About Jennifer Pidgen

As COO and majority owner of of Sundance Media Group (SMG), Jennifer is dedicated to developing sUAS/UAV training programs, overall logistics, and operations for SMG. Co-author of several UAS books, Jennifer guides agencies and organizations with sUAS program implementation. With 22 years of marketing experience within the consumer electronics and photo/ video channels, Jennifer channels her expertise into cultivating mutually-beneficial partnerships and building a successful and safe sUAS/UAV community.

Drone Rules Suck (and Here’s Why You Want Them…)

Everything in life has rules and most everyone complains about them from time to time. “Traffic is bad today, why can’t I just drive on the sidewalk?” “I just need a quick snack, no one will notice that I swiped a bag of peanuts from the store...”

Drones are no different. Each morning I get up to read my news streams and sure enough, there’s some guy who broke the rules and/or some person complaining about the recommendations or rules for UAV/drones.  One can’t blame some of the complainers; the people that are breaking the rules make it more difficult for those of us that try to follow them. And to be fair, some of the UAV/drone rules and laws are not only unreasonable but downright ineffective. Some of them are a knee-jerk reaction from local politicians who are for the most part, ignorant of the FAA and existing laws.

But, why do we need to have these rules in the first place? Why can’t common sense prevail?

Let’s tackle the last one first.

“Common Sense” isn’t common at all.

The Dunning Kruger effect plays a significant role in the UAV/drone community, and if you don’t know what it is, follow the link. You will likely appreciate the reference. We’ve all been “that person” at least once in our lifetimes.

The fool doth think he is wise, but the wise man knows himself to be a fool.

Many drone owners purchase drones, drive to the park, drop in the battery, and fly. Some may visit webpages, join communities, and at the least gain a basic knowledge of survival skills with their drone. A fraction seek training, read books, or take a course at a local drone instructional.  As a result, a small percentage of drone operators fly their vehicles into Ferris wheels, joggers, infants, windows, over ski race courses, etc.

WHY A MAXIMUM OF 400′ AGL?

With limited exception, general aviation is not permitted to fly below 500′ AGL (above Ground Level) in uncongested areas (FAR 91.119). Helicopters have some specific exclusions. This minimum altitude coupled with the UAV maximum of 400′ provides for a 100′ buffer between general aviation and UAV operations. In theory this should work well towards keeping UAV out of the flight path of any general aviation aircraft.

WHY MORE THAN 5 MILES FROM AN AIRPORT/AERODROME?

When aircraft are landing, they fly a “cone” that may have them at various altitudes. This airspace is understandably, highly controlled. The rule does not mean you absolutely cannot fly within these areas; it means operators must contact the control tower before flight. My experience has been that they’re very willing, polite, and appreciative of the contact. Be prepared to tell them exactly where you’ll be flying (Lat/Long are nice, but I’ve never been asked for those), altitude you’ll be flying (I’ve never asked for more than 400′, but one certainly can ask), time of day you wish to fly, and for how long you’ll be flying. They’ll likely ask for a phone number, and on two occasions, I’ve received a call-back from the tower verifying that my mission is complete.

WHY ARE DRONES VLOS?

This should be fairly self-evident. Visual Line Of Sight means the operator or a spotter can always see the UAV/drone. Currently, FPV without a spotter is not permitted in North America. Using an FPV device does not align with “VLOS.” However, using a spotter is permissible. Someone with control must always have a visual fix on the UAV. This is one of the reasons that UAV flight beyond one mile is generally not a good plan.

NO FLIGHT NEAR PEOPLE OR STADIUMS

Persons not involved/aware of your flight have a right to a reasonable expectation of safety. This includes not being concerned about what might fall on their heads while enjoying a football game. There have already been several instances of UAV/drones falling into stadiums and in at least one case, injuring a spectator. In most cases of stadium flight, the operator was also violating VLOS rules.

WHY IS “MORE THAN 25′ AWAY FROM PERSONS” REQUIRED?

Similar to the above explanation, UAS can harm people. There have been multiple instances of bystanders being injured, including two infants, during the landing operation of UAV/drones. Aside from it being a rule, it’s simply sensible to take off and land far away from people in the event of an unruly drone. Remember, blades can be very sharp.

HERE’S A LONG RULE:  

Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.

Why? It should be fairly self-explanatory. In one recent drone incident, the pilot flew his DJI Inspire into a power line. The utility company is currently suing him for the $40,000.00 in damages incurred from the UAV cutting lines, manpower to repair/restore electricity, etc. Not flying over prisons seems self explanatory, no? Avoiding government facilities, such as the recent flyover a nuclear submarine base is likely a good idea, given that if one is caught, jail time and heavy fines are to be expected.

40kOoops

RESPECT THE PRIVACY OF OTHERS

If you fly a typical UAV, you already know that the cameras on these devices is fairly wide-angled, and incapable of taking detailed pictures of the general public without the UAV being very, very close to the subject. The general public doesn’t know this, and one shouldn’t expect them to. They don’t know what you know. All they know is that a drone with a camera is pointed their way and like most rational people, they’ll be upset. If you’re going to be shooting photos or video of a landmark or people, be courteous and let them know. Talk to the people around, put up signs, notify authorities; take responsible action to prevent problems for yourself or others that might want to fly in that area in the future.

BE RESPECTFUL OF ANIMALS AND WILDLIFE

This isn’t in the FAA or Transport Canada guidelines; it’s one of my own. Dogs love to chase drones. Dog’s noses are very tender and soft and when a flying Cuisinart blade hits the dog’s nose, blood is likely to ensue. The same goes for filming wildlife. There are many videos of irresponsible (albeit understandable) drone operators wanting to fly near wildlife who have found their drone being attacked by cheetahs, mountain goats, antelope, monkeys, and other wild animals. While it’s understandable to want to get close to them in their habitat, be sure to keep a distance where the animal isn’t going to be able to reach the UAV and possibly be harmed by it. Taking a dog to a vet to get a nose stitched up is one thing; capturing and taking an antelope in to get an eye treated is entirely another thing.

All in all, the “rules” are quite simple, if one applies logic and some minimal form of self-evaluation regarding skill. One does not buy a drone and within 10-12 flights become “proficient.” It takes at least 40 hours of flight time to become reasonably proficient. This equals approximately 120 flights of an average battery time of 20 minutes per flight. Sound familiar? It requires 40 hours of flight to earn a beginner’s private pilot license, too.9.10.15-Drones-for-Hyperactive-Dogs1-590x385

Applied knowledge goes a long way to better practices and as the old saying goes, Perfect Practice makes perfect.

PUBLISHED BY DSE

I’ve been a successful sales manager, musician, film/video professional, instructional designer, and skydiver. Picked up a few pieces of gold, brass, titanium, and tin along the way. This blog is where I spill my guts about how I’m feeling at any given moment, and maybe a blurb or two about what’s happening in the sales, video, or skydiving worlds.

IRRESPONSIBLE DRONE-RSHIP

The media are all about small Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (sUAV) these days, perhaps better known as “drones.” Drones add significant value to our lives and will become more important as we move forward into the future. However, with all technologies come great responsibilities. One of those responsibilities is how we operate our personal UAV/drones.

Last week in Clarendon, Texas, a newbie drone owner/operator decided to check out an antelope. The “pilot” is a self-admitted newbie, claiming he only has “20 or so flights” on his newly acquired device and perhaps that’s the reason for his short-sighted approach in flying his device close to a wild animal.

Pronghorn1

There certainly is nothing wrong with wanting to capture the antelope in a natural setting. In fact, some would be a little jealous of such terrific subjects to film. Where this endeavor went wrong is when the drone owner decided to try to film the animal at eye-level and up close.

Pronghorn6

The antelope makes an attempt to run away and the drone operator chose to chase the animal at high speed. The antelope turns and wants to check out the drone. Due to the erratic flight of the drone/poor piloting, the antelope perceives a threat and attacked the drone before running off.

Pronghorn7

Pronghorn7a

The drone doesn’t suffer much damage, but what about the antelope?

Veterinarians all over the world have made comment about the dangers propellers bring to dogs-noses. There have been a few cases of eye-loss, at least three of them infants who have been injured by propellers. In this article, several prop injuries can be seen.

DroneSelfie

It’s not as though these flying Cuisinarts are entirely face-friendly. The face shown here was cut with the same model drone as used in the antelope video. With this in mind, I approached the owner of the drone. He felt strongly that an animal’s face is tough enough to handle this sort of incident and that it couldn’t possibly harm the animal in any way.

Pronghorn9

Regardless of the drone operator’s opinion, it stands to reason that even small drones like the popular white DJI Phantom can do damage to eyes and other soft tissues whether human or beast, as evidenced by hundreds of photographs around the web.

The particular drone I was using wouldn’t break the skin on my hand…” Travis Higgins, drone pilot

This little guy has permanently lost his eye to a DJI Phantom propeller, the same model drone seen in this antelope video.

Pronghorn8

I can’t particularly fault the drone owner for being defensive; he truly doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, but hopefully the many posts on his YouTube account have informed him that he made a mistake and it won’t be repeated. YouTube certainly provides some good learning opportunities. There are many websites, pages, and community groups where new drone operators can gain knowledge and awareness of how to best manage their drone use.

But what about other drone owners? Do they “get it?” 

If recent news articles ranging from flying a drone into the side of the Empire State Building, to a drone owner attempting to get close to presidential candidate Hillary Clinton (just before he crashed it into a building as well), it would seem many drone owners aren’t understanding the impact and risk that the excitement of drones bring to the community. In this particular case, the operator continually referred to himself as a “licensed pilot who knows the FAA rules.” There are no FAA rules that apply here; common sense should prevail. Yet he’s convinced that “since he’s an FAA-licensed pilot, what he’s doing is OK.

What might have the drone operator done to not endanger the antelope while still getting great footage?

  • Learn to fly more gracefully/skillfully before putting the drone into the personal space of people or animals. The FAA recommendations are that drones are never closer than 100′ to “non-involved individuals.”

  • Never fly at an altitude or distance that is in close proximity of living beings. In this case, 10′ up would have sufficed; the image could have been post-processed in editing to crop/zoom in on the subject). Again, a topic related to learning more about the device, its camera system, and the technology.

  • Be respectful of the animal. If it runs off it likely is scared and it’s possible the drone could induce the animal to self-injury. Keep your distance. Every year, Yellowstone Park has a percentage of visitors injured or killed because they can’t recognize this rule. They, like the drone pilot in this video, think the animals are like pets and can be gotten close to.

Higgins-Pet

A final comment; the owner of this drone and video claimed his flight was not commercial as he wasn’t being paid to shoot it, but does claim the video is intended for a wildlife conservation video. Money does not need to exchange hands to be considered “commercial” by the FAA. Indeed, if this video is anything more than a couple of buddies having some fun and capturing some hobby footage, it becomes “commercial.” Given that this particular video has received attention from CBS and ABC requesting use for remuneration, and that it’s receiving coins from YouTube for play, it falls into the category of “commercial.” Any commercial video requires a 333 exemption from the FAA, and without it, it is subject to very expensive fines. Be very aware of this, as the FAA and Transport Canada are watching YouTube and social media sites, and several individuals have been charged with using drones for commercial use, although that may not have been the drone operator’s original intent.

Drone owners are very concerned about potential rules, regulations, and controls placed by the government on our technology. Unfortunately, these sorts of videos cause enough uproar that the government truly has little choice but to try to protect us from ourselves.

Be responsible. Fly within the recommendations of the FAA or your local authorities. Understand that not everyone wants to be part of your drone video.  Be considerate, be safe.

[the owner of the video has now disabled comments after receiving many negative comments about the flight]

 DSE

I’ve been a successful sales manager, musician, film/video professional, instructional designer, and skydiver. Picked up a few pieces of gold, brass, titanium, and tin along the way. This blog is where I spill my guts about how I’m feeling at any given moment, and maybe a blurb or two about what’s happening in the sales, video, or skydiving worlds.

By | February 22nd, 2016|Drone, Drone Safety, Regulations, sUAS Regulation, sUAS Safety|0 Comments

Why *I* Don’t Catch my Drone

Catching a Drone

Recently I was asked “When do you choose to catch your drone vs landing your drone?

Catching a drone in midflight seems to be a badge of honor amongst some drone pilots and the reasoning behind it is baffling. It’s “so easy to do” there are even videos that teach drone operators how to catch their drone.

They have a number of arguments in favor of doing so.

I don’t want to risk my UAV hitting the ground.” “Dirt gets into the props when it’s taking off or landing.” “It looks really cool to people watching, and it shows I’m a pro when I catch my drone.”

On Facebook I once made a comment regarding the safety aspect of drone-catching and was promptly rebuffed with “If you can’t catch your drone, you don’t know how to fly” was the leading theme in the long string of derisive commentary that followed. I *can* catch my drone, just as I *can* play tag with an angry bull in a corral (and have done so).

A previous article entitled “Understanding Turbulence,” discusses how rotors and lee-winds can unpredictably affect UAV/drone flight. A human body is an obstacle to wind and the body is capable of diverting rotor wash or create a sink space. While being able to catch a drone mid-flight is certainly ego-supportive, it simply is unsafe for oneself and bystanders.

Symbol-ErrorWARNING, BLOODY IMAGES TO FOLLOW BELOW!

 

OK, YOU’VE BEEN WARNED

Here are a few injuries from around the web, demonstrating a varying degree of injuries by small UAV propellers. Some propellers are nylon-encased plastic. Others are carbon-fiber (CF). CF props are the most dangerous of all as they have no give, and are very sharp on the edges, providing for faster flight and more precise control.

Small drone injury

This is a relatively small cut from a prop, incurred while catching a drone mid-flight. An arrogant UAV operator commented “He didn’t know how to fly.” Perhaps the injured person knows how to fly; an unpredictable wind caught his vehicle and caused it to tilt?

A drone selfie and catch went wrong when the props fell into the sinkcreated by a body obstructing air.

DroneSelfie

Some people simply don’t learn the first time. There are those that count these scars as “badges of honor.” One might call them scarlet letters of stupidity. This person has experience in cutting himself.

Larger drone injury

With a drone loosely in hand and the motors spinning down,the drone may fall away from or towards the body, catching a bicep or forearm.

Pre-stitch cut

This is a similar injury. The injured man was holding his drone by the landing skids and it “pulled away and then towards him” as the quadcopter attempted to self-balance. Nine stitches later, he regretted catching and holding the vehicle. At least the CF blades made for neat and clean slices.

Drone Stitches

Having a flying Cuisinart at arms-length or less simply isn’t a good idea for a variety of reasons. At arms-length is entirely too close to the face and neck.

A reporter for the Brooklyn Daily was struck by a drone, cutting her nose and chin.

ReporterCut

Ultimately, the crew at Mythbusters (they love UAV/Drones and use them in production of their show) did a segment on the potential lethality of drones. Perhaps a bit extreme, one cannot miss their point.

Latin pop-star Enrique Eglasias likely has lost significant sensitivity in his hand due to attempting to catch a UAV during a concert performance. I have little doubt that some UAV operator is reading this blog thinking “That guy is stupid” while justifying why he/she catches their UAV.

Eglesias

I don’t catch my drone because I lack the skill to do so; like most people proficient with a UAV, I can put it precisely where I want it to land.

I don’t catch my drone because I’m averse to injury of myself and others. Safety always precludes “looking cool” or even saving a small cost of operation.

It may look cool to catch a drone and it may even reduce the risk of ingesting dust or dirt particles into a motor, thereby shortening the motor’s life. Perhaps think of it this way; A new motor may cost as much as $50.00. That’s a mere fraction of the cost of a trip to the emergency room and likely significantly less costly than an insurance deductible.

Happy flying!

 

Douglas Spotted Eagle is an sUAV operator with more than 500 hours of lDSE-droneIconShotogged flight time on various airframe types. He is also a USPA Safety and Training Advisor (at large), and a USPA AFF instructor. Safety is his priority in all aerial endeavors.

By | January 9th, 2016|Drone, Drone Safety, Training|0 Comments

UNDERSTANDING TURBULENCE for sUAS

UNDERSTANDING TURBULENCE for sUAS

 

Image result for drone crash, buildingAs sUAV/drones become more and more popular, it seems that more and more of them are striking the sides of buildings, trees, or poles without the pilot understanding why.
“It was flying fine and all of a sudden it zipped up and into the side of the building.” “Everything was great until the drone had a mind of its own and flew straight to the ground.”
“The drone was flying over the trees and all of a sudden it spun around and dropped into the trees.”

Reading forum conversations around the internet suggests this is a common, yet unfortunate and avoidable experience.

First, let’s establish that flying in GPS mode may be ineffective when very close to a building. Signal may be lost, and this could explain a few of the building strikes.

However, far and away more likely in most instances the UAV was caught in a “rotor.” These are also known as up/down drafts, lee waves, or cross-winds, depending on which aviation discipline one adheres to. Needless to say, these phenomenon do exist, and play havoc with any sort of aerial activity whether it’s wingsuiting, parasailing, skydiving, model aircraft flight, swooping, small aircraft, and particularly light-weight multirotors.

Image result for wind turbulence map
THESE “WAVES” ARE INDICATORS FOR MANNED AVIATION AND CONSTRUCTION CREWS, YET THE PRINCIPLE IS
ONLY A MATTER OF SCALE.

Even when a manufacturer provides a statement of stability in “X” winds, this should not fool a pilot into thinking that the sUAS is turbulence-resistant. Given enough turbulence or infrequency of a wave, the UAV will become unstable.

It’s always better to be down here wishing we were up there, instead of being up there wishing we were down here.

The first rule is to set wind limits. Small quad-craft should stay on the ground at windspeeds of greater than 12mph/5.5 meters per second. Hexcopters should consider grounding themselves at 22mph/10meters per second. Of course, this figure may vary depending on your organizations policy and procedures manual, insurance requirements, or payload on the sUAS.

This video provides some demonstration of the cycle of the wave and how a gyro and accelerometer might cope with the cycles. Notice how all the aircraft are “cycling” in an attempt to maintain altitude and position, even as the waves of the wind rotate?

Truly, knowing about them is half the battle. Staying away from them is the rest of it. Failing the former, being able to manage the craft in turbulence is the next-best step.

A building blocks the wind on one side (windward side) and on the opposite side (leeward side) the wind will pay all sorts of havoc with any flying object. Winds will extend in distance up to four times the height of the obstacle, and two times the actual height.

Understanding Turbulence 2

40×4=160 feet. Therefore, for 160’ beyond the obstacle at ground level, your multirotor is at risk for catching either a down draft or an updraft.

Huh?

OK, say there is a building that is 40 feet in height, and you have a medium wind blowing. Gusting or steady, it makes no difference.

40×4=160 feet. Therefore, for 160’ beyond the obstacle at ground level, your multirotor is at risk for catching either a down draft or an updraft. Either way, the airframe/hull is not in clean air. In extremely high velocities (high winds) the ratio of obstacle/distance may be as great as 15X (of course, a UAS would likely not fly in these winds)!

In terms of height, depending on wind velocity, the UAV may have to climb as high as 80’ to find clean air above an obstacle. yet at 80′ AGL, the winds are likely entirely different as well, depending on the weather and other obstacles in the area.

The air goes over the obstacle and is “pulled” to the ground (downdraft), where it then “bounces” upward (updraft) and tries to resume its level flow.

These phenomena are entirely independent of  sinks,thermal rises, dust devils, and the like.

This also occurs in natural/unbuilt up areas. Trees, canyons, ridges, rock-lines; any large object will incur rotors. Avoid them. It’s virtually impossible to determine exactly where the down draft vs. the updraft may be occurring, and the location of these dirty winds will change with swind velocity.

Understanding-Turbulence-3

FLYING IN URBAN ENVIRONMENTS

When wind flows between buildings, the mass of the air/gas is compressed. This results in an increase in velocity. Think of squeezing hard on a tube of toothpaste, compressing the contents through the tiny hole in the end of the tube. This increases the speed/velocity at which the toothpaste squeezes out. The same thing occurs with moving air between buildings or other solid objects.

Depending on the wind speed, the increase may require as much as 4-10 times the distance before the winds return to “normal” velocity seen before the gap or corner.

Image result for Wind
IMAGE COURTESY OF RHEOLOGIC

Ground winds and winds “aloft” (true winds aloft are beyond the reach of most UAS operations) are rarely equal. Winds at 50′ are rarely the same as winds at ground level in an urban or suburban environment.  Even small berms in the ground can cause jarring turbulence (as shown above) that settle in the low areas. These urban “microclimates” can be very problematic for light weight UAS in required-precision environments.

Turbulence

Here is a more complex example of winds blowing at 22mph in an urban environment.

Complex Winds.JPG

complex winds 2

Compression of the flow due to building dynamics push the wind into more than 40mph in some areas. While the overall winds, and reported winds in the area suggest that the windspeed is perfectly acceptable for most commercial aircraft, turbulence and accelerated velocities within tight areas are far beyond the risk limits of most small UAS’.

Flying from warm sands to flying over water on a hot summer day may also create challenges to smooth and level flight.

DUST DEVILS

Dust devils are summertime phenomena that can be very dangerous to humans anywhere a UAS may be flying. If they happen in a city, there is usually ample evidence of their existence, as debris flies high in the “funnel.” These nasty actors can show up anywhere there is hot asphalt, sand, dirt, and if that mass of rapidly moving air connects with a cool surface, they can turn violent very quickly, slinging a sUAS far from its intended flight path.
Image result for dust devil Image result for dust devil

DUST DEVILS IN THE NEVADA DESERT CAN BE FRIGHTENING, ESPECIALLY WHEN TWO OR THREE COMBINE INTO ONE VORTEX.

If by chance a dust devil is seen climbing in the distance, prepare to bring the aircraft home and land. If the dust devil is anywhere near the vehicle, climb in altitude while moving in any direction away from the dust devil. They are usually very short-lived.

Image result for dust devilIMAGE COURTESY WASHINGTON POST

How do we avoid getting caught in turbulent air? The long answer is “experience.” Flying in these challenging spaces teaches us to find the lee, based on the behavior of the UAS, which will always be slightly latent to the wind.
The short answer is to study environments. Look at the wind indicators that might normally be missed.  Learn to read the environment; it’s not hard once one begins to look for the details around buildings, trees, brush, monuments, chimneys, and other ground obstacles.

Two standard practices that may save pilots from troubles;

  • Always use a windmeter/anemometer, and check the winds frequently in midday flights.
  • Have a corporate or personal policy of a hard-deck/stop speed.  This eliminates wishy-washy/should I/shouldn’t I decisions in the field.  Our cap for teaching students with a Hexcopter/Yuneec Typhoon H is 16mph. If a gust crosses 16, we immediately stop, and wait it out to determine the wind trendline.

Another practice (although not standard) is to put a 5′ stream of crepe’ paper on a stick at eye level or so. This WDI, or Wind Direction Indicator, will immediately demonstrate changes in windspeed or direction, both clues that the weather may be rapidly shifting.

Determine distances from obstacles as accurately as possible prior to flight in order to best understand where the rotors will occur.  Doing so goes a long way to maintaining control and safety when the drone is in flight. With a bit of experience, one rarely needs to worry about obstacle turbulence.

Happy flights!
~dse

PUBLISHED BY DSE:

I’ve been a successful sales manager, musician, film/video professional, instructional designer, and skydiver. Picked up a few pieces of gold, brass, titanium, and tin along the way. This blog is where I spill my guts about how I’m feeling at any given moment, and maybe a blurb or two about what’s happening in the sales, video, or skydiving worlds.
By | December 31st, 2015|sUAS Regulation, sUAS Safety, Technology, Training|0 Comments