Warplanes: August 24, 2003


As popular as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are, they are currently  not allowed to fly in commercial air space in the United States. But the Federal Aviation Administration is under a lot of pressure to certify some UAV models for use outside of military training areas. There are a growing number of commercial uses for UAVs being proposed. For example, fighting  forests fires could be a lot easier with a UAV that could stay in the air for 12 or more hours at a time, sending down a real time video feed from an infrared (heat sensor) camera. Related to this are geological surveys that would be a lot cheaper using UAVs. There are also government uses, like border patrol and other homeland security tasks. Even the entertainment business wants to use UAVs for television and movie production. Radio and TV stations would like to use them for their local news operations. To monitor the rush hour traffic, for example. The FAA is working with people in the interested industries, as well as airlines and airport operators, to develop standards for UAVs flying just about anywhere. The major problem with UAVs is that they usually don't have the "situational awareness" of aircraft with pilots. A UAV often uses little more than an onboard GPS for navigation. Newer models have multiple cameras, or one that can look around a bit. It's going to be a tricky business allowing UAVs into airspace with lots of other aircraft, not to mention other UAVs. Right now, you need special permission each time you want to fly a UAV in commercial air space. 


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