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The View From Above is Changing Every Day

In contrast to the days of Orville and Wilbur Wright, UAS innovation occurs at breakneck speed. The potential is limited only by our imaginations.
By Patrick C. Miller | August 14, 2014

Wilbur and Orville Wright first flew their airplane in 1903, but 120 years earlier, two Frenchmen used a hot-air balloon to get a birds-eye view of their world.

Francois Pilatre de Rozier and Francois Laurent spent 25 minutes aloft at around 500 feet, standing on a wooden platform suspended from silk and paper balloon kept airborne by a flame.

It’s easy to forget that before the Wright brothers changed the aviation world with their invention, lighter-than-air balloons provided humans with the first opportunity to observe their surroundings from above. And it took decades before something much better came along.

In contrast, UAS innovation occurs at breakneck speed. The potential is limited only by our imaginations.

I recently attended a conference to listen to a presentation about using UAS technology to inspect oil pipelines. It makes sense to use unmanned aircraft to head off pipeline leaks before they turn into major oil spills.

At the same conference, I met an engineer who’s now using UAS in Canada to conduct land surveys. And yet another conference attendee shared with me his idea to use UAS airships to transport heavy loads long distances to reduce truck and rail traffic.

In the space of a few hours, I encountered someone who proposes to do something useful with UAS technology, someone who’s already using it every day and someone who’s planning the next big thing.

Not a day goes by that I don’t see at least one UAS story that makes me wonder what they’ll think of next. I never have to wait long to find out. The ever-changing nature of this industry is what makes it so interesting and so exciting.