Inspection drone cuts time needed to safety check aircraft and buildings





Tracey Wye

The time taken to inspect buildings, aircraft and other large inanimate objects has been dramatically slashed with the release of a new drone.

Drone developers Blue Bear Systems, which is based in Clapham, Bedfordshire, has joined with sensing specialists Createc to build the RISER Inspection System drone.

The past months have seen the inspection system examine an easyJet A320 aircraft, HMS Diamond and even a building in Canary Wharf, checking for potential damage due to general wear and tear.

Blue Bear technical director Dr Ian Cowling said: “Depending on size, RISER takes around 20 minutes to inspect an object, pinpointing minute damage that would take hours manually.

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“This will save companies time, money and guarantee that their asset is in its best possible condition.”

He added, the drone has ‘collision avoidance’ capability which prevents possible interference or contact with the structure under inspection, and Geo-fencing also ensures RISER does not navigate away from a set route.

“RISER flies approximately one metre away from the inspected object, analysing and processing any damage whilst building a 3D picture of the world around itself.”

In 2012, the ‘RISER’ Inspection System drone was produced with help from a £30,000 grant awarded to the companies by INNOVATE UK, with the aim of creating a product that could inspect static objects, whilst also being able to identify radiation.

Why GoPro Decided To Build a Drone



By Ryan Mac and Frank Bi

GoPro CEO Nicholas Woodman, a 39-year-old billionaire with a flair for the dramatic, usually has a way of pumping up crowds. Last month though, as he was set to make one of the most significant announcements in his company’s 13-year history, he fell a little flat.

“Do you guys all want GoPro to make a quadcopter?” Woodman asked onlookers at the Code Conference in Ranchos Palos Verdes, Calif. He was met with tepid cheers and two claps.

“Oh come on, do you guys all want GoPro to make a quadcopter?” he repeated, raising his voice and eliciting a slightly louder response. “Okay, GoPro is making a quadcopter. It’s official.”

Perhaps one of the worst kept secrets in Silicon Valley, Woodman’s announcement in front of investors and technology executives finally confirmed a new direction for GoPro, which, in the year since its initial public offering, has attempted to portray itself as more than just a camera company. While there’s been talks of GoPro’s forays into media and content, a quadcopter–or more generally, an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)–emphasizes that the company can embrace new ideas and products.

“They invented the action camera category and there’s not many more features that they can offer [on the cameras],” said Michael Pachter, an analyst with Wedbush Securities. “GoPro wants to show that it’s innovating.”

With consumer drones, however, GoPro may be innovating as well as playing catch up. The company is behind drone manufacturers like 3D Robotics and Shenzhen, China-based DJI, which sold its first mass market drone in 2013 and is on course to do $1 billion in sales this year. By far the market leader, DJI raised $75 million last month at an $8 billion valuation, larger than GoPro’s current $7.5 billion market capitalization.

While GoPro’s shares are trading at nearly double its IPO price of $24, its stock is down from the dizzying heights of last fall when holiday sales expectations buoyed investor confidence. With its drone, GoPro is hoping to reignite interest in its stock, a move which has worked to some extent with shares jumping 6.5% on the day of Woodman’s announcement.

GoPro’s CEO declined to comment for this article through a spokesperson, but those close to the company said that Woodman has been considering the development of his own drone since mid-2013. For most in the industry, it’s a logical move.

“Consumer and commercial drones are regularly used at sporting events like skiing, snowboarding and surfing–the same places where GoPro rules,” said Bilal Zuberi a partner at Lux Capital. “So it makes sense that GoPro does not want to leave that field open for DJI and others, and hurt its standing as the dominant brand among sports enthusiasts.”

3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson, whose company has made GoPro its official camera for its new consumer drone, Solo, noted that there is a “natural synergy” between drone enthusiasts and GoPro users.

“What GoPro allows is for people to shoot their lives in cinematic styles, and that’s exactly what drones can offer,” he said.

GoPro’s eventual move into the drone market may put it at odds with current partners like 3D Robotics, who is the first outside company ever to use GoPro’s branding on the packaging on their products. Up until now, drone manufacturers and GoPro have been largely symbiotic, with Anderson roughly estimating that as many as 10% of GoPros purchased today are being attached to UAVs.

Though GoPro could go from a collaborator to a competitor, the 3D Robotics chief said it’s not a move that was entirely unexpected as GoPro had poached his former product management director Pablo Lema last June to head up its drone program. Anderson also said that the drone industry “is not a zero-sum game” and that the entry of quality manufacturers to the market will only grow awareness and interest in the space.
Former DJI North America head Colin Guinn tried to broker deals between DJI and GoPro that never materialized. (Photo: Matthew Mahon for Forbes)

Former DJI North America head Colin Guinn tried to broker deals between DJI and GoPro that never materialized. (Photo: Matthew Mahon for Forbes)

That sentiment is likely not shared by DJI, whose signature consumer UAV line, the Phantom, proved to be an early inspiration for Woodman’s desire to build a drone, said sources. By the middle of 2013, DJI and GoPro were said to be negotiating a variety of deals brokered by then DJI North America head Colin Guinn. Originally, the plan was to develop a drone together, with GoPro providing the branding and sales channels, while DJI offered engineering expertise and manufacturing capabilities.

“Initially [GoPro and DJI] wanted to make a product together for GoPro to sell, but the negotiation never came to fruition,” DJI CEO Frank Wang told FORBES in a recent interview. They treated us like the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). The deal came out to roughly this: GoPro would make two points of profit, and I’d make one point.”

“They dealt with us like how they dealt with Taiwanese OEMs, so we never had a successful official partnership,” he added.

Sources said that conversations between the two companies would attempt to develop different relationships, with discussions of DJI using GoPro’s established retail channels to distribute its drones. Due to disagreements, however, nothing was ever signed, and DJI lost most of its connection to the American camera maker following the departure of Guinn, who ended up suing his former employer over an ownership dispute in 2014, before moving to 3D Robotics.

These days, even though GoPros are still heavily used on DJI products, CEO Wang has attempted to wean his customers off the American brand. DJI is developing its own cameras, which Wang claims are better than GoPro’s offerings.

“From the beginning to now, we never wanted to be in the shadow of someone else,” he said.

GoPro risks being overshadowed by the likes of DJI and 3D Robotics if it doesn’t move quickly with its drone. Growth in GoPro’s sales, which increased 42% to $1.39 billion in 2014, has slowed after doubling or tripling annually up until 2013. Contrast that with the fast-paced consumer drone market where DJI is expected to double sales this year after closing 2014 with about $500 million in revenue.

Yet before it sells a single drone, GoPro has plenty to do beyond making an announcement. UAVs are far more complex than any camera and require not only hardware, but also proprietary software. Both DJI and 3D Robotics began by developing software autopilots before attempting to build full consumer products.

Sources close to GoPro said there have been at least three different designs for a four-propeller drone and it’s unclear if a decision has been made as to the exact specifications for the device. GoPro declined to give a timeline of when its drone would be ready to ship to consumers. It took seven years from DJI’s founding for Wang to develop and ship the company’s first Phantom. Six years on from its founding, 3D Robotics is just releasing Solo to the market.

“Drones are hard,” said Anderson. “They’re unlike a camera where you can buy sensors on the streets of Shenzhen and put something together. It’s really, really hard to do well and you can’t just buy the parts.”

With reporting Heng Shao in Hong Kong.


FAA: Washington, D.C. is a No Drone Zone”



June 30– As the July 4 holiday approaches, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reminding residents and visitors to Washington, D.C. that the city and surrounding communities are a “No Drone Zone.”

The prohibition against flying any type of unmanned aircraft, or “drone,” without specific approval includes the District of Columbia and cities and towns within a 15-mile radius of Ronald-Reagan Washington National Airport.

The FAA is conducting the “No Drone Zone” campaign so visitors and residents thoroughly understand that operating an unmanned aircraft in this area for any purpose is against the law.

The airspace around Washington, D.C. is more restricted than in any other part of the country. Rules put in place after the 9/11 attacks establish “national defense airspace” over the area and limit aircraft operations to those with an FAA and Transportation Security Administration authorization. Violators face stiff fines and criminal penalties.

So if you’re in the Washington, DC area for the Fourth, enjoy the holiday. But leave your drone at home.



Military Exercise “Black Dart” to tackle drones



Sweat the small stuff.

That’s the unofficial motto for this year’s edition of the military exercise Black Dart, a two-week test of tactics and technologies to combat hostile drones that begins Monday on the Point Mugu range at Naval Base Ventura County in California.

The military categorizes Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) by size and capability, from Group 5 drones that weigh more than 1,320 pounds and can fly above 18,000 feet like the Reaper, down to Group 1, mini- and micro-drones less than 20 pounds that fly lower than 1,200 feet. Previous Black Darts have covered threats to troops overseas and targets at home posed by drones of all sizes.

But small drones are this year’s focus, said the director of this 14th edition of Black Dart, Air Force Maj. Scott Gregg, because of worrisome incidents since the last exercise.

Gregg cited the quadcopter that a drunk crashed onto the White House lawn in the wee hours of Jan. 26 and sightings of unidentified small drones flying over nuclear reactors in France. In the wake of those events, he said, “Even though we’ve been looking at [the small drone threat], it’s taken on a new sense of urgency.”

Gregg also could have mentioned how, to protest government surveillance, the Pirate Party of Germany flew a small drone right up to the podium as Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke in Dresden two years ago. Or how in Japan last April, a nuclear-energy foe landed a drone carrying radioactive sand on the roof of the prime minister’s residence. And there was a report last week that British officials are worried ISIS may try to bomb festival crowds using small drones.

Target practice

The United States enjoyed a near-monopoly on armed drones for much of the past 15 years, but with more than 80 countries now buying or building drones of their own, and with terrorist groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas and ISIS known to have used unarmed drones in the Middle East, that advantage has evaporated.

Few countries and no terrorist groups are likely to emulate the complex and costly US system of undersea fiber-optic cables and satellite earth terminals in Europe that allows crews in the United States to fly drones carrying missiles and bombs over Africa, the Middle East and South Asia.

But anyone can buy a Group 1 drone for a couple of hundred dollars and put it to nefarious use. Arm it with plastic explosives, radioactive material, biological or chemical agents, and it can be crashed, kamikaze-style, into a target.

“I’d say for the Department of Homeland Security, it’s one of the biggest concerns,” Gregg said.

The threat isn’t imaginary. Former Northeastern University student Rezwan Ferdaus is now serving 17 years in prison for plotting to pack C-4 plastic explosives into 1/10 scale radio controlled models of F-4 and F-86 fighter jets and fly them into the Capitol and Pentagon. Ferdaus also supplied cellphone detonators for IEDs to people he thought were agents of al Qaeda but turned out to be working for the FBI.

The military has largely kept its work on the problem quiet to prevent hostile actors from learning what defenses and countermeasures the US possesses.

The Defense Intelligence Agency conducted the first Black Dart exercise in 2002 under a veil of secrecy, and the annual event stayed veiled through 2013.

Now run by the Joint Integrated Air and Missile Defense Organization (abbreviated JIAMDO and pronounced “jye-AM-doe), Black Dart’s existence was revealed in 2014, and select media were invited for a day last year “just to let everybody know that the Department of Defense is aware of this problem, we’re concerned about it and that we’re working on it,” Gregg said.

Black Dart 2015 will feature tests of 55 systems brought to Point Mugu at their own expense by an assortment of military units, government agencies, private contractors and academic institutions.

JIAMDO’s $4.2 million budget for the event covers the cost of running the Point Mugu range and providing a small fleet of “surrogate threat” drones. For five hours each day, Gregg’s Black Dart team will fly up to six drones at a time over the range while participants test radars, lasers, missiles, guns and other technologies they think the military might use to detect and kill or neutralize drones of all sizes.

What’s worked

This year the surrogate threats will include three Group 1 drones — a Hawkeye 400 hexacopter, a Flanker and a Scout II — and one Twin Hawk drone from the Group 2 category (21 to 55 lbs., slower than 250 knots, lower than 3,500 feet). Six Group 3 drones, all of them 13.5-foot wingspan Outlaw G2s made by Griffon Aerospace, also will be targets.

One nice feature for contractors: Failure is an option. Black Dart isn’t an official procurement milestone, so companies can test their technologies there knowing that if they don’t work as hoped, there’s no obligation to file a report that might lead the Pentagon or Congress to cut their funding or cancel their program. They can just use the test results the way test results were meant to be used — to find out what works and fix what doesn’t.

“We should have about 1,000 people at Black Dart this year between participants, observers and support,” Gregg said, noting that the departments of Energy and Homeland Security both will send observers. But while Black Dart is no longer secret, the public isn’t invited. “It’s absolutely not an air show,” Gregg said.

Even the media won’t be allowed to see or hear about everything that goes on at Black Dart 2015. Much of what previous exercises came up with in the way of countermeasures also remains classified, said Marine Lt. Col. Kristen Lasica, spokeswoman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “We can’t let the enemy know what we’re going to do,” she explained.

That said, some of Black Dart’s declassified successes over the years include:

    • A Navy MH-60R Seahawk helicopter shot down an Outlaw surrogate threat drone with a .50-caliber gun, proving old-fashioned solutions can work fine against new-fangled threats.
    • The USS Ponce, an Afloat Forward Staging Base deployed to the Middle East, today is armed with a 30-kilowatt Laser Weapon System (LaWS) that shot down an Outlaw in a test at Black Dart 2011. The futuristic weapon is also good against slow-moving helicopters and fast-moving patrol boats.

  • At Black Dart 2012, an AH-64 Apache attack helicopter killed an Outlaw with an AGM-114 Hellfire anti-tank missile. MQ-1 Predators and MQ-9 Reapers the Air Force flies for itself, and the CIA uses the same basic missile for drone strikes, but the Hellfire at Black Dart was modified with a proximity fuse to detonate in the air next to the target, demonstrating another way to defend against drones.
  • Test results at another Black Dart helped Syracuse research and development lab SRC Inc. write software tying together three devices to create a drone counter-measure “system of systems.” SRC connected their AN/TPQ-50 counter-fire radar, designed to detect and track the source of incoming artillery, mortar and rocket fire, to their AN/ULQ-35 CREW Duke electronic warfare system, which jams and locates remote-control devices. Then SRC tied those sensors to a Switchblade, a small, tube-launched drone with sensors that can carry an explosive charge the size of a hand grenade, made by AeroVironment Inc. The result is a weapon that can either jam, take control of, or shoot down a hostile drone.

The latter stands as “one of our greatest success stories from Black Dart,” Gregg said.

It also illustrates one of the major findings of Black Dart over the years: there is no “black dart” — no single weapon — to counter drones. The best defense clearly lies in cobbling together “systems of systems” as SRC did, to detect, identify, track and neutralize hostile drones.

Low, slow and small

Doing all that is a bear of a problem, especially when the challenge is to spot and stop a small drone. “We’ve gotten better at detecting some of the Group 3 size, the larger UAS that are flying today,” Gregg said, but the limitations of radar and other detection methods make it harder to even see what the Defense Department calls LSS — Low, Slow, Small.

“They’re the same size as birds and other obstacles that are out there,” Gregg said.

Florida mailman Doug Hughes starkly demonstrated the problem on April 15, when he flew a gyrocopter down the National Mall undetected — through perhaps the most restricted public airspace in the nation — and landed on the west lawn of the Capitol with letters to Congress demanding campaign-finance reform.

Hughes evaded “a vast network of radars, cameras and other detection and warning devices,” the commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, Adm. William Gortney, told a congressional hearing, because his man-sized gyrocopter “fell below the threshold necessary to differentiate aircraft from weather, terrain, birds and other slow flying objects.”

Group 1 drones are a lot smaller than a gyrocopter, and the difficulty doesn’t stop there. Because small drones “have a very limited range,” they would be launched close to their targets, Gregg said. “So because they’re launched at a very close-in range, even if we can detect and track them right away, there may not be a whole lot of time to make a decision on what to do.”

“We’re keeping at it, but I don’t think that we’re going to ever probably be able to just stop and say, ‘All right, we’ve got this licked.’ ”

 – Air Force Maj. Scott Gregg

Especially if an enemy were to launch a swarm of drones — a tactic the US Navy has been developing.

In addition to all that, even if defenders spot a small drone and can track it with enough time to try to knock it out of the sky — a shotgun might suffice in many cases — doing so in a city could risk harming innocent bystanders or damaging property. And what if that LSS UAS flying near the Capitol isn’t controlled by a terrorist but by a kid who just doesn’t know any better than to play with a drone on the Mall?

“It’s a challenge because technology’s not static, it keeps evolving,” Gregg said. “We’re keeping at it, but I don’t think that we’re going to ever probably be able to just stop and say, ‘All right, we’ve got this licked.’ ”

Lasica agreed the threat is a challenge but said progress has been made. Past Black Darts, she said, “have resulted in countless improvements, technologies, tactics, and systems which have refined our ability to operate, detect, track, negate, and neutralize UAS.” The drone threat may be increasing, she added, “But I can say with confidence that our countermeasures are also increasing at a rapid rate, and we’re going to remain vigilant.”

Richard Whittle is the author of “Predator: The Secret Origins of the Drone Revolution” (Henry Holt and Co.) out now.

Education and innovation the key to safer skies



Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), also known as remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) or drones, have grown in the past few years from a niche tool to a must-have holiday toy and business asset.

The increasing availability of this technology has led many new enthusiasts to take to the skies, sometimes in places where they shouldn’t be.

Newcomers to UAS technology are often excited to get their new systems off the ground. However, many of these users do not realize that just because the technology is easily acquired does not mean that it can be flown anywhere or for any purpose.

Brian Wynne

That’s why the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) and our partners founded “Know Before You Fly.”

This education campaign, cofounded with the Academy of Model Aeronautics, the Small UAV Coalition and in partnership with the FAA, works to provide users of UAS with the information and guidance they need to fly safely and responsibly.

Since the campaign’s launch, we have added more than a dozen new supporters, including two of the largest hobby distributors in the country and partners in the manned aircraft industry, such as the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association and Airlines for America. These supporters are helping to get information about safe and responsible use of UAS into newcomers’ hands before they take to the sky.

Unfortunately, the current guidelines can be hard to acquire, and, if you do access it, it can be complicated to understand.

“Know Before You Fly” is helping to fill that gap by providing clear and detailed information on how to fly safely and responsibly. These guidelines include staying under 400 feet and not flying over people, moving vehicles or sensitive infrastructure. Safety measures, such as avoiding manned aircraft, may seem like common sense to many users. But others, such as contacting the airport or air traffic control before any UAS flights within five miles of an airport, are less known.

Commercial use of UAS, too, is rapidly growing. From farmers wanting to survey their fields to real estate agents hoping for aerial footage of a new listing, businesses across every sector are excited about UAS.

NDRPAAUVSI’s economic impact study found that the U.S. could gain more than 100,000 jobs once UAS are integrated into the national airspace.

The FAA has proposed rules for the commercial use of UAS that are a good first step in ensuring the safety of the skies while bringing us closer to the many societal and economic benefits of UAS technology.

Regulations such as limiting UAS operation to below 500 feet and requiring commercial users to obtain an FAA UAS operator certification will ensure that whomever is flying, they are doing so safely and responsibly, mitigating risk to other aircraft and people and property on the ground.

As the FAA considers its rules for commercial operators, new research and technologies could make our skies even safer.

FAA app1The FAA’s B4UFLY app for recreational users, which is currently under development, will provide geo-targeted information about the regulations in a specific area to determine whether or not a user’s flight meets the FAA requirements.

AUVSI will be one of the organizations testing the app to ensure that it is both accurate and easy to use, and we look forward to its rollout to the general public.

In addition to the B4UFLY app, the FAA has designated an academic UAS Center of Excellence and corporate partners to conduct research into different areas of UAS operations, such as beyond line of sight and extended line of sight operations.

Launching Corpus Christi RPAThese highly controlled research areas will provide key information about how we can reap the benefits of these operations — for example, in search and rescue missions — without putting the safety of the airspace at risk. The research that will be collected now will ensure that once UAS are integrated into the national airspace, the proper safety measures will already be in place.

Our more than 7,500 members are dedicated to the advancement of unmanned systems. AUVSI has seen firsthand the tremendous possibilities for using UAS in the fields of government, industry and academia. UAS have been used for various operations from spraying crops to delivering packages to responding to natural disasters, such as the recent Nepal earthquake.

As the excitement and enthusiasm for UAS continues to grow, it’s critical that we look to the future. Ongoing industry and government education and research efforts will help lay the groundwork for transformational uses of UAS while keeping the skies safe for all aircraft — both manned and unmanned.

Brian Wynne is the president and CEO of AUVSI.


Educate Don’t Regulate Drone Flyers: An Opposing View



White House incident demonstrates that a regulatory approach does not and will not work.

Following this week’s incident at the White House, President Obama and others called for the FAA to put regulations in place for small unmanned aircraft, or “drones.”

If the president is talking about establishing rules to enable commercial use of the technology, we agree these rules are long overdue. But if he or others are suggesting that the recreational community needs to be federally regulated, that’s another story.

OUR VIEW: Drone age takes flight, and FAA’s not ready

The fact is for the past six years, existing regulation has specifically prohibited the flying of unmanned aircraft anywhere near 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. This recent incident clearly demonstrates that a regulatory approach to the recreational use of small unmanned aircraft does not and will not work.

Many well-meaning individuals acquiring this new technology simply don’t know what airspace is restricted or prohibited, whether it’s near the White House, around other federal buildings or even the upcoming Super Bowl. The best way to prevent drone incidents isn’t to regulate recreational users; it’s to educate them.

That’s what the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) has been doing successfully for nearly 80 years. Representing more than 175,000 model aircraft enthusiasts across the country, we constantly provide and update best practices on how to safely operate unmanned aircraft.

More and more people are accessing this fun, educational technology. These newcomers want to fly safely but don’t realize that just because you can easily acquire the technology, it doesn’t mean you can fly it anywhere and for any purpose.

For this reason, we’ve been working with industry groups and the FAA to educate new fliers about the safe and responsible use of unmanned aircraft.

It’s our goal to make common-sense guidelines more accessible to the legions of new fliers taking to the skies, ensuring safety for all aircraft — manned and unmanned.

Campaigns such as “Know Before You Fly” and AMA’s long-standing community-based safety programs are the best, and perhaps the only, ways to effectively manage the recreational community.

Dave Mathewson is the executive director of the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).

The FAA Says You Can’t Post Drone Videos on YouTube



If you fly a drone and post footage on YouTube, you could end up with a letter from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Earlier this week, the agency sent a legal notice to Jayson Hanes, a Tampa-based drone hobbyist who has been posting drone-shot videos online for roughly the last year.

The FAA said that, because there are ads on YouTube, Hanes’s flights constituted a commercial use of the technology subject to stricter regulations and enforcement action from the agency. It said that if he did not stop flying “commercially,” he could be subject to fines or sanctions.

“This office has received a complaint regarding your use of an unmanned aerial vehicle (aka drone) for commercial purposes referencing your video on the website youtube.com as evidence,” the letter reads. “After a review of your website, it does appear that the complaint is valid.”

The hobby use of drones and other model aircraft has never been regulated by the FAA, but the agency has been adamant about making a distinction between hobby and commercial use, which has led to much confusion over the last couple years.

Where, exactly, does commercial use begin and hobby use end, for instance? If you fly for fun, but happen to sell your footage later, were you flying for a “commercial purpose?” What if you give it to a news organization that runs it on a television station that has ads on it? What if you upload it to YouTube and Google happens to put an ad on it? What if you decide to put an ad on it?

The letter makes clear that at least some in the FAA (this one was sent by Michael Singleton, an aviation safety inspector in the FAA’s Tampa office) take a very wide view of what is “commercial.”

“With this letter the FAA is claiming that drone-obtained art created by a hobbyist becomes retroactively ‘commercial’ if it is ever sold, or if, as here, it is displayed on a website that offers monetization in the form of advertising,” Peter Sachs, a Connecticut-based attorney specializing in drone issues told me. “Selling art is unquestionably one’s right, and the government is forbidden from infringing upon that right.”

Hanes told me that his videos are technically “monetized” on YouTube but that he has never received a payment from Google and the revenue he’s technically earned from Google’s ads is less than a dollar.

“I’ve been flying only for fun, as a hobby,” he told me.

FAA spokesperson Les Dorr told me he is looking into specifics of the case, but said that, often, competitors will alert local enforcement offices about drone use. The question then, is can someone really have a “competitor” if they’re not flying commercially?

“In general, whenever we receive a complaint about an unauthorized UAS operation, we contact the operator and educate them about the regulations so they can comply,” Dorr said. “It’s not uncommon for a competitor who is not flying a UAS to alert us to such operations. I don’t know if that was the case here.”

Hanes’s case is without precedent. The FAA ​has sent many cease-and-desist letters to commercial drone operators, but those letters have mainly been in response to registered businesses that advertise drone-for-hire services on their websites. To my knowledge, the agency hasn’t sent letters like this to hobbyists. Hanes’s website redirects to his YouTube page, and he offers no traditional commercial services.

The FAA has said it ​has the ability to fine or otherwise enforce certain restrictions on drones (which have not yet been tested in court). In the past, those fines ​have been as much as $10,000. Those restrictions are supposed to stop pilots from flying over people and from flying above 500 feet. Some of Hanes’s videos show him flying in ways that could potentially run afoul of those restrictions.

Dorr, who was not involved in sending the letter to Hanes, reviewed some of his videos in response to my inquiry. He says it’s possible the letter was sent because of those potential safety violations. It’s worth mentioning that the FAA’s drone enforcement strategy is a bit of a mess. Regional safety offices decide initial enforcement, often without contacting FAA headquarters or ​considering things such as the First Amendment.

“It would behoove the FAA Office of Chief Counsel to make it abundantly clear to all aviation safety inspectors that the First Amendment is alive and well,” Sachs said.

The fact that Hanes received a letter or was contacted by the FAA, then, isn’t nuts. The FAA is well within its rights to at least tell a drone operator to not fly dangerously.

But why, then, is the FAA hiding behind the sham argument that he’s flying “commercially”? And, if the agency decides that putting videos on YouTube is a business use of a drone, what does it mean for the thousands of other people who post drone videos online?

Update: The FAA says it’s now looking further into how its safety inspectors send letters like this.

“The FAA’s goal is to promote voluntary compliance by educating individual UAS operators about how they can operate safely under current regulations and laws,” the agency said. “The FAA’s guidance calls for inspectors to notify someone with a letter and then follow up. The guidance does not include language about advertising. The FAA will look into the matter.”

InterDrone Conference and Exposition




The InterDrone Film Festival gives aerial cinematographers a stage where they can show their best footage shot by a UAV. The celebration of finalists and winners will happen Wednesday evening September 9, during a reception at InterDrone, the International Drone Conference and Exposition, held at the Rio in Las Vegas.

The InterDrone Film Festival features both a critic’s and people’s choice awards in 6 categories plus and overall Best in Show.


Natural Wonders

Cityscapes and Architecture

Action Sports

Acrobatics/Technical Skill



Best Overall

Submissions open May 15, 2015 and close Friday, July 10, 2015.

Winners will be announced at InterDrone at the InterDrone Film Festival Reception, September 9, 2015 in the Brasilia ballroom at the RIO Hotel in Las Vegas.

Awards & Prizes


Winners in each category will receive $500

Runner-Up in each category receive $200

People’s Choice (winner only): $500

Best Overall gets $2,000 or equivalent drone

Finalists get free pass to the Film Festival Reception and Expo Hall and a 30%

discount on the All-Access Conference Pass.

Rules & Terms

InterDrone Film Festival Submission Rules:
1. Entries must be submitted by July 10, 2015.
2.Entries must be three minutes or less in length and filmed with a drone.
3.Entrants must submit their films through FilmFreeway. DVDs are not accepted.
4.Entries must identify the category it is being entering in. One category per film. Overall Best Drone Picture will be drawn from category winners. You may enter multiple films in different categories.
5. Each entry should have a title slide identifying the filmmaker, UAV pilot, and drone technology (craft and camera) used.
6. If selected to screen at InterDrone Film Festival 2015, Presenting Filmmakers will be required to submit a DVD viewing copy at that time. This copy will not be returned. InterDrone Film Festival accepts no responsibility for loss or damage of entries during shipment or transmission to or from InterDrone Film Festival.
7. For publications purposes, if your film/video is selected for screening, entrants must be prepared to supply at least three electronic images (publicity stills) either in jpeg or PDF format, 300 dpi, under 2K.
8. Exceptions to the festival regulations must be authorized by one of the Festival Co-Directors.
9. Entry fees. $30 per film/video.
Judging, Critic’s Choice: 8 finalists in each category will be determined by BZ Media and forwarded to judges. Each of the 9 judges will judge two categories. Each category will have three judges. Runners-up and Winners will be chosen in each category and then each judge will rank each category winner in order to determine the Best Overall Drone Film. Finalists will be notified by August 7.

Judging, Critic’s Choice: 8 finalists in each category will be determined by BZ Media and forwarded to judges. Each of the 9 judges will judge two categories. Each category will have three judges. Runners-up and Winners will be chosen in each category and then each judge will rank each category winner in order to determine the Best Overall Drone Film. Finalists will be notified by August 7.

Judging, People’s Choice: The 8 finalists in each category will be selected by BZ
Media and available to InterDrone attendees for viewing beginning August 29.
Runners-up and Winners will be chosen in each category and then each judge will
rank each category winner in order to determine the Best Overall Drone Film.
Voters must be registered to attend InterDrone. Onsite, at the Film Festival party
September 9 attendees will have the chance to view finalists on screens around the
ballroom where if they have not voted yet, then can vote using the InterDrone app.

We communicate via email
We will notify you if you are accepted into the festival

Rules and regulations InterDrone Film Festival: By submitting your work to the InterDrone Film Festival, you are agreeing to this statement. “In submitting this work, I am claiming that it is my own and that I hold all necessary copyright or have the permission of the appropriate owners of copyright to incorporate portions of their work. Yes, I am the creator and author of the work submitted. In the event that my entry contains the work of other individuals or organizations (including any copyrighted photographs, musical compositions, etc.), I understand that it is my responsibility to obtain any necessary permissions and/or licenses. Yes, I have the necessary rights and/or permissions to use the visual elements in this entry. Yes, I have the necessary rights and/or permissions to use the audio in this entry.”
Finalists are responsible for transportation/shipping costs, insurance charges and any customs fees incurred when shipping to the festival. InterDrone Film Festival is not responsible for submissions that may be damaged or lost in transit. Works submitted for finalist selection will not be returned after the close of the festival. No media/film accepted for programming can be pulled from the festival. InterDrone Film Festival does not check to make sure that you have cleared these materials at any point during the application process, nor will we be held responsible for any inclusion of uncleared materials in your film. It is the sole responsibility of the individuals submitting the film to secure permission from the copyright holder of the material in question, whether it is music, stock footage, or any other elements that could violate an existing copyright. Quite often, rights holders offer reduced rates for festival films, so you should contact them directly to avoid any possible rights infringements. Please note, there is a deliverables deadline. If you do not meet that deadline it is possible we will not be able to screen your film. Deliverables are the responsibility of the person submitting. Submission fee is non refundable.

Permission to use their picture and bio on our website. Permission to have their clip up on our website.

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Ideas were floated for “years”

Equipment purchased

“Months” of planning and preparation

Papers were filed

“Weeks” of practice,

Practice doesn’t make perfect, but perfect practice bestows pure excellence.

The “Day” is NOW!


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