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UTM TCL 4 Takeaway

NASA sent out an email for the press to come out to Reno, Nevada to see/hear about UTM. I had always wondered why I never got the invite in the past to come out for a preview of the unmanned deus ex machina.

I didn’t get the email personally and was alerted by Werner at the SF Drone School Research Center. I used to think that possibly I was persona non grata because I am on NASA’s Interplanetary Poo-list.   

Newcomers to the ecosystem: please understand that I am a UTM (UAM) interloper. I’ve been grousing about NASA’s Drones is the NAS work since before the UTM and all the way back to Access 5. Access 5 and the preceding ERAST Bauer-doggles are a story for another time.  Pardon the digression, but I am trying to establish an experience reference that transcends the empty cart on the Best Buy website (further explanation later in the story).

On the drive up from Sacramento, the weather was looking not so bueno, and things only got worse since it was snowing as we went over the Donner Summit. In Reno, it was a little cloudy and windy, but still flyable. We met in the City Hall Council Hall for the press conference.   

You can also check the @sUASNews #twitter feed for additional videos and pictures.

Then we went outside for the national media presentation and some test card action. It appears that the testing is done with Chinese drones (airframes), as Pixhawk got mentioned numerous times, but verification would take further investigation. The whole process needs an independent third party observation in my estimation, which would require much more coordination and preplanning. With that said, these are cursory observations from a guy who didn’t get to see the test cards. Not to say that they were being held close to the safety vest; I didn’t ask because people were working.    

To expand on comments I made on social media and elsewhere, the forecast(s) has the commercial drone pilots mushrooming regardless of all other indicators: FAA data, and private forecasts. Pour a few million RC hobbyists into the mix, and finally a thousand Uber flying car sorties, and I am very skeptical about the viability of the reserved airspace model and everyone acting as they should. We already know that notion has not worked well in the drone ecosystem. Sure, it works in the onsie-twosie-threesie simulation world, but we just don’t have enough separation in the urban airspace envelope under 400’ AGL IMHO.

Since you asked, I think there is still too much simulation and too many assumptions, especially considering the scale back of USS providers from TCL 3.  

Interoperability needs to be worked out and certifiable Detect and Avoid needs to be solved (or I’d even be happy with a baseline standard established), and what is on existing consumer drones is not it. We will also need V2V comms and reliable C2 beyond just the magical cellphone network. I also believe a study needs to be done to establish what exactly is happening in the NAS on any given day. Understand that I am not deriding the work of the people in the field, who are there trying to move the ball forward and face an undoubtedly frustrating process.

Some of you may have read some of my misgivings about the TCL 4, which only a few people at NASA have read. Advice to the NASA people: Read your own stuff and sing from the same sheet of music. For fans of the UAM: You should listen to the director of Aeronautics at NASA Ames Huy Tran’s statements on the SoundCloud link above. Please don’t think I am not a true UAM believer; I do believe that parts, pieces, and components of the UAM are the future of aviation. I also understand that there is no UAM without UTM, and, with that said, I wish we could streamline the process by getting the FAA to buy in genuinely.  NASA needs to double or triple down on the funding, and with some solid direction and leadership from the FAA, the UTM could become a reality much sooner.

Background on your author and thank you –

Those of you who are used to consuming only prattle for hire at the selfie blogs may not know this, but your author did a stint as the High Altitude Test Bed Flight Director for the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command Battle Lab. We were involved in copious amounts of communications and data transfer testing and R&D for many of the DoD vendors and cellphone node equipment. In my charge were twenty some odd folks and millions of dollars in equipment, all coordinated and integrated within the confines of the NIE held at White Sands Missile Range. I must say that the Future Warfare work at White Sands has thus far been the highlight of my professional career.  

A big thank you to the readers and advertisers of the sUAS News. It is always lovely to hear how much people rely on sUAS News for the real story, and the views and opinions that are not available anywhere else. Gary and I put a lot of effort and time into giving the community a voice and inclusive venue for small business, the hobbyist/tinkerer/innovators, STE(A)M teachers, their supporters, and everyone in-between.    

Some historical Reno related sUAS events –

2004 –

The now infamous Cracker Barrel was dispatched for a commercial aerial photography job in Reno circa 2004. No UTM or anything else and it went off without a hitch. My hat is off to Reno as they have done much revitalization since then.

2005 –

Fourteen years ago this month the ASTM F-38 meeting was kicked off at the Hilton Reno Resort. RCAPA already had a written program in place that addressed, pilot and aircraft certification, maintenance as well as registration. We came with concise answers to many of the barriers that the FAA still struggles with to this day. Tens of millions of taxpayer dollars could have been saved as well as the lead the U.S.A. had in UAS.

2017 –

The FAA Drone Advisory Committee held meetings in January, revisiting the same assumptions without data was comforting and frustrating at the same time.   

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