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  • Drones

    Pilots learn to fly from desk chair

    Navy helicopter pilots take part in historic shift from stick and rudder to joystick.

    How do you fly a Fire Scout, the Navy’s first generation of unmanned helicopters?

    Young pilots at North Island Naval Air Station are finding out that it involves staring at two computer screens, watching a tiny colored figure move along a dotted line.

    They are taking part in a historic culture shift as the U.S. military embraces unmanned aviation, and traditional stick-and-rudder pilots learn the possibilities of the joystick and keyboard.

    “I know a lot of pilots don’t like that we are going to drones. But it’s the way it’s going, and you’d rather be on the front end,” said Lt. j.g. Colin Ivey, a 26-year-old pilot who just finished the six-week training program.

    It wasn’t so long ago that he received his wings and qualified to fly a traditional helicopter, the Navy’s workhorse MH-60. Now he is learning to operate the MQ-8B Fire Scout, a pint-size rotary drone designed in San Diego by defense giant Northrop Grumman.

    Ivey is a member of the first Navy helicopter squadron to have a split personality. Out on ships, these North Island pilots will fly traditional helicopters one day, operate the Fire Scout on another.

    The littoral combat ship Fort Worth, when it deploys from San Diego for the first time this fall, will be the inaugural test of this new arrangement.

    “The evolution of where the armed forces are going with unmanned aerial systems is a unique opportunity to work ourselves out of a job,” said Cmdr. Chris Hewlett, commanding officer of the hybrid North Island squadron, Helicopter Maritime Strike 35.

    After years as a traditional helicopter pilot, he too has learned to fly the Fire Scout.

    Mission Payload Operator (MPO) student Dustin Mclintock monitors the dual screens on the console of the simulator for the MQ-8B UAV helicopter at North Island NAS

    “It’s not the same stick and rudder we are used to,” he said. “However, it’s the same flight time, if you plan and execute a mission from start to finish.”

    The U.S. military’s use of armed drones accelerated during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Unmanned aircraft went from a budding industry in 2001 to an important part of the war strategy.

    The Air Force has flown armed MQ-1 Predator drones since the early days of the Afghanistan War. Later it added a more lethal upgrade, the MQ-8 Reaper. That service also has used the unarmed high-flying RQ-4 Global Hawk for surveillance.

    The Navy came later to embracing widespread use of unmanned aircraft. It deployed the first Fire Scout aboard a frigate in late 2009.

    And it is poised to choose a manufacturer for the first unmanned fighter jet that can perform a tailhook landing on an aircraft carrier deck.

    Who will control this growing fleet of unmanned aircraft? It’s a question that strikes at the heart of military aviation.

    Since 2011, the Air Force has trained more pilots to operate advanced drones than any other single weapons system. It also has already transitioned units, such as the F-16 squadron 174th Attack Wing, from flying fighter jets to operating armed drones.

    By 2020, North Island will have four mixed Fire Scout-traditional helicopter squadrons. For now, the Navy is still on the leading edge of training its aviators to fly from desk chairs.

  • #2
    US lags as commercial drones take off around globe

    WASHINGTON — A small, four-rotor drone hovered over Washington Nationals players for a few days during spring training in Florida last month, taking publicity photos impossible for a human photographer to capture. But no one got the Federal Aviation Administration's permission first.

    "No, we didn't get it cleared, but we don't get our pop flies cleared either and those go higher than this thing did," a team official said when contacted by The Associated Press. The drone flights ceased the next day. The official wasn't authorized to speak publicly and asked not to be named.

    Drones are set to become more commonplace in the near future

    The agency bars commercial use of drones no matter how seemingly benign. The lone exception is an oil company that has been granted permission to fly drones over the Arctic Ocean, and it took an act of Congress to win that concession.

    FAA officials say rules to address the special safety challenges associated with unmanned aircraft need to be in place before they can share the sky with manned aircraft. The agency has worked on those regulations for the past decade and is still months and possibly years away from issuing final rules for small drones, which are defined as those weighing less than 55 pounds. Rules for larger drones are even further off.

    But tempting technology and an eager marketplace are outrunning the aviation agency's best intentions. Photographers, real estate agents, moviemakers and others are hurrying to embrace the technology. Drones have been used to photograph the two apartment buildings that collapsed in New York City this past week and a car crash in Connecticut. The AP, in fact, is one of several news organizations studying the possible use of drones.

    Unless FAA officials receive a complaint or chance upon a news story that mentions drone flights, they have little ability to find out about violations. The ban was further undercut this month when a federal judge dismissed the only fine the FAA has imposed on a commercial drone operator. The judge said the agency can't enforce regulations that don't exist.

    The FAA, which contends it controls access to the national air space, has appealed.

    The use of commercial drones, most of them small, is starting to spread to countries where authorities have decided the aircraft presents little threat if operators follow a few safety rules.

    The drone industry and some members of Congress are worried the United States will be one of the last countries, rather than one of the first, to gain the economic benefits of the technology.

    "We don't have the luxury of waiting another 20 years," said Paul McDuffee, vice president of drone-maker Insitu of Bingen, Wash., a subsidiary of Boeing. "This industry is exploding. It's getting to the point where it may end up happening with or without the FAA's blessing."

    In Japan, the Yamaha Motor Company's RMAX helicopter drones have been spraying crops for 20 years. The radio-controlled drones weighing 140 pounds are cheaper than hiring a plane and are able to more precisely apply fertilizers and pesticides. They fly closer to the ground and their backwash enables the spray to reach the underside of leaves.

    The helicopters went into use five years ago in South Korea and last year in Australia.

    Television networks use drones to cover cricket matches in Australia. Zookal, a Sydney company that rents textbooks to college students, plans to begin delivering books via drones later this year. The United Arab Emirates has a project underway to see whether government documents like driver's licenses, identity cards and permits can be delivered using small drones.

    In the United Kingdom, energy companies use drones to check the undersides of oil platforms for corrosion and repairs, and real estate agents use them to shoot videos of pricey properties. In a publicity stunt last June, a Domino's Pizza franchise in the U.K. posted a YouTube video of a "DomiCopter" drone flying over fields, trees and homes to deliver two pizzas.

    But when Lakemaid Beer tried to use a drone to deliver six-packs to ice fishermen on a frozen lake in Minnesota, the FAA grounded the brewskis.

    Andreas Raptopoulous, CEO of Matternet in Menlo Park, Calif., predicts that in the near term, there will be more extensive use of drones in impoverished countries than in wealthier nations such as the U.S.

    He sees a market for drones to deliver medicines and other critical, small packaged goods to the 1 billion people around the globe who don't have year-round access to roads.

    Later this year, Matternet plans to start selling to government and aid organizations a package that includes a drone and two landing pads. On the return trip, the drones can carry blood samples bound for labs and other packages.

    Germany's express delivery company Deutsche Post DHL is testing a "Paketkopter" drone that could be used to deliver small, urgently needed goods in hard-to-reach places. Facebook is in talks to buy Titan Aerospace, a maker of solar-powered drone-like satellites, to step up its efforts to provide Internet access to remote parts of the world.

    There is also a strong business case for urban drones that can replace truck deliveries of single packages. "If you look at the economic footprint and CO2 emissions," Raptopoulous said, the drone "beats the truck hands down."

    Worldwide sales of military and civilian drones will reach an estimated $89 billion over the next decade, according to the Teal Group, an aerospace research company in Fairfax, Va. The FAA estimates as many as 7,500 small commercial drones will be in use within five years once the necessary regulations are in place.

    Jim Williams, head of the FAA's drone office, said writing rules for the U.S. is more complex than other nations. The U.S. has far more air traffic than anywhere else and a greater variety of aircraft, from hot air balloons and old-fashioned barnstormers to the most sophisticated airliners and military and business jets. At low altitudes, the concern is a small drone could collide with a helicopter or small plane flown by a recreational pilot.

    "It's a different culture in the U.S. and Canada," Williams said in an interview. "People believe they have the right to just jump in their airplane and fly just like they do their car. ... We can't set up a system that puts any of those folks at risk."

    Yet the FAA permits hobbyists to fly model aircraft that have so improved in technology that they're little different from small drones. The FAA has issued voluntary guidelines for hobbyists, including staying away from airports, flying no higher than 400 feet and staying within the line of sight of the operator.

    "You could go off to the hobby shop, buy a little remote control helicopter and fly it to your heart's content," McDuffee said. "But if you hung a digital camera on that, took pictures of your neighbor's roof and sold those pictures to him or her, now you are in business and you're flying" an unmanned aircraft system.

    Sean Cassidy, senior vice president at the Air Line Pilots Association, said he worries that commercial drone users will be less willing than hobbyists to abide by restrictions because of economic pressures.

    Drones are "becoming so prevalent and affordable that something has to be done to make sure they're not being used in a reckless manner," he, said. "Even a fairly small (drone), if the person flying this thing is unaware of their surroundings ... there could be very dire consequences."


    • #3
      Toy helicopter helped change Feinstein’s mind about surveillance drones

      Senator Dianne Feinstein now says she has some serious privacy concerns about domestic drones, but it might have been nothing more than a children’s toy that put her over the edge.

      Senator Diane Feinstein​

      Feinstein — who also serves as the head of the US Senate Intelligence Committee — has since last year been advocating for her congressional colleagues to implement privacy safeguards to protect Americans from any potential surveillance threats brought on by the small, unmanned aerial vehicles expected to soon invade local airspace.

      “The administration is looking at a rules playbook as to how these won’t be used and how they will be used,” Feinstein told MSNBC a year ago this month. “So it’s a very complicated subject of new technology and I think we have to take a pause and get it right.”

      But speaking to journalists at the CBS News program 60 Minutes recently, Sen. Feinstein shared a personal story that put into better perspective why exactly she’s so worried about spy drones. During an episode that aired Sunday evening, Feinstein said an experience that she recently had with a “drone” outside of her home had something to do with how she now views UAVs.

      “I'm in my home and there's a demonstration out front. And I go to peek out the window and there's a drone facing me. Well, whoever was running it turned it around quickly and it crashed,” Feinstein said.

      The Federal Aviation Administration is currently at work on hammering out guidelines for domestic drone pilots to abide by once small aircraft are allowed to hover in American airspace en masse. Speaking to 60 Minutes, however, Sen. Feinstein said she had some ideas herself about how to handle the drone debate.

      “It's going to have to come through regulation. Perhaps regulation of size and type for private use,” she told 60 Minutes journalist Morley Safer. “Secondly, some certification of the person that's going to operate it. And then some specific regulation on the kinds of uses it can be put to.”

      Feinstein briefly mentioned her drone sighting during a congressional hearing earlier this year, and Code Pink campaign organizer Nancy Mancias told The Daily Beast then, “That could have been us.”

      Mancias and her Code Pink colleagues weren’t deploying any sort of Predator drone, though, and told The Daily Beast’s Abby Haglage back in January that her group came equipped with the type of flying robot that’s marketed to adolescents.

      “They’re just toys, they couldn’t do that much,” Mancias said then. “When we flew them, some only got seven feet off the ground and crashed.”

      At the time, Mancias remarked that it was “interesting” that Feinstein was starting to show concern about the privacy repercussion that a domestic drone program could cause, and said, “She speaks out against it here, yet she's willing to let the same thing go on abroad.”

      This time around, Feinstein’s latest remarks come only days after she was called out again for acting hypocritically with regards to the policy she is personally involved in setting: Last week, she accused the Central Intelligence Agency of unlawfully monitoring the computers used by Senate staffers involved in investigating the CIA’s George W. Bush-era torture program. Previously, however, she said she had no problem with the surveillance operations waged by the US government that involved the collection of domestic telephone data.

      Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor who has exposed an array of previously secret NSA programs since last year, was quick to condemn Feinstein after last week’s remarks.

      “It's clear the CIA was trying to play 'keep away' with documents relevant to an investigation by their overseers in Congress, and that's a serious constitutional concern,” Snowden told NBC News.“But it's equally if not more concerning that we're seeing another 'Merkel Effect,' where an elected official does not care at all that the rights of millions of ordinary citizens are violated by our spies, but suddenly it's a scandal when a politician finds out the same thing happens to them."


      • #4
        Big Brother is Watching: New Tech Lets Cops watch Entire City in Real-Time

        An Ohio-based surveillance company working with police has created the law enforcement surveillance model of the future, giving cops the ability to capture the activity of an entire city on video.

        The eerily-named Persistent Surveillance Systems is headed by former Air Force veteran and engineer Ross McNutt, and employs a system known as wide-area surveillance, which films an entire city from the air in real-time.

        “Imagine Google Earth with a rewind button and the ability to play back the movement of cars and people as they scurry about the city,” a report said.

        McNutt and his company recently convinced the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to let them surveil a series of necklace snatchings in Compton, Calif., and track down suspects from the moment the thefts occurred.

        “We literally watched all of Compton during the time that we were flying, so we could zoom in anywhere within the city of Compton and follow cars and see people,” McNutt said. “Our goal was to basically jump to where reported crimes occurred and see what information we could generate that would help investigators solve the crimes.”

        McNutt helped build similar technology for the military to track down bombing suspects in Iraq and Afghanistan, and noticed that by attaching powerful surveillance cameras to civilian aircraft, the same system could be used for domestic law enforcement.

        “Our whole system costs less than the price of a single police helicopter and costs less for an hour to operate than a police helicopter,” McNutt told CIR. “But at the same time, it watches 10,000 times the area that a police helicopter could watch.”

        McNutt’s surveillance system is one among a handful of new digital-based endeavors thrusting law enforcement into the future, and even the imagined Hollywood versions of it.

        Take, for instance, Chicago PD’s “Minority Report”-esque computer, which is being designed to estimate and predict future criminal activity, and multiple California departments’ use of “stingray” anti-terrorism tech, which tracks all of the cellphone use data for a given area.

        “What it potentially means is that we’re able to catch bad guys faster, and we’re able to get them off the streets a lot faster with the technologies we have so they don’t commit another crime,” acting assistant director of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Division Jeremy Wiltz said.

        A new database under development by the FBI and part of the agency’s Next Generation Identification program already has more than 147 million portraits and sets of fingerprints belonging to criminals and non-criminals alike, and Chula Vista police near San Diego have already begun using tablets with facial recognition technology to snap pictures of suspects and identify wanted criminals in eight seconds.

        “You can lie about your name, you can lie about your date of birth, you can lie about your address,” Chula Vista Officer Rob Halverson said. “But tattoos, birthmarks, scars don’t lie.”

        In the case of the wide-area surveillance system, McNutt believes that in a few years it will be capable of surveilling an entire city on the scale of San Francisco.

        “The system was kind of kept confidential from everybody in the public,” L.A. County sheriff’s sergeant and project supervisor Doug Iketani said. “A lot of people do have a problem with the eye in the sky, the Big Brother, so in order to mitigate any of those kinds of complaints, we basically kept it pretty hush-hush.”​


        • #5
          South Australian Government Authorise Yamaha's Agri-Drone

          The South Australian Department of Health has issued a licence to Yamaha Australia's Sky Division for the dispersal of herbicides using Yamaha's RMAX unmanned agricultural helicopter (drone).

          The RMAX is now available for franchising across various industries in SA including viticulture, agriculture and land and coastal management. The new RMAX means operators can spray weeds, crops, or spread seed in a more cost effective and accurate manner.

          Yamaha's RMAX Agri-Drone hopes to provide an alternative to conventional helicopter spraying

          Weighing 99 kilograms with a total length of 3.63 metres and a height of 1.08m, each helicopter has a load capacity of 28kg and runs on a 2-stroke, horizontally opposed 2-cylinder engine.

          Full training for franchised operators is provided by Yamaha’s training school, Skytech Academy, before operators can use the RMAX.

          The course takes several weeks to complete and incorporates classroom lessons, practical skills training, proficiency testing and ongoing safety training and updates.


          • #6
            Hydro-Québec Develops Drone equipped to Detect Powerline Conductor Corrosion