The 'I'm Fixing a Hole' issue of Dronin' On 02.24.18
DJI P3 safely nestled on the Apple Park roof – screen grab from Matthew Roberts, YouTube

Hi all –

Thank you all for your continued support for #OurCommonCause. To facilitate participation, I have published Make Yourself Heard! A sample letter to your Congressional representatives on my website. Please share it. Thank you.

This week some updates about the recent drone strikes and crashes, the FAA extension, new forces shaping the direction of the FAA, CUAS including a guest post from Travis Moran on the Counter Drone Conundrum and some eye candy because even if you haven’t been good, you’ve been patient.


The week started out quietly… Debate raged and then subsided about whether a drone was even on the scene in South Carolina; and no one is quite sure what happened in Kauai. Still it was enough for Patrick Egan to pen South Carolina And What’s Up With The Federal Preemption? decrying the Internet Court of Opinion; and Bloomberg to run with Close Calls Underscore Growing Risks.

Aviation regulators are investigating a flurry of collisions and close calls between consumer drones and aircraft, encounters they say pose significant risks to the flying public.”

All of which takes some of the shine off UAST Says Only a Small Percentage of Drone Reports Pose Safety Risk which honestly had previously escaped my attention. UAST is the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Safety Team Drone Sightings Working Group. Their somewhat nebulous conclusion was:

3,714 drone sightings reports [were] collected by flight crews, air traffic controllers and citizens from November 2015 to March 2017. The report found that only a small percentage of drone reports [~3%] pose a safety risk, while the vast majority are simply sightings… The multi-stakeholder working group also cautioned regulators and policymakers against drawing concrete conclusions from the data, given “a notable amount of inconsistencies and unknowns.”

Oh, that again. Or is still?


Just as the roar was subsiding, a DJI P3 fell from the skies right onto Apple’s shiny new headquarters. The picture shows it snuggled in among the solar panels on the main building. It’s an interesting story for all sorts of reasons.

First, the pilot contacted Apple to inform them of the accident. Then he contacted Matthew Roberts, a high profile San Jose based drone pilot who has shot a lot of the under construction footage of Apple Park that we have all marveled at over the years. Roberts, perhaps with Apple’s permission (?), flew the scene, found the drone, took the shot and posted the video which seems to have been designed for max click bait.

Certainly nothing stealth about it.

The footage, pulled from the pilot’s DJI app (not the drone), shows that it took some 13 seconds (at least) for the drone to go from stable flight to the last frame. I say “at least” because there is no telling if there was more footage. Using basic physics, d = k * t^2, an object will fall 400’ in 5 seconds. So, let’s more accurately say that it fluttered (was pulled?) to earth.

A quick look at AirMap shows that Apple Park Way is inside San Jose (SJO) Class C Airspace, coincidentally one of the original five LAANC sites.

Like a lot of big companies, Apple is notorious for its security. Which reminded me of a story from August 2016, A DJI Forced Into SF Bay Puts The Focus On Privacy about another Bay area videographer Duncan Sinfield. The Mercury News reported that:

“I watched it go down at full speed, even as I was using my thumb to raise elevation. It was as if there were some invisible hand controlling it.” Sinfield has no clue what happened, and neither does drone-maker DJI, which reviewed the craft’s flight data stored on the company’s servers.

I spoke with Duncan at the time, and while he wouldn’t reveal his flight plan, it’s clear that the incident took place over another campus, probably Oracle, since the drone crashed near Redwood City. What is ironic (or is simply a delicious coincidence) is another part of the original story:

Some drone enthusiasts believe Silicon Valley companies may be quietly working to install “hidden” barriers set up by third parties. Robi Sen, founder and chief technology officer of Maryland-based communications and security company Department 13, said that in addition to creating potential safety hazards, drones can be used to steal trade secrets — and his firm is helping companies thwart the crafts from hovering over their properties.

Sen said his firm’s software would allow a company to remotely “redirect an unwanted drone by setting up a geofence around its campus that says, ‘Don’t come in.’”  In another part of the interview, Sen shared his opinion that:

“There’s currently no law prohibiting a company from setting up a geofence around its property.”

Safe to say that it is unlikely that Pilot J. Doe will see his P3 again. Chances are good that Apple security will want to see what it saw, and where else it might have been. It also leads one to wonder about RPIC Roberts and his relationship with Apple… And of course, there is the tantalizing question of whether either pilot used LAANC to obtain a Class C waiver for their flights.


There are 12 days left until the money runs out at 800 Independence Avenue. Morning Transportationforecast continues to hold steady for an FAA Extension rather than a Reauthorization… The same twists and turns that led to the current extension are still in play. Making things murky is that Trump’s FY2019 budget assumes ATC privatization.

 It’s unclear how long of an extension lawmakers would be willing to stomach again, but considering the cramped legislative calendar — and election-year campaigning on the horizon — it’s hard to imagine something long-term. So the question is: Will GOP leadership give Shuster floor time for his [ATC] effort after the recess?

But there is a lot more going on.

Last week in Common Cause – Part 2, we got our first look at the proposed FY19 $73M UAS budget. This week, FAA alum and observer Sandy Murdock posted a piece in JDA Journal Some Observations on FAA’s Proposed FY19 Budget. As preamble consider this startling benefit of partisan governance.

Since FY 2009, FAA has been funded through 44 appropriation cycles, including continuing resolutions, and 27 autho5rization cycles, including extensions. There have also been three lapses in authorizations and appropriations, as well as the FY 2013 Sequestration.

Referring to the UAS allocation as well as another $31M for commercial space, Murdock wondered if:

These two quotes and the numbers associated with them make it clear that the FAA’s mission in expanding. If autonomous aerial vehicles, manned vertical aero automobiles and other innovative aviation platforms are also jammed into the FAA’s responsibilities, PERHAPS, it is time to pause and think about whether these new modes merit another or more than one new mode within DOT? 

Does the DOT experiment of devolving UAS regulation to states, counties and municipalities [UASIPP] portend that some/all of the FAA responsibilities will move? Does this language in the 2019 FY Budget give further credence to this transfer?

This week I attended an AUVSI’s Regulatory and Stakeholder Perspectives on the Future of UAS [no link] webinar featuring Brendan Schulman, VP Policy & Legal Affairs for DJI and Manny Cruz, Branch Manager, Safety and Operations Branch for the FAA.

As you would expect, Brendan did a masterful job changing hats between his leadership role on various DAC activities (including the Remote ID ARC) and his day job as VP for the world’s leading drone manufacturer. Brendan reviewed the need for Remote ID and noted that Next Steps included “Adjustment to Section 336 to provide for Remote ID.” No word as to how or when…

Whether intentionally or not, Manny Cruz’s presentation was much more revealing. It didn’t take long for him to get rolling, with a reminder that Part 107 is a rule for uncertified aircraft operating under what is considered as a tolerable level of risk.

His slide What is a UAS? Is reproduced here. It is interesting to see how commonly interchangeable words become a clearly defined hierarchy.

A UAS is a system:

  • Unmanned Aircraft
  • Ground Control Station
  • Command & Control Link(s)

His comment was that in the future the FAA will look:

  • Beyond the aircraft
  • Beyond the knowledge level of the operator
  • And at the other portions of the system
  • In particular, for BVLOS this will include spectrum utilization

Coincidentally, IoT’s Anna Gomez reports that “On February 8, 2018, the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) filed a Petition for Rulemaking with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC or Commission) regarding adoption of licensing and service rules for Control and Non-Payload Communications (CNPC) links in the 5030-5091 MHz band for command and control (C2) operations to support unmanned aircraft systems (UAS or drones).”

In discussing waivers, Cruz reiterated that the burden is on the applicant to inform the FAA of their “innovative plan for safety mitigation.” Apparently, many applicants are not following the Waiver Safety Explanation Guidelines, which (surprise surprise) results in their waiver being denied.

Under the slide UAS Security Sensitive Restrictions, he noted that under the existing authority from Title 14 CFR 99.7, 400+ restrictions “over sensitive facilities, including military sites, national landmarks and other sites” are now in place. IMO this is a fast-growing number!

During the Q&A I asked about a timeline for SEC 2209 which would allow private companies to identify critical infrastructure as no-fly zones. He indicated that there was no timeline. Let’s see if we learn more at the upcoming FAA Symposium.

Meanwhile, the (not so) great press keeps coming – this time, Drone Solutions Prove Tricky Task for FAA, Industry in Avionics. The writer, Nick Zazulia interviewed AUVSI CEO Brian Wynne who against all available empirical data continues to blather on about 100,000 jobs and $82B dollars in revenue. Hey Brian, that report is now four plus years old…Why not splurge on an update? The only thing worse than over promising is seriously under delivering.

Zazulia also caught on to the cat and mouse game between the FAA and the AMA. The most interesting part of the article was an interview with Kip Spurio, the aviation technical director at Raytheon Intelligence, Information and Services who pretty much nailed it when he said:

“Currently, it’s kind of like a good citizen model being envisioned for regulations once they’re decided upon,” Spurio said. “They’re going to make the rules, and everyone is going to go off and follow the rules as good citizens. It’s questionable how effective that’s going to be in the end.” 


Everybody I talk to tells me the same thing “No one is making any money.” Sure, it’s anecdotal and perhaps you are an exception – in which case, mazeltov.

But the hard to debate facts are that the regulations we need are stalled and will literally require several acts of Congress to unstick. The giddy forecasts that drove investment three and four years ago missed the mark by far more than anyone imagined. The FAA has tipped its hand and certification and compliance measures are ahead.

Given the economic situation the entire community faces, it is not surprising that people are fighting over scraps. I am not throwing rocks, indeed I am bailing the same boat.

Being in a highly regulated industry is turning out to be a lot more challenging than many of us imagined, for reasons that most of us never imagined.

The question is, is there anyone who can pull the pieces together and lead us out of the proverbial darkness – or lead us across the economic wasteland if manifest destiny is more to your liking.

In my opinion, the most forward-looking lobbying group is the Commercial Drone Alliance, who this week published their Commercial Drone Alliance 2018 Legislative Priorities.

This a wide-ranging, far-seeing set of recommendations to Congress (follow the bouncing ball – Congress not the FAA.)

I’ve cherry-picked a few that I can get behind:

o Eliminate (or at the very least amend) the Section 336 hobbyist loophole, which endangers the safety and security of the airspace and slows innovation.

o Direct the FAA to allow safe operations beyond visual line of sight in a timely way.

o State the sense of Congress supporting the industry-driven Unmanned Aircraft Traffic Management (UTM) System and its timely implementation.

o Ensure that UAS programs, and relevant agency offices, are adequately funded and staffed to accomplish these priorities and support existing programs in a timely way.

o Congress should pass appropriately-tailored UAS threat mitigation legislation as part of an FAA/DOD/DHS reauthorization…

o As part of an infrastructure package, Congress should include provisions designed to move the commercial drone industry forward… This last bit is particularly clever.

I totally get that this was crafted to meet the very specific needs and interests of the Alliance’s members. That’s the way it works. But that does not make it bad. We all have more in common than not.


My hope for this week is that all of our self-anointed representatives including the FAA (which is still charged with promoting the industry,) AUVSI, SUAVC, AMA, the media (including journalists and pundits), and the various manufacturers who pride themselves on their legislative influence can come together into a coalition to rally around some combination of these ideas. Because a rising tide lifts
all boats.


I am very pleased to introduce a guest post by Travis Moran, The Counter Drone Conundrum. Travis has been in law enforcement for a long time. His views on the value of detection and the Kill, No Kill decision have been honed by years in the field. The article stems from his first-hand experience over the past few years meeting with senior executives charged with physical infrastructure security across the US and Canada.

This article is for those who want to do more than cross their fingers. I will address the high cost of doing nothing on situational awareness, the operational implications of a complete solution and share my thoughts about a relatively new development under the DHS Safety Act that is already being used to help protect some sporting events…

The Bard College Center for the Study of Drones has released their study of Counter-Drone Systems.

To date, we have found at least 235 counter-drone products either on the market or under active development. This report provides background on the growing demand for C-UAS technology, describes how the technology works, presents our database of known C-UAS systems from around the globe, and explains some of the challenges surrounding counter-drone technology use. 


Because you can’t invent people like this…

From THE CIPHER BRIEF: Dead Drop Feb. 23 


Airbus’ Vahana venture shows off video of its flying car’s first test flight in Oregon is average filmmaking until the big reveal at the end. Holy Moly! Cue the monolith music from 2001.

Using Drones to Shoot War Zones is a whole lot grittier than the kinds of things I normally feature – but it is also very compelling. The photographer’s comments say a great deal:

Joey’s aerial work was done with “The most basic, cheap consumer drones that are available to everybody now. To think about even doing this kind of image making with this level of quality for so cheap even three years ago was just unheard of.”

If you love to sail, this is for you. Volvo Ocean Race: The Man Who Made History with Drones. The Volvo has a huge international following. The top video is pretty tame – for the full adrenalin effect take a look at the one on the bottom of
the page.

For a sour candy – or a jawbreaker – Gary Mortimer reports on Tourist Given Life Ban From South Africa’s Kruger National Park for Drone Flight. 

We have had two incidents reported by tourists in the KNP recently of people flying such aircraft illegally, getting out of vehicles on undesignated areas, interfering in sightings; disturbing and stalking animals; only to feign innocence upon questioning. We would like to inform such people and other drone users that, should they be found flying them in the Park at any time, they will be arrested on the spot and their equipment will be seized.

And singing this weeks title track, I’m Fixing a Hole, Sir Paul.

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


Christopher Korody
Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter