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  (Source: Fotloog)
Feds make sure no good deed goes unpunished

To say the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is oft maligned may be a bit of an understatement.  But agency certainly at times goes out of the way to earn its reputation.

For example during the recent floods in Boulder, Colo. last week, FEMA terminated under threat of arrest a local company's efforts to provide real-time maps of the flood damage with no explanation.

CLMax Engineering LLC looked to chip in to the release effort with its Falcon UAV.  Now normally this might sound like a pretty bad idea, but Falcon UAVs are not only U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved (aka federally approved to fly in the U.S.), they also are experts in using their onboard GPS and cameras to create 3D maps to produce real-time maps of a disaster-stricken region in a mere half hour.


According to a company blog, CLMax looked to offer the use of the fliers -- for free -- to the Boulder County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and the Incident Management Team (IMT) to help coordinate assessment and rescue efforts.  CLMax expected this to make for some good PR.

Falcon UAV
A Falcon UAV is launched on Thursday [Image Source: CLMax Engineering]

Indeed, for the first three days the fliers chipped in.  On Thursday the weather was so bad that the U.S. National Guard was ground, and only Falcon UAV was able to brave the pounding storm.  CLMax worked closely with the EOC, who in turn fed in instructions to prevent its flier from hindering National Guard efforts; for example on Friday the Falcon UAVs were temporarily ground while National Guard choppers made rescue efforts.
 
Falcon UAV Map
One of the maps produced by the Falcon flier -- before it was cut off by FEMA.
[Image Source: CLMax Engineering]

But despite after three days of great success, things took a bizarre turn.  CLMax recalls:

Early Saturday morning Falcon UAV was heading up to Lyons to complete a damage assessment mapping flight when we received a call from our Boulder EOC point of contact who notified us that FEMA had taken over operations and our request to fly drones was not only denied but more specifically we were told by FEMA that anyone flying drones would be arrested.  Not being one to bow to federal bureaucrats we still went up to Lyons to do a site survey for how we can conduct a mission in the near future to provide an adequate damage assessment to this storm raveged community.

While we were up there we noticed that Civil Air Patrol and private aircraft were authorized to fly over the small town tucked into the base of Rockies.  Unfortunately due to the high terrain around Lyons and large turn radius of manned aircraft they were flying well out of a useful visual range and didn't employ cameras or live video feed to support the recovery effort.  Meanwhile we were grounded on the Lyons high school football field with two Falcons that could have mapped the entire town in less than 30 minutes with another few hours to process the data providing a near real time map of the entire town.

Again, to clarify a couple points:
  • CLMax was perfectly willing to ground its fliers as long as necessary while FEMA and/or National Guard craft were in the air
     
  • CLMax was charging the government nothing for this free service
     
  • CLMax had completed three days of successful support efforts with no incidents
FEMA's response seems nothing short of boneheaded and baffling.  Moreover why FEMA felt it necessary to threaten to arrest engineers from a reputable federal contractor who provides disaster relief UAVs is unfathomable.

FEMA has offered no comment yet explaining why it would make this bizarre decision.  It's a particularly disappointing outcome as drones get a bad rap due to the kinds of operations that citizens fear the government is doing -- spying, armed attacks on "terrorists", etc. -- yet here is a company that wants to put drones to a nobler use, yet it can't because of bumbling, mess of an agency.


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RE: Remember the Joker...
By sorry dog on 9/17/2013 9:26:45 PM , Rating: -1
While I have no clue about what floats FEMA's boat, I gotta say I'm O.K. with the outcome.

Until drones exhibit the ability to "see and avoid" they are experimental machines and should be treated as such. This is especially true under meteorological flight rules when other aircraft cannot see them either. Considering the mountainous area, I doubt radar control would be adequate either.

It would not surprise me one bit that the civil air patrol and/or nation ground asked for them to be grounded since they were trying to conduct operations in the same area. If I was one of the pilots, I would feel a while lot better if I didn't have to worry about smacking into one while I'm crosschecking my instruments, position, speed, altitude, radio, weather, and an occasional look out the windshield.

I know Mick likes to pick on government stupidity, but I don't believe it was all that long ago he was posting articles picking on drone flights... bit of an inconsistency here I believe.


RE: Remember the Joker...
By JasonMick (blog) on 9/17/2013 11:03:07 PM , Rating: 5
quote:
I know Mick likes to pick on government stupidity, but I don't believe it was all that long ago he was posting articles picking on drone flights... bit of an inconsistency here I believe.
Really?

I think it's an awesome technology from a military perspective... perfect solution to LOS issues.

The only time I really have a problem with drones is when they're being used to spy on people or kill supposed American "terrorists" without trial.

I do not deny that I believe in the Constitution, because once you start throwing that out for supposed safety, you're on a very slick slope.
quote:
I know Mick likes to pick on government stupidity, but I don't believe it was all that long ago he was posting articles picking on drone flights... bit of an inconsistency here I believe.
Back to the topic @ hand.

This thing flies low, so you don't really have to worry about it hitting other aircraft -- other than helicopters. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist @ FEMA to coordinate so the Falcon UAVs were only in the air when helicopters were not.


RE: Remember the Joker...
By othercents on 9/18/2013 8:53:35 AM , Rating: 5
quote:
While we were up there we noticed that Civil Air Patrol and private aircraft were authorized to fly over the small town tucked into the base of Rockies.

There's your reason why the UAVs were grounded. Some private company that has a contract with FEMA to provide air support saw the UAVs as a threat and requested that FEMA ground them. Granted all the reasons provided probably sounded good due to flying UAVs in close proximity to other aircraft, however the real reason is a private company felt that their contract would be threatened by the UAVs.

I have seen this with other mapping companies that use UAVs. The larger companies that use full size aircraft feel that they are going to be obsoleted by UAVs, so they are requesting that the FAA terminate UAV licensing for their competition.

NOTE: UAVs are unmanned, but remote controlled. The pilots have cameras so that they can see other aircraft and can keep from hitting other aircraft. Most Commercial UAVs are flown by licensed pilots. It is less likely that a UAV will collide with a real aircraft than two real aircraft colliding.


RE: Remember the Joker...
By Ammohunt on 9/18/2013 1:00:20 PM , Rating: 2
Sorry i think that is utter nonsense. Its most likely due to the need to reduce the amount of un-traceable air traffic over the site. 17 helicopter conducting rescue efforts more aircraft surveying the damage news choppers etc..; search youtube there are helicopter and plane videos conducted by officials (the people that need to know what is destroyed). Its a nice offer by the company but limits have to be set.


RE: Remember the Joker...
By TSS on 9/18/2013 2:50:33 PM , Rating: 3
Really? While every other aircraft was grounded because of poor weather conditions? So there litteraly was *nothing* in the air except those UAV's?

Yeah.... I'm going with business interests. That sounds a far, far more plausible explanation.


RE: Remember the Joker...
By Ammohunt on 9/18/2013 5:07:30 PM , Rating: 3
I live near the flood zone there were plenty of aircraft flying Friday. You need to abandoned the knee jerk government conspiracy around every corner shtick its so tired on this site.


RE: Remember the Joker...
By TSS on 9/19/2013 2:54:12 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
On Thursday the weather was so bad that the U.S. National Guard was ground, and only Falcon UAV was able to brave the pounding storm. CLMax worked closely with the EOC, who in turn fed in instructions to prevent its flier from hindering National Guard efforts; for example on Friday the Falcon UAVs were temporarily ground while National Guard choppers made rescue efforts.


Who says it's knee jerk?

You need to abandon the knee jerk believing whatever the government tells you shtick in your country. Use some goddamn logical thinking or reading comprehension or whatever. Not everything is a government conspiracy, but a *lot* is propaganda.

Honestly. Considering how revered your founding fathers are i'd think that if there was any country in the world where people'd belive the other guy instead of the government, it would be the USA. What happened to you guys?


RE: Remember the Joker...
By Ammohunt on 9/23/2013 11:48:43 AM , Rating: 2
There is a distinct difference between a healthy distrust of government (base cynicism) and an unhealthy distrust of government(conspiracy around every corner). One is calculated and one feeds the paranoid know the difference?


RE: Remember the Joker...
By sorry dog on 9/18/2013 2:15:48 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
NOTE: UAVs are unmanned, but remote controlled. The pilots have cameras so that they can see other aircraft and can keep from hitting other aircraft. Most Commercial UAVs are flown by licensed pilots. It is less likely that a UAV will collide with a real aircraft than two real aircraft colliding.


I don't doubt there is some truth to part about mapping companies feeling their business being threaten drones. However, it is absolutely unproven that small small drones can see and avoid. A multi-million dollar drone that's bigger than a Cessna is one thing, but I'm sorry but having a 1080p camera fixed forward displaying on a monitor to the operator doesn't cut it. Drones must fly under 400 feet AGL, and not be withing 5 miles of an airport, or controlled airspace. I'm assuming Boulder, Co has an airport or two, so this sounds a lot like an area where drones are not authorized to fly. The only reason a 737 hasn't has one trash the fan on it yet, is there aren't that many drones out there yet. This is changing fast... it's is only a matter time.

Most aviation rules are written in blood.


RE: Remember the Joker...
By sorry dog on 9/18/13, Rating: -1
RE: Remember the Joker...
By futrtrubl on 9/18/2013 10:12:53 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
Don't helicopters, especially ones on rescue missions, tend to fly low as well?

Did you even read the bit you quoted?
Also if you had read the article you would have seen that the UAVs were grounded, without objection, when there were rescue operations or other flights in the area.


RE: Remember the Joker...
By sorry dog on 9/18/2013 2:24:30 PM , Rating: 2
I read it. But the article assumes the grounding was something like a no exceptions 24 hour grounding....but I doubt if I, you, or Mick know that for certain. Usually weather grounds are based on .... um .... the weather. What if minimums for operations suddenly allow operations for the next four hours..."Sorry, guys I know our visibility is good enough now, but we can't go because the drone guys are operating in our airspace right now. Maybe tomorrow guys."


RE: Remember the Joker...
By sorry dog on 9/18/2013 2:29:39 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
This thing flies low, so you don't really have to worry about it hitting other aircraft -- other than helicopters. It wouldn't take a rocket scientist @ FEMA to coordinate so the Falcon UAVs were only in the air when helicopters were not.


No worries eh?

http://www.avweb.com/avwebflash/news/DroneReported...


RE: Remember the Joker...
By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2013 2:26:31 AM , Rating: 3
quote:
I know Mick likes to pick on government stupidity, but I don't believe it was all that long ago he was posting articles picking on drone flights... bit of an inconsistency here I believe.


LOL you don't see a huge difference between this drone, and armed drones flying over your neighborhoods and schools with military-grade weaponry? Where the President can give the order to kill "domestic terrorists" with a drone strike? On US soil!

If that's "inconsistent" to you I'll goddamn take it.


RE: Remember the Joker...
By Mint on 9/18/2013 10:59:49 AM , Rating: 1
Mick doesn't like drones spying on people either.

Shouldn't he be likewise concerned about a company like this trying to monetize the footage it gathers of people in dire straits? They're already using the situation for publicity.


RE: Remember the Joker...
By Reclaimer77 on 9/18/2013 4:23:23 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
Shouldn't he be likewise concerned about a company like this trying to monetize the footage it gathers of people in dire straits?


You make it seem like they are withholding help from people in need until they are adequately compensated. Come to think of it, that's how FEMA seems to operate lately...


RE: Remember the Joker...
By marvdmartian on 9/18/2013 7:27:56 AM , Rating: 1
So then, you're okay with grounding the Predators and Reapers that the US Government uses? Because I'm here to tell you, they're concentrating on the ground, 99% of the time, and NOT whatever else might be in the air around them, and certainly aren't set up to "see and avoid" other aircraft.

You make the rule, you live with it. Which will it be??


RE: Remember the Joker...
By laviathan05 on 9/18/2013 11:38:21 AM , Rating: 2
You do realize that Predators and Reapers have 2 cameras right? One is the payload camera that is used to look at the ground, and the other is in the nose, used by the pilot to avoid anything in the air.


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