It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s a Drone?

November 2, 2015 | Author: Thea Feyereisen

The development of pilotless aircraft can be traced back to World War I. However, drones, known formally as unmanned air systems (UAS), have recently seen a dramatic increase in interest, utility and affordability to markets well beyond the military.

Whether it is searching for survivors in the aftermath of a natural disaster, providing video feed to a commander of a forest fire, taking a picture of a McMansion you are trying to sell, or delivering a new pair of running shoes, the potential contribution of UAS extends well beyond the more traditional military applications.

Natural Disaster

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s a Drone?

UAS are an instrumental tool in response and relief efforts following natural disasters. Drones can complement manned relief efforts on the ground by collecting imagery that may be used to help in location of potential victims. Additionally, the drones can help in risk reduction and recovery by providing useful data that is used for mapping and planning. In situations where it may be too dangerous for manned aircraft or boots on the ground, drones can play an even more critical role. For example, during recovery from Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in April 2011, Honeywell’s T-Hawk unmanned micro air vehicle (MAV) helped emergency workers at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear facility get up-close video and photos inside the plant as they worked to limit further radiation releases.

Border Patrol

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s a Drone?

U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have a significant drone program that began over a decade ago. They have aircraft stationed in Texas, Arizona, Florida and Texas. The drones are mostly used in areas of remote and rugged landscape or other areas considered too high-risk for manned aircraft or personnel on the ground. The Predator Drones, used by CBP, collect video, radar and other sensor information that is used to for patrol and investigations.

Private Use

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s a Drone?

The selfie stick is transitioning to a selfie drone! Cameras are now being strapped onto a drone to capture images and capture a consumer market that will exceed a billion dollars this year. Operators ought to be warned though, as it is easy to get into trouble in a hurry. Certified aircraft have many double and triple redundant safety features. In addition to the certification of the vehicle, the pilot operators have gone through years of training. Drones, particularly consumer models, do not have the redundant safety technology and many operators have little or no training. Some examples of drone “pilots” getting into trouble include:

Cutting off a photographer’s nose
Injuring a baby being pushed in a stroller
Crashing into the stands at the US Open Tennis Tournament
Close encounters with commercial aircraft
Drone crashing near the White House and near Washington Monument

Commercial Use

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s a Drone?

The line between private use and commercial drone use is a delicate one but with many implications to rules and regulations. A UAS operated for hobby or recreational purpose can take pictures for personal use, but the same device used to take photographs for sale or compensation is considered a commercial operation. Local, state and federal rules are still in infant development stages and there is more than one story of a drone being confiscated by the local authorities and investigation opened into operator for illegal use. While the commercial use for some potential applications like delivering a pizza is easy to identify as “commercial”, some applications like capturing overhead shots of a house being put up for sale, or of your business for marketing purposes is not as obvious but are considered commercial. When in doubt, the local government and Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) should be consulted to help determine what constitutes personal vs. commercial use of drones.


It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s a Drone?

Integration of UAS into the airspace is not without challenges. With a mission “to provide the safest, most efficient aerospace system in the world”, the FAA has been cautious and slow to authorize commercial use and regulations related to UAS operations. In addition to the wide range of capabilities and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) platforms, volume estimates indicating potential of >1 million flights per day within the next 20 years, make this an area of increasing emphasis within the FAA. In addition to “No Fly Zones”, FAA now has “No Drone Zones” and even a new logo to indicate such, e.g., recent Papal visit to the U.S. Earlier this year, the FAA introduced Notice of Proposed Rule Making related to small UAS for conducting non-recreation operations. The 60-day public comment period closed on April 24, 2015. The FAA recently stood up a new task force to provide recommendations for a registration process for UAS along with other additional safety recommendations as it deems appropriate. Additional industry performance standards to enable safe UAS operations in airspace are being developed in the U.S. and Europe under RTCA SC-228 and EUROCAE WG-73.

It’s a Bird… It’s a Plane… It’s a Drone? The UAS is playing an ever increasing critical role in our society. From fighting fires, finding lost hikers, taking selfie wedding videos or getting a pizza delivered, the potential utility of drones is limitless and exploding at a huge growth rate. With the major holiday season less than 2 months away, it’s not too early to start making your shopping list. While I don’t think I’ll get any packages delivered by drone (this year), I don’t think I’m the only one hoping to find a drone under my Christmas tree in 2015!

Thea Feyereisen

Thea Feyereisen

Thea Feyereisen is an Engineering Fellow in the Flight Safety Systems group of Honeywell’s Aerospace Advanced Technology organization. She is an innovation leader in the areas of synthetic vision, safety, navigation and situation awareness display design and cross-cultural user interface. She is the technical lead of Honeywell’s Synthetic Vision and Interactive Moving Map Display research projects and leads a cross-cultural flight deck program with Honeywell’s China Air Traffic Management research lab. Previously she has led programs for NASA-funded High Speed Research and Aviation Weather Information Network. Ms. Feyereisen represents Honeywell on the FAA Commercial Aviation Safety Team for Airplane State Awareness and is on the leadership team for the RTCA committee on Synthetic and Enhanced Vision. Thea is a pilot and flight instructor and prior to joining Honeywell 20 years ago, logged flight time as a bush pilot in Alaska. She is co-inventor on over 25 patents and has a Masters in Aeronautical Science Human Factors from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

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