UAS’s By Any Other Name

The other day I was looking at my old dictionary. You know, that ten-pound textbook that’s been collecting dust since spell checker took over. It’s interesting that the last few pages list a small collection of acronyms and a few examples of initialism. They referenced agencies like NATO and the FBI but not much else.  If there were ever again a need for printed dictionaries, I would guess that back page section would now take up more space than the A to Z entries.

For years, the computer tech industry has been talking about USBs, Jpgs and a million other abbreviations. And now that we do a lot of writing with our thumbs, even common phases have been shortened to LOL or OMG.  With every new software update, my phone seems to acquire more emoticons so it’s almost as if we are slowly moving back to hieroglyphics. If you can’t think of a snappy response, you simply pick one of those odd happy face characters and let your audience draw their own conclusions. Instead of Instagram, it will soon be pictogram.

Initialism is alive and well in the aviation industry with GPS and ADS-B and is now taking over the nascent drone business. In fact, they are not even called drones anymore. Instead, they are officially UAS or unmanned aircraft systems.

We bought a UAS a year ago, thinking it would be a good way to actually see reclusive birds that are hiding deep in the marsh instead of just listening to that incessant beep on the radio receiver.  Many of the cranes have non-functional transmitters because they only last two or three years. With luck, at least one of the pair has a working unit so we can assume they are together but we can’t be sure. Getting some airborne video helps us confirm they are still safe.

Drones have acquired a reputation as spy devices likely because of their military applications and the rules governing the civilian use of UAS’s are not really understood. Many people assume that a drone flying overhead is up to no good and an invasion of their private property. However, property rights only apply to the surface. Anything above that is part of the NAS or National Airspace and under the jurisdiction of the FAA.

Certainly, a landowner can prohibit a UAS from taking off or landing on private property but flying overhead is legal, providing you follow all the other rules. Drones are not allowed to fly anywhere near an airport and can’t fly too close to people or buildings or above 400 feet. But just like airplanes are allowed to fly low over unpopulated areas, so too can drones.

Still for many people, a drone flying over their property is a hot button and there is a big difference between what is legal and what’s acceptable in a rural setting. To avoid insurance issues and wildlife disturbance concerns many public lands, both state and federal, are no fly zones, which actually means no takeoff or landing zone.

Over 700,000 drones were registered in 2016 and that number is expected to reach 2.4 million by 2020. The FAA has a monumental task trying to find a balance between a rapidly growing UAS market and privacy concerns of the public. We as a society, have learned to live with the fact that we are on camera a dozen times a day as we shop or go to work but most people expect that to end once you are on your own property. 

So for now, our drone isn’t as useful as we had hoped. We do get to fly it with permission and we have found cranes using its high definition camera but annoying local property owners is not worth the return.

Here’s a clip from last October captured by our drone. Can you spot the whoopers?

(You can go fullscreen using the [ ] icon bottom right hand side below the video)

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  1. Grandma August 3, 2017 12:16 pm

    Thank you for the UAS experience! The areas viewed are beautiful from the air, almost like flying!

  2. Dorothy N August 3, 2017 10:31 am

    Are you seeing the picture as the drone flies?? And are you directing it as it flies? I see how it could be very helpful locating “lost” whoopers!

    • Heather Ray August 3, 2017 11:22 am

      yes, we’re able to see what the drone is flying over by watching a tablet or smartphone with the appropriate app software.