The USA Today reports (through the AP) that a few London neighborhoods are being asked to host surface-to-air (SAM) missiles in certain spots throughout the city in anticipation of the 2012 Summer Olympic games. A few of these spots are likely to be on residents buildings. In particular a number of apartment buildings have been selected, so these probably won’t be on individual houses (the kids will be disappointed). Of course probably more concerning to a population that’s not used to a strong military presence such as Londoners, will in fact, be the strong military presence. But the British populous should take heart, because really this is part of the deterrent effort. Here’s why:
“The majority of this exercise will be played out in full view of the public and I hope that it will have a secondary effect of reassuring the British people that everything possible is being done to ensure this will be a safe and secure Olympic and Paralympic Games” -Defense Secretary Philip Hammond.
Another effect this might have on the public might be their question about whether hosting the Olympics was in fact a good idea.
There is no word on the type of missles, or how big the battery will be. Perhaps it will be the relatively small and light British Starstreak pictured above. I found that picture for this article and I was surprised that’s even real. Looks like a Hollywood prop.
(Pic Credits: wikipedia)
As reported by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the FAA recently released a list of all domestic (U.S.) drone licenses granted. These are people authorized to fly drones, and they can attach a camera if they want. Plus, more changes from the FAA are on the way.
Upon reviewing the list, I was surprised by just how many drone licenses have been granted and to whom. While some are research institutes, many are law enforcement organizations. Now, I’m not going to get too deep into the politics, here, because honestly, I’m not entirely sure how the drones will be used. I would, however, like to have the discussion. I think there is much potential for ill-use.
The following is a map created by Google Maps contributor Jennifer showing the locations in the U.S. where drone certificates have been issued:
Why Drone On?
I do like the idea of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) — they have wings, they fly, and this is ‘Flyopia.com’ after all. I think they are the perfect vehicles for testing and pushing aviation technology further, without risk to humans. They’re also a great challenge for kids and home builders. I also think they are good for dangerous tasks like hunting terrorists. I even think that as long as humans are in control (and the machines aren’t truly autonomous i.e. Cylon style), they can be weaponized for use in legitimate theaters of war. But at some point we must stop to question their use for domestic surveillance. While I think their use for spying on terrorists has been revolutionary, for spying on regular citizens it may set our rights back even further than the Patriot Act or CISPA.
So Who’s Watching You?
Many of the domestic licenses issued are most likely for good reason or innocuous purposes. For instance, the U.S. Border Patrol has a certificate for border patrol drone flights which I think are certainly justified and reasonable. Also the University of Colorado is reported by EFF to have had as many as “100 different COAs [certificate of authorization] over the last six years”. CU, as it’s known locally (it is Flyopia’s local university), has a great aerospace engineering program, and a very close relationship with Ball Aerospace, another local company. Their use of drones is probably not entirely nefarious.
More conspicuous is a drone license issued to the Miami-Dade Police Department in Florida. While there are limitations in their license to flights below 300 ft, the craft they are using, the Honeywell T-Hawk, has some pretty amazing capabilities, such as a ceiling of 10,000ft and a flight time of just over 45 minutes.
Alright, so maybe the T-Hawk’s 45 minute flight time isn’t actually that incredible. But for now I think that’s a good thing because that will most likely limit its use for specific purposes (for which there is hopefully a warrant…although Miami says they don’t require one) or in an emergency, or for some other pressing need. For now….
(UPDATED April 30) Not apparent from the news sources above is a new report by the LA Times here stating that law enforcement agencies are not in fact able to fly their drones under the drone provisions at this time. This seems contradictory to the EFF report linked above regarding Miami-Dade’s drone usage, which appears to address present use. Apparently (other?) law enforcement agencies are waiting for an FAA “clearance” before flying their machines under the drone/UAV specifications. The report states that “…federal rules designed to protect the nation’s airspace have kept them grounded”. Of course even that report which is clearer than previous articles, fails to do much investigation there. The LA Times piece says that future proposed rules may resemble model airplane rules (a flight envelope under 400 ft and in line-of-site of the controller/pilot), but those rules are in place now, and Miami-Dade says they fly below 300ft. Personally, I can’t imagine that a police department such as the one in Gadsen Alabama highlighted in the article, spent $150k on a drone, and truly has ‘never’ flown it. (At least under what is permissible now for models.) I will update this section if more information on current use becomes available.
Personal Freedom and Your Safety
Now aside from privacy, safety is another serious issue. As the technology and pervasiveness of these UAVs for domestic
spying use grows, what will be the limitations? In Miami, who will actually monitor to make sure the T-Hawk doesn’t occasionally reach its service ceiling? And even if used for purely legal, benevolent, or research reasons, who will ensure that the T-Hawk and other bigger craft won’t interfere with general aviation?
In February, Popular Science reported that the FAA has authorized UAVs to share piloted airspace. That’s right, piloted. That means that (worst case) someone sitting behind a 1024 pixel monitor 500 miles away (and safely on the ground) will be sharing the same potentially VFR airspace that you use while flying your family to a weekend retreat. There are few details of this rule change, but in only a few short years this will be a reality. If you think bird strikes are an issue, try a UAV ingestion.
I really hope we learn that there are some controls in place before this allowance goes into effect. The last thing that I want is for my family to be sharing the skies with those guys in that picture at the left. It seems that at this point in aviation development, we’re at a crossroads were we need to handle UAVs properly, or not at all.
Search suspended for ‘unresponsive’ US pilot (via AFP)
Rescuers have called off the search for an “unresponsive” pilot whose plane circled above the Gulf of Mexico for hours before plunging into the sea on Thursday and sinking, the Coast Guard said. The US Air Force had scrambled two F-15 fighter jets to intercept and monitor the Cessna 421 aircraft, which…
I recently came across news about a new type of jet engine, that, as Canadian news outlet CBC says, is an engine with ‘no moving parts’. Interesting? Yes, but… I took notice of this article in particular because the new engine is presented as an entirely new concept in jet engine technology. The article is therefore misleading, but it got me to click, so that’s a ‘win’ for bad technical journalism, I suppose.
But is this a completely new jet engine? In short, no. It’s not a completely new type of engine. At least not that I can find. But there does seem to be some type of new advancement around this existing technology (that’s the claim), and thus merits a bit more research. There are two much better articles here and here on the same technology. (Much better as in not misleading, but still light on specifics.)
The engine is apparently a ‘ramjet’ engine, originally invented in 1913 by French inventor René Lorin. The fatal flaw for general aviation ramjets is that they cannot operate at low speed. They require the forward speed of the craft to be of sufficient velocity that adequate compression can be attained in the combustion chamber, herefore allowing them to do useful work. Otherwise you’re essentially just squirting fuel into a tube and igniting it. Fun to watch perhaps, but not entirely useful. The magic number for ramjets being useful is Mach 0.5, or half the speed of sound. That is the minimum velocity required for a traditional ramjet to produce usable thrust. That would be well over 300 miles per hour depending on your starting altitude. The claim here is that this engine can operate from low speed, i.e. presumably below 300 mph.
The Canadian company Avro, a subsidiary of Atlantis Aircraft, claims to have developed a solution to the low speed ramjet problem. I went to find information on this breakthrough, but their website is, in a word, lacking. They simply have a video posted of this supposed ramjet operating on a static test bed. I admit the video is quite intriguing from appearances, but there is no technical information on this engine. The video certainly shows something is happening. But as far as I can tell for sure, they’ve basically been able to make gas explode inside a very nice looking metal tube, and make the tube glow red hot. (Also the rear view blue flame is pretty impressive… like the universe, in a can.) Unfortunately, this is all I know about this technology. Many tech websites have reported on the engine, but none can provide better detail than what I have here.
Based on what little information there is technically, I can only speculate. My theory is that this new engine is some type of hybrid pre-compressed ramjet, like an air turbo ramjet (pictured), which is essentially two engines in one. A great idea, but also not new, and not terribly efficient because, depending on the flight phase, one of the two engines is not functioning and is therefore dead weight (or worse, drag).
I will withhold judgement until more is known. Avro is a real company, and seems as if it probably has actual funding behind it. In other words, I don’t think this is some garage-invented new cold fusion device. I look forward to more details as they become available, and I will update this post as that happens. A request for further information was sent to the company, but as yet I have not had a response. If you know more about the engine or the technology, feel free to drop us a tip here.
It seems that each spring birds and bees fly around in harmony doing their things, being happy-happy, until there is the sudden sound of ‘whoosh-thwack-boom!’ as a bird is ingested by a turbofan. According to ABC News and the FAA, bird strikes happen about 20 times per day. This week was especially notable because three high profile strikes all happened last Thursday. Well, two were high profile (Joe Biden and Hillary Clinton) and another just happened to some common folks flying on Delta.
First up was a strike from a flock of birds on a Delta passenger plane out of JFK. I’m putting it first because it happened to non-heads-of-state, and sometimes we like to put the common man first here at Flyopia.com. Flight #1063 departed New York for Los Angeles when it struck what appears to be a flock or crows, or vultures (but probably not seagulls). Here’s video of the strike via ABC News. (NOTE: This video is what all the media outlets have been advertising as video of the strike. It does not show the strike, merely the flock just before the strike. So basically nothing to see here…move along. But I’ll put it anyway because everyone else did.) Apparently the strike was bad enough to cause the engine to shut down, which forced he pilots to declare an emergency and return to the airport.
Here’s a link to passenger Grant Cardone explaining the experience. I kind of get the feeling in hindsight he’s happy to have a video of himself posted on the Internet. But that’s another story.
(Update) And Again The Next Week…
And now the following week brings news of another commoner strike from the Washington Post. Luckily no one was hurt in this incident, and it wasn’t out of JFK. This one was a JetBlue flight, #571 out of Westchester County Airport in White Plains. It was heading to West Palm Beach Fl0rida, when it was forced to make an emergency landing after a strike. It apparently landed safely at a small unnamed regional airport in New York.
Next up was a bird strike on Vice President Joe Biden’s Air Force Two. The Veep’s 757 struck a bird in flight, but no emergency was declared, and it was reported no one inside the plane even realized it. It was however considered serious enough to ground the plane, and the VP took a Gulfstream III out of California.
ABC News has already made the Angry Birds reference jokes, but A bird strike also occurred on the Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s trip to Paris. Again, no emergency was declared as it was with the Delta flight, but it was enough to make news, so we’ll include it. Birds do not like Obama Officials it seems. Below are photos obtained by Flyopia.com depicting what Biden and Clinton were probably doing at the time of their respective bird strikes:
Heres, a summary video of these stories in case you feel like watching. Notice the opening graphic which I find amusing, showing computer generated birds flying into a computer generated jet engine. In case you couldn’t imagine what a bird flying into an engine looks like.
Photo Credits: First photo textsfromhillary.tmblr.com and John Palminteri/KEYT Santa Barbara