2:40 in. Courtesy of PBS.
2:40 in. Courtesy of PBS.
Almost daily, I get asked “are drones illegal?” Short answer – No. The technology is obviously moving at a breakneck pace, applications are abundant and continue to grow, and the potential for big business in the United States is evident. Manufacturing start-up firms are popping up all over the country and have every legal right to make and sell as many UAS to as many customers as they please.
As of today, I would define the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) current policies/regulations for UAS as muddled and directionless. The only certainty is that UAS are not allowed for commercial purposes under any circumstance. The FAA’s UAS frequent questions website clearly defines this:Q: “Can I fly a UAS under a COA or experimental certificate for commercial purposes?” A: “No. Currently, there are no means to obtain an authorization for commercial UAS operations in the National Air Space (NAS).”
There are three basic categories of UAS operates defined by the FAA and how they can operate a UAS:
To sum things up, it is very difficult to get proper clearance from the FAA if you want to fly for any reason other than recreational use. My initial reason for contacting Mr. Rampulla was to inquire about using my IRIS for an R&D at Towill. I was quickly shot-down by him with little to no explanation as to why a 3 lb UAS needed a certified pilot for R&D but not for hobby use. As I’ve come to learn, most UAS operators scoff at the FAA and its inability to write sensible legislation. This leaves most UAS operates in a middle limbo-zone where they fly small UAS (sUAS) under hobbyist guidelines, but are doing work and research far beyond anything that would be considered recreational. At the same time, the FAA would have a hard time prosecuting these folks because they ultimately could come back and tell a judge that they are flying for the “fun of it.” In this 2007 document, the FAA acknowledged the necessity of having another class of UAS operators who would fall into this limbo category. Seven years later, nevertheless, UAS technology has exploded at a momentous rate, and the FAA has done absolutely nothing.
Everything is supposed to change in September 2015 when the FAA is mandated to have it’s UAS rule-book completed. Hopefully. There have been numerous delays to progress already, however, even though the FAA has acknowledged the problem. For the sake of this multi-billion dollar industry, let’s pray they get their shit together on time.
The 3DR IRIS is a lot of fun and an amazing UAS. So far I have been able to fly manually pretty well and have set up some successful autonomous flights. Mission Planner can be overwhelming to a novice, but I’m excited to unleash its capabilities. There are a number of features I’m looking forward to learning including: