All posts by Sally French

First Take: What really happened with the Florida “near-miss” drone accident

The Federal Aviation Administration this week spoke at a conference of a drone that nearly collided with a US Airways airplane in Tallahassee, Fla.

“He (the US Airways pilot) reported what appeared to be a small, remotely piloted aircraft at approximately 2,300 feet in the air,” the FAA’s Jim Williams said during the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition in San Francisco.

The incident reportedly happened March 22 near Tallahassee Regional Airport.

The news is swiftly making its rounds on major news outlets including the Wall Street Journal and USA Today. It’s even the top trending story on Facebook.


A CNN anchor called it “a near nightmare.” The FAA’s UAS head Jim Williams referred to this type of accident as “perilous.”

But where’s the rest of the story? The data to back it up? The facts? Or just something that Williams said.

Anytime there is a near miss, which could include a collision with another airplane or that vehicle flying too close to ground obstacles, both the pilot and air traffic controller traditionally files a voluntary near miss report through the Aviation Safety Reporting System database, which has been managed by NASA since 1988.

“It’s one of the best safety databases in the entire world in terms of accuracy of data and reporting,” pilot Davis Hunt said.

The thing is, this drone collision report is nowhere to be found in the ASRS database, something drone lawyer Brendan Schulman noted on his Twitter account.

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Continue reading First Take: What really happened with the Florida “near-miss” drone accident

Exclusive interview: what it’s like being on the FAA’s drone advisory board


Photo/Sally French

Last week we wrote about Flyspan Systems, a new startup whose founders have a background in government work in drones. Today we speak with Brock Christoval, who sits on the advisory board, which is working to integrate unmanned systems into the national airspace.

The FAA is working to create a set of operating procedures in order to adhere to a Congressional mandate for the FAA to regulate sharing the skies between drones and commercial airlines. Congress set a deadline of September 2015 for the regulations to be laid out.

The document is being created based on input given by a variety of people including drone manufacturers, researchers and NASA.

On that advisory board is Brock Christoval, a former military engineer who focused on the experimental side of UAVs and the co-founder of drone consulting startup Flyspan Systems. He revealed never-before-told insights of what will be in the document, as background into the process behind writing the document that has generated huge controversy in the drone community.

“The 2015 goal is to come up with the minimum operating procedures,” Christoval said. “It outlines the procedures we need to bring this technology to the national airspace.”

Creating the document isn’t easy, Christoval points out.

“It’s a very technical process,” he said. “We have a lot of people there that are inputting their background and knowledge into that document. A lot of times we want to rely heavily on research, but you’ve got to go out and test this in real life.

The advisory board is less political, and more a hub of technical jargon floating around. But that doesn’t make it any easier to get that document completed, he said.

“I think some of that might actually be slowing us down, because engineers and scientists like to over think things,” he said.” Continue reading Exclusive interview: what it’s like being on the FAA’s drone advisory board

F-16 fighter jet turns into an unmanned drone

Thousands of planes that were otherwise grave yard bound, with costs in the hundreds of millions, are now being used as never before. They’ve been transformed into drones – a first for a full-sized jet airplane.

These Lockheed Martin F-16 fighter jets had been sitting in the bone yard at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona for 15 years.


Broadcast news station in South Africa to use drones in traffic reporting

Two South African media outlets are working to provide real-time traffic updates to the community using a drone.

Kagiso New Media and Jacaranda FM have plans to launch a remote-controlled drone over the N1 highway; up-to-the-minute online video feeds will capture images of traffic congestion to enrich on-air traffic reporters, as well as be streamed live online.

“In a metropolitan area with so many traffic issues, this offering will save our audience a lot time and hassle,” said Jacaranda FM general manager Kevin Fine. “We see it as a potential revolution not only in traffic reporting, but also in news reporting. It’s another innovative avenue that keeps us connected to our audience.”

The stations are the next in a wave of journalism organizations embracing the use of drones to improve upon the quality and reduce the costs of journalism. Broadcast stations often deploy helicopters to monitor traffic, so a drone offers a cheaper, more efficient alternative.

“We believe that UAV technology is an integral step into a future of transparent communications and information because it provides real time data when people need it,”said Craig Corte, chief digital officer at Kagiso Media. “We plan to be at the forefront of this technological boom so that we can capitalize on the many opportunities which it will provide.”

Drone operators with military background want to boost commercial drone market

There’s a new drone startup in town — Flyspan Systems, a consulting group made up of some of the most well-connected drone operators out there.

The Irvine, Calif.-based consulting agency is made up of a balanced team of seven engineers, business strategies and drone industry experts. Founder Brock Christoval specializes in aircraft systems engineering, while co-founder Vinny Capobianco is more on the mechanical engineering end of things.

And where did they get their experience from? They worked for the United States Department of Defense working on – you guessed it – drones.

“We’re from the military side, but everything is just peeking its way into the commercial market,” Capobianco said.

They won’t say just what their involvement in military drone use was, but they have a passion for doing everything possible to develop the commercial drone market. Continue reading Drone operators with military background want to boost commercial drone market

Drone wildlife photographer unveils ground-based drone

beetlecam-8UK-based wildlife photographer and drone operator Will Burrard-Lucas has released a new version of his remote-control camera buggy – the BeetleCam Hybrd.

The photographer is known for his stunning, close-up videos of the African wildlife, which we wrote about a few months back. Now, the same technology is available to the public with Burrard-Lucas’ new company, Camtraptions Ltd.

The BeetleCam Hybrid is an updated version of his BeetleCam, which allows you to position a DSLR camera on the buggy, protected by a strong, light-weight shell and stabilized by a gimbal.

“This gimbal allows the camera to stay perfectly level, even if the BeetleCam is moving over uneven surfaces,” a news release stated. “The operator can also smoothly control the camera pan and tilt without moving the base.”

The BeetleCam Hybrid will be shipping in April.

Photo courtesy of Will Burrard-Lucas

YouTube drone video turns into mysterious police visit

What started as an innocent post to YouTube by a drone operator of a local mountain biking club turned into a visit by possible fake police officers.

Drone hobbyist Adam Crouchley used a DJI Phantom to shoot footage of the Hamilton Mountain Bike Club, which was shared on their Facebook page and to his YouTube account on Feb. 27.

The next morning, Crouchley awoke to police at his door, informing him someone lodged a complaint about him and that ‘the DJI Phantom is a bad quadcopter.’

“He continued to try and educate me about how the compass and GPS works, by feeding me information that was incorrect anyway,” Crouchley wrote on his blog. “I thought it was really unusual that the police officer was making a point about this particular machine of mine.”

It turns out, the officers that came to his door were not assigned to come to his door, and there was no job lodged with the police department or the Civil Aviation Authority to talk to him.

At one point, Crouchley considered they may not have even been real police officers. Continue reading YouTube drone video turns into mysterious police visit