Summary: I talk with Max Flight about all things related to UAVs (drones) and how the increase in UAVs could impact pilots. Max Flight is the host of both the Airplane Geeks Podcast and the UAV Digest Podcast.
What is a UAV – Max says there are many definitions, the FAA called them UAS. All the definitions basically the same thing as it means an aircraft without a pilot in it.
Categories of UAVs – You can categorise them based on size and capability (use).
1. Small UAVs – less than 55 pounds, generally flown as lower altitudes, limited capabilities but they can go into navigable airspace and relatively inexpensive. i.e.: DJI Phantom.
2. Medium and High Altitude – Generally only available for the Military.
Max notes that the smaller UAVs are the focus for industry at the moment.
Future UAV Industry – An example might be industries which require aerial photography (i.e.: Real Estate, Advertising and movies industry which uses this technology. Agriculture is an area that wants to get into the use of UAVs, for crop inspections (surveying fields). Inspection related tasks (i.e.: sending people up tall towers to inspect towers) and Search and Rescue. Max equates it to the beginnings of the personal computer industry. Max notes that we can’t envisage all of the uses for UAVs in the future.
Larger Companies in the UAV space – spans from an entrepreneurial videographer to suppliers of UAVs systems.
New Companies in the space – Max notes that some of these companies and entrepreneurs dont come with an aviation background.
Current State of Regulations – In the US there is a long process to create regulations. The FAA uses a process that starts with a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) and opens it up to the public to provide comments and feedback to try to improve the draft rules. The comment period for UAVs received about 4500 comments from interest parties. The FAA is going through the submissions and considering the input and at some point we will see a revision from the FAA for the propose regulation.
Concerns from Pilots – Lots of pilots are drawn to fly drones but even in those cases there are some concerns about UAVs. Pilots know there are some processes to keep aircraft separated but these do not current apply to UAVs (i.e.: sense and avoid). A lot of smart people are looking at developing sense and avoid technologies to ensure UAVs and other manned aircraft don’t conflict with each other. Max says its hard to include the technology on drones due to size, weight and power issue.
Examples of UAVs coming close to other traffic – Max notes that this has happened, especially around airports.
Security and UAVs – A Quadcopter landed on the front yard of the warehouse. The system in place to detect intruders generally can’t detect smaller UAVs. There is a company which has created technology to detect the sound of UAVs.
People shooting down UAVs – A person shot down a drone over his property. This is an example of the emotions that go along with drones, some people see this as invasions of privacy.
Technological solution to enable these craft to be incorporated into the airspace – Max notes it needs to be a blend of solutions. There needs to be an increase in the awareness level for UAVs. Max notes this will be difficult to do, that the UAV manufacturers have a role to play in this (ie: safety requirements).
Max’s own UAV – Max notes you should start with something small and inexpensive as they are easy to crash. Max has a Blade Nano UX. Max notes that its difficult to fly the drones at the start. One of the requirements of the NPRM is that you don’t fly UAVs over people.
The UAV Digest – Max found that it was impossible not to talk about UAVs on the airplane geeks and created the UAV Digest with David Vanderhoof. When they started the podcast they had little knowledge of UAVs and learnt along the way. Max notes that the UAV industry is welcoming discussing things on the podcast.
Predictions for the future – Hard to predict all of the applications that will present themselves. Max thinks we will see a lot of applications in Agriculture, Search & Rescue and Public Safety. Max notes there are many issues to be sorted out before UAVs will be used for package delivery.
Pilots as an Important Stakeholder – Need to take an interest in how this develops and observe the moves the regulatory agency makes surrounding UAV regulation.
Final 3 Questions
Bonus – Favourite Engine – Likes the Merlin sound but likes the Pratt & Whitney Geared Turbofan
Which famous aviator would you fly with if given the chance?
Favourite Aviation Phrase you have heard?
‘My favourite airplane is the last airplane I flew’