March 2015

FAA Rulings

What about those swarms of “recreational” drones, mostly in the form of what are called quadcopters? There is no proficiency test for flying them and they are subject only to the rules for flying model airplanes—not to fly above 400 feet, within five miles of an airport or near crowds, and always remain in sight of the “pilot.”

The reality for commercial drones is a lot tougher. Until the new regulations come into effect after an appeals process and rule-making revisions, which could take years, the use of commercial drones will continue to be permitted only on a case-by-case basis through applications to the FAA.

Of course the biggest hurdle to FAA reg in this industry is the speed of innovation. We are at the infancy of this industry and its technology which has so far come mainly from the smart phone labs.

From the FAA website. (These are not the current regs under review. Those could well take more than a year to hone.)

•Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles

•Keep the aircraft within visual line of sight at all times

•Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations

•Don't fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying

•Don't fly near people or stadiums

•Don't fly an aircraft that weighs more than 55 lbs

•Don't be careless or reckless with your unmanned aircraft – you could be fined for endangering people or other aircraft

The other day I took my Phantom out to the field for a weekday series of tests and some flying practice. Yes, flying practice. But flying practice completely under the FPV goggles. In the past I have taken off and flown to my mission target with direct eyesight. I then slip off my glasses and pull down my Fatshark Attitude gogs. After cruising around recording my intended target, say a sea lion, I return my glasses to my face to fly back visually.

My practice session the other day was to take off with two spotters, fly to the no fly sign, turn right and follow the creek around to the East and make a normal approach and landing on the runway. We’ll here is what happened on the first flight. I flew out to the sign where my video feed turned to B&W static. I then tried to hover and wait for reception to return. It did, just to go off again in seconds. Repeat!

I then decided to fly back visually but I had no idea as to where my quad was. When video did return briefly,  I thought that I saw our storage shed. As it turns out, I was looking at the dog folk’s shed. I was actually out towards our no fly sign having gone in some sort of circle. As per our rules, and rules of sanity, a couple of guys were my spotters and showed me where the quad actually was. I was virtually, 180 degrees out. I flew back with no problem though electrons were getting a little low.

LESSON LEARNED FOR ALL: Yes, always fly FPV with a spotter. We knew that. But, after checking out all my gear and returning to the air, I found video loss again at about 100 yards away on flight 2. This has never happened before. I then flew a third test with no other planes in the air. Perfect video feed all the way to the far fence. For reasons that none of us could or can figure out, the motors on at least two aircraft interfere with my 5.8 Ghz FPV video feedsystem. Had I been flying an airplane with no ability to stop and hover, I am pretty sure that we would have had a runaway plane. 

I am continually amazed as to what I learn nearly every time I come to our field. Whether flying or just observing.

ANOTHER OPORTUNITY TO LEARN. I want to begin with a LiPo basic that I did not know but you guys might. Don’t store fully charged LiPo’s more than a couple of weeks. In fact, DJI has just announced that their new batteries and software upgrades now program the batteries to auto-discharge after 10 days of nonuse. One of the many amazing things DJI does for us owners every day. In the last few months, the upgraded software include 500 ft height limits from takeoff, lockout in FAA no fly zones and adjustable flight characteristics when the auto-return mode takes over. After all, I don’t want a 50ft rise and return when flying off a cliff on the coast. I want a 100ft rise to clear the cliff. (Not sure what to do about those cypress trees.)

BTW, the Phantom2 is now with upgraded motors and props goes for less than $700 and the P1 goes for a little over $400. Very well priced for those that want to fly top end quads. (I recommend the P2 or better due to about 25 reasons. Email me if you want to know the reasons.)

Back to Quad Talk…

I continue my blog adventure with Professor Scratcher, a friend on Whidbey Island who continues to hone the DIY craft and loving HobbyKing along the way. As a few of us know, scratch building a quad is not for the faint of heart and rarely saves money over RTF.

Here is a fascinating web site that has all kinds of projects and DIYexploration.

So, how many ‘drones’ were sold in 2014? Looks like somewhere more than one billion dollars in sale. DJI might have hit $500m themselves.

For all you Crimson Tide types, Alabama decided to go it alone with their own regs on UAS, given that the FAA can’t get anything done and formed a task force in summer that came up with recommending that the governor create a UAS Council and places the state’s UAS authority under the Bureau of Aeronautics of the Alabama Department of Transportation. That way they will have their own bureaucracy to fight the Fed bureaucracy. They came up with zero regulations own their own.

Looking forward.

It appears that two significant technologies are paramount to morphing toys into significant aerial platforms; anti-collision and object recognition.

Of course the first step is to open the operating system for developers. DJI did that for their platforms last month and it looks like DYI Drones has been down that path since the beginning. (DYI Drones is ex-Wired Magazine editor, Chris Anderson’s organization. Fascinating site.)

Here is a Kickstarter example of what is happening on the object recognition front. This is the type of camera and support software that developers need for machine vision capabilities which are greatly expanded when attached to aerial platforms.

As for collision avoidance, check February’s Quad Talk for a link to at least one development. Collision avoidance will be critical for autonomous flight such as search & rescue, mapping, rural prescription drug delivery and a host of services. Oh, and Amazon will need anti-collision when delivering those packages. Don’t want to take little Rex’s head off delivering a box of Tide.

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