(March 2012) One of the things nearest and dearest to a pilot’s heart is the freedom to move about, to explore, to discover and to see new places with fresh eyes.
This element of discovery is a central part of what flying is to me and why I love it so. It’s been that way from day one. While this sense resonates strongly with Americans, it’s a universal sentiment. Pilot friends throughout the world tell me that airplanes open the world to them in the same way as I describe it to others.
Flying wasn’t the first transportation innovation to change the world. Similar shifts took place millennia ago with the invention of oceangoing vessels and later with the widespread adoption of railroad transportation.
Somehow, though, flying is different from those endeavors both in character and degree. Because we can go so fast and so far in an airplane, air travel compresses both time and space in ways almost unimaginable.
For Americans, freedom to move about has special meaning. It is, in fact, one of the principles on which the United States was founded. It doesn’t matter if you are from Pennsylvania or Florida, Maine or Ohio, you can travel throughout these United States at your pleasure, with no need to show identification or stop to be searched. This freedom to move about is a big part of what aviation is to all of us pilots.
Seeing the country from on high has made me look at America differently. As a kid flying with my family in our Seneca, I saw the wide-open spaces of the West, rugged ranges, wide prairies, rolling hills, cities, highways, rivers and lakes like they were part of a huge globe rolling by beneath me, which I guess they were. It was my home beneath me, my country, my world; it wasn’t just some abstraction. I was seeing it with my own two eyes.
This thought is never far from mind when I fly today; it’s a perspective we would be wise to share with as many prospective pilots as we can.
Robot at 11 o’Clock
Unmanned or remotely piloted aircraft, commonly referred to as “drones,” will be a growing part of the National Airspace System as nonmilitary domestic agencies increasingly get in on the unmanned game.
There are a number of concerns that need to be addressed before this happens, and most of them hit home for general aviation.
One of the potential hazards is that of a remotely piloted craft going out of control and ultimately crashing who knows where. In the light of the possible electronic hijacking of an Air Force drone by Iran late last year, this concern seems a reasonable one.
Whether it’s by accident or by nefarious design, what happens when a remotely piloted aircraft loses communications with its remote pilot? The military isn’t telling us anything about the Sentinel drone, but one hopes there are backups, though if there were, they seem to have failed the waylaid drone that Iran isn’t giving back.
The other big question mark with UAVs is traffic avoidance. With a drone, the whole see-and-avoid approach to collision avoidance becomes a bit one-sided in terms of risk to the “pilot,” the capability to make sensible decisions or both. As pilots, we need to know just what these drones will do when they “see” other traffic, since that other traffic will almost certainly be us. With TCAS II, the pilots flying who are involved in a resolution advisory (RA) can be told what to do only because the traffic avoidance systems are “talking” to each other. No such capability exists on most GA airplanes that are likely to come into contact with drone traffic at 11 o’clock and one-half mile. What the real pilot chooses to do might in fact mirror what the drone “chooses” to do.
Until the question of exactly how remotely piloted or, even worse, autonomously piloted craft will avoid traffic in unrestricted airspace is answered in excruciating detail, it’s impossible for us to endorse any expansion of the rights of robot airplanes.