The flak over drones in the Middle East may come to America soon. The FAA is moving forward on approval of drone flights in the U.S., as on Thursday it issued a government request for proposals to create six drone test sites around the country.
To be clear, those would be test sites. This is not a call by the FAA to approve widespread use of drones everyone in the U.S. However, assuming things continue in the direction they are going, drones will -- not may -- eventually appear above U.S. cities.
Unmanned drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), range from the size of a hummingbird to high-flying Global Hawks that weigh about 15,000 pounds without fuel, and which have the same role as surveillance aircraft such as the famed U-2. The biggest market for commercial drones is expected to be state and local police departments.
In addition to the obvious use of drones by police departments, other potential civilian uses that have already been posited include overflying crop fields to check for issues, use in movies and TV shows, use by media outlets for gathering news, monitoring cattle, fighting and observing forest fires, and far, far more. Industry analysts expect that demand will take off (pun intended) once the FAA approves their use.
The FAA wants to use test sites to determine what safety measures need to be put in to ensure safety between drones and commercial aircraft. Private and commercial pilots will say that -- as backup to air traffic controllers -- visual evaluation of other aircraft is very important. Obviously, remotely-controlled drones do not have a pilot who can detect other aircraft the way a manually-piloted plane or helicopter can.
There is also concern that the links between drones and their remote operators can be broken or hacked, causing the operator to lose control of the aircraft. It's this sort of hacking that Iran said it used in order to capture U.S. drones.