Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drones) Mid-Air Collision Study

Last day of July, three and a half hours til August (at the time I started typing) and I realise I haven’t written anything all month…

DJI Phantom

Unmanned aircraft is a subject that I thought I had moved on from but this report popped up in my inbox this evening…only a couple of days after I spoke with a couple of clowns flying a large drone over the Chateau Golf Course in Whakapapa Village. They pleaded ignorance of both National Park and Civil Aviation Agency legislation relating to flying drones in or over the Park but really? You don’t buy and operate a big drone like that without knowing the law.

That law is quite simple:

It is illegal to land, take-off or hover an aircraft in, from or over Tongariro National Park. A drone (of any class or size) is regarded as an aircraft. Any exceptions must have prior formal written approval from the Department of Conservation.

The land-owner’s prior permission is required before a drone can be flown over private land; or the permission from the mandated controlling authority for public land e.g. the local council or, for the Park, the Department of Conservation.

 In addition, rescue helicopters can and do enter the Park at any time of day or night, from any direction. Even on a clear day, the setting sun can obscure vision to such an extent that a pilot may not see a drone in time to avoid it.

airfield 4km

CAA Rules also prohibit the operation of drones within 4km of an airfield, that is 4km from the closest boundary of an airfield. For the Chateau Airfield (by the intersection of SH47 and SH48), that 4km limit takes you to just above the bridge over the Whakapapanui Stream. It means that you can’t fly your drone:

at Discovery Lodge (which has its own heli-pad in any case) or

at the camp site at Mangahuia, further along SH47 towards National Park Village, or

over Mahuia Rapids just along 47 in the other direction or

on the Tawhai Falls or Mound Walk trails that come off SH48.

Those who say that a small drone wouldn’t do any significant damage to an manned aircraft should read the report that I received this evening. You can find the report, Small Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (drones) Mid-Air Collision Study, here.

It is sobering reading: even a small (think Toyworld) drone can cause considerable damage to a light aircraft or helicopter, particularly the windscreen and tail rotor. Any components ingested into the engine may also cause unneeded excitement for the pilot and passengers of that manned aircraft.

the bits that hurt
The bits that hurt…

In a way this report is quite gratifying as it supports the work that I did for the Air and Space Interoperability Council and subsequently NATO on the hazards of small unmanned aircraft sharing operational airspace with manned aircraft.

If you own a drone of any sort in New Zealand, you do need to read Part 101 and Part 102 of the Civil Aviation Agency Rules, and the note RPAS, UAV, UAS, Drones and Model Aircraft. You won’t, of course, because you think you have an ultimate right to do whatever you like in the Park…that’s alright…but don’t be surprised if guides or Rangers just snap your pic and send it directly to CAA for action…

You might think it’s great your drone will follow your phone as you rip down the slopes at Whakapapa or Turoa…on a ‘good’ day in winter, there may be a half dozen or more rescue helicopter flights on to the ski fields or around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, often in restricted visibility: that’s hard enough without the pilot having to worry about some goon operating their drone illegally.

Similarly, around the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, no one wants to be subjected to mosquito-like totally annoying whine of your drone…nor should should pilots have to look out for them as they approach for a rescue – when you’re too dumb to hear the helo coming in and dump your drone…

What we really need are a few good prosecutions to drive this message home BEFORE we have an accident…

Aviation Related Concern

To report an aviation safety or security concern, that may include complaints, or allegations of suspected breaches of civil aviation legislation, call: 0508 4SAFETY (0508 472 338) available office hours (voicemail after hours), or email:

Pictures, video, rego numbers are useful information to back up your complaint and hopefully lead to a successful prosecution. Ignorance of the law is no excuse…

A battle lost…

Don’t Use the ‘D’ Word: They’re ‘UAVs’ or ‘RPAs’ But Definitely Not ‘Drones’

I came across this article on the Information Dominance Corps Self Synchronization (yes, it is bit of mouthful) Facebook feed…once upon a time this argument may have mattered but now it is nothing more than ambient noise. We have far more important things to worry about in the UAS world than mindless semantic games…


Does it matter really if I call this a plane, an aircraft or an airplane?


Or this a helicopter, a whokka, a helo, a rotary-wing aircraft or a whirlybird.


Or this, a car, an automobile or a vehicle?

No…it doesn’t, not in normal colloquial speech and writing…many years ago, I remember great battles ranging over whether vehicles like LAVIII and Stryker were medium infantry, mech infantry or some weirdo thing called heavy infantry. This went on for months and about the points of agreement were that they were neither the light infantry or tanks so dear to our hearts. In the end, the general issued an all-points stating that he didn’t care if they were called the Third Pink Flying Pig Brigade and that he was more interested in what we could do with these things.

Dictionaries have already added the unmanned aircraft definition of ‘drone’ so there is not much point arguing the toss anymore. What is important is that we use the correct terminology when we talk about unmanned aircraft within our community and when we engage with external audiences. The general public can quite happily refer to them as drones, just all of us equally happily refer to cars, planes and choppers…

Personally I think that we need to stop treating UAS as something mystical and special and start to treat them simply as what they: unmanned aircraft…aircraft that do not normally operate with an onboard pilot…and within unmanned aircraft, we have , in our  technically correct lexicon, remote-piloted aircraft, optionally-piloted aircraft, remote control aircraft, drones (in the technical sense), etc,etc…

The more that we treat UAS as something special, the harder we make it employ properly and integrate them in to our airspace. Do we really need Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle or UCAV, or would unmanned combat aircraft suffice? …and unmanned fighter, unmanned bomber, unmanned transport etc? Hmmm…


Just call me Al

Personal jetpack gets flight permit for manned test

Personal jetpack gets flight permit for manned test | Fox News.

Mjp 1

In the not too distant future…the offshore patrol vessel, HMNZS Otago, slips silently across the moonlit Pacific, her destination, a small island nation experiencing unrest. Her mission, the recovery of an family of expatriate Kiwis being held for ransom…

p148 otago

P148, the offshore patrol vessel, HMNZS Otago

In her hangar, RNZAF and special operations support personnel  are assembling a dozen unusual-looking devices, scarcely worth of the title ‘aircraft’. This is the first operational deployment of the Martin ‘jet’ pack – which is not actually a jet at all but two ducted fans able to carry soldier in combat equipment over 100 kilometres – after a period of evaluation and experimentation by the New Zealand Defence Force. 

Otago had sailed four days previously, as an option should other alternatives to recover the family fail. Although she could deploy with a RNZAF SH-2(G)I Super Seasprite helicopter, the ‘Sprite was unable to carry a full recovery team and was considered too noisy for the level of stealth and deniability needed for this mission. The reef around the objective rendered it difficult to deploy and recovery a force using small boats. Enter the jetpack…

Although New Zealand had introduced a fleet of all-new military helicopter in the early mid-2010s (twenty-tens? twenty-teens?), the problem it faces is not so much that it does not not have enough of them but that it does not have enough or big enough flight decks to operate them from in the vastness of its South Pacific area of responsibility. One solution to this problem comes from classic Kiwi ingenuity: since 2004, a small company in New Zealand’s South Island has been working on development of a jet pack that would fulfil the promises of 1960s engineers for a personal aviation capability.

After a two year period of evaluation, experimentation and innovation, the partnership between the Martin Aircraft Company and the Defence Force has evolved the Jetpack into a stealthy reliable vehicle that not only meets all expectations for operational and technical airworthiness but which is also able to be operated by soldiers after a short but intense four week training course. The heart of the Jetpack that enables it to be operated by relatively inexperienced (from an aviation perspective) personnel is the New Zealand-designed flight control system. Although the operator can take control of the jetpack when necessary, especially to avoid potential obstacles and other hazards on landing, for the most part of their journey, they are passengers as the Jetpack flies its preprogrammed course under the control of an external remote control station. Full military operator certification is awarded after a three month course conducted at the Central Flying School at RNZAF Ohakea.

Late the previous day, Otago had surveyed the operations landing zone with one of its two RQ-84K UAS and conducted a final daylight reconnaissance over the objective. The data from this mission has been processing into a high resolution 3D dataset that updates the recovery force’s mission planning and rehearsal system – a simulation on some seriously bad steroids; and also allows flight planners to identify and avoid any potential hazards along the ingress and egress routes. As the mission preparation progresses, the two RQ-84s maintain a tag team watch over the landing zone and objective, monitoring any changes that may affect the mission. Powered by a lightweight hydrogen fuel cell, each RQ-84 has an endurance of six hours which provides an on-station period of four hours, with the remaining time for handover between aircraft and the transit from Otago’s over the horizon location.


RQ-84 – Kiwi tech – flying now

At 0300, twelve jetpacks stood ready on Otago’s flight deck: one for each of the ten person recovery team and two to carry additional stores. Each soldier completed a final check of their own and their comrades’ equipment…it was time and the ground support crew assisted each to strap into his jetpack, their personal weapons across their chests for ease of access, just in case…at 0320, the hand signal was given for engine start and each soldier, slipped their jetpacks master arm switch to the ‘on’ position, signifying that each was ready for launch. The control station operators authorised the launch and each jetpack first hovered above the deck and on completion of flight systems checks, lifted off into the darkness, the only sound a deep hum that quickly faded into the darkness – reducing the lawnmower-like sound signature of the original Martin jet packs had been on of the major challenges and successes of the Defence Force programme.

The dozen jetpacks hummed through the night a hundred feet over the swell, almost invisible as they flew towards the moon and the island. The ingress route stayed over water for as long as possible before cutting across the reef and the shoreline to the landing zone. Though their night vision goggles, the soldiers could see massive trees, all mapped to within centimetres by the UAS imagery, slipping by to their left and right as the jetpacks dropped to twenty feet and autonomously navigated along an overgrown logging track at 30 knots. Overheard the circling RQ-84 tracked their thermal signatures, confirming the the operators saw on their screen. Approaching the landing zone, the jetpacks slowed to a hover and gently touched down in the clearing selected as the landing zone.

Hitting their quick release connections, each member dismounted their steed and set the flight control to ‘return to base’, sending each jetpack back to Otago; the two cargo jetpacks were unloaded and also RTB’d. as the recovery force moved to its objective, the jetbacks would be refueled on Otago and readied for the extraction phase of the operation.

The recovery force moved swiftly through the low vegetation, the direct thermal feed from the RQ-84 confirming the absence of any people along their – it wasn’t considered likely that they would encounter any thermally-stealthed adversaries on this job. At the perimeter of their objective, each team members took up positions where they could observe the low bungalow and its approaches – they would maintain this observation for the hour before sunrise. Through thermal imagers they could identify one large group that was the two adults and two children that were the object of the recovery, and the individual signatures, two sleeping, two moving around the building, of the criminal elements holding them.

Just before dawn’s first light, advancing in the ‘special ops duck walk’, two teams approached the building, entering it from two directions. The thuds of 40mm less-lethal rounds put down two criminals to be quickly bound and secured; another signified the less-lethal neutralisation of one of the sleepers. The last sat up, pistol in hand, to be greeted by the spitting muzzle of a suppressed carbine – lights out.  Secured, the hostages are checked for injuries and escorted from the house to the beachfront extraction area, still tracked by the unmanned aircraft overhead.

A kilometre away, a car roars into life and starts to move towards the extraction area – innocuous or not, this is a threat to the recovery phase: the RQ-84 locks onto the thermal signature of its engine and releases a Smart Dart from under its wingroot. Tracking the engine’s heat and boosted to terminal velocity by a small rocket, the Smart Dart brings the vehicle to a grinding halt as it plunges through the engine block. The driver sits surprised but unhurt behind the wheel.

smart dart

Smart Dart

As the assault had commenced, Otago had relaunched the jetpacks and now their hum could be heard as they skimmed above the waves on a direct course for the extraction area, landing on the beach. The hostages were strapped into jet packs, the two children flying with soldiers, and launched back to Otago, which was ‘steaming’ at full speed towards the coast to reduce the flight time. The hostages on their way, and with no sign of a response to the raid, the remaining members of the recovery team ‘saddled up’ and launched themselves back to the waiting naval vessel…

All fiction, of course, and all totally implausible, of course, everybody knows that there’s no military application for things like the jetpack or RQ-84, of course…

But these are the types of devices that modern militaries need to start coming to grips with, either for introduction into their own forces or countering them when their adversaries start to employ them…individual air transport is coming – how are you going to deal with it? There only room in the sand for so many heads, you know…small UAS with extended endurance combined with state of the art ISR and kinetic payloads are coming...”Whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do, whatcha gonna do when they come for you..?”

mjp 3

Martin jetpack test flight – more Kiwi tech

mjp 2

Testing the ballistic safety parachute on the jetpack – this activates if for any reason the jetpack becomes unflyable

Please note that these images show the early versions of the jetpack with the shoulder mounted ducted fans. The latest iteration of the design, known as P.12 for Prototype 12, has shifted the fans to a waist position that can be seen in this test flight:

How “We” Lost Yemen

How We Lost Yemen – By Gregory D. Johnsen | Foreign Policy.

yemen drone

Tonto used to say “We? White man..?” I haven’t seen the new version of The Lone Ranger so I’m not sure if Johnny Depp resists the temptation to weird this classic out…

The first thing that I like about this article is that it starts with “…drones, ships, and planes have all taken part in the bombardment...” and avoids the tendency of the uninformed to focus solely on the drone aspect of these attacks. Yes, for sure, we all know that ‘drone‘ isn’t the right word from a UAS geek perspective but as has been pointed out to me, the nice people at Merriam-Webster (the dictionary you use when you can’t afford real English!) still include as one of the definitions of drone “…an unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control…” Unfortunately, that definition is more apt than its other two definitions of drone as either “…a stingless male bee (as of the honeybee) that has the role of mating with the queen and does not gather nectar or pollen…” when we all know that the modern use can both collect and sting; or, and I had not seen this one before, “…one that lives on the labors of others…” although one might offer than a number of commentators on the so-called Drone Wars may be doing this.

The author asks why AQ continues to grow if this campaign has been so apparently successful – wasn’t it just not so long ago that victory in the war on terror was declared? Just as all the US and UK Embassy’s slammed the doors behind them as they knuckle down for yet another AQ-inspired assault? His answer? “…Faulty assumptions and a mistaken focus paired with a resilient, adaptive enemy…” I think that he is absolutely right and to these I would add reliance on resurgent but disproven ‘shock and awe‘ doctrine – we will so dazzle them with our technology that they can not fail to be overcome…yup…hasn’t worked for the last two decades and it’s not going to now…

Among the faulty assumptions are a demonstration of a total lack of grasp of military operations, culture and human factors – that, today, there are still people in power that believe that what work in one place will, without any supporting evidence work somewhere else: Yemen is not Pakistan is not Afghanistan is not Iraq. This is the same fundamental hubris error that the US made attempting to translate FM 3-24 from its successful implementation in Iraq to the total basket case that is Afghanistan (at any time).

Another is that there is some sort of subtle but vital distinction between launching strikes from an unmanned aircraft and launching them from a manned aircraft or a naval vessel or sharing the luff with a special operations team. Apart from avoiding the potential for inconvenient bodies to be displayed during News at 6, strikes from unmanned aircraft are really, as we all know deep down inside, just another form of national power employed in support of national objectives.

But…there’s always a but…might we assume that an inherent reluctance to be seen to put blood on the line by using drones further undermines national credibility especially in the absence of a declared or properly recognised or accepted conflict? Would the kinetic cross-border campaign against proponents of terror be more credible if it was conducted with manned resources i.e. to be specific, if human resources (a term I generally hate as aren’t resources things to be exploited?) aka nationals of the nation waging the campaign were actually doing the border crossing bit and not, as in the case of unmanned aircraft strikes, sitting back in the relative safety and comfort of an undisclosed top-secret location?

Although his model was flawed and needs further development, David Kilcullen was right – the accidental guerrilla not only exists but is created by precisely this sort of heavy-handed, poorly-formulated use of force. As the author of the article points out, the current campaign in Yemen is focusing on individuals and not on countering or neutralising the actual network in which they exist: control the water and the fish are yours for the taking…continue to play a short game and you are destined to play the short game forever – sort of like Happy Gilmore Hell…The article concludes:

The United States can do a lot of good in Yemen, but it can also do a lot of harm. And right now it is playing a dangerous game, firing missiles at targets in the hopes that it can kill enough men to keep AQAP from plotting, planning, and launching an attack from Yemen. After this terrorism alert that has sent America’s entire diplomatic and intelligence operatives in nearly two dozen countries scrambling, it may be time to rethink that approach in favor of a strategy that’s more sustainable — and more sensible too.

When you consider this statement – which I totally agree with – you might see the fundamental flaw (and irony) of a campaign strategy that employs shock and awe to conduct attrition warfare. As I recall, after the bloodbaths of WW1 and its sequel, we decided that we could do this war-fighting thing a lot smarter and developed concepts of manouevrism and asymmetry. It looks like the only ones that read all those books were the bad guys…


Fight Begins Over Navy’s Armed Drone Program

Fight Begins Over Navy’s Armed Drone Program.

© 2013 National Defense Industrial Association

© 2013 National Defense Industrial Association

This is a really good article. Not only is the title intended to tempt in readers in much the same way as ‘Navy UAV takes on mud-wrestling’ might do but it is effective in that intent… The touch and go flight that was recently successfully conducted aboard the USS George HW Bush is a real advance in unmanned aircraft (UA) technology. As I stated at the time, the earlier catapult launching of the X-47B was a bit of a non-event as a block of concrete can be successfully launched by an aircraft carrier catapult, after which it flies in accordance with its design specifications.

The touch and go was probably even more of a challenge than the arrested landing on a carrier that has yet to occur. This is because an arrested landing is exactly that – the aircraft will stop (arrest) whether it really wants to or not (unless it’s an F-35C where the hook may or may not engage or simply bounce over the wire). In a touch and go, the UA must land on the carrier, remained aligned with the flight deck and take off again until its own power – no catapult-assisted kick in the rear to help out.

Now we are starting to see some real operating concepts being rolled out for an unmanned combat aircraft (UCA??) that give us some idea of how such a capability may be employed to complement the manned component of an aircraft carrier’s air wing and, by inference, the manned component of other air combat forces. Unfortunately the fight mentioned in the title is not over how we will use UCAs but more over who might build them and does the builder of the concept development platform have an unfair advantage over other contenders for the production run. This resurrects shades of the USAF KC-X tanker and light attack aircraft trainer (LAAT) programmes where the bigger issue was not which was the best aircraft for the role but who was going to make to damn things…


AT-6 Texan II


KC-46 refuelling a B-2 © 2013 National Defense Industrial Association

UCLASS will operate autonomously most of the time, but a pilot will control the aircraft during critical mission segments. Ultimately, Lockheed wants its design to allow one operator to fly as many as four aircraft at the same time, he said. “There’s going to be inherent systems aboard the aircraft and in the loop that will ensure safe separation” between the drones.

There are some interesting themes in this short paragraph…

“…will operate autonomously most of the time, but a pilot will control the aircraft during critical mission segments…” Please define ‘autonomously’: does this mean that the UCA will operate ‘most of the time’ thinking for itself, making its own decisions on how it will conduct tasks in the a similar manner to how the pilot/crew of a manned aircraft conduct themselves? Watch out, Skynet, here comes the competition!! Or, does it mean that the UCA will operate automatically for those portions of its mission where a human operator is not required, for example, during long transits through permissive (no credible bad guys) airspace or other ‘boring stuff’? One of the biggest problems facing the UA community is the misuse of UA-related terminology within the military and by the media and the public. We may not be able to do too much about the latter two but we can certainly get it right within our own communities…autonomous ≠ automatic!!

“…to allow one operator to fly as many as four aircraft at the same time…” Uh-huh…just how will this work when things get ‘busy’? I would say that this task would be a challenge akin to chainsaw-juggling (engines revving) and would question whether the human mind, even assisted by notional AI and the best situational awareness tools available will be severely challenged to keep track of multiple UCAs performing anything more than the most mundane of ‘bus-driving’ tasks…

“…between the drones…” OMG, see the point about getting the terminology right…a drone in nature and in technology is just that – why do you think it is not considered exactly complimentary to refer to someone as a ‘drone’? A drone is a semi-expendable minion, not noted for its ability for free thought or great displays of initiative. A military drone is something like the Teledyne Ryan ones flown over Vietnam et al in the 60s, or the good old CL-289 taught to glazed-eye tactics students during the Cold War.


A ‘drone’ is not the interactive, responsive tool that most contemporary UA are, even those acquired from Toyword, Ebay, or Trademe. We really need to square away the semantics within the UAS community so that we can sing off the same sheet of music to the uninitiated and not simply muddy the waters further. If this doesn’t come from the UAS community, it will be inflicted upon it by those unaware and uninitiated who think a drone is something to be afraid of – not because it is so dumb but because it might (apparently) take over the world…

So let’s keen an eye on progress with the X-47B and the upcoming US UCA competition but let’s also not be so blinded by its coolness that we don’t forget our own responsibilities towards enlightenment and responsibility.

The first law of aircraft…

…acquisition is that it must look good and thus Euro Hawk stumbles at even that first hurdle…

I subscribe to a digest of UAS-related issues from the Small Wars Council – often it lies dormant for weeks but this evening it delivered this corker item from Germany…an absolute how-NOT-to of aircraft (yes, unmanned aircraft ARE aircraft too) acquisition…

…because, of course, the second rule of aircraft acquisition is that it must actually meet a user requirement. One of the great idiocies of UA in the last decade is that people who really should know better are regarding UA as capabilities in their own right. The sad unfortunate and inconvenient truth is that UA are just like any other aircraft in that they provide a means to carry a capability through the air to (hopefully) create or apply specific effects. Those effects will probably fall into one of three functional groups of air power: Sense, Move, or Engage.

Some way down the acquisition path, there will be a decision point where the nature of the aircraft may need to be considered in terms of whether it should have seats or not. This decision should be based on a number of factors driven to a large extent by the environment in which it is expected that the aircraft will operate. And this is where the German methodology for Euro Hawk (assuming that such exists) unravels…surely not even the most zealous proponent on unmanned aircraft would realistically accept for a second that a large UA like Euro Hawk was ever going to be allowed to operate in the congested skies over western Europe?

The ‘sense and avoid’ issue is a bit of a red herring…the problem is not those airspace users that play by the rules: it is those that do not who pose the greater threat – unfortunately, as in so many things, it is the actions of the few that shape the rules that govern the many. The airways would most probably be far safer if all large aircraft flew automated courses, controlled by a central skynet air traffic control. Human error is one of the more common causes of air incidents and thus a higher, not lesser, degree of automation in the airways would promote flight safety. The Sully Sullenberger’s of the world aside, if a large modern aircraft suffers a major systems failure, the skill and experience of the crew is only so capable of countering that failure. The main benefit of a flight crew aboard an aircraft in distress is their real-time situational awareness that is denied to a emote operator.

But, getting back to the Germans…half a billion euros down the gurgler for a capability that it not only cannot operate at home but that it probably should not have ever thought it could so until UA are integrated into civilian airspace, something that is unlikely to occur on a large scale any time soon. But, airworthiness and compliance issues with Northrop-Grumman aside (get better contract writers), this investment need not be wasted. There is nothing stopping Germany entering into an agreement with one of more other nations for its Euro Hawks, if ever delivered, or a replacement UA (if they really really must have a UA in this class and not a more flexible manned ISR platform), to operate in someone else’s less congested airspace to maintain air and ground crew proficiency and possibly contribute to other outputs. There has been discussion that UK Reapers (which also cannot fly in western European airspace) may be based in Kenya to do exactly this. If Kenya does not appeal, why not Australia or New Zealand…?


UA are no  more capabilities in their own right than manned aircraft. Aircraft are a means of getting a capability to a specific point to create a  desired effect, and (ideally) back again.

Don’t give up the dream but definitely stop stoking the fire for premature integration of UAs into congested civilian airspace – just stoke the embers for now.

Read the contract before you sign it – if you don’t like it, then bin it (before you commit half a billion euros) and wait or identify a replacement supplier. Northrop Grumman is not the only player in this game.

The age of manned aircraft is not over yet.

Think outside the square – does your large expensive UA really have to be based at home?

UAVs: hit or miss?

out-00061Terrifying video captures moment German drone missed Afghan plane carrying 100 passengers by just two metre | Mail Online.

Pitiful attempts at contemporary journalism like this get right up my nose! Not only is it poor practice to take an incident that occurred nine years ago and portray it in such a manner that it appears to be a recent occurrence, it is even worse to do it on a topic that a. the ‘journalist’ in question clearly know nothing about; and b. in such a manner that all the ignorati out there that take the internet as gospel will break out their pitchforks and torches.

In all fairness, I may be just a little sensitive with regard to the time issue as I have just completed a university marking marathon in which I have been disappointed at the number of students that think that they can take an incident in one point in time and link it casually to another event some time later.

It’s also a beef I have with Max Boot’s latest book Invisible Armies where he takes a stance that a coercive approach to quelling irregularity, insurgency and other signs of unrest amongst ‘the people’ is counter-productive and ultimately leads to the downfall of the coercing regime. I take issue with this because

a. I think that historically, the coercive approach has actually been more successful than more populist forms of maintaining peace and order;

b. it is a big leap to link the downfall of a regime to the sacking of a city or decimation of a population some centuries (yes, centuries, not decades) before’ and

c. there are just as many indications that ‘peace, love and we’ll-build-you-a-schoolhouse’ approach to pacification is not that successful, regardless of its current contemporary favour.

The constructive advice I give to students in my markers comments is to to construct a timeline of events that MAY be relevant to their argument and then to examine that timeline to see if they can still draw a causal line between an event and the outcome that they wish to link it to e.g. did coalition application of Warden’s Rings theory, specifically to Iraqi leadership, in the 1991 Gulf War air campaign directly lead to the capture of Saddam Hussein in December 2004? It almost sounds plausible until out into the context of time…Ms Becky Evans of the Daily Mail – and Max Boot, if you’re reading this – might wish to take note…

UAS operations are no more or no less safe than manned aircraft operations so long as the EXISTING rules are followed. In the case cited above by the Daily Mail, a combination of procedural air traffic control and air crew issues lead to the situation of the near miss, an actual collision being avoided by the crew of the UAS. The involvement of a UAS in a flight safety event does not automatically mean that the UAS is at fault. In another popular example of the dangers of UAS, where an Air National Guard C-130 struck an RG-7 Shadow in Afghanistan, the C-130 was at fault.

The Daily Mail does nothing but stir up ignorance and conceal the issues that do need to be addressed i.e. those of operators, of manned or unmanned systems, that fail to apply the minimum standards for safe operation of aircraft in a specific airspace environment. UAS are small and often fly close to the ground, making them very difficult to detect with time to take evasive action. As a result, airspace management ‘bureaucracy’ like NOTAMs, SPINs, ATOs, etc becomes so much more important for providing the situational awareness required by the operators of manned aircraft: might is only right until it gets to(o) stoopid

‘…with great power comes great responsibility…’ and thus the operators of (more powerful, bigger, faster) manned aircraft have the responsibility to ensure that they deconflict with UAS approved to operate in a  given area of airspace. There is little to be done about the cowboys on either side of the manned/unmanned fence that do not play by the rules e.g. the jet jocks that think that flying in a combat zone means they can zoom and boom wherever they like, or the private contractor that just flips their undeclared Ebay UAS into the sky because everyone knows that ‘…it’s a big-ass sky…’ apart from breeding those elements out of the aviation culture and fostering a sense of air-mindedness amongst anyone that thinks they need to operate an aircraft (with or without seats).

Here is New Zealand, small UAS fly commercially almost every day with the permission and blessing of the Civil Aviation Authority. They fly in and over urban areas, and in controlled airspace. How do they get away with it? Because the operators reviewed the rules, assessed the risk and offered a mitigation philosophy to the CAA. When, and only when, that mitigation philosophy was accepted, they were in business – literally.

The genie of small UAS proliferation is already out of the bottle, and it is unlikely that it will ever get drawn back in – not when camera-equipped UAS can be purchased from any Toys’r’Us – like so many other genies, small UAS are something that we need to get to grips with and the time for that is now…


Throw the pin!!

Our morning routine during the week goes something like wake around 0610, jug on…shower, dress etc…breakfast and a cuppa in front of TV1’s Breakfast show – really the only morning show in town plus it has an onscreen clock for those that need to be out the door by a certain time each morning…

Some issues were discussion this morning that I thought worthy of further comment…

The Gilmore GrenadeAaron-Gilmore-national-6_w452

A couple of weeks back, lowest listed National Party MP, Aaron Gilmore, lipped off at the staff in a bar in Hamner Springs when they refused to serve him. Although he denies it, accounts from staff and others in his party (dobbed by your buds, Aaron!!)  confirm that he threatened to get the Prime Minister to fire the staff member in question. Like, y’know, the PM just sits around like some sort of political Gargamel waiting to smite down any who dare to oppose his lowliest listed MP…

I’d never heard of this clown until the week before when he ‘starred” (not in the positive sense of the word) on Backbenchers, a local political talk-back session that screens every Wednesday night after Strike Back…which is not to say that I am a big fan of Strike Back or anything else derived from Chris Ryan but we have taken a bit of a shine to Elementary which screens just before it…A bit of a shine? Nah, let’s be honest about it – I prefer it over the overhyped pretension of Sherlock and the buffoonery of Robert Downey’s big screen Holmes AND it’s got not only a female Watson as a nice bit of contemporisation but it’s Lucy Liu who could also be described simply as a ‘nice bit’…

Anyway…back to clown boy…the topic for discussion that night was the passage of the same sex marriage act and the National Party representative aka clown boy was clearly unprepared and tried to bluster his way through the discussion – really he should just have had another pint and slid quietly under the table. So, it wasn’t really any surprise when news broken on his antics in Hamner Springs the following week. Since then we’ve all gotten to watch the Aaron Show as he has denied, apologised, denied again…I think it was a caller on Radio Live that suggested that the following night, Gilmore should have fronted at the bar, apologised (sincerely) to everyone and tossed a couple of grand on the bar…

Last night he announced his resignation from Parliament to a big sigh of relief from everyone – who says that the parties can not agree unanimously on anything? – but promising utu (revenge or payback) on ‘those responsible in his final speech today…while we all wait with baited breath to learn the contents of the Gilmore grenade today, my only advice to Clown Boy is “Throw the pin, Aaron!!

Just get on with it now…2727_auckland-convention-centre-bid-skycity

Before the 2011 election the Government announced its plans to create a national convention centre in central Auckland in partnership with Sky Casino – all the usual haters fired up at the time but now that Government has announced details of this project and the specifics of the relationship with the casino. Essentially, the casino will fund the construction of the convention centre – a projected cost around $420 million – in return for concessions to expand its number of pokie machines and gaming tables, and for some guarantee of protection from future anti-gaming legislation.

All the haters are in full cry again now, having squandered the last year and a half in which they could have sought to block the project. I’m not a big fan of gambling but I also don’t think that a few more pokie machines and gaming tables in the centre of Auckland is going to rip the fabric of the space-time continuum, certainly not when these and other forms of gambling continue to flourish across the country. If the Greens and Labour whiny-haters really wanted to do something about this, then instead of wasting the period from the flash of the initial announcements in 2011 to the bang of the confirmations this week, they could/should have:

Come up with their own plan for funding the construction of the convention centre – no-one really seems to think that this is a bad idea – noting the country is kinda broke due to the unforeseen need to rebuild a major city from scratch.

Developed their own comprehensive AND practical plan for reducing access to to gambling systems and machines across the country – including Lotto and the good old TAB.

Realised that there is more to be in opposition than just attacking everything that the Government does – the continual bleating from David Shearer, the ‘leader’ of the Opposition is just irritating – we might as well bring back Winston Peters: at least he’s entertaining and, funnily enough, was canny enough to include an anti-pokie stand in his manifesto for the 2011 election…

Nutty is as nutty does…

Apparently, in a fit of rampant nannystatism, schools are Australia are banning nuts from school lunches to protect those with nut-based allergies…I kid you not!! Is this a clear case of schools abdicating themselves of even more responsibility when, if there ever was something that kids need some education on, it is dealing with potentially lethal conditions like this…wrapping them in nanny state cotton wool will only prepare them LESS for the real world…

And speaking of things in the real world…



An interesting hype piece X-47B UCAS Launches the Next Era of Naval Aviation popped up on the FB feed this morning – and that’s all it is, more X-47 hype.

You can launch a 40 foot container off the end of a US Nimitz-class aircraft carrier so tossing an X-47 off the pointy end of a carrier is not really an achievement in itself. The real achievement and major step ahead for naval aviation will come when an X-47 lands autonomously on the blunt end of an aircraft carrier, catching the ‘3’ wire and all that other good Maverick stuff (will be be equipped for the mandatory post-mission high fives?), as the business of carrier aviation goes on around it – so long as some dodgy Chinese fiend doesn’t pop an electromagnetic pulse just as the UAV commits to landing on the deck – maybe there should be an extra Phalanx under the ramp – just in case…?

Please, don’t get me wrong…I think that the technology going into the X-47 programme is way cool and probbaly heard the next full generational of unmanned aviation but…please…stop with the endless hype…

PS…if you want to have a credible blog site, Navy Live, grow a set and stop moderating your comments…


COA airspace map with Deming removed

How appropriate that the air port inside the Flight Test Center Airspace is Truth or Consequences Airport? Maybe we could have one called Put up of Shut Up?

Inside the drone economy discusses US plans to establish six UAS test flight areas within the continental UAS, and the current battle between the states to acquire one of these potentially lucrative areas. I just wonder, with our relatively clear and open airspace, domestically and over the big blue thing, whether we have lost an opportunity in attracting UAS-related technologies to New Zealand for test flight and other experimental activities…?


Fresh of the presses at Deep Diver Intel as I was typing this…for reasons unknown but bound to be scary, Global Hawk gets a US$555 million reincarnation to 2015…has anyone done any counter-UAS research on the effects of silver bullets, holy water and wooden stakes on aging technologies that just won’t die…?

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above | The Daily Post

Ingenious mouse trap at Unwin Hut

Looking down on a novel and innovative mousetrap in A Department of Conservation hut near Mt Cook during a school trip in 1981…the beer bottle is wrapped in a sock to stop it rolling away and had a chunk of cheese jammed in the opening…the rest is simple physics…

As much as I aspire to always use my own images in these challenges, this time I can’t resist putting in a plug for my mate, Rowland at Hawkeye UAV who has combined cutting-edge geospatial technologies with state of the art small UAS technologies for the ultimate in commercially-useful look-down applications. In addition, this is largely based on Kiwi home-grown innovation and smarts…

This imagery is from a recent task over New Plymouth, New Zealand and over a clearly urban area which gives the lie to the know-it-all doomsayers that state that small UAS can not operate safely over urban areas…

Hawkeye UAV New Plymoutn 2013-1

Hawkeye UAV New Plymouth 2013-2

…don’t forget that this is a 3D image – as you scroll it the perspective and relationships between features on the ground change…

Hawkeye UAV New Plymouth 2013-3

…and all done from Hawkeye’s own AreoHawk UAS…

Weekly Photo Challenge: From Above | The Daily Post

Click to view some very cool imagery…even if it is only New Plymouth….

Off to a good start for the Year of the Snake

Latest update in from the lads at Hawkeye UAV…homegrown Kiwi technology in action!!

North Otago, New Zealand

Early in the New Year we travelled to the South Island to undertake a large task in the Waitaki river valley. The task consisted of the hi res survey of multiple wetlands and other sites earmarked for conservation along a 30km section of the valley in the vicinity of Kurow, North Otago. Having driven down from Christchurch we approached Kurow from the North and it was immediately apparent that the Waitaki river was in flood. A quick drive around the area, checking out both the Waitaki and Aviemore Dams confirmed that there was plenty of flow coming down.


After booking ourselves into the mighty Waitaki Hotel we settled into our stay and got on with the planning. With myself and David this time was Drew Gwyer, of Hawkeye UAV Americas, a very experienced aviator doing his “apprenticeship” on the AreoHawk. It was his second day in New Zealand too, so the rapid change from Maine, to Auckland, to Palmerston North and then ultimately Kurow was probably pretty eye opening! We did manage to treat him to some nice weather down there which was undoubtedly a good contrast to the snowstorms at home.


Damn hard to beat a North Otago pub!!!!

On the morning of the second day, complete with our bountiful packed lunches prepared by the tavern staff, we headed out early to begin flight ops. We had in the region of 12 tasks to conduct over the coming days, some of quite significant size (7-8km²). We managed a full day of flying with three full sorties and a good start to our overall programme of work.


We received reassuring confirmation that our published NOTAM (Notice To Airmen) had been observed by the local helicopter operators too, who checked in with us and maintained safe clearance via radio communications during their operations alongside us in the valley.

The next day started out well but unfortunately was soon blowing 50-70km/h of wind and while we did launch and test the conditions, it was plain that it wasn’t ideal for accurate data capture.


Once we had resumed flying ops we began making good progress along the valley and through our tasks. We operated from a variety of sites, most of them adjacent to the river or on farmland nearby, having been up and down on the first day and arranged access with the property owners.



During the 6 days down in the Waitaki we lost a couple of days to weather, both from wind and rain and that did give us a chance to visit Oamaru and Moeraki and also to further Drew’s exposure to the great kiwi flat white. We did finish the job successfully despite the weather hiccups and bade farewell to the Waitaki Hotel and its friendly staff, heading back north to Christchurch for our return home with a hard drive full of raw imagery for processing.

Reno, Nevada USA

Later in January Hawkeye UAV travelled to the USA to put on a series of demonstration flights in conjunction with Hawkeye UAV Americas (HUA), at Reno-Stead airfield in Nevada. This was in part sponsored by the good folks from the Reno-Tahoe Airport Authority who have a state sponsored initiative to promote the growth of the UAV industry at Reno-Stead, which is also home to the Reno Air Races. To say they were warmly accommodating doesn’t really do them service, they were fantastic. On the threshold of the lesser used cross vector runway at Reno-Stead they had set up a luxurious tent complete with gas heating, coffee and catering to keep us all in great style. What we also had but hadn’t bargained for was a lot of snow on the ground! Being mid-Winter Nevada did not disappoint, providing mind-focussing temperatures a couple of degrees above freezing. I must also add that being accommodated at a Casino-Hotel was a bit of an experience for us kiwis who can count the total number of real casinos at home on just one hand.


The plan for the week here was to demonstrate the setup, flight and capability of the AreoHawk system to a steady stream of VIP guests from a range of interested industries, culminating with a media day on the final day. With the help of HUA we got underway on the first day, and after a coffee or two and warming our hands we launched the Hawk into the crisp but sunny skies of Reno-Stead, which rests at 5,000’ above sea level.


We had an allocated “flight box” for our use from surface to 700’ AGL north and east of our location and proceeded to survey it, snow and all. Photographing snowy ground, especially from altitude, was going to present an interesting proposition and not something we had undertaken before, so we were curious to see just how well it would turn out, both the imagery and the point cloud.

Orthomosaic result from Reno-Stead demo flights

As it turned out, the results were very good. Here’s a snapshot of the orthomosaic generated. Note the tent and vehicles in the bottom right corner.

In all, we flew the Hawk four times in three days, with lots of news media and VIPs in attendance for the final flight. This one, like the preceding flights went completely without a hitch, and the interviews and questions afterwards lasted longer than the duration of the sortie!


Links to the corresponding media articles and news footage is here on our facebook page.

While at Reno-Stead we were also very fortunate to see some very cool aircraft, including a MiG-21 that did circuits right next to us, and we got to visit Aviation Classics, an amazing repair and custom refit shop.



Surveyors leading the way with UAV technology

The first UAV operator’s course of the year was run from the end of January through to mid-February. On the course were two staff from Beasley and Burgess Surveyors Ltd of Northland, and two from Juffermans Surveyors Ltd, of New Plymouth. Both companies have purchased AreoHawk systems and their operators have now completed training ready to undertake survey work with their new gear.

Hawkeye UAV Ltd’s commitment to ongoing support and working relationships will see us maintaining a mentoring and flight supervision role, plus providing advice and assistance with planning.

Kevin O’Connor and Associates Ltd of Palmerston North are the third North Island survey firm to purchase an AreoHawk system and their training is about to begin in the coming weeks.

Engagement with survey companies is a great step forward for us. Each one is in a distinct area or province and allows greater reach of our UAV technology into these areas. Surveyors have existing client bases that will be well-served by the AreoHawk system and will also now be able to control their own aerial photography and 3D terrain requirements of all sizes, without the need for outsourcing. Additionally, all their data will be processed at home in New Zealand rather than offshore.

More operations from Birlik Harita in Turkey

These photos are from our Turkish partners during a Cadastral Survey along the long and narrow Datça Peninsula. Datça has nine villages scattered along the peninsula. These are; Cumalı, Emecik, Hızırşah, Karaköy, Kızlan, Mesudiye, Sındı, Yakaköy, Yazıköy. The local villagers were intrigued with the UAV and spent all day with the crew from Birlik Harita.






New Zealand domestic services work

The following photograph is of Gareth in the Kawekas while on a Department of Conservation task monitoring pinus contorta. For this we conducted both RGB and NIR (Near Infra-Red) orthophotography at 4cm resolution. The area where the photo was taken is the only clear area of significance within the regulated flight range. This did cause some added thought to how to launch and recover the UAV, however that is part and parcel of the job. The start of the year has been mostly orthophotos, some with NIR and some without. We certainly welcome any task and hope to make the most of the great summer here in New Zealand at the moment.

!cid_0f4d4ccb90ce9d69500d2231273f05b4Wondering when this new-fangled technology will be gracing out skies more…? One really has to wonder why an ISR-short Government isn’t latching on to this…