Joined an Experimental Aircraft Association chapter to entertain awkward conversations about drone integration

These gear heads build airplanes from scratch. I am here to learn how they do it. Pennsylvania, and West Virginia lack pilots. In my thesis on medical drone delivery, I studied labor statistics and found a big hole on the national map. Drones and airports do not mix, but drones, as I see it, offer pilots a chance to get something more than flight sim experience. If drones are so bad for airports and pilots, then I should talk to pilots to find out why they think that way and see if I can find a solution that helps keep people safe, and promotes the economy. Drones are a type of aircraft and should be integrated into National Airspace.

Drones are easy and fun to fly, and give one a basic idea of flight behavior. However,  as of this entry in January 2019, they still pose a risk to other aircraft and air travelers. It is an uncomfortable position to be in, but the integration of drones into NAS does not need to be a painful event. I have tried to speak to people at airports about drones and usually get a frosty reception. Designing, building and flying airplanes is a challenging endeavor. 

I asked FAA about LAANC, a program whereby suppliers can operate drone commerce out of airports. I wanted to see what it took to qualify an airport for such an endeavor. When I checked the names of the ones who made it – DJI, Yuneeq, Parrot, and such, it became clear. These airports require companies to have massive amounts of liability coverage. These companies all have gobs of money, and most are self-funded entities from China. As I see it, in order to go through LAANC, I would first need to be able to compete with global player like DJI to crack the market. In the US, that means looking at investors, and infrastructure. Our society is not very nimble when it comes to innovation. Liability plays a big part. Safety is a way of protecting people, property, goods and services, but it can be unwieldy in the hands of curmudgeony industry titans who want their fat margins and do not want to see innovation cause them to change course. We are on the cusp of a demographic changing of the guard. The Baby Boomers are retiring at a time when CEO pay outdoes workers by astronomical proportions, and therein you have a gap, a vacuum.

It is time for investors who make money, money, that pyramid scheme money work for the future of our country, to take risks and give America some go time at the frontiers of innovation, space travel, biomedical engineering, medicine, and transportation solutions. Being a Grinch isn’t cool. Everyone knows that. We are quickly approaching – and some say we are already there – a time when we need change on a massive scale to save our planet. Old cats on the edge of retirement possibly lack the moral character to hold the reins if they fail to accommodate the future inhabitants of earth. Blindly following fossil fuels will MAKE US FOSSILS, TOO. Something for bored aliens to look at in a billion years. That is sort of a letdown.

The first time a jet eats a drone and crashes somewhere, people will be sued. If people die, airports, everyone gets sued. The FAA is nothing without its safety record, but again, the idea that drones and airplanes are a mutually exclusive transportation option is not only misguided, it is also failing to address the overall shortage of pilots needed to service air travel and air commerce. A drone pilot, a “pilot-in-command” really needs to get some CRM and communications training to be able to provide radio communication on secure channels, and to get and use weather and flight traffic information for environmental awareness. Call me cray. That goes for helicopter pilots, too.  If everyone is tagged, routed and monitored, everyone flies safe. 

Drones can be programmed to follow specific, accurate routes through airspace, as though they were flying inside a 3-D matrix of pipes. Up down, left, right, diagonal, it doesn’t matter. Planes and helicopters both swoop and undulate  around straight lines when making heading changes. A drone can simply slow down, turn, and make a change in heading or altitude EXACTLY as required. It is weird to be considered an expert on drones, but I am by no means an expert. It is more telling of the public’s perception of drones than my knowledge when people seek my opinion on UAS technology. I consider myself in the service of the FAA and the Department of Transportation when I address public perception concerns, but yo, I just graduated and need a job Someone hire me so I can build drones and electric planes. USA is a tired old dirty ashtray full of butts and ashes. I just want to bring some fresh air. 

If I am willing to fly in an experimental airplane, and fly drones, then I will gain an understanding of telemetry, guidance systems, command and control, weather phenomena, and ATC that are crucial elements of a 21st century air structure. I just hope the gear heads don’t kick me out. The club is full of engineers and kids, and a couple of 30ish mechanical engineers. 

I am taking webinars on gas-powered airplane motors to try to contribute somehow, but I know people are going to be ornery at Chapter 45 because they don’t understand my safety standards and behavior. At the same time, I am perfectly willing to jump into an experimental airplane and fly with someone. That takes guts and a love of adventure. The balance exists within me somewhere. I just have to take responsibility for my actions. Accountability. 

If I want to see why drones are bad for airports, I need to talk with pilots. It is not comfortable for me, but the conversation has to start locally if it is to have any impact. I know I am on their turf and going to be ridiculed often, so, for all you drone pilots out there who want to learn from my mistakes and missteps, you will find articles here to follow on  Falcon Photo and Oils

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