By R. KURT BARNHART, Ph.D., CFII-MEI, A&P/IA
For those pilots who haven’t noticed it, there is an emerging trend in aviation that is sure to impact most Americans — whether they know it or not — and most assuredly will impact the general aviation community.
The Unmanned Aerial System (UAS), as it is known in the industry, is a technology developed primarily to support military operations and help keep humans out of harm’s way in the operational theater. Now there is a growing call for this technology to be used at home for similar purposes. Although pilotless aircraft have been around for decades, their use has been restricted primarily to restricted airspace as they served as aerial targets or carried airborne cameras. Now, whether in support of law enforcement, firefighting, or for routine aerial surveillance, these vehicles are being eyed as an efficient way to accomplish many of the same tasks as manned aircraft, while keeping humans away from the dull, dangerous, or dirty missions (the 3 Ds or realms of potential UAS mission suitability), which means they will need to be safely integrated into our National Airspace System (NAS) in the coming months and years. Not limited to aerial use, unmanned vehicles are making their debut in virtually all modes of transportation, including on the ground (Unmanned Ground Vehicles-UGVs), on the water (Unmanned Surface Vessels-USVs), or under the water (Unmanned Underwater Vessels-UUVs) for many of the same reasons.
For many pilots, the obvious concern centers around the anticipated hazards of sharing the skies with “flying robots,” so to speak. It is important to note that the word “unmanned” is really not the best choice to describe how these systems function. There is already a move afoot to a more appropriate term, such as the word “drone,” which is already accepted in much of the English speaking world.
On average, there are more people directly involved in the operation of UAS than are typically involved with almost any general aviation flight.