’s commercial-drone industry likely faces slower growth and tighter initial safety restrictions than U.S. operators, based on comments by the head of the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

In an interview Wednesday during a U.S.-European air-safety conference here, executive director Patrick Ky sketched out a more conservative vision for overseeing the burgeoning realm of unmanned aircraft than regulatory plans evolving on this side of the Atlantic.

Here are some of the specifics from the UASVision article:

FAA experts have talked about relying on cutting-edge software, plus advanced air-ground command and communication links, to deal with drone malfunctions. Such systems would be designed to put problem drones into a safe holding pattern, automatically return them to their takeoff point or immediately instruct them to make an emergency landing.

I have never heard this pitch from the FAA before, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t on a drawing board somewhere. Why any of this would work if the drone
is malfunctioning…

Mr. Ky, by contrast, said that Australia and some countries that already are aggressively courting drone operators, don’t appear to have a reliable way to assess the entire range of hazards. In many instances, he suggested, governments are merely relying on what a manufacturer is telling them about drone reliability. But “who will validate what it is telling you?[emphasis mine]:

This, of course, is the problem with self-certification.

“From my own personal perspective, and I think that’s the way we are going to do it in Europe,” he said, “your vehicle will need to be certified” to fly over cities. Notwithstanding the time and expense that entails, “someone will have to say and guarantee that this thing will not fall and hurt people on the ground,” he said.

Something I hope is top of mind as the Flights Over People NPRM is revived. Just my opinion, but the industry is not ready for it, and neither is the public.

In a speech to the same conference, Dan Elwell, the FAA’s acting administrator, said his agency wants to demonstrate it “can nimbly respond to innovation.”

The Acting Administrator will be making his first UAS appearance since the FAA UAS Symposium as the Grand Opening Keynote at InterDrone. I will be moderating FAA Regulations: The Latest Outlook right after the Keynote – it would be very cool if he dropped in… We might talk about LAANC, UAS IPP, Remote ID, 336 or any of another dozen topics. Dan be nimble, Dan be quick.

Addressing many of the same topics this week was a webinar hosted by Commercial UAV News, Understanding How the Changing Face of Commercial Drone Regulation Could Impact Your Business with guests Gretchen West, Co-Executive Director, Commercial Drone Alliance and Matt Clark, Senior Associate, Hogan Lovells who ably filled in for Lisa Ellman.

Let me put it to you this way – this is the single most substantive webinar on things UAS I have ever attended. Some of it is a high level overview of the regulatory landscape from the very polished Ms. West. Equally valuable, and harder to come by, are the insights that Matt provided into the waiver process. A tremendous amount to be learned from both, and if that’s not enough, it’s free. And while he’s not staying in Vegas, Mr. Elwell will be back in Las Vegas to headline the Commercial UAV Expo in October.

Worth noting – and worth supporting – is an anonymous survey that the FAA sent on June 19 to everyone who registered a commercial drone. “The goal is to collect information on drone flight activities under the FAA’s small drone rule.” We need
the data.


Ikhana comes home – photo courtesy NASA


Going where we all want to go, NASA hit it out of the park June 12 with “The first large-scale, remotely piloted aircraft flight in the national airspace using detect and avoid technology to fly without a safety chase aircraft.”

It’s a huge milestone for the ‘UAS in the NAS’ team that began work in 2011. It’s also a big one for the FAA. I sat in on a teleconference NASA hosted to brief press and industry that provided some fascinating insights into the rigor and professionalism involved to get this type of COA.

What follows is a little bit of a geek fest, but as the commercial UAS industry starts to think about expanded operations, it is important to understand what it takes to make a safety case.

Some things that stood out:

First, please be very clear that this is a UAS – an unmanned aerial system. The pilot in the ground control station (GCS) is an integral part of the system, just as he or she is under Part 107. This has nothing to do with an autonomous mission which would mean that the bird flew itself with no one driving. We may get there, but we are not there today from either a technical or a regulatory perspective.

This was a 2 ½ hour mission through Class A, D and E airspace from FL200 to 5,000’ using Ikhana, a NASA specific MQ-9 Reaper variant. According to the FAQ they flew 415 miles, which using my cocktail napkin means they were buzzing along at a brisk 145 knots (166mph).

The really big deal was the FAA provided a COA to fly the mission without a chase aircraft, something that has been done before in Class A but is new in Class E and D. This included 31 minutes in a VFR environment with non-cooperative aircraft.

The project was designed to “Mimic a real time, real-world operation. It included regular ATC interaction from the aircraft using satellite links.”

The COA was based on a carefully developed safety case. According to the press releaseThe COA permitted Ikhana’s pilot to rely on the latest Detect and Avoid technology, enabling the remote pilot on the ground to see and avoid other aircraft during the flight.”

This was not a blanket COA “The clearance was authorized for a specific route with the intent to demonstrate the capability and maturity of the DAA technology.” A new mission, a new COA – right now that is the way of things.

The mission flew using DAA Class 2 equipage meaning that Ikhana was equipped with an Air to Air radar, ADS-B, and TCAS II and satisfied FAA standards for Collision Avoidance and Remain Well Clear.

The project team said that the pilot’s situational awareness exceeded that of a man in a cockpit. The pilot’s display showed the bearing, range and altitude of each aircraft – termed “intruders.”

Totally amazing to me is that the software is capable of “Coordinating deconfliction with tens of intruding aircraft and resolving multiple intruders en route based on the safest outcome.”

There is a nice press kit here which includes the FAQ.

Phase 2 will involve considerable efforts to miniaturize the RTCA 228 standard avionics suite so that it fits on DOD Group 3 UAS – aircraft that have a maximum gross takeoff weight of 1,320 pounds with a 20’ wingspan. They hope to release Phase 2 DAA MOPS (Minimum Operating Performance Standards) in 2020.

Two journalists wanted to know how soon this technology would be available for sUAS under 55 pounds. Stressing the step by small step nature of the project, the answer is something along the lines of ‘patience grasshopper.’ “There is active research with NASA and in industry to develop low SWaP DAA equipment for group 3 and smaller systems.”

And then of course, there is the question of when the FAA will be ready to make a rule or start giving out waivers to let sUAS transit these airspaces.

My take is that it is very hard to make a business case to use sUAS for these kinds of missions. Despite the rabid boosterism, sUAS are simply one part of a much larger toolbox.

The potential of sUAS is defined by low cost, small size and ease of use. Turning little bird into Big Bird negates these advantages.

For more of the backstory on the mission here, look for the UAS-NAS
Integration Project.

BIG BUSINESS just released their Drone Industry Barometer 2018 – The European Drone Market.

The survey in the first quarter of 2018 canvassed 350 companies, 43% of which are commercial drone users and 38% drone manufacturers. The remaining 19% are universities, research institutes, students, developers, manufacturers of accessories or lawyers.  

I like the mix. As in the US:

Many potential customers who could use drone technologies to make their workflows much more efficient still have no precise idea about the wide range of possibilities offered by the drone market for the actual working environment.

Facebook canceled their Aquila project. Remember this was the breathtaking high altitude solar-powered bird meant to stay aloft for months to provide Internet service to underserved regions. Gary Mortimer in sUAS News offers a fine obit Facebook Abandons Drone Project – Aquila.

DroneDeploy took home a $25M Series C round, headlining We Just Raised $25M to Bring Drones to Every Job Site.

“With this new funding round, we have the opportunity to work with more customers who will bring our drone data platform to new industries, and transform workflows on every job site.” — Mike Winn, CEO at DroneDeploy

The Boeing HorizonX Venture fund continued on their roll, leading a $16M Series A round for Matternet.

Boeing [NYSE: BA] today announced its investment in Matternet, a Menlo Park, Calif.-based startup pioneering safe, on-demand unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) delivery operations in urban environments. Matternet’s advanced logistics platform – combined with Boeing’s expertise in complex logistics, integration and manufacturing capabilities – will further enable reliable, efficient cargo
air transportation.

Matternet is currently involved in UAS IPP initiatives in California and North Carolina. Be interesting to see how they transition from the blood business to other kinds of cargo.

Powerhouse GE has launched AIRXOS a connected ecosystem linking infrastructure, hardware and services. The startup will provide UTM services for three UAS IPP selectees, San Diego, Memphis and the Choctaw Nation. You can get the details here, GE Introduces New Company to Develop Next Gen UTM.

If you are someone charged with figuring out how to manage the data associated with UAS operations, this article from Enterprise IoT Insights is worth a think:

Centralised cloud resources are still good for industrial orchestration and aggregation, and high-level machine learning, but analytics is being pushed to the edge, and time-sensitive functions, whether for industrial machinery or autonomous vehicles, cannot be constrained by long connectivity loops.

I love the conclusion:

“Someone said edge compute is the death of the cloud, but I don’t think that. It’s only the death of the cloud as we know it…”


Aquila – screen grab from the video – couirtesy Facebook


Aquila’s stunning design somehow marries Orville and Wilbur’s vision with the future. Both she and Ikhana are great examples of what you can do when you don’t have design for a pilot. Here are highlights from her second, and last flight.

There is nothing pretty about this story in Gizmodo. Journalists Start Using Drones to View Immigrant Detention Camps After Government Blocks Entry.

Enormously uplifting are the Intel Shooting Stars in Pride Above All, part of the Pride Weekend celebration in San Francisco. 

Have a bang-up Fourth. There will not be an issue of Dronin’ On next Saturday.

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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