To Drone, Or Not To Drone…

To Drone, Or Not To Drone…

There is probably no more contentious subject kicking around aviation gatherings than the topic of small unmanned aerial vehicles, a.k.a. “drones”. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, they are out there, and with energetic Chinese mass-producers capable of churning them out by the hundreds of thousands, they aren’t going to go away. How users and regulators of the public airspace handle them is open to considerable debate.

What bothers a great many pilots is the sudden invasion of the traditionally wide-open airspace, normally usable by our manned aircraft with no threat other than an occasional flock of birds. We didn’t like towers being erected, fireworks displays erupting under us and military ordnance being discharged in our way, and we certainly railed against the imposition of TFRs for no good reason. And now, there are heedless hobbyists, snooping law enforcement and venturesome voyeurs of all kinds, buzzing around with cameras and who-knows-what attached to their quad-copters.

But, is there really a threat? The great majority of drone flyers don’t want to lose sight of their UAV because it represents an investment, and they don’t want it to be run down by a manned airplane. For them, the traditional 400-foot altitude cap is more than enough. “Regular” aircraft pilots, other than agricultural applicators, fly no lower than an 800-foot traffic pattern in normal operation. So far, there’s hasn’t been an identified disaster of a manned aircraft running into a drone and cratering with fatalities. On April 17, a British Airways Airbus, arriving at London Heathrow airport from Geneva, apparently did run into a loitering drone; however, the airplane was allowed to proceed to its next stop after an inspection. There have been a lot of flash-by sightings, but no ingestions by a jet-engine inlet.

So, we’re presenting two views of the Drone Controversy in this issue: John Loughmiller’s comparison of the FAA’s inept handling of the polluting horde of mass-marketed flying objects to an earlier bureaucratic debacle, and Scott Smith’s opposing explanation of how we got here and why drones present an opportunity to revitalize aviation. Some of us are never going to change our mind, for fundamentalist reasons. However, by listening to both sides, I’ve learned a lot about the motivation behind their views. One thing’s for sure; if we expect our government to “fix” this problem, or even identify if one exists, it’ll probably be a fruitless example of “too little, too late,” and it’ll wind up making no one happy. All of us airspace users are going to have to work it out while endless committee meetings and hearings attempt to grind out solutions that don’t solve anything.

Also In This Issue:

Because this is our Citation bonus edition, our cover features a beautiful Paul Bowen rendition of an early-model Citation 500, to accompany a tribute to what is very likely the oldest Citation still in service. N503CC is the third Model 500 built, belying its age while it still fills its role as a corporate transport.

David Miller, president of the Citation Jet Pilots association, contributes to our Citation supplement by detailing his run-in with touch-screen avionics training. Don’t worry, he’s also found in his usual spot as the “On Final” page.

Ever wonder what it would be like to take a single-engine turboprop across the North Atlantic? Todd Hotes shares the experience in a Pilatus PC-12NG, on a company mission to Iceland. To the airplane, of course, this is old hat; the PC-12’s are flown over from the Stans, Switzerland factory by the same route.

Captain Kevin Dingman shares with us his feelings about severing his 25-year relationship with his faithful MD-80. Like anyone who’s had a long-running affair with a willing partner will relate, breaking up is a painful experience. It wasn’t his idea, of course, and finding a replacement won’t be easy.

And Tom Turner reminds us not to neglect our duty to clear ourselves for departure. As he says, “you may be cleared, but are you clear?” He almost witnessed an event with tragic consequences, had not one pilot been alert and ready to avoid disaster.

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