Military Models Blog


Zumwalt Stealth Works Too Well?

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The Zumwalt had to have some Radar Reflectors added to alert other ships of her presence. Mainly for poor visibility situations but other civilian ships were having trouble seeing her with their radar. Some reflectors have been installed to help when needed to make the ship better appearing on radar.

Some Great information here: Zumwalt and her future

At a very large financial cost she will help us remain the Kings of the Sea.

131028-O-ZZ999-102 BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. "Bud" Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)

BATH, Maine (Oct. 28, 2013) The Zumwalt-class guided-missile destroyer DDG 1000 is floated out of dry dock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works shipyard. The ship, the first of three Zumwalt-class destroyers, will provide independent forward presence and deterrence, support special operations forces and operate as part of joint and combined expeditionary forces. The lead ship and class are named in honor of former Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Elmo R. “Bud” Zumwalt Jr., who served as chief of naval operations from 1970-1974. (U.S. Navy photo courtesy of General Dynamics/Released)



FAA’s registration program will apply to more than drones

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If Santa puts an expensive drone under the Christmas tree, he may attach a note saying that it must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration before it can soar outdoors.

Half a pound to 55 pounds??

Half a pound to 55 pounds??

Registration rules

Radio-controlled unmanned aerial systems, such as drones, model planes and helicopters must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration if the aircraft weighs more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) on takeoff.

Many of the drone models available at retailers for less than $100 do not require FAA registration because of their light weight, the FAA says.

Owners who must register their aircraft can do so online starting Monday at

The $5 registration fee will be refunded for those who register in the first 30 days using a credit card. Registration is good for three years.

More than 500,000 drones are expected to be given as gifts this holiday season. Only the heavier models weighing more than a half-pound fully loaded must be registered with the government.

What do you think?
Do you think radio-controlled model aircraft should be registered with the FAA just like drones?

Yes, they should all be registered with the FAA if they meet the weight limit.

No, radio-controlled hobby airplanes have been around for a long time and should be exempt from registration.

I have no strong opinion.

But longtime hobbyists who fly radio-controlled planes and helicopters that meet the FAA weight threshold for registration are also affected. And many of them don’t like it.

“It baffles me as to why they would want to hit a hobby group,” said Ed Yeash of Summerville, president of the Charleston RC Society.

“We deserve a better break than what the FAA has given us because we are responsible modelers,” Yeash said. “Responsible people will fly where they are supposed to fly.”

Charleston RC Society is a member of the Academy of Model Aeronautics representing more than 180,000 amateur radio-controlled flight enthusiasts nationwide. The academy and the local club are urging members to postpone registering their model aircraft with the government while the hobbyists challenge the new FAA requirement. The organization is pursuing “all legal and political remedies” to FAA regulations it describes as “burdensome and unnecessary.”

The Academy of Model Aeronautics has a pilot and aircraft registration system for its members, which in the organization’s opinion, accomplishes the safety and accountability objectives of the new FAA registration system.

Hobbyists who fly remote-controlled drones and scale-model aircraft face a new regulation requiring them to register with the FAA. A DJI Phantom 3 drone is flown during a drone demonstration at a farm and winery, on potential use for board members of the National Corn Growers in June in Cordova, Md.
Enlarge Hobbyists who fly remote-controlled drones and scale-model aircraft face a new regulation requiring them to register with the FAA. A DJI Phantom 3 drone is flown during a drone demonstration at a farm and winery, on potential use for board members of the National Corn Growers in June in Cordova, Md. AP/Alex Brandon
Club member Richard White of Ladson said he worried that controversy about hobby drones possibly being used as spy devices or posing a threat to public safety would result in them being outlawed. His quadcopter drone cost $1,000.

“I think the FAA has done this to quell the fears of the public,” he said.

The new law requiring FAA registration applies to hobbyist “unmanned aerial systems” weighing slightly more than a half-pound (250 grams) on takeoff but less than 55 pounds. Violators could receive stiff fines and even jail time. Recreational fliers will be required to have their FAA registration certificate with them. Their aircraft must be marked with the registration number.

The FAA opened its registration for unmanned aerial systems on Monday. Owners who purchased their radio-controlled aircraft prior to Monday have 60 days to register. For others, registration is required prior to operation. The $5 registration fee will be refunded for early birds who register using a credit card in the first month. An applicant must be at least 13 years old, the FAA says.

“Registration helps us ensure safety — for you, others on the ground, and manned aircraft. UAS, or unmanned aerial systems, pose new security and privacy challenges and must be traceable in the event of an incident,” the FAA says.

Drones and radio-controlled planes and helicopters weighing less than 0.55 pounds are not affected. That includes many of the drones on store shelves that typically retail for less than $100, the FAA says.

The FAA currently authorizes the use of unmanned aircraft systems for commercial purposes on a case-by-case basis.

Jon Patterson, owner of Flyover Systems in Mount Pleasant, said he uses high-end drones as a tool for his aerial photography, videography and mapping business.

“There needs to be something in place. You are flying something that could cause damage. How much, depends. Just like driving a car or owning a weapon,” he said.

FAA officials are hoping that hobby UAS registration will make drone operators more attuned to safety. Registration will make it easier for authorities to track down anyone involved in a drone crash or incident, the FAA said.

Rules now in place restrict hobbyists from flying above 400 feet. And they must stay at least 5 miles away from an airport.

Courtesy of the Post and Courier

#Fail! First U.S. Flight of Fancy New Airbus Jet Ends in Disaster

Great Video

The inaugural U.S. flight of one of Airbus’s newest aircraft models was supposed to be a big deal, showcasing the impressive new jumbo jet on its very first trip from New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.

Instead, it was spectacularly terrifying and embarrassing fail. The high tech jet’s computer system aborted it’s own takeoff — because it deemed the runway too short.

Journalists and staff were among the passengers on the Airbus A350 for the chartered Qatar Airways flight that was supposed to travel 12 hours to Hamad International Airport.

The airplane even had screens on each seatback via which the passengers could watch the taxi and takeoff as it happened. Unfortunately, rather than watching the plane soar to 30,000 feet, it taxed, picked up speed — and then came to a startling and screeching halt.

According to The Points Guy Editor in Chief, Zach Honig, who was one 36 journalists and staff members on the charter flight, “About 18 seconds after we began rolling down JFK’s runway 22R, the aircraft self-aborted, bringing us from more than 100 mph to a loud, screeching halt in roughly 15 seconds.

“For a plane of this size and weight, stopping that quickly required a lot of force.”

Thanks to
Yahoo Travel for the post

Drones raise hopes for aerial industrial revolution

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Large Drone carrying a cooler

Drone carrying a cooler

Drones are attracting widespread attention for their potential use in a broad range of tasks, including aerial photography and goods delivery.

“Aerial space that is almost unused can be put to effective use (with drones), so an industrial revolution can take place in the sky,” said one industry official who was hopeful about the new opportunities in Japan being created by the unmanned aircraft.

Amendments to the Civil Aeronautics Act enacted earlier this month laid down a list of drone regulations, including a ban on flights over crowded residential areas or around airports without permission from the transport minister.

Afterward, the official acknowledged the importance of setting rules to ensure safety but also noted that exceedingly strict regulations could hamper the budding industry.

“(The government) should hold off on imposing detailed restrictions on drone use by operators,” the official said.

According to the Japan UAS Industrial Development Association, which consists of businesses and research institutes related to unmanned aircraft systems, drones have proliferated rapidly in recent years with the drop in sensor and gyroscope costs.

Models produced by Chinese maker DJI account for about 70 percent of all drone sales in Japan.

At a large appliance retailer in Tokyo’s Akihabara district, about 10 models are available. Camera-equipped aircraft cost from ¥10,000 to about ¥30,000, with most of the buyers men in their 30s or older.

“The number of manufacturers and models have increased in the past few months. They can loop the loop and are popular,” a sales representative said.

Drones were thrust into the spotlight in Japan after a small radioactive one eventually found on the roof of the prime minister’s office in Tokyo in April sparked a security scandal.

Models for outdoor use were initially popular, but after talks on regulation began, customer demand shifted to small, less expensive models for indoor use, the sales representative said. The models typically sell for several thousand yen.

In Japan, thousands of large models are being used to spray agricultural chemicals, while about 20,000 are employed for aerial photography and videography, according to the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry. There are more than 200,000 small, toy-type models in use around the country.

In Japan, drones have mainly been used for agrochemical spraying, but they are finding greater use in surveying tasks, helped in part by improved camera performance, Japan UAS Industrial Development Association officials said.

Research is also underway on using drones to maintain dilapidated bridges or transport supplies to remote islands or other sparsely populated areas.

“The aerial space up to 150 meters high, where airplanes are barred, has not been fully utilized, and drones can open a lot of opportunities,” said Tomoyuki Kumada, secretary-general of the association.

“Rules need to be worked out for crashes, but we hope free use will be protected as much as possible,” Kumada said.

A Real Aircraft Carrier

MaconCool video of the survey

In Marvel comics and movies, the mobile headquarters of the fictional intelligence/defense agency S.H.I.E.L.D. is a flying aircraft carrier, referred to as a “Helicarrier.” In the comic books, the flying aircraft carrier first appeared in 1965, which raises the obvious question — why was Marvel so far behind the times?

The US Navy had two flying aircraft carriers in the 1930s. The two sister rigid airships, USS Macon (ZRS-5) and USS Akron (ZRS-4), each carried five single-seat Curtiss F9C Sparrowhawk for scouting or two-seat Fleet N2Y-1 for training. The airships were designed to serve as long range scouts to locate and report on enemy ships, using onboard scout planes, which the airships could both launch and recover. The were intended to be the high-tech early-20th-century version of 18th century frigates, which also served as the “eyes of the fleet.”

Just slightly smaller than the Hindenberg, the USS Macon and USS Akron were among the largest rigid airships ever built. Unlike the Hindenberg, which was filled with hydrogen gas, the two American airships were filled with non-flammable helium. The Hindenberg was destroyed by fire in 1937, with the loss of thirty-six. Despite using the notionally safer helium, the USS Akron was destroyed in a thunderstorm off the coast of New Jersey in 1933, killing 73 of the 76 crewmen and passengers, the greatest loss of life in any known airship crash.

Only two years later, the USS Macon was also destroyed in a storm. It crashed off the coast of California’s Big Sur. Unlike the USS Akron, only two of the 76 crew members were lost, due at least in part to safety measures instituted after the tragedy of the crash of the USS Akron. USS Macon was the last rigigd airship ever built by the US Navy.

in 1991, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute (MBARI) located the wreck of USS Macon. An additional survey was performed in 2006. On August 18th, the team of E/V Nautilus released video of their recent exploration of the wreck in which they found parts of the ship as well as the Sparrowhawk biplanes it carried.

Thanks Old Salt Blog!

Space Ship Graveyard In The Ocean

Space ship graveyard

Space ship cemetery!

In a remote stretch of the Pacific Ocean southeast of New Zealand, the broken remains of space stations and robotic freighters litter the ocean floor, four kilometers below the waves. The world’s space agencies call this region the South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area. But it’s also called the Spacecraft Cemetery.

There are no islands in these waters, the nearest shores are thousands of kilometers away, and shipping traffic is relatively light here. It’s an ideal place for spacecraft to plunge back to Earth and die, far from any humans that might be injured by falling debris.

Isolated Waters

This lonely region is near Point Nemo, the point in the ocean which is furthest from any land mass. Named for Captain Nemo of Jules Verne’s classic sci-fi novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, this point sits at 48⁰25.6’ South latitude and 123⁰23.6’ West longitude — to reach land, you’d have to go 2,700 kilometers south to Antarctica.

These aren’t just the home waters of the fictional Lincoln Island, Captain Nemo’s last stronghold and the hidden port of the submarine Nautilus. H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos also puts the sunken nightmare city of R’lyeh not too far from Point Nemo, right in the middle of the Spacecraft Cemetery.

Spaceship Wrecks

The Spacecraft Cemetery is the final resting place of 145 of Russia’s Progress autonomous resupply ships, 4 of Japan’s HTV cargo craft, and 5 of the ESA’s Automated Transfer Vehicles. 6 Russian Salyut space stations and the venerable Mir space station lie alongside the freighters that once supplied them.

There’s a lot of space history down there, but of course, none of these spacecraft are just sitting neatly on the ocean floor in one piece. Or even two pieces. Re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere is a violent, destructive process for any object that tries it, whether it’s a meteor or a space station. Plunging into the atmosphere at high speed generates enough heat to burn up even rock or metal. That’s why so few large meteors make it to Earth; most of their mass burns away as they fall through the atmosphere. That’s also why piloted vehicles like the Space Shuttle or the Soyuz capsules are built with thermal shielding, to protect the spacecraft and its occupants on the way down.

Autonomous spacecraft like the Progress or ATV cargo ships weren’t built to survive re-entry, so the heat of hitting the atmosphere is inevitably fatal. The first of the ESA’s ATV ships, the aptly named Jules Verne, broke up about 75 kilometers above the Spacecraft Cemetery on September 29, 2009. It took 12 minutes for the remaining fragments of Jules Verne to splash into the Pacific. NASA observed Jules Verne’s fiery interment from two planes, a DC-8 and a Gulfstream jet, along the re-entry path, which means you can watch this video of a spacecraft’s final descent, shot from midair.

So far, the largest denizen of this undersea graveyard is the Mir, the 143-ton Russian space station which made its final dive in March of 2001, after 15 years in orbit. It started to break up about 95 kilometers in the air, and by the time it had fallen to 85 kilometers, the space station’s peripheral components had been ripped away, and its main structure had been to collapse. In the end, only 20 or 25 tons of Mir debris made it to the ocean, broken into about six main fragments.

Those high-tech remains are spread out over a huge distance. The South Pacific Ocean Uninhabited Area stretches about 3,000 kilometers from north to south, by about 5,000 kilometers from west to east. And any given spacecraft can scatter debris over a huge swath of ocean. Mir left a debris trail 3,000 kilometers long and 100 kilometers wide when it went down.

“Even in controlled entries, this will not be a point landing,” explained Holger Krag, head of ESA’s Space Debris Office, in late 2013, just before the ESA’s third ATV, Edoardo Amaldi, joined its predecessors in the deep. “The nature of this break up process brings it that we will have to clear quite a large area to make sure that all fragments will fall within the designated area, because they will not fall in one spot.”

A few days before a spacecraft’s de-orbit, the space agency who owns the spacecraft will notify aviation and maritime authorities in Chile and New Zealand, who share responsibility for traffic in the remote stretch of ocean. They offer information about expected re-entry times and where debris is likely to fall. Then the craft can begin its controlled plunge through the atmosphere to its final interment in these waters. It’s up to the aviation and maritime authorities to issue notices to pilots and merchant vessels, warning them to avoid the area.

On the Bottom of the Sea

The Spacecraft Cemetery lies on the boundary between the bathyal zone and the abyssal zone, 4 kilometers beneath the waves. It’s dark here, because no sunlight penetrates water this deep. Few fish live this far down; these depths are home to sponges, sea stars, squid, octopi, whales, and viperfish. Temperatures hover between 2⁰ and 4⁰C. For ships used to the cold and darkness of space, it just might feel like home.

As reported by Gizmodo

Airplane Graveyard

Somewhere in Arizona

Aircraft Graveyard

I have seen some pictures of this place before but this is by far the most extensive set of pics yet. I really hate to think how much money in original costs are sitting in this boneyard. I know it is what we need to keep us from harm of other countries. Take a look around and see what you think.

Aircraft Graveyard

Don’t forget to type in code 001 in checkout at either store and save an additional 10% on our already low prices!


Gyro Copter On The White House Lawn, Shoot Down The Postman?

Land this on the white house lawn?

Flying Bicycle

Everyone Freaked Out About the Gyrocopter

The pilot was a mailman on a flying bicycle, not a terrorist

On April 15, Florida man Doug Hughes landed on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building in an ultralight gyrocopter. Hughes — a U.S. Postal Service worker — was delivering letters to every member of Congress in a theatrical act of protest against the influence of big money in politics.

He flew through restricted air space — a federal crime. Heavily armed police quickly responded. They detained the 61-year-old Navy veteran and shouted at onlookers to run away. Authorities dispatched a bomb squad, which subsequently found nothing.

Hughes spent more than two years planning his act of civil disobedience, during which he claimed the U.S. Secret Service twice visited him. That obviously didn’t deter him. His flight began in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania — flying across two states over two hours — and straight into the heart of American political power.

“I don’t believe that the authorities are going to shoot down a 61-year-old mailman in a flying bicycle,” he told the Tampa Bay Times before his flight. “I don’t have any defense, okay, but I don’t believe that anybody wants to personally take responsibility for the fallout.”

Now cue a short-term national freakout. Hughes’ daring aerial maneuver stunned congressional members. Several lawmakers expressed shock that nobody was able to stop him.

Some said that Hughes exposed a vulnerability that terrorists might not have considered. “All this sends the wrong signal to our enemies,” Arizona Rep. Martha McSally told CNN.

Though this incident should cause us to think creatively about what threats we could face, we need to put it into context.

Ultimately, nothing truly bad happened — and a guy with a gyrocopter just wanted us to talk about campaign finance reform.

Above — a drug-smuggling ultralight in 2008. Chuck Holton/Flickr photo. At top — a bomb squad technician at the Washington D.C. gyrocopter on April 15, 2015. Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP photo
The stunt worked because gyrocopters and other ultralights are extremely difficult to pick up on most radar systems. They’re small, fly at low altitude and at low speeds.

They’re also relatively cheap and often much quieter than other aircraft. It’s their very simplicity that makes it hard for high-tech detection systems to track them.

In recent years, that’s made ultralight aircraft a favorite of Mexican cartels for smuggling illicit drug shipments across the southwestern border. The aircraft, some of them homemade contraptions — such as the one depicted above — have vexed both federal and local authorities in the border states.

Government agencies have spent millions of dollars putting systems in place to track smugglers using these aircraft. But there hasn’t been a lot of thought about their use for potential attacks.
So how worried should we be?

On Feb. 18, 2010, software consultant Andrew Joseph Stack flew a single-engine Piper Dakota into an Internal Revenue Service office in Austin, Texas. Two people died — Stack and 68-year-old IRS employee Vernon Hunter. Though tragic, the attack was far from catastrophic.

If an ultralight such as a gyrocopter — a much smaller and lighter aircraft — were to hit the Capitol building or the White House, it would likely bounce off. Such an attempt might wind up killing or injuring the pilot — and maybe cause a slight repair bill on the targeted property.

But some commentators have suggested that Hughes could have been carrying weapons or bombs.

The idea of a terrorist strapped in a suicide vest, suddenly dropping out of the sky is indeed frightening. In a lot of ways these aircraft could spread chaos and panic.

But dropping from the sky also draws a lot of attention. Even though police didn’t shoot Hughes, they easily could have. “Had it gotten any closer to the speaker’s balcony they have long guns to take it down,” Rep. Michael McCaul, chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said.

There’s a reason bombers more often than not use cars and trucks — because they’re a lot more subtle, practical and dangerous.

On April 19, 1995, Timothy McVeigh blew up a rental truck packed with ammonium nitrate in Oklahoma City. He killed 168 people and injured more than 680 in the second-deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.

It’s true that we need to think creatively about threats. If 9/11 taught us anything, it’s that terrorists can be very creative. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to rule out the ridiculous or the insane.

Buy ‘Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces.’
Since then, Congress has spent countless dollars on homeland defense. We’ve outfitted law enforcement with a staggering amount of military hardware. The federal government created a massive domestic surveillance network.

But there are still things we don’t understand and things we can’t predict … and there always will be. You can’t be 100 percent on guard all of the time.

We can’t let fear of the highly unlikely dictate national policy and the way we live our lives. Unless you want to shoot a mailman in a flying bicycle.


Seattle Area Could Use Old Aircraft Carriers as a Bridge -Lawmaker

Proposed bridge plan

Proposed bridge plan

By Victoria Cavaliere

SEATTLE, April 10 (Reuters) – A Washington state lawmaker looking to ease traffic congestion for several Puget Sound-area communities near Seattle has proposed building an eye-catching new toll bridge made from retired Navy aircraft carriers.

Republican Representative Jesse Young has been gathering support among colleagues and the public for the planned span, which would link Bremerton and Port Orchard on the Kitsap Peninsula, spokesman Kevin Shutty said on Friday.

“It’s a bottleneck area and for a number of years people have been looking for some solutions,” Shutty said.

“This would definitely be a unique way to tackle some of those problems, but at the same time it would serve as a floating memorial to veterans and the sacrifice they have given to our country.”

The area near where the proposed bridge would be built includes a U.S. Navy base and naval hospital, and it is home to many retired veterans from all arms of the military.

Young’s plan, in its early phases, proposes laying end-to-end at least two retired aircraft carriers moored at the naval shipyard in Bremerton, Shutty said.

Chris Johnson, a spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington D.C., said the plan was a longshot because neither of those ships were available, and all such ships decommissioned in the future are scheduled to be scrapped.

Shutty acknowledged there were hurdles, but said the feasibility study would determine whether the project was a real possibility.

“It’s a novel concept,” he said. “I think there’s a lot of public support at least for exploring the idea.”

The state Senate is expected to vote on funding the feasibility study in the next two weeks, he said. (Reporting by Victoria Cavaliere; Editing by Daniel Wallis and David Gregorio)

© 2015 Thomson Reuters. All rights reserved.

Drones Are Coming To Parks Near You!

Drones are coming

Drones are coming

The Drones are Coming

2015-03-01, Feature, by Richard J. Dolesh

Christopher Vo, left, and Ted Markson fly quadcopters on the intramural fields at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia.

Virtually anyone who has flown a quadcopter or other modern drone will say that they are a blast to fly. Drones combine the cool factor of impressive technology, the excitement of unmanned flight and the thrill of exploration, all in one amazingly simple and easy-to-operate package. Whether you fly alone, with friends or with your kids, flying drones is just plain fun.<p>

But drones aren’t only about fun. They will have an impact on virtually every aspect of our lives from agriculture to energy, scientific research, conservation, public safety and more. Drones have been labeled “disruptive technology,” and held up as avatars of the mythical “billion-fold improvements” that have taken place in computing, imaging, aeronautics, medicine and other fields. Drones will come to shape our lives every bit as much as cellphones, tablet computers and other game-changing technology.

Futurists are abuzz with speculation that you will soon have your Amazon packages or Papa John’s pizzas delivered to your door by drones. Mainstream media outlets breathlessly report breaking-news stories about unauthorized or potentially dangerous drones, such as the recent story of an errant drone piloted by a possibly inebriated operator in Washington, D.C., who, while reportedly trying to impress a female friend at 3 a.m., flew his friend’s quadcopter from an apartment balcony a few blocks from the White House and crashed it on the White House grounds, causing major heartburn for the Secret Service.

Industry and media statistics on how many drones have been sold to the public differ slightly, but the sales totals almost defy belief. Hobby and commercial drones are reported to be selling at the rate of 15,000 or 16,000 per month, or almost 200,000 per year. That’s a lot of people who will be looking to get outdoors and fly their new drones. And where will these people want to fly their drones? Why, in the wide open spaces designed for outdoor recreation, of course — parks!

There is no doubt drones are coming, and they are likely to have a profound effect on parks and recreation. The public and commercial use of drones will present substantial challenges to park managers very soon and agencies will do well to be prepared for the coming wave.

The Allure of Drones

It is not difficult to understand why drones are becoming so popular. Flying a drone is a cool thing to do. The technology is amazing, the flying is exciting, and if there was ever a gadget that appealed to people’s imagination, drones would have to be near the top of the list.

Drones and quadcopters are also relatively inexpensive and easy to operate. But just as they are fun to fly, they are more than just cool toys. They represent a quantum leap in how technology can be used not just for personal enjoyment and enrichment, but also to expand human knowledge, aid research, fight environmental threats, save lives and much more. We haven’t even plumbed the depths of what drones might be able to do, but we are starting to see those scenarios take shape.

There may be challenges ahead related to public flying of drones in parks, but there are also tantalizing opportunities for park agencies to utilize drone technology to fulfill important conservation, natural resource management and public-safety responsibilities. These include search-and-rescue operations, wildfire control, managing threatened natural areas, mapping the spread of invasive species, monitoring remote park locations and others. Drones may be able to provide agencies substantial time and cost savings for a wide variety of tasks. There is no doubt that drones are already stimulating interest among park planners, GIS specialists, park managers, rangers and even recreation program staff. Some agencies are already making plans for how they might use drones.

From a recreational perspective, one of the most popular uses of hobby drones is for photography. New drones can carry high-resolution cameras with onboard image stabilization and other advances. “It’s all new,” says Eric Cheng, director of aerial imagery for DJI, one of the largest manufacturers of hobby and commercial drones in the world. In a recent interview, he said the ability of drones to facilitate extraordinary new ways to photograph objects and landscapes has provoked intense curiosity and public interest. “The view from right overhead is unique. Nobody has ever seen such photographs before, and you are taking them. It’s exhilarating.”

Legitimate Fears

So what’s not to like about drones? Well, crashes, lost drones, operator errors, mechanical failures, privacy invasions and other undesirable consequences of inept or irresponsible drone flying, just to name a few reasons. Such outcomes are becoming an increasing concern of those responsible for public safety, not to mention the ever-present threat of a drone being used in a terrorist plot. There is already a compendium of hair-raising stories of near-misses or collisions with drones including reports of drones flying too close to aircraft or in other highly inappropriate locations. Reports of drones flying within 50 feet of commercial aircraft at New York City airports make some believe that a collision with an airliner is not a matter of if, but when.

Parks have not been exempt from problems created by irresponsibly piloted drones, including a number of high-profile incidents at iconic national parks such as Zion and Grand Canyon. A widely reported incident occurred at Mount Rushmore National Park when a hobby drone was launched from a parking lot, hovered over a crowd of 1,500 people gathered for an evening program at the monument, and then flew over and around the four sculpted heads before being flown back to the parking lot. Other public complaints about inappropriate or unauthorized use of drones have been received by the National Park Service (NPS), including harassment of wildlife, noise at iconic scenic viewing points and drone crashes in parks.

Jeffrey Olson, public affairs officer for NPS, says that the prohibition on unmanned aircraft in national parks issued by Director Jon Jarvis in a policy memo last June was “basically a timeout.” The ban on new drone flying was prompted by public complaints concerning incidents similar to what happened at Mount Rushmore. NPS management policies call for careful consideration of any “new form of recreation,” which drone flying clearly is, and the impact of this activity has not been evaluated. The administrative action will trigger a review of existing and proposed policies and will lead to a Notice of Proposed Regulation, a process that is likely to take about 18 months, according to Olson.

Incidents from rogue operators or inexperienced pilots are not the only concern. Privacy advocates, industrial and national security experts, and law enforcement officials are very concerned about the potential use of drones in terrorist plots or other criminal activity. Drones are starting to be a concern at virtually every large-scale public event that someone might want to observe or photograph, such as a drone that buzzed Chicago Park District’s Lollapalooza Festival last year. The Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) even went so far as to declare the 2015 Super Bowl a “No Drone Zone,” and issued an advisory to enjoy the game, but “leave your drone at home.”

Concerns about drones range from the relatively minor annoyance of crashes in open areas to the very deep concern regarding bad behavior by pilots whose ignorance or dangerous operation of drones can literally endanger people’s lives. Many drone enthusiasts are concerned about rogue operators giving all operators a black eye. “The rogues are outliers,” according to Jon Resnick, policy and marketing representative for DJI. Christopher Vo, president of the DC Area Drone User Group, says, “There are a lot of people who are interested in flying safely and who just want to find places to fly.”

Nonetheless, there are still many concerns about drones from a variety of quarters, especially park agencies that many expect to be on the front lines of managing public flying of hobby drones. Vo agrees that crashes and uncontrolled descents are an issue. “Everyone who gets their first drone and takes it out to fly will crash — that’s almost a guarantee,” he says. “But it is not necessarily a problem, just a reality. The solution is user education about where it is safe to fly and to not fly near buildings or over private property.” Technology improvements, says Vo, such as inexpensive onboard infrared sensors and downward-facing cameras will help measure changes in speed and assist automatic hold, takeoff and landing. “It is also why the industry is trying to make drones lighter, stronger and safer,” he says.

Vo points out that how a drone is flown is a factor in how safe it is. There are two principal methods of piloting drones, First-Person-View (FPV) and Line-of-Sight flying. In FPV flight, the operator flies the aircraft through the lens of an onboard camera. Some think this is a largely unsafe way to fly, and that hobby drones should be only be flown by line-of-sight with a spotter present at all times the drone is in operation.

Rules Not Well Understood; Guidance Lacking

With the large numbers of hobby drones being purchased daily and intense interest in commercial use growing, it is perplexing that there is so little understanding of exactly what the federal rules are for operating drones. The FAA regulates all U.S. airspace and there are strict rules for any type of aircraft flying above 500 feet. The rules governing unmanned aircraft systems, however, have been criticized for being seriously out of date.

Commercially flown drones present a different set of issues than hobby drones. Guidance for the operation of both commercial and hobby drones has been long-awaited and significantly overdue. At present, virtually all commercial use of drones is currently prohibited without a very difficult-to-obtain Certificate of Authorization (COA), but few rules govern hobby drones. Since sophisticated and versatile hobby drones can be purchased easily and without licensing requirements to operate them, not many people know what is actually allowed and what is prohibited by law.

Just before publication of this edition of Parks & Recreation magazine, the details of a Notice of Proposed Regulation by the FAA for commercial drone use were inadvertently posted online, and the FAA was essentially forced to release the entire proposal over a holiday weekend. To the commercial drone user’s relief, the proposed regulations are being viewed as reasonable. They would not require operators to have a pilot’s license as some had feared, and the training and costs to obtain a required FAA operator’s certificate would not be prohibitive. Other proposed restrictions include a 500-foot ceiling, operation by line-of-sight only, and no flying above any people except those involved with the drone flight, such as a spotter. So, damp your expectations — no drone pizza deliveries to your door for now. The 60-day public comment period has now closed. The review and rule-making is expected to take up to two years. Cheng believes the FAA will need to issue some interim guidance for commercial users before the proposed rule becomes final, however, because there is such interest from potential commercial users for innovation and applications.

The recent FAA announcement indicated that guidance on hobby drones will be issued in the near future. The Academy of Model Aeronautics has advocated for more education and user training of drone operators and has supported the idea that hobby drone operators be required to obtain an operator’s certificate or become a part of an organized model aircraft club.

If FAA-proposed rules do require hobby drone operators to be part of an organized club as some expect, there is likely to be an uptick in the membership of local model airplane clubs and drone user groups accompanied by an increasing demand for more public spaces in which to fly drones. But solutions may not be simple. It is true that many park and recreation agencies have a long history of providing model aircraft clubs space to fly radio-controlled planes, but virtually none are prepared for drone users. In addition, some park managers who currently provide parkland for radio-control clubs believe that flying fixed-wing RC planes and quadcopters on the same fields is not workable or desirable. This may mean that there will be new demands for drone-flying areas and that park agencies will need to expand the search for suitable spaces for this purpose.

Policies for Public Flying in Parks Unformulated

While the popularity of drones is growing exponentially, the awareness of park and recreation agency personnel who will need to manage them is not. In response to a query on NRPA Connect, a number of park administrators said their agencies either had no policies on drones or that they were unaware of any if they did.

One conclusion was clear from conversations with park agencies across the country: Those park agency personnel who have not anticipated the boom in public drone flying will be caught unprepared both on a policy level and a management level. An important lesson is emerging — if your agency hasn’t started thinking about how to manage drones, it’s time to start thinking about it now.

Those agencies that react with blanket prohibitions on drone flying will find them difficult to enforce and they will do a disservice to people who are just looking for a place to safely recreate. Decades of successful experience providing space for model airplane fliers have shown that park agencies can and do accommodate this kind of outdoor recreation compatibly with other activities.

Vo says, “Most of our users are law-abiding and only want to fly. But a lot of us who want to fly safely and responsibly simply don’t have any places to fly. A lot of park agencies turn us down because they just don’t want to deal with us.” The good news for drone users like Vo is that some agencies are expressing willingness to consider how they could accommodate the drone-flying public.

Many Agencies Anticipate Using Drones Themselves

Even if some agencies are unprepared for public drone use, quite a few are thinking about how they might use drones for a variety of management, monitoring, mapping and public safety applications.

The requirements for obtaining a COA from the FAA to use unmanned aircraft systems for governmental or research purposes are quite rigorous, but Cleveland Metroparks (CMP) was willing go the distance, said Brian Zimmerman, executive director of CMP. “When we saw the potential, we never wavered,” he said. They have obtained a COA for a research project to monitor the Rising Valley wetlands complex, the largest freshwater wetlands in their park system.

Stephen Mather, geographic information systems supervisor, says that to map and study the wetlands is extremely time-consuming and difficult to accomplish. By employing a small fixed-wing drone, they will be able to do 3D mapping of surface topography and plant communities as well as track the spread of invasive species, monitor stormwater events, and create other datasets in real time to better manage and protect this valuable wetland. “We will also use the drone on a forest restoration project, and we hope to use it to do an ongoing assessment of shoreline infrastructure along Lake Erie,” Mather says. “With resolution accurate to within an inch, we can create 3D maps of new construction and monitor its condition over time.”

The Future of Drones in Parks

Cheng of DJI says, “We are in the earliest stages of drone technology and it is literally improving daily.” According to Cheng, there will be reliable, redundant return-home programming; mandatory no-fly software to prevent flying in federally designated no-fly zones; more autonomy and self-aware behavior; “follow-me” technology; and much more safety-related decision-making capability. “There is no reason that a drone should ever fly into a tree or building, and every drone will have sufficient power to return home.”

What’s on the horizon for drones in parks? Well, consider that drone fliers are already envisioning drone racing just like the old air races of the 1950s. Fly-ins, drone-building workshops and educational programs for drone users are already in the minds of forward-looking parks personnel. And the potential applications of commercial, hobby and agency-operated drones are mind-expanding. Hummingbird and nano-drones could aid in citizen science projects and enhance STEM learning opportunities for teens and adults. And what kid (under adult supervision of course) wouldn’t want to get connected to nature and the outdoors using a drone to observe and discover our natural world?

When asked if he could ever envision a future in which drone use in national parks could be common, Olson says, “Yes, probably, but the question will be where such use would be approved.”

So, what would the ideal future look like for users? Vo says, “Ideally, there would be park sites set aside for model aviation and open to users to fly their aircraft. There would be a way for users to communicate with park managers about what they were permitted to do and what they wanted to do. There would be a way for them to query the park managers about conditions and to be able to schedule times to fly. And there would be times and places where we could be able to educate others.” Possible? We’ll see.

Richard J. Dolesh is NRPA’s Vice President of Conservation and Parks.