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Are UAVs the Next Disruptive Technology in Aviation?

Like many of you, I’m a bit of an aviation junkie.  Of late my favorite drug has been UAVs for a variety of reasons.  Admittedly they are not as sleek and sexy as big airliners or even private jets.  They don’t carry the pure speed and maneuverability of military jets, but they sure are a major point of debate right now.

The predator has been in use since 1994 by the military but is quickly finding other users.

The predator has been in use since 1994 by the military but is quickly finding other users.

Everyone is starting to have an opinion on UAVs, whether it be as an aviation nut, or as someone concerned with privacy issues (honestly an aspect of the debate I really don’t understand, but I have nothing to hide).  There was even an article on CNN this week

about a group that is working towards having commercial aircraft with no pilot.

Personally I don’t know that that will ever happen for a number of reasons.  The largest being I think it will be a hard sell to most people to trust a computer at 40,000 feet.  I also don’t really see the point as you will still need someone to control it.  Even if one person could control two or three from the ground you are still talking about a person that will garner quite a hefty wage, but that is likely a debate for another article.

A few months back I remember reading an article about disruptive technology in aviation.  Even with all of the advances made over the years, you could argue that the last truly disruptive technology development was when jet engines were first used.  It completely altered the possibilities of aviation.  You could carry substantially more, at a much faster rate, across much longer distances.  It truly raised the ceiling on aviation.

But since that time, everything else has simply been essentially enhancing what we already have.  GPS has had a tremendous impact, but it is just another form of navigation, and let’s be honest, could there be anything more potentially disruptive than taking the pilot out of the airplane?

There were various forms of lighter than air travel in the forms of balloons and gliders in full size and model form, but until the Wright Brothers successfully achieved manned, powered flight the floodgates of aviation had been held back.  We may very well be at the point of such a flood again.

Just imagine the possibilities.  In the small-scale you have police agencies and farmers that are already utilizing this technology to enhance their efforts.  Random people are securing small UAVs just for recreational purposes, and finding any number of different capabilities.

If a UAV can takeoff and land on a carrier, what can't they do? (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tony D. Curtis/Released)

If a UAV can takeoff and land on a carrier, what can’t they do? (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tony D. Curtis/Released)

On a much larger scale the military is already utilizing UAVs all over the world.  They provide essential intelligence gathering capabilities to the war fighter that would other wise put people in great danger.  I could even see future cargo aircraft having no crew on-board.  Imagine how much more time and cost efficient operations would be if you didn’t have to worry about duty days, hotels, and per diem.

Naturally that would translate to the civilian cargo sector where the benefits could be even larger.  FedEx and UPS pilots are some of if not the highest paid pilots in the industry.  I am sure that they would both be happy to eliminate large numbers of pilots that they are paying $300,000 plus a year.  The planes are already capable of doing  a lot of the work themselves anyway, so how hard will it be to take the next step?

I honestly feel like we are at least 15-20 years away from any of this happening on a large-scale, but technology is adapting at a faster rate than it ever has before, so I could be wrong.  Whether it is 5 years or 50 years the one thing that is certain is that UAVs have already created quite a disruption and I have a feeling they will continue to do so for a long time.

September 17, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

X-47B UCAS-D Performs First Arrested Landing

There are a few things that I have become completely obsessed with recently in aviation.  One of the biggest ones is the development of UAVs.  There are so many amazing new technologies and new applications that we haven’t even considered yet.  How about using them on aircraft carriers?

It is hard enough for a pilot in the seat to land on a carrier, so how good will a computer do?  Only time will tell, but the Navy is getting one step closer.

Northrop Grumman has been working with the Navy on developing the X-47B, an Unmanned Carrier Air System Demonstration (UCAS-D).  The first flight took place a little over two years ago on land, and then over this last weekend it performed its first arrested landing, also on land.  According to NavalDrones.com this is leading up to carrier flight tests that are scheduled to start later this month on the USS George H. W. Bush.

 

 

NavalDrones.com has a great collection of videos of the X-47B that follow its development from the beginning.

It will be interesting to continue to follow the development of this and other carrier-borne systems.

May 6, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.

UAV Education and Training Essential for Their Growth

One of the things I love most about aviation is that we have not even come close to reaching the ceiling of what we can do.  What is very interesting about aviation just over 100 years after man achieved powered flight is that we are now removing the man from the cockpit.  While we will not likely remove the pilot completely from the cockpit in my lifetime, it is fascinating to see the developments in unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.

One of the most important aspects of any developing industry is the education and training available to help the industry grow.  Like much of the rest of the aviation industry, much of the training for UAVs comes from the military, and filters to other organizations, to include the civilian sector.  Now the civilian sector is developing its own education and training, to include college degrees.

The newly formed Middle Georgia State College is developing a UAV certification program that they hope will set the stage for the college being selected as one of six UAV commercial use test sites in the US.  The college has already received two certificates of authorization to fly and test their own UAVs, and expects to receive three more this year.

The local newspaper in middle Georgia, The Telegraph, wrote an interesting article about the many uses of UAV technology that the school has already experimented with.  Many people are aware of the military, police, and border security use of UAVs, but they have also proven to be valuable assets in the agricultural industry.  They can be used to make crop dusting more efficient and effective through analyzing the crops and only applying pesticides where they are needed.

This is just one more example of the many applications of aviation that were likely never considered by the Wright Brothers over 100 years ago.  While there will continue to be opposition from pilots who don’t want to leave the cockpit, UAVs will clearly play a vital role in the future of aviation as the training and education continues to improve.

January 3, 2013 I Written By

I'm Dave and I am a proud Avgeek. It goes way beyond liking airplanes. It is a passion that cannot be subdued.