Why 2015 Was Historic For UAS

By Luke Geiver | November 16, 2015

There is only one way to describe UAS in 2015: Historic. It can easily be argued that during the past 12 months, the number of first-time accomplishments or breakthrough moments recorded was unrivaled in the history of UAS.

By year’s end, more than 2,300 entities in the U.S. will have officially operated a small unmanned aircraft vehicle for commercial purposes in the national airspace (compared to eight last year). Over the holidays, a record number of sUAVs–– U.S. Federal Aviation Administration estimates 1 million platforms–– will be purchased. Microsoft Corp. and Hasselblad—the Swedish camera maker responsible for the first picture ever taken on the moon—entered the UAS industry. Thanks to Insitu and BNSF, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.,  will soon be displaying the fixed-wing ScanEagle used to conduct the first-ever beyond visual-line-of-sight flight performed without a daisy-chain approach or a chase plane following the UAV. Through the FAA Pathfinder project, the ScanEagle flew more than 100 miles of BNSF-owned rail line. Charlton Evans, Insitu’s program manager for commercial and civil operations, told UAS Magazine Staff Writer Patrick Miller that as BNSF team members watched a live video stream of the flight over the ScanEagle operators’ shoulders, “they were coming up with use cases for the system that they hadn’t thought of prior,” and that such commentary is “just a natural extension of seeing the system at work.

There is no reason for the momentum to wain in the coming year. Pathfinder work will continue, more 333s will be granted, rules for sUAS should become official and among many other 2016 probabilities, test sites will continue to solidify research capable of driving standards and policies. To help illuminate the UAS scene in 2016, we close out the year with a look at two of the most important issues standing in the way of the UAS industry’s complete acceptance and role in our lives.

In the feature, “Stakeholder Perspectives: UAS and Privacy,” we detailed the efforts of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to lead a group of industry-affiliated entities toward the creation of a best practices guide for UAS privacy concerns. The NTIA was chosen to be a neutral moderator in the process based on its previous work helping solidify the framework and operating standards for mobile app privacy and facial recognition conduct. The NTIA’s efforts to date have yielded an array of opinions on what is important to consider when talking about UAS and privacy. Although there is no clear timeline for an end result, the efforts of the NTIA and stakeholders involved reveal the overarching challenges for all involved in explaining how the UAS industry intersects with privacy.

To highlight the incredible work of several private and public entities that are making UAS traffic management safe and secure—from North Dakota-based Botlink to world-recognized NASA—Miller laid out the many approaches being deployed today. A large part of the effort is providing UAS operators with the information they need to improve situational awareness, which includes knowing where manned and unmanned aircraft are operating, weather conditions and temporary flight restrictions.

We look forward to the year ahead. In fact, like most of you, we are ramping up our operations. Expect additional print issues of UAS Magazine in 2016. As the historic rise of UAS continues, we are here to be part of it.   

Luke Geiver
Editor, UAS Magazine