A Failed Supernova? image from Hubble Telescope courtesy of NASA

Paul G. Allen 1953-2018, RIP

Paul Allen – photo from Cringely.com without attribution

As many of you know, I worked for Apple Computer back when people didn’t know they needed a personal computer. Seriously. It wasn’t all that long ago.

Along the way, I had occasion to meet Bill Gates. I never did meet Paul Allen, Bill’s partner and the co-founder of Microsoft. By all accounts, he was an extraordinary man. If you missed the story, he died this week at 65, another pioneer taken.

But oh what a legacy.

Screen grab from Stratolaunch.com – click here to watch the latest taxi test days after he passed

In our corner of the sky he leaves the Flying Heritage & Combat Armor Museum at Paine Field, and the gigantic Stratolaunch he developed with Burt Rutan that I covered two short months ago. Please click on the image and watch the taxi test – mind boggling doesn’t really describe it. No, that is most definitely not a rendering.

Great follow up story in GeekWirePaul Allen’s Passing Leaves Unfinished Business on Stratolaunch’s Space Frontier. “His legacy will be honored.”

Bill Gates posted a touching tribute in his blog saying that:

When I think about Paul, I remember a passionate man who held his family and friends dear. I also remember a brilliant technologist and philanthropist who wanted to accomplish great things, and did.


Hi all –

I had a good time doing an interview about some of the implications of H.R. 302 with Kent Nerhus of K2 Unmanned Systems. You can listen here. They’re the group that’s been stirring up a lot of interest with their built-for-LE Knight Hawk.

This week the FAA, NASA’s UAM Grand Challenge, Aftermath, the State of Things, Design Diversity, the Balloon Fiesta and the AeroScope, Drone Journalism and Push Back. Lots of pioneers.


As expected, with the passage of H.R. 302 the FAA is moving ahead, Morning Transportation has a nice summary:

FAA’s drone to-do list: Keep an eye out for a proposed rule from FAA on drone flights over people as soon as this month, as well as a notice to gather comments on drone safety and security. In December, the agency hopes to finalize a rule on drone registration and issue an interim final rule on drone markings. Next year, it’s aiming to propose rules on remote identification and an application process to limit drone flights near “critical infrastructure facilities.” 

Please refer to the Memorial Day issue for the DOT Agency Rule List for Spring 2019 and a complete guide to the rulemaking process. This is all going to take some time.

The InterDrone podcast team is on their game – just out Thursday is Mike Pehel’s interview with former FAA Administrator Michael Huerta breaking down H.R. 302, the FAA Reauthorization Act of 2018.

Mr. Huerta starts by noting that the fact that the Reauthorization provides a five year horizon is “truly remarkable.” Indeed in this rancorous environment, the overwhelming bipartisan support was a wonderful thing to see.

Here’s a quick guide to the wide-ranging interview. (The numbers are the time stamp on the podcast – you can scrub to them.)

02:10 Section 336 created a sense that whole classes of people were exempt from any oversight or regulation – the reality is that it is one big sky.

05:09 The whole question of law enforcement and national security has been a big challenge for a few years. The concerns have held up a lot of regulations. This clarifies what authorities law enforcement has, and it is backed up by penalties.

09:18 Evolution of privacy has been a very big issue from the very beginning. The Act asks to do a study of the scope of this issue – are there sufficient legal protections, and if not, who should do what. Congress has declared that privacy should be protected, that commercial users must make their policies public and that the FTC can enforce violations.

14:00 The Act makes clear that the FAA has the authority to impose a Remote ID standard – but it remains to be seen what that is going to look like. What is the standard of performance we need to see? Can we leave open a framework
for innovation?

19:20 You have telecom pushing LTE/5G while aviation is mandated for ADS-B. Is there a way to make both of them work? A performance standard could include how they interact.

21:30 There is a recognition that Counter UAS is necessary – Congress is asking for an inter-agency report – consult with DOD – get everyone in a room and try to figure this out to head off the inefficient use of government resources

24:00 CUAS has to be integrated with Remote ID and UTM – they are all pieces of the same pie.

28:00 For the industry to continue to grow there has to be a willingness to experiment a bit and learn from those experiences. Innovation and collaboration between the government and industry is what is going to enable unmanned aircraft to thrive. Yes, I am optimistic.

Interesting note in Morning Transportation about the CUAS piece:

THE SKINNY: DHS officials told our Stephanie Beasley that it was already tough getting some lawmakers on board with the idea of granting DHS and DOJ the authority to interdict potentially malicious drones — so when it came to giving counterdrone authorities to airports and local and state enforcement as well as part of a recent legislative package, the response was “no way.” Nevertheless, a report that DHS and DOJ will have to submit to Congress assessing drone threats could re-open that conversation. Stay tuned.

UAS photo courtesy of Avitas Systems

This is the first FAA-approved use of radar for civil BVLOS operations. A visual observer is not required.

To be clear, this is UAS in the NAS (as opposed to sUAS). Still this story in LawFuel.com is noteworthy, Avitas Systems, a GE Venture, Wins Precedent-Setting FAA Exemption.

Yesterday, Avitas Systems, a GE venture, announced that it was awarded a significant and precedent-setting permission from the FAA to operate unmanned aircraft systems (UAS, or drones) over 55 pounds at low altitudes beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) in Loving County, Texas for industrial inspection.

Inside Unmanned Systems headlined Avitas Systems Receives FAA Approval to Use Radar to Fly UAS BVLOS added some background that makes this a much better than average use case:

Bruce Culpepper, U.S. Country Chair for Shell added “Now, with the FAA’s approval and with the assistance of Avitas Systems, we can fly over a larger area of our Permian Basin operations to conduct aerial monitoring of our oil and gas infrastructure. This includes leak detection and data gathering needed to make more efficient operational decisions, which will result in improved environmental performance with less strain on road infrastructure in the Permian Basin.


courtesy of NASA

I got a note from PK asking me to help spread the word about the Urban Air Mobility Grand Challenge Industry Day which is coming up in Seattle
November 1–2.

In 2020, NASA will host a UAM ecosystem-wide challenge for participants to execute system level safety and integration scenarios within a robust and relevant environment. The goal of this first in a series of UAM Grand Challenges, which we are calling GC-1, is to promote public confidence in UAM safety and facilitate community-wide learning while capturing the public’s imagination.

Paul Pocialik posted a comment on Linked In together with a graphic of the ATM-X Test Bed:

No one told me this but I am pretty sure the ATM-X Test Bed is the “robust and relevant environment” they are referring to [in the UAM Grand Challenge], and will be the cornerstone of the challenge. It supports a plethora of testing scenarios and represents a promising development in leveraging innovation in testing and certification to accelerate adoption.

It’s a really interesting model, that includes UTM. Well worth a look.

I have to think that this story in Rotor & Wing is a sign of things to come, Leonardo Asks FAA to Allow Simulated Touchdown Autorotation for AW609 Certification. The notion of “We don’t want to hurt the aircraft” is another way of saying non-destructive testing.

Practically speaking, with a simulator one can run a lot more scenarios. Of course, agreeing on the validity of a simulation as a proxy for an actual flight test is a hurdle that will have to be overcome which makes this a meaningful first step.


AT&T Flying COW – image courtesy of AT&T

Tough times in Florida. Now that the wind and water have blown through, the pols are taking their shots. RCR Wireless News reports FCC Chairman: Pace of Network Recovery Post-Hurricane Michael Is Unacceptable.” Hypocrites. To learn about Ajit Pai’s role in repealing consumer safeguards put in place after Hurricane Sandy, read this story in Ars Technica. Joining Pai in the hue and cry is running hard for for the Senate Florida Governor Rick Scott.

Verizon was particularly impacted due to what the company described as “unprecedented damage” to its fiber infrastructure. Verizon said on Oct. 16 it would waive three months of service fees for customers in Bay and Gulf counties.

Fortunately AT&T had their hurricane proven Flying Cow ready to go.

AT&T said on Oct. 17 its Florida network is “operating at more than 99% of normal.” The company deployed a drone-mounted cell to Mexico Beach; the “flying COW” sits about 200 feet above ground level and provides communications for customers and public safety officials.

It turns out that the FCC has at least one commissioner who is willing to own
the problem:

Pai’s colleague Commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel was a little more circumspect in comments posted to Twitter. She listed storms Katrina, Sandy, Harvey, Maria and Michael. “It’s time to acknowledge once-in-a-lifetime storms now occur every year. And it’s time for the [FCC] to take a hard look at how it has reduced network oversight and ask if this is truly the best way to restore communications
after disaster.”


Another excellent podcast from Mike Pehel at InterDrone, this time an interview with Colin Snow (@droneanalyst) and CEO of Skylogic Research who recently published his third annual Drone Market Sector Report. In the interview, Colin shares some heretofore proprietary data about the rate of adoption and other issues.

As Colin explains it, it’s all about incremental growth – there is no sign of a hockey stick, nor is there any reason to expect one to materialize. Nearly three-quarters of all enterprise respondents have had a program in place for less than two years. Only 28% rely on service providers to any extent, with only 7% outsourcing solely to contractors. Worth a listen.


This group of stories highlights the incredible diversity of development efforts in the UAS universe.

Feihong – 98 UAS – image courtesy of ChinaDaily.com.cn

ChinaDaily.com.cn reports that China’s Self-Developed Commercial Drone Feihong-98 Completes Test Flight. For as sleek as the UAM air taxis are, this thing is f’ugleee – a rotary engine prop driven bi-plane with a whole lot of grunt. According to the report:

The FH-98 has a maximum takeoff weight of 5.25 tons, a maximum capacity of 1.5 tons and 15 cubic meters, a flight height of 4,500 meters, a cruising speed of 180 kilometers per hour, and a maximum range of 1,200 kilometers.

Inview UAV – image courtesy of Army Technology

Army Technology in the UK reports that the military is enamored with the idea of drone delivery, How Autonomous Delivery Drones Could Revolutionise Military Logistics. This is a well researched article that looks at the entrants in a competition between five consortiums.

“The ALMRS project is looking at the technologies for use in ways that could transform the delivery of logistics in not only land, but also maritime operations,” says Lieutenant Colonel Richard Craig, staff officer for robotics and autonomous systems. “It has the potential to reduce the amount of supplies stored at the frontline and increase the speed of resupply.”

The Inview UAV weighs 22kg and has a 5m wingspan. It is made of composites and is powered by a four stroke.

UVision Hero-30 – image courtesy of Army Times

Army Times, a US publication, headlined Man-Packable Kamikaze Drones Offer Front-Line Tracking and Strike Packages

The Hero-30 is a pneumatic-launch, low-noise and low-thermal signature weapon system. It is controlled by operators using a tablet-like device and can reach speeds of up to 100 knots, a typical mission altitude of 600 to 1,500 feet above ground level and a data link line of sight up to 24 miles, depending on the mission.


screen grab – drone to balloon – courtesy of Canon – click to see video

DJI VP Brendan Schulman was kind enough to post Aerial Armor’s Event Summary for Drone Monitoring at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta to the Facebook Commercial sUAS Remote Pilots and the UAV Legal News & Discussion group pages. By way of introduction, Aerial Armor is the DJI dealer that was contracted to monitor the Fiesta TFR with a DJI Aeroscope. Here is the highlight.

Total number of flights within the TFR were 46 based on 40 unique drones. Some of these TFR violations originated from off the AIBF property.

Meaning that a substantial number launched from the Fiesta grounds.

If you look at the report, you will see that the SN#’s are all redacted. Joel Martin Smith posted that “I did call the number listed for Aerial Armor and spoke with Brian…he said serial numbers and type were blocked by the request of their client…He did say all info was handed over to FBI, FAA, and local police FYI.

I particularly liked Rob “Birdman” Hanley’s take:

Imagine being in a balloon, knowing there are up to 40 idiots flying drones around who either don’t know what the s__t they are doing or don’t care.

sUAS News ran Embry-Riddle Study Confirms Small Unmanned “Drones” Pose Increasing Risks to Aircraft which announced the release of a newly published study, Evaluating Small UAS Near Midair Collision Risk Using AeroScope and
. This is a very scholarly undertaking.

This first conclusion smacks of common sense:

The data suggests that cumulatively, single- and multi-family homes make up 48% of sUAS operating locations. This data strongly suggests that a preponderance of sUAS operators are flying for personal use around their own residences.

In other words, people who live around airports, fly around airports.

This next one invokes the Law of Unintended Consequences as exemplified by the report in February about the helicopter training flight that allegedly crashed while “avoiding” a drone in South Carolina:

Perhaps more importantly is the unknown human factor responses to sUAS encounters… A pilot’s natural, immediate response to maneuver—particularly at low altitude or airspeeds—can easily exacerbate an otherwise-survivable midair sUAS-aircraft collision into a fatal stall, spin, or other uncontrollable flight condition.


image copyright Josh Haner – screen grab from the New York Times – click to watch video

I was pleased to be invited to attend the upcoming Drone Journalism Leadership Summit hosted by The National Press Photographers Association and CUNY. Of course they got my attention by saying that they were regular readers – who knew – thank you. Travis Fox, Director of Visual Journalism at CUNY has promised a guest post summarizing the discussions.

It’s an invitation-only event but I bring it up because it makes a nice bookend to the Columbia Journalism Review’s article Drone Journalism’s Battle for Airspace. It’s a thoughtful review of the current state of play, the nightmare of the patchwork quilt and the threat of the proposed ULC ‘bright line’ drone tort law. There is also this description which I found heartening:

THE IMAGES, taken by photographer Josh Haner from about 135 feet above the smoldering remains of a subdivision decimated by a wildfire in Santa Rosa, California, are mesmerizing.

In Haner’s video, the camera glides smoothly over the jagged landscape, close enough to make out details—partially burned palm trees, a lone fire truck—but high enough for viewers to get a sense of the scale of the disaster. 

The story was straightforward, but Haner, a staff photographer and senior editor for photo technology at The New York Times, covered it in an unusual way. With fellow staff photographer Jim Wilson already covering the fires from the ground, Haner and photo editor Crista Chapman decided that he would focus only on aerial photography, using two prosumer drones.

Though it was a breaking-news story, Haner didn’t rush his safety protocol. He verified that the Federal Aviation Administration hadn’t closed the airspace to give preference to firefighting aircraft, and another Times drone pilot in New York monitored for last-minute flight restrictions. On site, Haner coordinated with local law enforcement to find a safe take-off location, and a second drone pilot stood alongside him, continuously watching for any sudden changes in the sky, like fast-moving helicopters.

These precautions, Haner knew, were not frivolous. A collision with a drone could bring down a manned aircraft. Irresponsible drone operators, authorities later claimed, had slowed firefighting efforts in the area by forcing aircraft to alter their flight paths. One amateur drone pilot was arrested in nearby Petaluma for flying near an airport used by first responders.

Rushing anything with a drone is in many ways irresponsible.


Along the lines of rushing, last week I ran a story reporting on test results from the University of Dayton, University of Dayton Research Institute – Risk in the Sky?

The tests which featured a DJI P2 slamming into the wing of a Mooney has raised hackles across the community. Miriam McNabb writing in DroneLife.com led off with What the Drone Crash Video Means for the Industry noting that

Drones are not risk-free.  But the benefits far outweigh the risks.

It will take time for industry adoption to reach a “critical mass” – a point at which the benefits become obvious enough for people to accept the risks.

Steve Mann (DroneMann) followed with Don’t Fall for the “It’s a Drone, We’re All Gonna Die” Hysteria.

Here’s what they really demonstrated: A 2 pound mass moving at 238MPH will damage thin aluminum.

The only purpose of this “test” was to provide drone mania with a poorly designed demonstration. They started with a conclusion and designed “data” to substantiate it. Conveniently ignoring that in the millions of hours of flight of these small personal drones, there is not a single verified collision of a personal drone and manned aircraft resembling the scenario in this demonstration.

Finally, Friday afternoon DJI sent a letter to the University.

DJI Demands Withdrawal Of Misleading Drone Collision Video
Simulation Was Staged Faster Than Both Maximum Possible Speed And FAA Guidelines

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


Christopher Korody

Editor and Publisher
follow me @dronewriter

Want your own copy of Dronin’ On? Click here to subscribe.

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