Author Nicholas Damron believes that “Read Before Flight” is a way for the UAV community to establish UAV standards
Read Before Flight is an excellent book that we recommend people read. UAV standards are important and this book provides a great starting point. You can buy it here by clicking on the book image and purchasing through our Amazon Affiliate link.
Q. Nicholas, could you tell our readers a bit about who you are, your
background in the UAV space?
I am an avid Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) / Drone Advocate. I am passionate about making the community safer through self-standardization. I have experience in Training, Operations, Beyond Line of Sight, Product Management, Logistics, Technical Analysis, Technical Manual Writing, Fielding, Documentation, and Project Management; all within the unmanned community. I have flown unmanned systems as an Active Army Solider, National Guardsman, Department of Defense Contractor, and hobbyist since 2006. I recently authored a book titled “Read Before Flight” that encompasses all of the knowledge gained from my experience and aids individuals and companies in building and maintaining standardized UAS/Drone training and flight programs.
Q. You have been involved with military training for a long time. Do you see differences in UAV standards and guidelines for military personnel, commercial operators, and hobbyist?
Absolutely! The United States Army has over 2 million flight hours with UAS to date. They have built standards on training and operation, they have established entities that evaluate UAS programs for safety and standardization, and they have recently implemented a reporting system that reports readiness for each UAS program within the Army fleet.
In my opinion the hobbyist guidelines outlined by the Academy of Model Aeronautics have guidelines that outline safe operations but lack the appropriate authority and structure to be able to ensure safety and standardization of all hobbyist causing members to operate on the “honor system” by agreeing to abide by organizational principals with no oversight to ensure their compliance. In their defense the amount of commercial unmanned hobbyists vastly outweighs the amount of military UAS Operators so this would be a daunting task to say the least.
Lastly, commercial drone Operators have no real guidelines (as the proposed regulations are simply “proposed”) other than the constraints of their Certificate of Authorization and/or Section 333 exemption (if they even apply for them). Additionally the FAA does not have near the bandwidth to enforce the proposed regulations at this time.
The Best Drone Info recommends that everyone review and follow our hobbyist drone guidelines.
Q. If you could boil your thoughts on UAV standards for safe operation down to 2 or 3 bullet points, what would you want to ensure all pilots are aware of?
#1 Study Current Resources
There are programs such as Know Before You Fly, applications such as Hover and the FAA’s soon to be released B4UFly, and reading materials such as “Read Before Flight” (shameless plug) or “Drones: Their Many Civilian Uses and the U.S. Laws Surrounding Them” that can guide Drone/UAS Operators through this infant market and ensure safety, standardization, and compliance.
#2 Seek Mentorship
There are many organizations throughout the Nation that gather together in the form of flying clubs. Generally these flying clubs have individuals with massive RC/Drone/UAS experience. Additionally, the individuals at these clubs are usually more than willing to educate others on safe practices and lessons learned.
#3 Don’t screw this up for the rest of us.
The news seems to breed bad press on drones. I can’t tell you how many times I heard about a drone landing on the Whitehouse lawn compared to how drones are being used to rescue missing persons. The unmanned market is infant and brittle at the moment. People doing dumb things will hinder growth in the market and steer policy makers toward stringent stances against unmanned systems.
Q. If you were running the FAA, what changes would you make in the UAV space, either in terms of processes, regulations, or anything else?
Loaded Question! Ha!
One of the major things I would look to do is partner the test sites with Military UAS mentorship. Again, the military has been flying unmanned systems for decades and has learned a lot of hard lessons that the tests sites could negate. I would also allow qualified military UAS Operators to be the “pilot-in-command” under Section 333 exemptions.
Now off the bias tract; I would have made a higher priority to lean forward (as I believe they are now doing) and partner with groups in order to grow UAS research for advancement of the community. This is finally being done through the Alliance for System Safety of UAS through Research Excellence or ASSURE (www.assureuas.org).
Additionally I would continue to automate as much as I can in the way of tracking UAS Operations and 333 requests and approvals. The unamend community is tech savvy and would react well to automation (and if done right it can speed up steps and create metrics for safety).
Q. What advancements in UAV technology are you most looking forward to seeing?
Two things; increased on-board computing power and improved Automatic Dependent Surveillance – Broadcast (ADS-B).
By improving on-board computing power drones will be able to process more information and increase their overall usefulness. Instead of being simply capturing data and transmitting to a receiving station, which then has to use multiple programs in some cases to extrapolate and compile the data in meaningful way, the drone can perform all of this in near-real-time and present a finished product to the user immediately.
As for ADS-B; the FAA is making this a requirement for manned aviation but improvements need to be made for all ADS-B systems to be able to communicate together. Additionally the creation of micro-ADS-B that is cheap enough, and lite enough, for small unmanned aircraft systems (negate micro for now) will create major improvements to aircraft sense and avoid capabilities.
Q. I know you attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University-Worldwide for project management and Cochise College for UAV Flight Operations. Should operators consider getting a degree vs. taking training programs?
This is a tough question. I am going to be somewhat political and answer the following way:
I think that education will help you for a lifetime and can be applied to much more than just flying drones. I think that individuals who just want to get into the commercial sector and make money quickly with unmanned systems should complete training programs first once there is actually a training program approved by the FAA to certify an individual as an Unmanned Aircraft Operator. Until that time, all of these training programs are just nice to have and do not really warrant you with anything unless they include manned pilot training.
The Best Drone Info reminds you that we have a list of UAV Training Programs for your assistance in finding a program near you..
Q. Are you a hobbyist? What do you fly?
I am! I try to fly whenever I can (with three young children and an active career it is not as often as I want most of the time). I have several micro drones, a larger Dromida that my father got my son (I fly the heck out of it) and am working on building my first quad copter. I have not transitioned into the aerial cinematography portion of drone usage as I am more interested in the First Person View racing aspect at the moment.