Monday, March 28, 2016

UAVs in the Superstitions

March 21, 2016 © Thomas J. Kollenborn. All Rights Reserved.

A little more than a decade ago unmanned Quad copters were only in an experimental stage and few people were familiar with them. As various electronic models developed and improved so did the possibility of unmanned rotorcraft.

The concept for manned quad copters has been around since 1907. A manned and tethered quad copter actually got off the ground in 1907. However, it was not successful in the sense of actual flight. Again in the 1920s more manned quad copters were designed, but they were difficult to control and not a practical means of vertical take off flight with a pilot.

The Quad copter is controlled by the action of its rotors turning in different directions for forward, backward, vertical and descending motion. Eventually a micro electronic brain was developed to control the quad copter for flight by an operator with a transmitter. This was the introduction of the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

Private individuals experimented with building their own models for several years before commercial models became available about 2005. At first, the models were expensive, couldn’t carry much of a payload, had an extremely short flying time, and needed a good operator to keep them together.

Some time around 2009 various Search and Rescue units around the Southwest became interested in using these drones, as they are called now, to search for lost hikers, campers, or hunters in rugged terrain. As this need developed, more sophisticated models came on the market with high-resolution cameras and the ability to transmit back to the operater high-resolution photographs. Originally the flying time for these drones was about ten to seventeen minutes. With the development of more advanced Lithium batteries, the flying time of drones, depending on payload, was increased to thirty or thirty-five minutes.

During the past three years quad copter drones of extremely high quality have been introduced to the general public with a very vigorous advertising program. Today a person can purchase a drone with a 4k high-resolution camera capable of flight up to thirty-five minutes depending on the payload it is carrying for between $500 and $3000. However, drones are now creating a problem in the general and commercial aviation field.

Many drones have been spotted around airports, near descending airliners, at forest fires, at accidents, etc. It has been reported these drones are interfering with the safety of emergency vehicles.

Recently several spectacular videos have appeared on-line of Superstition Mountain filmed from a UAV.
Why has the drone market become so popular? Americans today are looking for alternative means of recreation. Evidently the drone with a high-resolution camera is satisfying these needs. There are many issues now involved, ranging from safety, privacy, and even terrorism. What if someone wanted to destroy something? Some of these drones can carry up to fifty-five pounds of extra weight and be directed to any target by remote control.

At this point, ther are many uses for drones, including law enforcement, real estate, investment companies, insurance companies, and many more. Another issue is our personal privacy in our homes and yards.

This issue has created consternation among many citizen groups in America. Now that drones are so readily available to the average citizen with little or no training concerns many municipalities, counties and states. What type of rules will be adopted and how soon to control this invasion of privacy in America?

Presently, UAV operators are permitted to fly up to 400 feet above the ground placing them at a vantage point to view what is below them with camera of 4K-resolution. The details these new cameras are capable of is absolutely remarkable

These UAVs have created many issues for commercial and general aviation for the future. Should UAVs be flown beyond the sight of the operator? Should the UAVs be permitted to haul packages? Should operators be licensed? If you look at the regulations and rules for general aviation it is very complex and requires extended knowledge of flight, ability to fly, medical condition, etc. As of February 2016, drones of a certain weight classification must be registered. Drones weighing between 0.55 lbs. (250 grams) and up to 55 lbs. (25kg.) are to be registered by the FAA.

For the time being there are few rules governing the flight of private drones or UAVs. Those that exist are:

  1. Don’t fly within five miles of an airport 
  2. Don’t fly above four hundred feet, 
  3. Don’t fly close to people or animals 
  4. Don’t fly near radio or television towers, 
  5. Wilderness Areas, National Park and Monuments are closed to unmanned flight of any kind.
  6. Some municipalities and counties have strict regulations. 
  7. No flying permitted around military bases, 
  8. Many federal lands are also closed to flights. 

These are just a few rules at this time that are for UAVs. Also UAVs cannot be used for pursuing wildlife or observing wildlife, particularly during hunting seasons.

Now what are the regulations for flying a UAV around the Superstition Wilderness Area? Basically you can’t without a special use permit. However, a drone can be used over the wilderness as long as it is not launched and landed within the wilderness boundary. Technically the drone must maintain 400 feet in elevation above the terrain. Recently several spectacular videos have appeared on-line of Superstition Mountain filmed from a UAV.

If drone flying is on your “to do” list, excersize caustion and care and respect the rights of others. There’s simply no reason to be taking unnecessary risks with a costly piece used in the incorrect way.

Being responsible and not subjecting other people to danger of harm or damage to personal property is the best advice I can give any beginner drone aviator.

Before you start, I implore you to think and to use some of the common sense you have learned over you lifetime.