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5 Surprising New Uses for Drones

Unmanned Arial Systems, or "drones," have been steadily increasing in popularity for years now. As engineers are able to design smaller drones with better cameras, sensors, and features at lower prices, it is only natural that new applications for drones are being thought of every day. As we begin the New Year I would like to take a look at some of the upcoming applications for drones that may surprise you in their genius or weirdness. 2019 might be the Year of the Drone! 

This article was inspired in part by research I did last summer over the current usage of drones in state Departments of Transportation. There are dozens of state DOTs that use drones for bridge inspections, traffic monitoring, and construction progress documentation. Over the course of this research, I also discovered this incredible website that hosts a database of U.S. public safety agencies that own and use drones. current as of May 2018, this database estimates that at least 910 state and local police, sheriff, fire, and emergency services agencies in the U.S. have acquired drones. They also estimate an 82% increase in the number of public safety agencies that own drones from the previous year. 

Interesting drone facts aside, let's get on to the list of my top 5 surprising new uses for drones! 

1. Car Accident/Crime Scene Documentation

An interesting application that the North Carolina Department of Transportation has for their drones is documenting car crashes and crime scenes. It is particularly useful for car accidents, as it severely cuts down on the time required to record pictures and evidence so that the Highway Patrol can clear the accident and reopen roads quicker. Authorities in Asheville simulated a head-on collision and then used their drone with a laser scanner to take pictures of the scene and create a 3D model. 

Work that usually takes state troopers about two hours to complete took only 25 minutes with a drone. They are then able to take the data and recreate the accident to better understand what happened. Now that's innovation! 

2. Food Delivery 

This application still has a lot of logistical kinks to work out, but I would not be surprised if food delivery via drones becomes a popular venture in the next few years. The novelty of the experience of having a drone delivery your meal will attract countless customers. Transportation giant Uber is already jumping on this idea, sharing their vision to have a fleet of food delivery drones by the year 2021. This one makes me stop and think, is life getting too fast-paced? Can we not wait the typical 30 minutes for food delivery via automobile? We will have to see how this one plays out! 

3. Fishing Aid

In what is perhaps one of the most creative fishing technologies I've ever seen, the company AguaDrone has created a drone that can not only detect fish with their wireless sonar pod, but also carry bait to the fish to catch it. The waterproof design can land and take off from fresh or saltwater and features a detachable camera to record all of your fishing adventures. I imagine this would be particularly useful for fishing in crowded areas, where you could reach further than any other lines. 

The drone and accessories currently only say "coming soon" on the websites's shopping page, but hopefully this genius invention will be manufactured and sold soon to fishers everywhere. 

4. For Hospice Patients

This one tugged at my heartstrings when I heard about it. A small company in Ohio is using their drones to bring happiness and comfort to those in their final days of life. The Flight To Remember Foundation flies drones to capture videos of meaningful places so that hospice patients can see them for one last time. These can be shared via live stream or video complication for repeated viewing. I can only imagine how special this would be for a loved one. According to their website they are currently looking for more volunteer drone pilots, so that is a cause worth checking out! 

5. Help with Cooking 

This one is more satirical in nature than the others, but check out that video! Someone found a great way to use their drone for several common cooking tasks. The blades peed the potatoes with such ease, and you won't even have to leave your kitchen to safely fry your turkey! 

All jokes aside, I hope this article has helped you to see the possibilities of drones in a new way. What is your favorite drone application? Have you thought of one that doesn't exist yet? Let me know in the comments below! 

Thoughts on Crew Resource Management (CRM)

Crew Resource Management (CRM) is defined by the Federal Aviation Administration as, “the effective use of all available resources: human resources, hardware, and information.” The history of CRM comes from NASA research that took place in the late 1970s. NASA focused its research solely on the human error element involved in aircraft accidents with multiple crews. During this time of research, much of the focus of CRM was on the pilot/copilot relationship. It was discovered that select airline captains thought very little of their first officers. In turn, first officers felt that they could not challenge their captain when they didn’t agree with his or her actions. They felt that it was disrespectful to challenge them as captains were the boss in the cockpit. The purpose of the research at that time was to “gain an environment of equal respect, teamwork and cooperation to safely accomplish the mission of the flight.” The most recent CRM model has evolved into “teaching pilots risk management strategies, focusing on workload management, recognizing hazardous attitudes or patterns, maintaining situational awareness, and communicating effectively to operate efficiently and safely in all aspects of flight.” CRM is an important aspect to any flight training department and is critical for an airline pilot’s career.

CRM covers many different concepts including decision-making and risk management. The decision-making side of CRM covers pilots that are faced with an in-flight decision. Pilots are trained to use the knowledge and technology they have available to them when they are faced to make a decision during flight. CRM includes not only pilots but other crew members, flight attendants, ATC, weather reports, and maintenance workers. Pilots can utilize these people and tools to help them make their in-flight decision. Risk management involves preventing risks and how to manage them appropriately if they do arise. Risks include not only environmental such as weather or operational policies but pilot’s personal risks. Pilots can have personal risks such as fatigue, illness or stress that they are aware of but not always tell their crew members about. Factors such as aircraft weight and runway conditions can also influence risks. Two flight cases below highlight the importance of CRM and why proper training is crucial before the flight crew steps in the cockpit.

Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509 is a perfect case study into what tragedies can happen when there is a breakdown of CRM. The Boeing 747 was flown by a crew of 4 out of London Stansted Airport on December 22, 1999. Maintenance personnel warned the Flight Engineer that the captain’s Attitude Director Indicator (ADI, or artificial horizon) was unreliable during a roll before they boarded the aircraft. It was dark outside at the time of takeoff, so the captain was flying entirely by instruments. The captain began a sharp left turn after takeoff, which was not reflected on his inoperable ADI. The CRM breakdown in this instance was that the co-pilot’s ADI was functioning normally but he remained silent as to not challenge the captain. The Flight Engineer began yelling “Bank!” repeatedly, and an alarm rang out warning of the error, but the pilot continued his sharp turn until the left wing dragged the ground and the plane smacked the ground at high speed and 90 degrees of left bank. All 4 crew onboard perished in the cash.

Southwest Airlines Flight 1248 is another example of where CRM training is crucial. On December 8, 2005 a Boeing 737-7H4 ran off the departure end of runway 31 center just after landing at Chicago Midway Airport. The aircraft rolled through the blast pad fencing and the airport’s perimeter fence where it finally came to a stop after striking a vehicle, which killed a child that was in the vehicle. The cause of the accident was the pilots’ failure to use available reverse thrust in a timely manner to safely slow or stop the airplane after landing. This failure occurred because the pilots’ first experience and lack of familiarity with the airplane’s autobrake system distracted them from thrust reverser during the challenging landing. This case shows that not only were the pilots at fault for the accident but Southwest Airlines as a company. The company failed to train the pilots and assure that they were clear on the operating procedures for the aircraft they were flying.

Between 60-80% of aviation accidents are caused by human error, and a large portion of that are specifically caused by poor Crew Resource Management. Millions of dollars have been invested into CRM training at airlines, flight schools, and other businesses that operate aircraft. Continual CRM training that focuses on teaching pilots and aircraft crew error avoidance, early detection of errors, and minimizing consequences resulting from CRM errors generally has a positive outcome and desired behavioral change. However, it can be difficult to evaluate the impact of CRM training as it is hard to quantify the concept of accidents avoided. Thus, it was determined that more research into the long-term effects of CRM training needs to be conducted in the coming years.

Companies are wanting to dig deeper into how they can better equip and train their employees to use CRM tactics. The FAA has an Advisor Circular (AC) published specifically for crew resource management training. In addition to the certain essential that are universal to CRM, the Advisory Circular also lists effective CRM characteristics which include: CRM is a comprehensive system of applying human factors concepts to improve crew performance, CRM embraces all operational personnel, CRM can be blended in all forms of aircrew training, CRM concentrates on crewmembers’ attitudes and behaviors and their impact on safety, CRM uses the crew as a unit of training, CRM is training that requires the active participation of all crewmembers. It provides an opportunity for individuals and crews to examine their own behavior, and to make decisions on how to improve cockpit teamwork. The number one goal in aviation is safety. Where CRM characteristics are compromised or left out, there’s room for error to slip in which can lead to incidents or accidents that could cause fatalities. Companies in the aviation industry need to ensure that they are taking all of the right steps in training their crews before they are put on the aircraft with souls on board.

Runway Incursions: What's the Big Deal?

A runway incursion is defined by the FAA as, “Any occurrence at an aerodrome involving the incorrect presence of an aircraft, vehicle or person on the protected area of a surface designated for the landing and takeoff of aircraft." There are four categories of runway incursions, Categories A-D. Category A being the most severe and Category D being the least severe. Category A is classified as an “incident in which separation decreases and participants take extreme action to narrowly avoid a collision.” An accident can be the result of a runway incursion, and therefore exceeds the categories described.

The FAA estimates that approximately three runway incursions happen every day at towered airports in the United States. Thus, the number of unreported incursions at non towered airports must be much larger. Although a runway incursion is by definition a near miss at the worst, they are often a contributing cause in serious aircraft accidents. An accident that perfectly illustrates the dangers of runway incursions is the 1996 collision of United Express flight 5925 and a Beechcraft King Air 90A in Quincy, Illinois. A miscommunication between the landing Beechcraft, the departing King Air, and a third taxing aircraft turned deadly when the King Air failed to look for traffic and the Beechcraft wrongly assumed a radio transmission confirmed they were okay to land. Although the airport was not towered, the presence of both aircraft on intersecting runways was extremely dangerous and lead to a collision at the intersection. A total of 12 people lost their lives in that accident that could have been easily avoided.

Another infamous accident involving a runway incursion is the Russian Aeroflot Flight 3352 that took place in 1984. In short, the ground Air Traffic Controller fell asleep after he authorized several maintenance vehicles to enter the runway. A commercial aircraft carrying 170 passengers came to land at the airport, and the approach controller, oblivious to the maintenance crew on the runway, cleared them to land. To make matters worse, visibility was extremely low and the maintenance trucks did not have their rotating beacons illuminated. The commercial aircraft collided with the vehicles, resulting in 178 fatalities. In this example, the accident investigators placed the majority of the blame on the Air Traffic Controller, but there were mistakes made by all parties involved.

The airport environment is a complex operation with hundreds of moving parts. Pilots, air traffic controllers, and airport designers have to understand the hazards that come with miscommunications and poorly designed airport layouts. It only takes one moment of confusion for a runway incursion to happen, which could be deadly.

The FAA has a record of 1747 total runway incursions happening in the Fiscal Year 2017. There are several reasons that runway incursions occur. One of the most prevalent ones is miscommunication or a total lack of any communication. Many times, pilots and air traffic controllers get “stepped on” or, talked over on the radio frequency. It is highly critical that pilots repeat back their instructions to confirm with the controllers that they heard them correctly and that the directions were for their aircraft and not another. As in the above case study, although there was not a tower at the airport, the landing aircraft assumed that the aircraft announcing they would be holding short was the only one holding short. There was a misunderstanding in this case because one pilot’s radio transmission got covered up by the other aircraft holding short making the pilot of the landing aircraft assume that there was only one aircraft and they were holding short. Other common types of runway incursions include incorrect entry or vacating of an aircraft or vehicle onto the runway protection area, incorrect runway/taxiway crossing, incorrect spacing between departing and arriving aircraft, and landing or taking off without air traffic control clearance.

According the the FAA, approximately 65 percent of all runway incursions are caused by pilots. Detailed investigations of runway incursions over the past 10 years have identified three major areas contributing to these events including failure to comply with air traffic control instructions, lack of airport familiarity, nonconformance with standard operating procedures. Clear, concise, and effective pilot/controller communication is paramount to safe airport surface operations. This is something that is often stressed during initial and recurrent pilot training, but evidently the information does not always stick in the pilots’ minds.

Air traffic control instructions must be fully understood and complied with. Air traffic controllers are in place to assist pilots and want to help when there is confusion but many pilots don’t ask for the help. They are caught up in other tasks such as checklists, taxi directions, and non-essential chatter with the copilot. Pilots are to taxi with their heads-up and eyes outside to ensure they are aware of all aircraft and airport vehicles.

Major factors that increase the risk of runway confusion and can lead to a wrong runway departure include airport complexity, close proximity of runway thresholds, joint use of a runway as a taxiway (FAA, 2017). During the summer construction time, many airports will close runways or taxiways to resurface them or replace them. If a taxiway is closed, this can force aircraft to use runways as a means of getting to another open taxiway. It can also force the aircraft to back taxi on the runway they are departing from.

Thorough planning is essential for safe taxi operations. Aircraft accidents are more likely to happen on the ground than in the air because there are so many moving parts on the airfield. Pilots need to utilize the following services/tools in order to ensure safe airport surface movement: Notices to Airmen (NOTAMS), Automated Terminal Information Service (ATIS), Airport/Facility Directory (A/FD), and recognizing Hot Spots. Although using these pilot tools will not end all runway incursions, they will lower the risks if all pilots are equipped with the proper and current information.

America’s Largest Fly-in Communities

Last weekend my husband and I flew to an EAA chapter meeting that was held at a beautiful private grass strip called Timberhouse. We quickly discovered that this was no ordinary grass strip. Each side of the runway was flanked by houses in various stages of construction, with a couple fully built houses scattered amongst them. This beautiful place was clearly becoming more inhabited every day. The owner of the field shared that they have had lots of sale on this flying community for 15 years, but in the last couple years has interest in buying lots increased exponentially.

The idea of being able to walk outside your house and get into your airplane, no driving to the airport required, seems like a total dream. Although this may seem like something out of a Bond movie, residential airports are all over the U.S. and some of the plots of land are just as affordable as buying off-airport land for your home.

According to the website Living With Your Plane, the three states with the most residential airports are Florida (71), Texas (67), and Washington (58). Even smaller states like Illinois and Ohio have 18 and 13 residential airports, respectively. When you take into account the amount of small public-use airports each state has, it’s no wonder the U.S. has the best General Aviation environment in the world.

Today I would like to inspect some of the biggest residential airports in the U.S. to help paint a picture of what living at an airport looks like. Most of these are exclusive, gated community type locations, but that’s not to say there’s not a more affordable option in the state as well.

Spruce Creek

Spruce Creek Airpark in Port Orange, Florida (seven miles south of Daytona Beach) is the perfect example of a thriving airport living community. The 4000 ft runway is surrounded by over 1,300 houses and 700 hangars. A large majority of the residents of this gated community have the luxury of private hangars in or beside their homes that are attached to over 14 miles of paved taxiways.

Jumbolair

Another Floridian airport of note is the Jumbolair Airport in Ocala, Florida. This one is different from Spruce Creek in that it has far less houses, but the runway is nearly twice as long at 7,550 ft. This airport is typically what people imagine when they think of flying communities, because actor John Travolta was one of the first people to purchase land and build a house. Travolta was drawn to this particular airport because the length of the runway allowed him to takeoff in his personal Boeing 707.

Poplar Grove

Located near the northern border of Illinois, Poplar Grove has made quite a name for themselves as being an extremely well maintained and fun airport. They are open to the public for flight training, but also have a prestigious residential community attached to the runway. 100 of the total 140 houses in their residential community are connected via taxiway to the runways. With one large asphalt runway and two grass strips, this airport is a heaven for pilots that enjoy antique and vintage aircraft flying.

RJW Airpark

Last but not least, RJW Airpark in Baytown, Texas claims to be the largest airpark in the state. Featuring a 5111 ft asphalt runway and a 3532 grass runway, this classic airpark has something for every pilot. The houses on this particular Airpark are in a realm of their own, because of course everything is bigger in Texas!

I hope this article has opened your eyes to some of the incredible flying communities that are out there! If you search online you might be surprised by how many are in your state. More flying communities are being created every year, so this type of lifestyle is also becoming more obtainable. If your dream is to someday taxi your plane away from your home towards a runway, never give up because that dream could very well become a reality.

7 Elements of a Great Fly-in

As summer comes to a close I’ve been reflecting on all of the amazing fly-ins we were able to go to this year. Our fly-in season began with the National Waco Club Reunion, peaked with a week at Oshkosh, and ended with a laidback gathering in Delphi, IN. There were several smaller fly-ins and hangar parties peppered in the mix, and we were thrilled to attend a personal record number of events this year. Next year we plan to go to even more, and perhaps host our own hangar party for our flying and non-flying friends. Aviation is all about community, and fly-ins are the most amazing expression of that.

I would like to share what I believe are all essential elements of a successful fly-in. Of course all events are different, but keeping these common themes in mind when planning a fly-in will help elevate the event from good to great. A personal goal of mine has been to host a fly-in for a long time, so let me know in the comments if you have any recommendations for elements that you believe to be important!

1. Food

At almost every single fly-in we attended this summer, the first thing on our minds when we landed was where the food was. This was especially true for the fly-in breakfasts, where we had woken up extremely early and avoided food so we could gorge ourselves on the pancakes and bacon being served at the airport. At events that aren’t centered around breakfast, having food trucks options on-site is a great idea as well. Pilots are hungry people!

2. Flying

Something that really helps get people excited at fly-ins is if there is actual flying going on. You would be surprised at the number of fly-ins where planes stay parked and become static displays for the entire fly-in. It’s so much more exciting to hear the engines running, watch the planes do low passes, and really feel that general aviation is alive and well. Consider having an EAA chapter host Young Eagle flights, or planning an airshow during the fly-in.

3. Diversity

Some of the coolest fly-ins have a diverse group of attendees. You have young pilots, old pilots, professional pilots, recreational pilots, UAS pilots, military pilots, skydivers… The list goes on and on! At one fly-in there was a whole display of RC aircraft that I had never seen before. Celebrating diversity in aviation is a win for everyone, and opens up new opportunities to learn about a different aspect of the general aviation world. Beyond that, having vintage cars are great to have as well to admire their craftsmanship and history!

4. Youth

There’s nothing more adorable than seeing little kids totally in awe at fly-ins. They have no filter so the way they express their feelings of pure joy or excitement when they see a plane zoom by is so wholesome. I especially love it when little ones have toy airplanes and imitate the movements of the planes in the air. This is the kind of excitement that we need to encourage the next generation of pilots. Everyone screams “pilot shortage!” but that won’t change in the future if we don’t instill a love of aviation into youth right now.

5. Non-pilots

Inviting the general public to a fly-in adds a whole new dimension of fun. I spoke to people who came to the local fly-in every year, and others who were driving by and wanted to see what the commotion was. There are so many misconceptions about general aviation, and a lot of people don’t understand how fun and safe it actually is. Having a “fly-in or drive-in” type of event encourages those who normally stay away from the airport to give it a try and see some cool sights.

6. Safety

Safety should always be the number 1 priority in aviation, and fly-ins are no exception. Having clearly defined areas where planes are allowed to move around and ways to control the crowd are a must. Consider having members of the local Civil Air Patrol group assist with enforcing rules and educating attendees on when it is not safe to be near an airplane.

7. A Game Plan

Having a little structure for the event helps things run much smoother. Dinners or awards ceremonies with specific start times break up the action in an appropriate way. Some fly-ins even have scheduled fly-outs to other airports for breakfast or lunch. This keeps it interesting and fun, and a published plan helps everyone stay in the loop on what to expect during the event. Organization and communication are key!

What do you think of this list? Did I cover everything you think is important for a successful fly-in? Let me know in the comments, and let’s do our part to keep general aviation thriving!