With thousands of drones already being flown throughout the U.S., unmanned aerial vehicles “are with us here and now” and must be embraced by the Experimental Aviation, says EAA chairman Jack Pelton.
While the Federal Aviation Administration takes its time drawing up rules for the commercial use of drones; hobbyists, amateurs and small businesses are buying them by the hundreds and using them for fun, recreation and photography, usually with small cameras to shoot photos of buildings, the neighborhood, or video.
“Between the commercial use of drones and business-based photography is a space for recreational use,” says Pelton. That encompasses many hobbyists —and will attract a lot more—who share the same aviation interests as the typical EAA member: building and flying things. For many kids it is their first experience of being involved with flight, and the low price of many drones makes them accessible. “It’s hands-on building and flying,” says Pelton. “It can keep them engaged.”
EAA must be involved in the emerging drone industry not only to have a say in protecting the airspace in which its members fly their airplanes, but also to be abreast of developments—which will come—when dronists begin to put passengers aboard their quadcopters. “There will be many innovations,” and that fits exactly into the spirit of EAA, Pelton says. One that EAA encourages is the programming of drones by their manufacturers to render the vehicles inoperative when their onboard GPS detects a potential conflict with FAA controlled airspace. At least one manufacturer had to reset its safety program to allow it to fly here in Oshkosh’s controlled airspace.
Could EAA eventually form a Drone Division, paralleling its Vintage and Warbirds groupings? “Possibly,” says Pelton.
EAA’s Innovation Center for the first time this year features a Drone Cage in which unmanned vehicles can be demonstrated in safety. The center itself is home to perhaps a dozen companies selling drones at the show, many of them here for the first time.
Pelton even starred with a drone at the opening of AirVenture. He was due to have a pair of scissors for the ribbon cut delivered to him by quadcopter, but it was too windy for accurate flying and the drone hovered in camera mode for the event.
But not all drones have programmable safety systems. Asked whether EAA had sanctioned the use of a drone on the airfield on Sunday evening, Pelton expressed surprise. An Aviation Week writer had spotted a group of enthusiasts in the airplane campground at the southern end of Runway 09, flying a drone up to 300 ft.
“This sort of thing is a big part of the problem,” says Pelton. EAA should take on as part of its mission the advocacy to safeguard airspace and find ways to not allow drone operators to get themselves into trouble, he says.