Murphy's Law: April 8, 2005


The are more UAVs in the air over Iraq than over the United States, and the main reason is air safety. Low flying UAVs in Iraq have been running into things, like helicopters or large aircraft coming in for a landing. In the United States, the FAA is giving the military a hard time when it comes to UAVs flying wherever they want. While many small, private aircraft are allowed to fly over the U.S. with minimal planning and control, these aircraft have people on board who can see things coming. UAVs have no one on board, and ground controllers have a very limited view of what flying objects are in the vicinity. UAV sensors concentrate on whats below. In combat zones, the rules are relaxed a bit, but the army is worried about the situation. Its mainly an army problem, because most of the UAVs are flying below a thousand feet, and all the army UAVs are flying below 10,000 feet. The air force keeps nearly all its aircraft over 10,000 feet. Ultimately, the UAV operators could constantly reports the location of their aircraft to a local air space controller, but for now many UAVs are being equipped with a strobe light. The smallest (under ten pound) UAVs are too light for that, but are also too light to do much damage during collisions with helicopters. However, under the right conditions (chopper and UAV meeting head on while both are traveling a high speed), a collision could bring down a helicopter and kill people. Most likely recipe for a UAV collision disaster are an ambush, followed by the arrival of medevac choppers and helicopter gunships, at night, while a small UAV circles the area. When the first fatal collision happens, there will be a lot of attention paid to solutions. But in the meantime, UAVs are too useful, and too often saving lives, to taken out of action because of air safety concerns. 


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