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Thread: FAA announces drone testing sites in six states ( ALASKA)

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    Default FAA announces drone testing sites in six states ( ALASKA)

    FAA announces drone testing sites in six states

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    LAS VEGAS - The Federal Aviation Administration announced six states on Monday that will develop test sites for drones, a critical next step for the march of the unmanned aircraft into U.S. skies.

    Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia will host the research sites, the agency said.
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    Drones have been mainly used by the military, but governments, businesses, farmers and others are making plans to join the market. Many universities are starting or expanding drone programs.

    "These test sites will give us valuable information about how best to ensure the safe introduction of this advanced technology into our nation's skies," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a statement.

    The FAA said when selecting the sites it considered geography, climate, location of ground infrastructure, research needs, airspace use, aviation experience and risk.

    In the case of Alaska, the FAA cited a diverse set of test site range locations in seven climatic zones. New York's site at Griffiss International Airport will look into integrating drones into the congested northeast airspace.

    The state of North Dakota already has committed $5 million to the venture and named a former state Air National Guard Commander as its test site director.

    The FAA does not allow commercial use of drones, but it is working to develop operational guidelines by the end of 2015, although officials concede the project may take longer than expected. The FAA projects some 7,500 commercial drones could be aloft within five years of getting widespread access to American airspace.

    "Safety continues to be our first priority as we move forward with integrating unmanned systems into U.S. airspace," FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said in a statement. "We have successfully brought new technology into the nation's aviation system for more than 50 years, and I have no doubt we will do the same with unmanned aircraft."

    An industry-commissioned study has predicted more than 70,000 jobs would develop in the first three years after Congress loosens drone restrictions on U.S. skies. The same study projects an average salary range for a drone pilot between $85,000 and $115,000.

    Representatives from winning states were jubilant about the FAA announcement.

    "This is wonderful news for Nevada that creates a huge opportunity for our economy," said U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nevada.

    The growing drone industry has critics among conservatives and liberals.

    Giving drones greater access to U.S. skies moves the nation closer to "a surveillance society in which our every move is monitored, tracked, recorded and scrutinized by the authorities," the American Civil Liberties Union declared in a report last December.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Float Pilot View Post
    An industry-commissioned study has predicted more than 70,000 jobs would develop in the first three years after Congress loosens drone restrictions on U.S. skies. The same study projects an average salary range for a drone pilot between $85,000 and $115,000.
    .

    I guess there is hope for pimply faced, basement dwelling gamers after all...

    Im curious how you pilot guys view the impending appearance of drones in the skies. Seems like they could be a real hazard?

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    Oh they will be...
    Sooner or later some geek with Cheetos dust all over his fingers will run his drone right into a real pilot & plane.
    And that will be the beginning of yet another excuse to close down private civil aviation.
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    I predict an increasing interest in skeet shoooting and a concurrent rise in shotgun purchases throughout the population in general.

    Not that my "prediction" is particularly unique

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    Member dkwarthog's Avatar
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    I am even more curious what or who will regulate average joes flying drones...seems like the cost to buy and operate will come down to the point where anyone with a joystick can fly a drone for near about any purpose they deem necessary. Cant anyone pretty much fly a remote control aircraft without licensing currently?

    And I too find myself standing next to 338WM, yelling "PULL!!"

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    Quote Originally Posted by dkwarthog View Post
    I am even more curious what or who will regulate average joes flying drones...seems like the cost to buy and operate will come down to the point where anyone with a joystick can fly a drone for near about any purpose they deem necessary. Cant anyone pretty much fly a remote control aircraft without licensing currently?

    And I too find myself standing next to 338WM, yelling "PULL!!"
    Not sure exactly where the distinction is being drawn between good old fashioned remote control aircraft, and what are now called UAS or UAV or "drones". Range perhaps, as the former are rarely if ever out of sight of the operator; whereas the latter are capable of being operated at further distance? At any rate, currently to operate a UAV in Alaska requires a pilots license, including physical, and conditions under which they can be operated are very strictly controlled, so FP's "cheetos geek" isn't a bonafide threat, yet. Certainly will be interesting to watch the evolution of this.
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    so FP's "cheetos geek" isn't a bonafide threat, yet.
    You must not have ever had to sit through a report given by the intel weenies.

    The actual decision to push the drone program up here is not new. They announced it at least a year ago. This recent news release probably has more to do with the upcoming mid-term elections and who can try to take credit in order to get re-elected.
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    Supporting Member iofthetaiga's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Float Pilot View Post
    You must not have ever had to sit through a report given by the intel weenies.

    The actual decision to push the drone program up here is not new. They announced it at least a year ago. This recent news release probably has more to do with the upcoming mid-term elections and who can try to take credit in order to get re-elected.
    I'm not really familiar with the politics behind the program push, or even the details of the current news report. I am generally familiar and have worked with the UAV folks out of UAF however. They have been operating UAV's in AK for several years now, and I believe to date are the only civilian UAV program in AK. I know that their pilots are currently required to hold a valid pilots license, including physical. They have been heavily regulated in where/how they operate to prevent mixing with GA aircraft. Additionally, given their inability to communicate/coordinate/see and avoid with GA, they have an agreed to requirement/protocol that if any GA aircraft enters the same airspace in which they are operating, they must immediately abort their mission and crash/ditch the UAV to prevent potential conflict.... Extreme conservatism has been the rule thus far; and no pimply faced basement dwelling cheetos geeks involved in that operation. But, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for this sort of thing.
    ...he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehoods & errors. ~Thomas Jefferson
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    Explain to me how a UAS can "see and avoid". The 20 degree FOV sensor?
    the change: we are now going to share the same airspace. No more of the UAS leaving.
    It's easy to figure out how this will go. Look at how many have hit manned aircraft in our wars abroad.

    In controlled airspace the risk will be less IMO. BUT in E and G its gonna be a mess. Welcome in ads-b. Now just require every cub to have ads-b out and all problems solved......(2020 right?)
    Now everyone has to get ads-b so UAS can play. Then when a uas takes out a family in their 206 it'll be their fault for not having ads-b working/installed? I just don't see a good outcome. For GA anyway.

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    I'm sure Begich will be all over this, telling us to praise him for his pork. Fact is, these are extremely dangerous to aviation. We are not under radar coverage at all times up here. I have flown both high and low for a living up here. Even flying high (above 18,000') there are radar gaps. Outside of the Fairbanks and Anchorage radar areas, you are pretty much on your own below 5000'... You cannot see the smaller drones at higher speeds. Most of our commuter planes are flying too fast to see and avoid drones...When will the first mid-air occur? How many people will be killed? I guess we are all expendable now. Technology rules....

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    UAV folks out of UAF however. They have been operating UAV's in AK for several years now
    Ben Anderson Alaska Dispatch February 13, 2012


    Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, often referred to as "drones," don't get a lot of good press. Usually, when a drone makes the news, it's just completed an airstrike somewhere across the world, likely in the Middle East, taking out a structure thought to contain al Qaeda militants.

    But there's a softer, friendlier side to UAVs -- they're not all the terrifying, death-from-above variety popularized in media. UAVs, thanks to their small size and ability to be controlled remotely, have been finding their niche doing jobs that are too messy, dangerous, or downright impossible for manned aircraft to perform.
    Alaska's big role in domestic drone programs

    Related:
    High-tech drone spies on Alaska’s elusive ice seals
    Unmanned drones checking sea ice before Russian tanker arrives

    Now, a new, long-term Federal Aviation Administration bill aims to increase the number of UAVs in American airspace over the next four years, designating specific airspace for UAV flight and testing, similar to the restricted airspace utilized by military installations.

    H.R. 658, the FAA reauthorization bill, mandates that the FAA must designate six UAV test ranges in U.S. airspace within about six months. But a special clause, and the one most important to Alaska, will designate portions of airspace from the Aleutian Islands to the North Slope for 24-hour UAV use "for research and commercial purposes."

    The amendment was written by Alaska Sen. Mark Begich, with the University of Alaska Unmanned Aircraft Program in mind. That program, based at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute, has been on the cutting-edge of UAV technology, thanks to Alaska's myriad uses for the science.

    Researchers with the program have been getting around the state, too: last year, the program performed tests in the Aleutians and Prince William Sound. In November, the program took a trip to Prudhoe Bay, where a UAV observed the maintenance needs of fire-breathing gas flare stations.

    In January, program manager Greg Walker was on hand in Nome, Alaska, as a Russian fuel tanker prepared to offload more than a million gallons of fuel. Walker and a small Aeryon scout UAV surveyed ice conditions in advance of the ship's arrival and prepared to assist with surveillance in the case of a spill.

    Walker said that Alaska's unique need for UAV technology -- particularly in far-flung Arctic regions -- played a big role in the bill's Arctic language.

    "The Arctic is the canary in the mine for climate change," Walker said. "The Arctic has lots of need, it's very understudied, and it's hard to get there to study it. It's a job to study a river flooding in Tennessee. It's really a job to study a river flooding on the North Slope."

    In addition to environmental uses like performing wildlife counts on easily-spooked animal populations or surveying forest fires where the smoke would be too thick for manned aircraft to fly, the UAVs being tested by the program have commercial purposes as well.

    The trip to Prince William Sound last summer was to test capability of the Aeryon Scout -- a 2-1/2 pound, four-propellered, hovering UAV -- in examining shorelines in the event of an oil spill. The BP-owned Scout could have been used for a similar purpose in the sea ice off of Nome, had a spill occurred there.

    Possibility of an Arctic oil spill is chief among lingering questions of offshore oil development in the Arctic -- and Walker has also worked with Royal Dutch Shell, the oil supermajor looking at oil prospects in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska's northwest coastline. In advance of that development, in response to environmental concerns, Shell is interested in conducting wildlife surveys in the area, and UAVs offer an ideal way to do that.

    "We see drones potentially playing a key role not only monitoring any possible impact the offshore oil industry activity might have on marine mammals (whales, seals, walrus and polar bears)," Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said in an email, "but also limiting the exposure of our biologists who have typically gathered this kind of information while seated in aircraft flying over extremely remote ocean locations."

    The small, quieter UAVs, featuring a video camera streaming information back to the pilot, provide a much less invasive method to count species when compared to buzzing overhead in a plane or helicopter. Smith said there are also other advantages to using UAVs in such a remote location.

    "UAVs can be launched and recovered from a marine vessel the size of a standard fishing boat," he said. "They have a 10-foot wing span and weigh about 40 pounds. They are modular and can be stored in an 11-foot-long suitcase. They can fly for 20 hours on 1-1/2 gallons of gas. They are able to fly in poor weather conditions, which would ground manned aircraft."

    Another key clause in the Arctic language of the FAA bill would eliminate previous requirements that a drone remain within a human's line-of-sight. The Aeryon has a range of about 1-1/2 miles, but currently has to be visible from the ground or air, meaning a boat or a plane following the UAV in offshore operations -- defeating the purpose of using the quieter UAV for purposes of wildlife counts.

    Walker notes that line-of-sight rule would mean a UAV wouldn't be able to fly if its accompanying aircraft was grounded -- again somewhat counterintuitive to the benefits UAVs are supposed to provide.

    "It's not safe to be there in a manned plane, so you ought to be there in an unmanned aircraft," Walker said. "It just doesn't make sense."
    Federal permitting 'a challenge'

    One of the biggest benefits of designated airspace for UAVs would be the ability to bypass the normally lengthy permitting process for testing and operating unmanned aircraft in public airspace. Walker said that the Fairbanks UAV program has developed a relationship with the FAA that has streamlined the permitting process somewhat.

    But Harry Kieling, who manages the Unmanned Aerial Systems program for the Interior Department in Alaska, said acquiring a permit can be cumbersome.

    "Being able to fly in the national airspace system for unmanned aircraft has been a challenge since as long as I've been here, about six years.

    "The very first (permit) that we applied for took 18 months," Kieling said, noting that the agency's first application for the permits required additional time. He also acknowledged the federal process was affected by the application request -- how the UAV was being used. "Now, I could probably get one in 60 days. If we had a fire like we did at Circle (in 2009), it could be within 72 hours. Law enforcement agencies can get them in a matter of hours or minutes."

    The agency currently has a small UAV that weighs about four pounds, a hand-me-down the Interior Department received when the technology became too dated for military purposes. Kieling said they're always looking to acquire newer models. The model has been used to conduct a population survey of sandhill cranes, and will be used for other wildlife surveys, in addition to other missions.

    "There's a lot of applications," Kieling said, "and Alaska's the perfect place to try out some of these applications."

    Kieling added that the FAA bill was a step in a positive direction for agencies that use UAVs for regular operations.

    "What does this legislation do for us? It takes us further down the road into incorporating unmanned aircraft into the national airspace system," he said.
    Aerial politics

    Of course, not everyone is happy about such changes. Private pilots may take issue with what equates to restricted or partially-restricted airspace, a subject that's already often brought up when discussing airspace restricted by the military.

    The military currently uses some of its own airspace for UAV testing and training, and in early 2011, the U.S. military proposed creating UAV airspace corridors in Interior Alaska. That proposal met with criticism from some Alaska pilots, who said that the 67,000 square miles of already-restricted military airspace was enough.

    At least one pilots association has the same reservations about new proposals for airspace restricted for UAV use. The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) expressed their concerns in a comment on a proposed rule from November 2011 that would have restricted airspace in North Dakota.

    In that comment, Heidi Williams, AOPA vice president of Air Traffic Services and Modernization, noted concern about the precedent of designating the airspace UAV-only.

    "Most troubling," Williams wrote, "the restricted airspace would be the first ever reserved exclusively for (Unmanned Aerial System) activity, the start of a 'slippery slope' that could lead to similar proposals elsewhere. AOPA has repeatedly noted that while UAS are unable to comply with the 'see and avoid' requirements of Part 91" -- the operating and flight regulations all pilots must follow -- "there are solutions other than segregation, including the use of ground observers and chase airplanes, that could maintain safety and allow the Air Force to complete its missions."

    Those ground observers and chase airplanes are the kinds of restrictions Walker takes issue with. But Williams has a point in that UAVs are incapable of spotting another aircraft and reacting automatically to avoid a crash, in the way a pilot would.


    However, with an advanced satellite-based NextGen aviation communication system currently being rolled out -- and also included as part of the FAA reauthorization -- the technology necessary to automate crash avoidance may be coming, though not necessarily soon. Some companies are already developing technology to help unmanned aircraft operators avoid oncoming aircraft. But one UAV manufacturer told the Air Force Times that effective, automated sense-and-avoid technology for unmanned aircraft is still a generation away.

    Still, Greg Walker argues that such technology might actually be more practical in a UAV context, since an aircraft already controlled by a computer would react more naturally than a pilot manually steering an aircraft, should an automated crash-avoidance system kick in.

    While these issues continue to be debated in the aviation community, the FAA has been given a short timeline for determining the six designated UAV test areas in the U.S., and Walker said it would be ideal if they could "check off two boxes at once" by designating one of the test areas in the Arctic, where the FAA will already be required to establish designated UAV airspace.

    "This is all very political right now," Walker said. "You're seeing letters from senators or governors to the FAA saying, 'you ought to consider us.'" Meantime, Walker gets the luxury of selecting which Arctic location will be best suited for testing. Options currently include Barrow, Wainwright and locations near Prudhoe Bay.

    As with all things FAA and government-related, it could take some time before any real changes take effect. But with the increasing demand for and practicality of UAVs, it looks like the skies above the U.S. may be getting a little more crowded.
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    Who cares what a seal is doing somewhere. Why do we have to be spying on everything? Next thing will be law enforcement using one to see what you are growing in your garden. Or the climate police taking pictures of what is coming out your smokestack. The IRS taking pictures of how many cars you have, so they can increase your carbon tax. Big Brother will be using it to spy on the citizens. All you have to do is look at what the nut cases are doing at the NSA, to see where all this is headed. There are bozo biologist out there that think we should have a radio collar on every animal in Alaska, so we can study them. There are nut cases in the government that think the same about us citizens. They think we should all be under surveillance in case we have a gun, or solar panels or windmills that they need to tax. So why are we putting our airspace at risk? So some idiot can look at a seal somewhere, or record erosion along a beach in the Arctic, in a place that is too hard to get to. I say to hell with these things doing surveillance in the wilderness. It might be time to start shooting these things down. Before they start showing up everywhere....We can put a bounty on them, depending on how sophisticated it is. The more it spies on you the bigger the bounty will be.

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    I certainly have to agree with pipercub. While GA safety is truly a concern, it isn't the PRIMARY concern for me. It's the ever increasing observation, prying, and oversight of all American citizens. With the recently exposed infractions and insertions of our IRS, NSA and other government agencies, and with the FAA still one of our largest government agencies [and completely under the control of politicians, who simply cannot be trusted], the drone program offers little and threatens much.

    I'm old enough to recall when this country was proud of its freedoms from invasions, of any sort, from both without and from within. Those days are now pretty much gone. Our government has offered us many promises, but given us few. This program will be no better, and is simply another encroachment upon the freedoms we have already pretty much lost. I recall the words of a wise American Indian when he said of our government, "You have made many promises. You have kept only one. You promised to take our land, and you have".

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    Quote Originally Posted by pipercub View Post
    Who cares what a seal is doing somewhere. Why do we have to be spying on everything? Next thing will be law enforcement using one to see what you are growing in your garden. Or the climate police taking pictures of what is coming out your smokestack. The IRS taking pictures of how many cars you have, so they can increase your carbon tax. Big Brother will be using it to spy on the citizens. All you have to do is look at what the nut cases are doing at the NSA, to see where all this is headed. There are bozo biologist out there that think we should have a radio collar on every animal in Alaska, so we can study them. There are nut cases in the government that think the same about us citizens. They think we should all be under surveillance in case we have a gun, or solar panels or windmills that they need to tax. So why are we putting our airspace at risk? So some idiot can look at a seal somewhere, or record erosion along a beach in the Arctic, in a place that is too hard to get to. I say to hell with these things doing surveillance in the wilderness. It might be time to start shooting these things down. Before they start showing up everywhere....We can put a bounty on them, depending on how sophisticated it is. The more it spies on you the bigger the bounty will be.
    Agreed 100%. However, you can lose all of your privacy with manned aircraft too. Some of that has already taken place. Thats really another fight IMO. It'll be easier to find your grow op but they can still find with manned assets. I think if you put a stop to UAS's, you'll still lose your privacy if something drastic doesn't happen. Maybe not quite as fast.

    The biggest issue I personally have is that when these things start taking out GA aircraft (and they will) WE are gonna start getting regulated out of existence. As with anything, follow the dollar. There is way too much money behind the UAS push to shut it down. When air operators start trading paint with UAS's, we are going to be 100% flight planned, forecasted, routed or whatever else with keep the UAS ($$$) in the air. The failure of the UAS to integrate will fall on GA.

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    I too agree with Pipercub.

    But look on the bright side guys, think of the reality show potential!!! For the shadenfreuden among us, you can fly along on a domestic spying mission over the trailer park, or maybe an ardent environmentalist can go along on a trip counting the endangered brazilian titmouse... it's just ripe for popular consumption...

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    I have been flying both commercially and recreationally out of Lake Hood for almost 40 yrs. and the biggest threat I see is the 10 hr. a year float pilot and the out of state time builders that migrate to Alaska for about three months every summer, fly in and out of Anchorage. Happy New Year

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    I guess the thing I might be worried about is that in the middle of April and September I am always looking for geese or cranes and other migrating birds coming back or leaving the area. If one of these hit wing or tail or came through the wind screen you might just have a real bad day.

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    I've hit a few birds over the years. Not sure how that compares to a small drone. Hope I don't get to find out...

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