will acquire at least six Predator B UAS to patrol both the northern and
southern borders of the U.S.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the U.S.
Forest Service have been early proponents of regular UAS operations in the NAS,
having successfully demonstrated how UAS can counter major wildfires fueled by
extreme heat and drought.
This past summer, they conducted flights of a Predator B remotely piloted
vehicle equipped with advanced imaging and communications equipment to capture
real-time thermal infrared images of western states wildfires, which were passed
along to firefighters on the ground.
The Ikhana, a Predator B modified for civil science and research
missions, flew again in October, assisting firefighters battling the Southern
"In the not-too-distant future, we'll look back at unmanned aircraft
demonstrations and realize that these flights paved the way for civilian use of
unmanned aircraft that benefit all of us, said NASA's Brent Cobleigh.
The FAA has already cleared Predators for domestic disaster relief
operations, giving the U.S. Air Force permission in 2006 to conduct humanitarian
missions in civil airspace as required and within specific flight restrictions.
The USAF used a Global Hawk UAS to collect high-altitude imagery of the Southern
California wildfires, representing the first domestic use of the military
Meanwhile, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is sending
small drones with advanced weather-watching equipment deep into hurricanes.
At least three local police departments have purchased or have budgeted
money to buy small drones to help them respond to emergencies and for traffic
and crowd control. But the FAA has stepped in, keeping the police UAS grounded
pending establishment of operating regulations for unfettered flights.
Chief Donald Shinnamon, director of public safety for the city of Holly
Hill, Florida, and an expert on the use of manned rotorcraft and UAS for law
enforcement, says opportunities exist for use of drones at the local government
level. "There is a huge market for fire departments and emergency management
departments to employ this technology because UAS are affordable and have a
lower noise signature," he believes.
"We all stand to benefit from local departments employing small UAS," he
said, but he charges that "regulation is lagging behind the technology and that
the FAA declines to engage in a meaningful dialogue with non-Department of
Defense UAS operators."
The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently issued a technical bulletin
regarding law enforcement use of unmanned aircraft systems.
It said "UAS is a rapidly emerging technology that has exceptional appeal
to law enforcement" but DOJ warned that the operation of a UAS by a public
agency, whether it is federal, state or local law enforcement, is enforced by
The DOJ said prior to purchasing or leasing a UAS, potential law
enforcement users should consider the following:
* For a public aircraft operation, the FAA holds the position that a
Certificate of Authorization (COA) is required to operate UAS in the National
* The FAA has stated publicly that COAs would not be issued for use of a
UAS over populated areas, such as may be defined by the yellow areas on aviation
The preferred term at this juncture is not simply "unmanned aircraft," but "unmanned aircraft systems" (UAS), because there's so much more than just the aircraft.
Accomplishing the necessary modeling and simulation just to develop standards could take another 4-5 years.
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