Drone Flights Over the US

The EFF has been prying data out of the government and analyzing it.

Posted on December 12, 2012 at 6:06 AM • 19 Comments


Clive RobinsonDecember 12, 2012 8:50 AM

@ KingSnake,

I think the US has become a hollowed out nation.

Ask your self how long befor the "RoboCop" type corperations will take over the DHS functions for "cost efficiency reasons" that privatization benifits that are allways promised but never get delivered.

And after that how long it will then be before Drugs Cartels use these corporations for money laudering and as a way to buy off political etc interferance in what would then be their "Drug Homeland Supplies" base with direct unfettered access across the borders?

At that point the US and South American economies would be even closer than they are today and I guess the US would be trying to peg the Dollar to the the Venezuelan bolivar ;-)

NobodySpecialDecember 12, 2012 9:16 AM

>Drugs Cartels use these corporations
At which point drug use in the US would effectively end.
Once the drug lords become corporations they will start spending the majority of their time auditing accounts and undergoing Powerpoint presentations about internal restructuring.

Prices will rise and drug use will slump and marketing men will produce more Powerpoints about "reconnecting with America's addicts" and defining "a whole new product dynamic".

There will be patent lawsuits and corporate mergers until the only way American's can afford a joint will be if it's covered by medicare.

Clive RobinsonDecember 12, 2012 9:35 AM

And todays star prize question is,

Why would Wyoming want to use a drone to “monitor fugitive methane emissions.” and for that matter What are "fugitive methane emissions"?

But for the more eagle eyed have a look at the chart of Preditor drone risks over New Mexico,

The first point to notice is point 4 which is "Failure of command link" and this is regarded as a "likely" event, this means that the drone is not under direct control and is flying by it's (known to be unreliable) on board system which is a poor cousin of an "Auto Pilot".

The second thing to notice is points 1&2 the discreet use of the word "conflict" which actually means flying into anotther airborne object ranging from another drone through a private plane upto and including the largest of comercial and military aircraft.

These events unsurprisingly are regarded as "catastrophic" but it does not indicate if this is just for the drone, what it crashes into or both. Again unsurprisingly they regard the risk as "High".

But take a closer look at point 2 and think of it in terms of point 4... That is due to command link failur which is a regular occurance, the drone cannot be stopped from flying into something else. What it does not indicate is what has flown up is under these circumsstances very likely to come crashing down...

Which begs the question "Do you realy want these flying over your House, Place of work / school, shoping mall or the roads you drive along to get from one to the other?

Just to look at it another way those other aircraft could well be traffic / news / Emergancy service helicopters as they would share the same airspace as many of the smaller drones, do you want to be in the process of "airlifted" to hospital when a drone that has lost it's command link flying into the tail oor main rotor, just when you have got to that awkward height where the helicopter is going to land catastrophicaly down onto homes and cars beneath?

Oh and with regards "not in airspace" take a look at points 9&15, well the Drones over Afghanistan are known to have been at times over twenty miles away from where their "pilots" thought they were and in one case at night came within just a few feet of an RAF Harrier Jump Jet, it was only by chance the RAF pilot did not realised it was there and managed to take avoiding action. Apparently he was in company of quite a few other "dorne near miss" pilots doing regular flights over Afghanistan supporting ground troops night and day...

AutolykosDecember 12, 2012 10:01 AM

I find those near-collisions strange; don't they have transponders on their drones? Even if only for IFF purposes?

Clive RobinsonDecember 12, 2012 10:14 AM

@ Autolykos,

I find those near-collisions strange; don't they have transponders on their drones? Even if only for IFF purposes

Err not the sort you might be thinking of that are routine in commercial aircraft.

In a war zone having an IFF that broadcast is a good way to get the aircraft shot down...

And that's the problem, if these drones are going to be used for survailance work, it won't take long for high end criminals to work out how to either passivily detect or activly interrogate an IFF so "blowing the drones cover" so there will be preasure to not have IFF active on such drones.

Which also means that in all likely hood they will also push to have the supposed "anti collision" systems turned off as well using the same argument...

GabrielDecember 12, 2012 11:38 AM

From your short post it sounded like the EFF was the one flying the drones. When I opened the link I understood...

FigureitoutDecember 12, 2012 12:17 PM

When I used to take late night runs, (around 11pm), I would spot multiple drones nearly every night; I believe it was a trial period. If there was an error one would've flown into a skyscraper. One time one got so low, I could see it very clearly that it was a drone; not those tiny quad-rotors, a small plane size, the kind you attach weaponry to. I also wondered how on the news, police were able to go exactly to a robbery suspect's apartment the next day; drones were out that night. I'm ok with scientific research, but isn't it SOP to lie about "weather research tech." on that new satellite going up into orbit..? I'm absolutely not ok with any sort of weaponry being attached to domestic drones; that is unacceptable.

Clive RobinsonDecember 12, 2012 6:16 PM

@ Michael Brady,

Can't an IFF be set only to respond to an appropriate inquiry

Yes it can and as far as I'm aware military ones can be setup to only repond to encrypted signals.

That however is not the point in a war zone many aircraft are designed to be as passive as possible esspecialy nearly all the time in the combat areas. Which often means receive only tactical radio untill well outside the combat zone or they come under attack.

In Afghanistan a lot of what was carried out was "trench digging" or more correctly supporting the ground troops when under attack from the Talib. When doing this they would talk over a tactical radio to one of the ground troops but mainly preserve radio silence the rest of the time out of training / habit

This "hole in the sky" behaviour is becoming more common as partial and full stealth technology comes into more frequent use and aircraft cost the better part of 1billion each.

FigureitoutDecember 13, 2012 3:05 AM

As for domestic droning, remember, if it saves one life it's worth it.
@Michael Brady
--Are you equating 1 life with all of American's 4th Amdmt. rights? When the Constitution was made, nearly autonomous flying machines that could use varying parts of the EM spectrum to see you weren't taken into account (which would've been owned by the "RedCoats"); a time machine would be an awesome tool right about now.

JDecember 13, 2012 7:31 AM

Clive, I think we all know what " fugitive methane emitters" are.

You know, when you're with a group of people after eating at Taco Bell, fugitive methane emissions are common, but while they can be detected by the group, it's frequently difficult to assign responsibility for them, leading to arguments about blame.

A small drone with some kind of portable spectrum analyzer seems like a reasonable technical solution to a social problem.

FigureitoutDecember 13, 2012 1:43 PM

A small drone with some kind of portable spectrum analyzer seems like a reasonable technical solution to a social problem.
--Ha oh man, about as reasonable as using a sledgehammer to smash a house of cards. You forgot the taser, to deter further emissions.

Douglas2December 17, 2012 8:18 PM

I may be barking up a wrong tree, but don't most drones using sensors transmit that data/picture back to "home"? I suppose it is possible to use directional HF transmission beaming up to satellite or AWACS-type aircraft and thus minimize the detection ability on the ground, but I would have thought that in most domestic enforcement use these things would be about as stealthy as a TV transmitter.

Clive RobinsonDecember 18, 2012 5:42 AM

@ J,

You know, when you're with a group of people after eating at Taco Bell...

Fortunatly I don't think Taco Bell has made it to the UK in sufficient numbers to be noticable in an olfactory manner.

However what you describe remined me of the "more beans boss" campfire scene in Mel Brook's film Blazing Saddles,


Which apparently has two claims to fame, it was the first scene in a film ever to celebrate this particular issue and secondly it's been voted as the best ever of scene of it's type...

Clive RobinsonDecember 18, 2012 5:55 AM

@ Douglas2,

but I would have thought that in most domestic enforcement use these things would be about as stealthy as a TV transmitter

Yes and no, the transmissiions are likely to be digital not analog and thus of considerably greater bandwidth, and unless you are talking "big boy" drones such as the RQ-1 Preditor or MQ-9 Reaper or RQ-17o Sentinel you will have an issue of electrical power liimiting you to less than a few watts output and unless in the microwave region the ERP won't be that great either.

However it does raise an interesting question, Military/Spy drones have the advantage of lline of sight comms to satellites and other long range aircraft, giving the drone wide range. LEA's are not likely to have such luxuries thus their drones are likely to be limited to less than 2/3 of their height horizon.

averrosDecember 20, 2012 4:56 AM

The problem with drones is that they are usually small and VERY hard to see. Plus the pilot view cameras have resolution and field of view considerably below that of a naked eye.

This makes drones totally incompatible with VFR traffic - it's hard enough to spot a Cessna Skyhawk or any other 2 or 4-seater plane when it's on a collision course (and any GA pilot frequently flying VFR has some stories of near mid-air collisions to tell... and there are at least two pairs of eyes looking!) Spotting drones is much harder, and drone operators are essentially blind.

Clive RobinsonDecember 20, 2012 5:38 AM

@ averros,

The problem with drones is that they are usually small and VERY hard to see

Often for LEA Drones those are the two of the primary design requirments (along with being silent at ground level).

This makes drones totally incompatible with VFR traffic

Yes it does and raises some interesting questions...

For instance, if we assume that LEA/Mil get their way then they will get priority over all but major comercial flight airspace.

Especialy over urban and city environments, this will mean that things like air ambulances will lose significant degrees of freedom to attend serious accidents etc. Likewise the emergancy transportation of time critical patients and donor organs will become affected, as will various news services (live traffic reports etc).

As we know from current CCTV statistics, surveillance rarely prevents crime especialy violent street crime and thuss it can be shown that "electronic eye" surveillance in the ways it usually gets used is actually harmful to society.

That is CCTV and Drones will not prevent serious injury and death, and will in practice reduce the effectivness of those first responders etc tasked with preventing serious injury and death. Thus increasing the likely injury and subsiquent death toll on society not reduce it.

FedosDecember 21, 2012 11:03 AM

Last month I flew into DFW and saw a drone flying over a residential area. It was fixed wing, not a helicopter as described in the record EFF has for the area.

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