Alitalia incident, is UAS outreach the answer?

The public image of small unmanned aircraft, more commonly referred to in the media as "drones," was dealt another blow this week as it was reported a quadrotor penetrated the landing pattern for a major airport. CNN reported a four-rotor unmanned aircraft system (UAS) flew to an altitude of about 1,700 feet and came within 200 feet of a Boeing jet operated by Alitalia. FAA has launched an investigation, aided by FBI.

This kicked off discussion in the small UAS community about how to cope with the incident. The Academy of Model Aeronautics, or AMA, which represents the interests of unmanned and scale aircraft enthusiasts, condemned the intrusion into the national airspace system.

"AMA standards require that model aircraft not interfere with and remain well clear of manned aircraft and prohibit members from acting in a careless or reckless manner that would endanger the life or property of others," the organization wrote on its official blog. "Hovering, from what all indications appears to be, a larger domestic UAS near the approach path to one of the country’s busiest airports is neither safe nor responsible, is a clear violation of AMA’s safety programming, and AMA does not condone the actions of the person or people involved."

Meanwhile, members of DIYDrones.com, the largest online community for UAS hobbyists and small commercial operators, considered how to turn around the image of the "drone."

"In order to do some good for the public and along the way give the public a better understanding on the "good" uses of drones, we should consider the opportunities for using model aircraft in community service projects," wrote Greg McHugh, who suggested that the community use its technical abilities to aid wildlife and community service groups.

CanberraUAV, an Australian not-for profit established to promote the use of civilian UAS, recently provided what might be a model for this kind of community outreach. They recently hosted a workshop to help members of the public understand and construct multirotor unmanned aircraft.

"So far participants have soldered up their power distribution boards, done a fair amount of assembly and flashed their transmitters with open source firmware," wrote CanberraUAV member Darrell Burkey on DIYDrones.com. "It's been great fun and everyone is looking forward to their first flight."

CanberraUAV was the first team to win the UAV Outback Challenge, which required the group make an autonomous aircraft to locate a dummy in a swath Australian of bush that measured more than five square miles.

Concerning the response among politicians and the general public about UAS use in reporting, or drone journalism, it might make sense to offer the public an opportunity to get close with the technology.

It should be noted that the DroneJournalism.org Code of Ethics specifically prohibits flying in a manner that threatens the safety of others: "..the drone must not be flown in weather conditions that exceed the limits of the drone’s ability to operate safely, and it must be flown in a manner that ensures the safety of the public."

Below is a video posted from CanberraUAV's YouTube feed:

Posted on March 7, 2013 .