Drone spotted near Gatwick Airport
October 31, 2017 3:26 AM   Subscribe

On Sunday 2 July, a drone was spotted on the approach path to London's Gatwick Airport. This video shows the disruption it caused.
posted by jontyjago (98 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
 
Well, I hope they gave the owner a jolly good telling off and sent them to bed without any supper.
(How do they create visualisations like that?)
posted by rongorongo at 4:01 AM on October 31


That visualization was really an unexpected pleasure. I was thinking it'd be some handheld cameraphone shots from the terminal. This was much more interesting. Thanks!
posted by gusottertrout at 4:25 AM on October 31 [10 favorites]


They should tell the culprit they have to sit in Departures for twelve hours; then gradually extend the period until they've been there a week.
posted by Segundus at 4:29 AM on October 31 [52 favorites]


Here is a modeled impact of a largish(8 lb) quad copter drone on a jet engine.
posted by rockindata at 4:30 AM on October 31 [12 favorites]


I think it might get people to pay a bit more attention if the drone pilot was charged with the cost of the delayed, missed, and redirected flights. Or at least made to pay the fuel surcharges for the planes affected.
posted by caution live frogs at 4:52 AM on October 31 [6 favorites]


> (How do they create visualisations like that?)

Well the video carries the logo for NATS so I guess they have access to all the data about aircraft movements and very significant computing resources of every kind. Their mission would give them cause to have developed software for producing these kinds of visualisations and to have refined them enormously over time (training, planning, risk assessment, investigation, etc, etc... the list of possible applications is long). I would guess that this is just an unexpected exploitation ("leveraging") of that existing facility.
posted by merlynkline at 4:53 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


So apparently what you do is, you fly the drone into the approach path for a couple minutes, everything stacks up. Then, you hide the drone for a while until they decide it's all clear and reopen to landings. Then you run the drone out again. Or maybe someone else runs a different drone out from someplace else to keep the ground team looking for the operator running around. Repeat as necessary until pretty much every plane has to divert somewhere else.

If you really wanted, you could then have others do the same thing at nearby airports.

So easy to bring this whole civilization to a shrieking halt. Good thing there aren't increasing numbers of people out there who feel they have no stake in it and would just as soon see it all come crashing down.
posted by Naberius at 5:01 AM on October 31 [34 favorites]


This is a great visualization.
posted by carter at 5:03 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


I hope they told literally every person on every one of those planes as well as every person whose flight was delayed as a result of this issue exactly what the cause was. There needs to be a push for licensing and control of drones and that requires a critical mass of people who are aware in a visceral sort of way that they seriously fuck things up.
posted by jacquilynne at 5:03 AM on October 31 [27 favorites]


So easy to bring this whole civilization to a shrieking halt.

That's perhaps a slight exaggeration of the effect that closing a few airports for a few hours would have.
posted by Dysk at 5:04 AM on October 31 [9 favorites]


So apparently what you do is, you fly the drone into the approach path for a couple minutes, everything stacks up. Then, you hide the drone for a while until they decide it's all clear and reopen to landings. Then you run the drone out again. Or maybe someone else runs a different drone out from someplace else to keep the ground team looking for the operator running around. Repeat as necessary until pretty much every plane has to divert somewhere else.

If you really wanted, you could then have others do the same thing at nearby airports.


Well, yeah? You could shine laser pointers into the cockpits too, that also works. Or you can just send bomb threats. Turns out there's a lot of ways to massively inconvinience a lot of people with little effort! At some point though the police helicopters will be out and tracking you down though, so don't try it for too long.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:13 AM on October 31 [11 favorites]


...and lest anyone think you could meaningfully cause anything but inconvenience (and some economic disruption) here is a list of UK airports. An awful lot of them would absolutely be possible options for emergency redirects if it came to that.
posted by Dysk at 5:18 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


There was a drone strike on a commercial prop plane near Québec last week. Nobody hurt, fortunately.
posted by bonehead at 5:40 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


I've no doubt that there are plans against this type of denial of service attack.

If you were to do it, Stansted (which, along with Prestwick, is the UK's main diversion airport in times of crisis) would be the first one that you'd want to block, then Gatwick, the world's biggest single-runway airport, then Heathrow, and I guess spiralling out from there: Luton, Birmingham, East Midlands, Southend, Bournemouth, Manchester, Leeds-Bradford, Southampton, Liverpool, Dublin, Shannon, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Prestwick.

So yeah, by the time you'd got that far, I've no doubt that every RAF squadron in the country would be out, and it'd be a major incident. And I've no doubt that a scenario exactly like this has been planned against. Not to mention the hardcoded no-fly zones that drones are meant to have.
posted by ambrosen at 5:46 AM on October 31


Not to mention the hardcoded no-fly zones that drones are meant to have.

Relying on firmware seems a bad plan: How to build a $200 smart drone with the Pi Zero
posted by jaduncan at 5:49 AM on October 31 [5 favorites]


So yeah, by the time you'd got that far, I've no doubt that every RAF squadron in the country would be out, and it'd be a major incident.

There are also a lot of RAF bases in the south and east of England that could land even the biggest commercial planes if it came to that scale of emergency. And there are a bunch of minor public airports with decent runways you've omitted from your list, eg Coventry, Gamston, Duxford, Biggin Hill, etc, etc.
posted by Dysk at 5:54 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


So apparently what you do is, you fly the drone into the approach path for a couple minutes, everything stacks up. Then, you hide the drone for a while until they decide it's all clear and reopen to landings. Then you run the drone out again

Sounds like a GoPro Karma with a simple change of battery. It’s lit neon path data would be a dotted scrawl on this pretty video because it loses GPS signal at odd moments and crashes.

More likely I guess you could injure a baggage handler with it. But you’d have to have a good arm to throw it that far over the fence.
posted by hal9k at 5:56 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


Here is a modeled impact of a largish(8 lb) quad copter drone on a jet engine.

Hey! That doesn't look too bad: the blades just chopped it up. A lot of fuss about nothing and ....
...whoah!"
posted by rongorongo at 5:59 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


Since drones operate off of gps I don't understand why there aren't standard software routines to lock out operations which would violate airspace restrictions. A database of airport coordinates and a standard routine to lock out operations within 5 miles of any of those coordinates (or above 500 feet for that matter) wouldn't seem to be a huge data burden.
posted by meinvt at 6:02 AM on October 31 [4 favorites]


It won't be long before all airports have squadrons of semi-autonomous attack drones ready to come down on invasive drones, birds, and people.
posted by pracowity at 6:25 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


This is a brilliant visualization and I just wanted to say kudos to the folks that produce and consume such intelligent messages. I wish the US was more like them in that manner.

Since drones operate off of gps

There are many, many, many drones out there that have not a shred of GPS capabilities built into them. So, while your idea has legs, it's a far cry from a panacea to the problems faced by airports and drone pilots.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:25 AM on October 31 [4 favorites]


There needs to be a push for licensing and control of drones and that requires a critical mass of people who are aware in a visceral sort of way that they seriously fuck things up.

A friend here in Rhode Island figures there are like two spots that are not within range of an airport, and so as a responsible drone owner he has to drive to New Hampshire to fly it. He wants to do the right thing, and he has no plans to fly high into the flight path, but the law -- and common sense -- requires that he load up the car and start driving if he wants to go flying.

I feel for him, but I also want general aviation and commercial flights to be safe. (Maybe more, come to think of it...)
posted by wenestvedt at 6:58 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


... while I understand no-fly zones, flight-paths, safety issues, licensing and everything is for our overall safety...

... however... I willing to bet that there will be completely different legal penalties for drone-based delivery services versus personal use drones... (Look at who is loosing in the traditional taxi licensing versus Uber battle - every city I have heard about initially banning Uber has caved...)

And my question will be - how to treat corporate-owned delivery drones that are attacked/hijacked via software/network insecurities remotely? Who is ultimately liable? And there will be the typical knee-jerk reaction to pass too many laws, potentially ending the hobbiest drone era. For example - take a look at all the challenges model rocketry faced after 9/11, craziness which took nearly 8 years to correct.

You don't always need a "new law" to combat new technologies - you simply need intelligent application of existing laws - I am pretty certain interfering with flight paths and flying airplanes are already covered by something, probably illegal to shoot at one with a gun - why require further legislation about laser pointers and sending a projectile (drone) towards a plane?
posted by jkaczor at 7:20 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


I don't understand why there aren't standard software routines to lock out operations which would violate airspace restrictions.

Because many drones are built by hobbyists who aren't using standardized hardware/software.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 7:21 AM on October 31 [6 favorites]


You don't always need a "new law" to combat new technologies - you simply need intelligent application of existing laws

I suspect that, before law comes into play, administrative regulation will find the simplest solution, which is designated drone flight paths that obey air traffic exclusion zones. Amazon will probably help set them up, just because it'll help them algorithmically optimize flight time if they know what the constraints are. Hell, we'll probably end up with drone-only flight areas over major warehouse hubs.
posted by fatbird at 7:30 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


Actual bird strike on a jet engine (controlled circumstances).
Various bird strikes on various planes (real life).
Blade separation is probably the worst that can happen to an engine. The engine must be designed to contain the debris.

AgentJayZ has a fabulous YT channel, on which he explains everything about compressor blades (from eBay) and a lot more. You will need a lot of time.

Turbine blade fabrication (1940's).

Now, drones may contain metal unlike most birds, but I would say that the lethal risk of contact is sufficiently acceptable so that in case of a massive malicious drone deployment planes would just be ordered to land with caution, risking a blown engine here or a smashed window there.
posted by Laotic at 7:37 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


I am pretty certain interfering with flight paths and flying airplanes are already covered by something

But without some form of licensing / registration system, it's nearly impossible to effectively figure out who is responsible for violating those laws. A licensing system would also create an opportunity to educate drone flyers on the issues they need to be aware of, like flight paths, exclusion zones, etc. It won't stop someone who is determined to wreak havoc, because non-compliant, unlicensed drones would still be easy to build. But it would limit the amount of unintentional stupidity that causes problems.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:40 AM on October 31 [4 favorites]


And the "professional" camera platforms do, to my understanding, have GPS lockout. It seems like you can override it though because a 5 mile radius is hella big and the 400 foot operating ceiling is well below flight paths for 90% of that radius. And there are a lot of operating airports out there. If you add in heliports, basically no urbanized area is safe for flying, even below the 400' operations level.

I mean, yes you can make a DIY camera platform, it's not terribly hard, and I'm sure someone has flown a towel-bar quad somewhere they ought'n't have. But I would be surprised if it wasn't mostly people flying a DJI or a Yuneec they picked up and went to town with, possibly after hacking out the airspace interlock.

Licensing has been tried, but it hasn't really amounted to much in the places they've tried it.

The side concern is there's a certain degree of airspace paranoia out there - a plastic bag over London was reported as a drone strike, for example.
posted by Kyol at 7:49 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


The thing about drone regulations right now is that they are operator-based, not design-based. What this means is that the rules are written around how you are allowed to fly the vehicle rather than how it's built or designed. So something like this:

Since drones operate off of gps I don't understand why there aren't standard software routines to lock out operations which would violate airspace restrictions.

doesn't apply under our current regulatory environment. The rules say "don't fly in this type of airspace" and many manufacturers do provide some sort of database or control assistance to avoid busting the rules, but it's ultimately up to the operator. It also means that the available databases vary based on supplier; some will regularly update themselves and include TFRs and other no-go places (power plants, stadiums), but some will only fence out the 20-some-odd "major" airports (class B) in the US. Around here, that means Logan would have an exclusion zone built around it but Manchester or Providence would not. Again, there's currently no rule about including this functionality (but we're working on it!).

You don't always need a "new law" to combat new technologies

From firsthand experience, the FAA is definitely not trying to "combat" drone use. They are actively interested in expanding the use of the technology, but it has to be done safely. They're in a weird spot right now where the technology is advancing at a pace the FAA has never had to deal with before and the bureaucracy is really not set up to handle it. The approach they're taking is, I think, a reasonable compromise - certain "low-risk" operations are allowed, and new operations are brought under regulation as the industry can prove out that the risks have been managed to an appropriate level. It was described to me as "design a little, fly a little, regulate a little." We just saw this recently as CNN has received a Part 107 waiver for operations over people - they've been working closely with the FAA for years to validate their operations and they've now got the data to show the reliability of the platform.

But without some form of licensing / registration system, it's nearly impossible to effectively figure out who is responsible for violating those laws.

It is currently required in the US to get a drone operators license. It was also required to register all drones with the FAA, but that rule was overturned by the courts recently. It's true that there are going to have to be changes to the system, but I think it's probably going to go hand-in-hand with rolling out a traffic management system for drones (which will likely involve some sort of ADS-B-alike and will end up effectively outfitting every drone with an identification transponder anyway). For now, though, I think the comparison to pointing lasers at planes is pretty apt - high impact, definitely illegal, incredibly difficult to identify and prosecute individuals.

A major issue that I see is that drone operators and manufacturers are not indoctrinated in to the FAA's "culture of safety" and there's a lot of resistance to do so. It's expensive and the consequences to a ground-based operator are fairly minimal at the moment. We're on two playing fields right now and that's really going to have to change at some point.
posted by backseatpilot at 7:53 AM on October 31 [12 favorites]


licensing / registration system

That covers commercial drones available for sale.

(Ok - you mentioned the issues below - sorry, I also have "knee-jerk" reactions...)

How do you prevent the "bad actors" from building & programming their own unlicensed drones, that are actually designed to "swarm" airports - heck with a combination of wired/wireless network relays, they wouldn't even have to be in the general area to control the attack - or, with clever programming, the drones could even be mostly autonomous.

People who operate outside the law, don't really care how many laws you enact - so then, the laws just end up impacting normal people and costing money to enact and enforce.
posted by jkaczor at 8:05 AM on October 31


There are two different problems to solve - deliberately malicious possessions and sold people doing stupid things because they haven't thought through the consequences of what they are doing. I mean, wouldn't it be cool to fly your drone through the airport and take pictures of the planes landing? Yeah, but no, you know? Licensing and registration and mandatory transponders only deal with the latter, and I don't even begin to claim they deal with the former. That doesn't mean they are not worthwhile.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:14 AM on October 31 [4 favorites]


As someone who works with/researches drone tech and policy for a living, a couple thoughts.

I’m less familiar with UK drone laws, though it appears that there currently isn’t a registration system. You do need a permit for commercial operation, which I’m assuming doesn’t describe the intent of the idiot pilot here.

Drone licensing is a thing in the US as of June 2016: to fly a drone for commercial purposes, pilots-in-command must pass a FAA multiple choice exam. The remote pilot exam covers topics specific to UAS and requires pilots to demonstrate knowledge of aeronautical charts.

The catch is that only pilots flying for “commercial and work” purposes have to secure the Remote Pilot Certification. Hobby and recreational drone pilots don’t have to pass the test, though they do have to adhere to the FAA’s safety guidelines. While commercial and work purposes are quite broadly defined, I’d personally prefer to see rules that require all drone pilots to pass a knowledge test, including hobby users.

For a couple of years now, I’ve had a Christmas Day tradition of collecting what I lovingly refer to a Drone Crashmas stories on social media. A lot of people nowadays spend a chunk of their Christmas Day sorting out drone mishaps, from crashes into tall trees to hair-tangling nightmares to falling directly into a cooking pot full of mac and cheese. It’s funny stuff, but my main goal in compiling it is to show that people who receive drones for gifts or buy them “just for fun” obviously aren’t getting a lot of basic data on safe use and regulations.

Many still seem to treat drones as equivalent to other mostly-harmless electronic “toys.” We in the drone community have to do a much better job of messaging to casual drone users about what the rules actually are and how dangerous and costly failure to adhere to the rules is.

There’s another problem here (which I’m working on an academic paper on). There still isn’t a widely accepted or widely used solution for distinguishing between or identifying different drones in airspace. Since most drones are purchased commercially and look very similar, this creates considerable issues when you’re trying to determine what a drone’s intent is and what actions should be taken to counter it. I suspect we’ll see some combination of “digital license plate” technology, designated corridors, and standardized markings to deal with this in the near future.
posted by faineg at 8:22 AM on October 31 [4 favorites]


wouldn't it be cool to fly your drone through the airport and take pictures of the planes landing

Ok... Well in Canada, Transport Canada warns that aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft is illegal and you can be charged for doing so - but, within the regulatory act itself, it does not need to mention the specific technology - their search does not appear to return results for any combination of the terms; laser or pointer within the act.

Knee-jerk laws that identify a specific technology/problem, tend to be leapfrogged by other technologies and in my experience are obsolete within a few years.

Apologies - but, I have seen law after law after law get enacted too quickly and end-up having unintended long-term consequences, whether it has been "anti-hacking" laws during the 1980's, to child safety laws that accidentally criminalize behaviour between teenage couples, or now... flying drone specific laws. There was a discussion I recall, just prior to 9/11 when a database virus was making the rounds, and some peoples first reaction was that databases and systems administrators should be licensed and regulated...

What happens when in 5-years, someone can gene-edit a large bird (*cough* Canadian Goose), using something like CRISPR and/or turn it into a flying hybrid with a chip in it's head that acts essentially as a drone? Going to need a new law then, right?
posted by jkaczor at 8:25 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


When justice is gone, there's always force - here's a handy run-down of commercial anti-drone options. There are quite a few, but how well they work... it's a very active field with lots of money, so apply your usual defence tech/scammers/blue sky filters to the claims.

Note that some use GPS jamming. Which is an option, but good luck getting that licensed near an airport. (A truck driver used an eBay Chinesium GPS jammer to knock out his vehicle tracker so he could have his afternoon nap - which is clever. Not so clever: taking that nap in Newark Airport car park).
posted by Devonian at 8:25 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


“People who operate outside the law, don't really care how many laws you enact - so then, the laws just end up impacting normal people and costing money to enact and enforce.“

I’d tread carefully there, as that’s the same logic I see second amendment fanatics deploy to argue against gun control.
posted by faineg at 8:26 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


I’d tread carefully there, as that’s the same logic I see second amendment fanatics deploy to argue against gun control.

True. So... question for non-US countries, how are their anti-gun laws holding up to the advent/rise of "home-built" guns?

Weapons created via 3d-printing, desktop CNC machining - or even smart bullets that are essentially deadly mini model rockets?

See - that's what a good law fundamentally needs to address - the control of something dangerous and the intent to use it - not any one specific type of weapon/model rocket/drone/hobby plane/laser-pointer/deadly cyborg Canadian Geese...
posted by jkaczor at 8:33 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


If you add in heliports, basically no urbanized area is safe for flying, even below the 400' operations level.

Heliports have a much smaller exclusion radius than airports.


True. So... question for non-US countries, how are their anti-gun laws holding up to the advent/rise of "home-built" guns?

Really very well? Like, it hasn't been an issue. We are not overrun with home built guns, and anyone who (theoretically) tried to use one would in fact fall foul of laws and regulations affecting guns. It hasn't changed anything in practice, and even in theory, it just means it's easier for people to break the law - that's not an argument against having the laws.
posted by Dysk at 8:41 AM on October 31 [6 favorites]


In this non-US country, the police shot someone 4 weeks ago, in possession of an illegally owned mass-manufactured handgun, so that's most likely what will happen - the misuse of legally produced hacked drones.

Also, the guidance looks to be pretty generic. So, while I understand your concern about writing good law, I'd say that it's unlikely to be a problem here. Especially because the aviation industry is one of the most intensely regulated industries, and pretty smart at compliance with those regulations and making them not too onerous.
posted by ambrosen at 8:44 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


...and handwringing about "but what if the situation/technology changes in the future? then we'd need new laws!" seems so bizarre to me. Like, that is literally the idea - laws should change to match context. There's a reason we have legislatures sitting full time - the world constantly changes, and so our legislation has to as well. "We need a new law" is not a failure mode, it's how things are meant to work.
posted by Dysk at 8:44 AM on October 31 [15 favorites]


You'll pry my drone from my cold, dead hands.

I believe there have been some efforts to train hawks to take down drones, which shockingly doesn't seem the hurt the hawk much. As hawks can also be used to discourage traditional bird strikes, it's a bit of a two birds with one other bird kind of situation.
posted by tobascodagama at 8:47 AM on October 31 [5 favorites]


Oh, no, the hawk thing is a horrible idea. I spoke with some falconers for an article about it and the general consensus was that it was both ineffective and potentially extremely dangerous and cruel to the animal. Let’s not put innocent birds at risk here.

(Interestingly, a number of falconers now DO use multirotor and fixed wing drones to train their birds. However, they dangle bait from far below the drone and are very motivated to avoid any drone-bird contact. The exception is those robotic bustards mentioned in this article, which are fixed wing and presumably pose a lot less risk of injury to the bird due to the smaller single propellor).
posted by faineg at 8:53 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


Heliports have a much smaller exclusion radius than airports.

It's hard to say - the Know Before You Fly airspace map has the same 5 mile radius around heliports as airports. And while airports tend to have corridors for planes on departure and approach (i.e. not at cruising altitude), I suspect heliports are a lot more open-ended.

On the other hand, after watching flightaware for a while, the number of planes in a 50 mile radius of my home (with one international airport and mmm, 5-6 light aircraft airports, say) can usually be counted on one hand. So that's a lot of excluded airspace for not a whole lot of traffic. And are we counting to the 400' flight level or not?

That said, I'm not disagreeing that there are dinks who don't recognize the hazards either of a midair collision or the sudden loss of power leading to a crash into people/traffic. I'm just not sure what's an appropriate response level versus potential hysteria.
posted by Kyol at 8:57 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


"We need a new law" is not a failure mode, it's how things are meant to work.

How about, when drafting them - being a little more intelligent than we have historically been.

So the time, effort and cost to enact an ever expanding set of overly specifically written laws doesn't concern you?

I am not saying that laws regarding aerospace regulation and safety are not required - I am saying, that it is possible to create legislation that is essentially, mostly "future-proof" by not specifying any one specific technology...

Heck - I am willing to bet that their are aerospace related laws preventing model aircraft from operating around airports/flight-paths, why cannot those be used for drones?
posted by jkaczor at 8:58 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


This sort of attack could be completely autonomous; the offender could set out a series of drones a week ahead of time with pre programmed, timed instructions. The number of airports effected limited by the attacker's budget.
posted by Mitheral at 9:03 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


Yep, the CAA regulations are used for drones.

And like I said, every country that expects to fly internationally will have a safe and effective regulatory regime, because otherwise, their operators will be banned from many lucrative destinations.

So while I applaud your tenacity on implying that regulators don't know what they're doing, like I said before, this is an industry with extremely effective regulators.
posted by ambrosen at 9:05 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


completely autonomous; the offender could set out a series of drones a week ahead of time with pre programmed, timed instructions

Exactly - here is video of a quadcopter (drone) juggling via autonomous control, from six years ago.... So, how smart can they be programmed today?
posted by jkaczor at 9:08 AM on October 31


Heliports do have the same 5-mi zone, according to the FAA's own app, "b4ufly". But the problem is actually *worse*. The FAA "airport" database, which includes heliports, is incredibly dirty. Within a few miles of my house are multiple heliports which simply *do*not*exist*, and as far as I can tell, have not existed for a decade if not more. Other heliports belong to organizations such as... a car dealership. Apparently anyone can register a heliport simply by sending a form to the FAA, with no fee, and no inspection if there are fewer than a certain number of aircraft movements per year.

Which raises an interesting hack: you could center a heliport on the top of your own house for the cost of a 1st class stamp.
posted by scolbath at 9:11 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


So while I applaud your tenacity on implying that regulators don't know what they're doing, like I said before, this is an industry with extremely effective regulators.

Well - actually, I pointed out that our regulation in Canada manages to make aiming a laser pointer at an aircraft illegal, without being overly specific about the technology... So, is it legal if instead of a laser pointer, I use an incredibly powerful home-built water-cooled LED flashlight? Yes? No? So - frankly, yes - I think our regulators (here at least), seem to be doing a good job - but what irks me is the constant knee-jerk calls from the public at large to regulate everything and anything in a short-sighted manner... Spend the money and time on good regulations - one that will cover most scenarios.
posted by jkaczor at 9:13 AM on October 31


The FAA "airport" database, which includes heliports, is incredibly dirty. Within a few miles of my house are multiple heliports which simply *do*not*exist*, and as far as I can tell, have not existed for a decade if not more.

Yeah, I noticed that and I wondered how many of those were heliports in name only - here's a known safe place with no high tension wires overhead that a helicopter _could_ land in if they absolutely had to. Like, known safe Flight for Life landing areas sorta thing.

But yeah, there was probably little drive to actively clean that sort of thing up until now.
posted by Kyol at 9:17 AM on October 31


The rules say "don't fly in this type of airspace"

The rules also say "don't fly passenger aircraft into buildings".
posted by flabdablet at 9:17 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


Kyol, you could actually use the database to indicate where you should NOT land. Two of the "heliports" nearest me are now suburban mall parking lots with light stands every few feet. You would do better to try and come down on Interstate 95, less than 100' away!
posted by scolbath at 9:22 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


the IRA used to mortar Heathrow. this is total amateur hour.
posted by indubitable at 9:28 AM on October 31 [7 favorites]


Fantastic post. That control tower must have been quite a scene.
posted by maniabug at 9:29 AM on October 31


I guess we'll never know. Apparently broadcasting ATC feeds is currently illegal UK.
posted by maniabug at 9:36 AM on October 31


ambrosen: So yeah, by the time you'd got that far, I've no doubt that every RAF squadron in the country would be out

You mean both of them?

The RAF operates just two Typhoon QRA bases for the entire UK—Brize Norton and Lossiemouth (in Scotland). Either base can scramble a pair of Typhoons in about 2-5 minutes, with another pair ready to go 15 minutes later. Anything more than that takes hours of ground preparation time, so eight airframes is your total (there are only 138 delivered with 160 in the total order; a bunch are in maintenance or stationed overseas).

Given a bunch of time they might get some Hawks and other training craft up, but that's not terribly useful. Helicopters would be more appropriate than fast jets for hunting drone rotorcraft, anyway.
posted by cstross at 9:40 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


What happens when in 5-years, someone can gene-edit a large bird (*cough* Canadian Goose), using something like CRISPR and/or turn it into a flying hybrid with a chip in it's head that acts essentially as a drone?

Good luck getting that grant.

Wait, DoD would love that shit, wouldn't they? Fuck.
posted by maryr at 9:45 AM on October 31 [4 favorites]


Good luck getting that grant.

You can buy a CRISPR starter kit online for few hundred dollars - I am thinking a more serious "lab" could be had for less than $5,000. (People spend that much on their home tech spaces, 3d-printer, cnc gantry routers, etc)

This isn't sci-fi - this is here... And while legislation and regulation are being enacted to try and stop gene-editing, the underlying technology and knowledge is now out there... Just like instructions on building and programming your own DIY drone...
posted by jkaczor at 10:02 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


We are not overrun with home built guns, and anyone who (theoretically) tried to use one would in fact fall foul of laws and regulations affecting guns. It hasn't changed anything in practice, and even in theory, it just means it's easier for people to break the law - that's not an argument against having the laws

So - the existing laws handle the situation just fine?

That's my point, thank-you.

There are existing laws to prevent interference with aerospace operations/flight-paths, we don't need new ones that specify "drones". "Drones" are actually the current common terminology for what were known as "quadcopters" when they first arrived 6/7 years ago - legislation that would have targeted that specific technology/terminology would already be obsolete.
posted by jkaczor at 10:06 AM on October 31


This is science fiction unless you've got a lot of spare scientists with experience in Canadian goose embryo transformation sitting around trying to sabotage commerical air traffic.

Molecular biology consumables are expensive, let alone the cost of starting up a lab. But cost is not my concern here. That CRISPR kit is only going to work on those bacteria. The hard part of CRISPR editing is not the cost of the enzyme. Money is not going to be your bottleneck on this fanciful idea and it is still going to cost a lot of money.
posted by maryr at 10:11 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


If you add in heliports, basically no urbanized area is safe for flying, even below the 400' operations level.

This seems fine.
posted by thedaniel at 10:17 AM on October 31 [3 favorites]


jkaczor, people who are really determined are always going to get around laws and regulation. But, just like with guns, I'm a lot less concerned with keeping them out of the hands of the 1 in a billion terrorists and more concerned with making them more difficult to be acquired by a teenage having a bad day.

Your average angry teenager is going to take a very long time to follow the Make Magazine instructions for the gene-spliced goose drone or whatever and, when he's done, it's probably not going to be very effective. That's assuming he can even afford the 3D printer and Mr. Wizard gene sequencing kit.

I'd just as soon any off-the-shelf drone he buys at Target maybe have some built-in programming to keep it out of controlled airspace.
posted by bondcliff at 10:19 AM on October 31 [6 favorites]


So - the existing laws handle the situation just fine?

That's my point, thank-you.


Yeah, for guns. They don't work for drones not in that their use to block flight paths isn't covered, but in that enforcement is rendered difficult-to-impossible in the absence of some kind of regulation to allow identification of the operator of any given drone (which could easily be implemented by mandating registration and an ADS-B style identification system, for example).
posted by Dysk at 10:26 AM on October 31


They don't work for drones not in that their use to block flight paths isn't covered

So - there is no existing legislation that handles "pre-drone" model airplane technology, which has been around since what, 1960's?
posted by jkaczor at 10:45 AM on October 31


Again - it is pretty simple - if you make a law that is overly specific to one thing, with a narrow vision and scope - it cannot handle changes and innovations.

Why won't the existing legislation in-place to prevent potentially idiotic model airplane pilots does not apply to drones? Because they are cheap? Home-built (so were model airplanes for the most part)? Why don't they need to be registered? Do we need a specific law, that states idiots shouldn't aim their model rockets at a flight-path? Another for idiots with kites on strings?
posted by jkaczor at 10:51 AM on October 31


... if the law can covers "intent", rather than specific technology and disallows flight in certain zones, it is no different than keeping underage people out of bars, I am not saying there should be anarchy in the sky...

Laws - all for them - as long as they are not dumb and obsolete by the time they are enacted.

Registration? Yup - all for it - we make people register their cats, there are jurisdictions that require bicycles to be licensed, excellent. Just make the fee affordable (for home-built/DIY - possibly even built into the pricing for commercial retail) and easy to obtain. But ensure that if you have to register a "drone" - then you also have to register a model airplane, or a traditional model helicopter, because they are all essentially the same fundamental thing.
posted by jkaczor at 11:04 AM on October 31 [1 favorite]


What happens when in 5-years, someone can gene-edit a large bird (*cough* Canadian Goose), using something like CRISPR and/or turn it into a flying hybrid with a chip in it's head that acts essentially as a drone?

Well, I guess at that point, we would all die, screaming.
posted by Naberius at 11:04 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


Your average angry teenager is going to take a very long time to follow the Make Magazine instructions for the gene-spliced goose drone or whatever and, when he's done, it's probably not going to be very effective

True - now. At one point the average teenager wouldn't be a programmer, or X, or Y... The march of progress makes bleeding edge technology available and accessible faster and faster. As well - it's not just one - thanks to the internet, it's a community of people who work together to solve problems and pool their knowledge - perhaps publicly, perhaps privately. Just look at the overall accelerated rate of change in the last 20 years.

At it takes is 1-person somewhere to get the right "edit/hack" breakthrough - and then it can be followed by just about anyone.

I'd just as soon any off-the-shelf drone he buys at Target maybe have some built-in programming to keep it out of controlled airspace.

How many kids out there root their phones - it takes just one public exploit and then a few articles/tutorials - the same will happen with controlled "drone" firmware.
posted by jkaczor at 11:10 AM on October 31


How to Shoot Down a Drone
posted by pracowity at 11:57 AM on October 31


“some kind of regulation to allow identification of the operator of any given drone (which could easily be implemented by mandating registration and an ADS-B style identification system, for example)....”

It’s just not the case that this could be done “easily.” I think we will eventually do it, but it’s going to be complex and ADS-B may not end up being the answer. For starters, ADS-B transponders are big, heavy, and consume a lot of power. The ADS-B system also lacks coverage at low altitude in a number of areas, and apparently is not particularly difficult to spoof if you’re motivated. Currently, I’m more interested in the “digital license plate” for drones that major companies like DJI are working on. One concern I have as a law-abiding drone pilot: I don’t want any random person to be able to pull up personal information about me (address, phone, full name) just by using a receiver or an app. I’d prefer something like our vehicle license plate system, where only authorized individuals can “run” numbers. Too many law abiding drone operators get shot at for me to be particularly keen on giving up all my info to people I can’t see or interact with. I would be perfectly happy to provide some anyone-can-see-it info on what type of drone I’m flying and what my purposes are.

Far as registration goes: the US did try to mandate registration, but the requirement was recently struck down in court. I think registration is fine (with proper data security measures in place), but it can only go so far to address security concerns without some standardized mechanism of in-flight identification.
posted by faineg at 11:59 AM on October 31 [2 favorites]


Addendum: please don’t shoot down drones or joke about it. A number of people I know who were flying entirely legally have had terrifying close-calls. It’s extremely dangerous for the pilot (who is usually close to the drone), people with the pilot, and other people in the area - injuries from falling ammunition and electronic parts are no joke.

I worry about getting shot at every time I fly now.
posted by faineg at 12:02 PM on October 31 [3 favorites]


Any broad solution for creating drone no-fly zones should also have some sort of solution for temporary areas. As an example, firefighters recently had to ground their planes while battling a large wildfire in the mountains nearby because some yahoo decided to go take a look with their drone.
posted by subocoyne at 12:19 PM on October 31 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much this problem will be lessened as smaller quads get more capable. I recently upgraded from my old (tiny) hubsan to a (somewhat larger) dji spark; because it does everything I want in a package that's small enough that I feel comfortable flying it. It has much less presence in the air than something like the inspire or the ubiquitous phantom, so attracts much less attention, and is less likely to hurt someone if it gets out of shape. It's also gps enabled and has the usual dji no-fly-zones and warnings, so no flying near airports without at least the risk of bricking it.

OTOH, smaller, lower power craft have smaller batteries on board, which makes things like ID broadcast less likely to be workable. I also fly paragliders, and the UK's efforts to mandate ads-b for all aircraft was laughable at that end of the market. Legislating something that limits how small hobbyist kit can get could conceivably prolong the (hazard-to-air-traffic) problem.
posted by rhamphorhynchus at 1:42 PM on October 31


Drones ARE radio controlled aircraft and the rules that cover RC aircraft (including licensing) should be applied.
It is all right saying "I'm going to be careful", but how much does an event like this last one cost, and the next one could well cost lives.
posted by Burn_IT at 2:26 PM on October 31 [3 favorites]


At any rate, drone sighting near airport needs to be on the SimCity disaster table.
posted by Ashenmote at 2:52 PM on October 31 [3 favorites]


How many kids out there root their phones - it takes just one public exploit and then a few articles/tutorials - the same will happen with controlled "drone" firmware.

The drone firmware wars have already begun.
posted by jjwiseman at 4:02 PM on October 31 [3 favorites]


Heck - I am willing to bet that their are aerospace related laws preventing model aircraft from operating around airports/flight-paths, why cannot those be used for drones?

Oh man. At least in the U.S., the regulations around this were a mess for a long time. There was even a court case arguing that the guidance the FAA had issued was so weak that it wasn't enforceable. That mostly changed, but even after the popularity of drones brought clarifications and new rules in the past few years, there are still some confusing areas. The heliport vs. airport distinction, if there is a distinction, is one of those areas.

I'm not even sure it's totally clear that you can't fly within 5 miles of an airport. The rule (pdf) actually says
...when flown within 5 miles of an airport, the operator of the aircraft provides the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the airport) with prior notice of the operation (model aircraft operators flying from a permanent location within 5 miles of an airport should establish a mutually-agreed upon operating procedure with the airport operator and the airport air traffic control tower (when an air traffic facility is located at the
airport)).
It doesn't say you can't fly, and it doesn't say you need permission to fly. It only says that you have to give prior notice of your flight.
posted by jjwiseman at 4:24 PM on October 31 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the problem isn't the rules, the problem is the enforcement, that the "whoah cool" factor of lightweight cameras makes the idea of remotely piloted aircraft way more attractive than just flying the aircraft, and that for years model aircraft were difficult enough to build and fly that there was a community to help create a culture of smarter operation.

Actual epoxy and balsa invested in an aircraft is way different from someone whipping out a credit card and ordering a Phantom. Flying with your buddies out at the local R/C field is way different from posting that cool video on YouTube and getting a hundred thousand views.

And the people flying quadcopters over my neighborhood and pissing off said neighbors (let alone shutting down airports) never went through the hassles of trying to find some place to fly that noisy glow-plug engine powered oil spewing beast, never thought about their R/C local flying club requiring that you carry liability insurance.

So it's likely that we'll see a regulatory regime that turns model aircraft into a hobby expensive enough that people stop pursuing it. Which sucks, but at some point the yahoos ruin it for everyone.
posted by straw at 4:42 PM on October 31 [3 favorites]


Would hate to see civilian owned drones banned. I'll never own one, but the possibilities for good seem endless, recording police brutality, helping locate missing kids, tracking illegal polluting, poachers, etc.
posted by Beholder at 5:10 PM on October 31 [1 favorite]


I’m starting to use drones in my work and even though I’m not close to making money I’ll be taking the FAA 107 test hopefully in Dec. My DJI Phantom 4 will not take off in the vicinity of an airport. Period. I can fly within the 5 mile radius but I get all sorts of warnings. Within 3 miles I have to enter my phone number and log into DJI’s site and even then I get tons of warnings and I have a flight ceiling of like 100 ft. I realize older drones are a different story but the newer stuff takes flight restrictions very seriously.
posted by photoslob at 6:30 PM on October 31 [3 favorites]


So yeah, by the time you'd got that far, I've no doubt that every RAF squadron in the country would be out, and it'd be a major incident.

If I was on a nice Sunday evening flight into Gatwick in good time to rest for work the next morning and got diverted to wherever those people got sent to (Bournemouth? Chichester?) there'd be no need for the RAF. Just give the passengers some torches and pitchforks and let them have at it.
posted by fshgrl at 6:35 PM on October 31 [1 favorite]


The last time this came up, someone suggested flashing out the registration number in morse code. That seems like a simple solution for weight, power, and money, especially if it were common. I think it'd be a good addition to aircraft generally. It's easy to defeat/ignore, and wouldn't have to reveal anything personal, but following such a rule would be a good-faith signal.

I think people shoot at drones since they feel so powerless against them. If some rich anonymous person is messing with you and there's no recourse whatsoever, tensions build. Even a mostly symbolic pathway to justice would do a lot to defuse this. I think this is part of crazy BS like black helicopters and chemtrails: there's just no outlet for concern except crazy.
posted by netowl at 8:12 PM on October 31 [3 favorites]


If I was on a nice Sunday evening flight into Gatwick in good time to rest for work the next morning and got diverted to wherever those people got sent to (Bournemouth? Chichester?) there'd be no need for the RAF. Just give the passengers some torches and pitchforks and let them have at it.

And when Bournemouth, Chichester and every other airport in the UK are also closed down because there are pre-programmed, fully autonomous drones flying near them as well - drones that could easily have been concealed handy to those airfields months beforehand by one moderately well funded loon touring the UK for exactly that purpose - what then?

Torches and pitchforks are, in any case, not permitted as carry-on baggage.
posted by flabdablet at 12:54 AM on November 1


And when Bournemouth, Chichester and every other airport in the UK are also closed down because there are pre-programmed, fully autonomous drones flying near them as well - drones that could easily have been concealed handy to those airfields months beforehand by one moderately well funded loon touring the UK for exactly that purpose - what then?

RAF Brize Notton. RAF Honington. RAF Lakenheath. RAF Fairford. Etc, etc.

If you're droning all of them too, then a) good luck to you and b) I'm sure some intrepid RAF base guards can find a way to down them.
posted by Dysk at 5:54 AM on November 1 [1 favorite]


Seems to me that providing every civilian airport with a few drone-killer drones (whose kill mechanism can be as simple as a few metres of dangling fishing line) as standard equipment would be far less expensive than allowing a scenario where all of a day's airborne traffic needs to be landed at a relatively small number of well defended military facilities.
posted by flabdablet at 7:07 AM on November 1 [5 favorites]


I wonder if there's scope for some sort of jamming device that spams the "throttle down" signal within a short radius that they could activate in these situations.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 7:39 AM on November 1


I wonder if there's scope for some sort of jamming device that spams the "throttle down" signal within a short radius that they could activate in these situations.

That presumes that the throttle down signal is universal.

It also presumes that any drone will act upon any commands sent to it from any controller. That of course would be ripe for mischief.

I'll admit that I don't know the state of the art for communicating with drones and assorted RC aircraft. I would bet that their pairing techniques between device and controller were as sophisticated as 1980s garage door openers but I have to think much more sophisticated approaches are being used now and if not they will be.
posted by mmascolino at 7:49 AM on November 1


fladablet, absolutely, but my point was more that it's somewhere between practically and completely infeasible to pull an actual DOS attack on the ability of planes to land in England. There are a *lot* of airstrips about.
posted by Dysk at 8:06 AM on November 1 [1 favorite]


Roughly how many are capable of dealing with a Gatwick's worth of diverted traffic?
posted by flabdablet at 8:24 AM on November 1


Depends what you mean - certainly no chance of having the baggage handling done. But you'd be able to get all the planes down safely on a runway, rather than forcing jumbo jets to emergency land on the motorway or anything. It would be massive disruption, but it wouldn't be a catastrophe.
posted by Dysk at 9:07 AM on November 1 [1 favorite]


Like, it'd be comparable to shutting down several major airports with bomb threats and dummy devices, but not comparable to actually bombing the airports.
posted by Dysk at 9:11 AM on November 1


I wonder if there's scope for some sort of jamming device that spams the "throttle down" signal within a short radius that they could activate in these situations.

Trailing fishing line is literally a jamming device. Dangle a length of 2kg breaking strain monofilament anywhere near the blades of a drone prop and it's going to end up horribly tangled around the shaft.

It should not be beyond the wit of humanity to build software minimal enough to run on a Raspberry-Pi-class machine that's capable of acquiring a small buzzing target, positioning an attack drone two metres above it, and returning to base once the releasing tug on a tangle line is sensed.
posted by flabdablet at 9:20 AM on November 1 [2 favorites]


Would hate to see civilian owned drones banned. I'll never own one, but the possibilities for good seem endless, recording police brutality, helping locate missing kids, tracking illegal polluting, poachers, etc.

I would hate to see civilian owned helicopters of any scale banned, and for some similar reasons, but they need to be closely regulated, especially because a convergence of drone tech and helicopter tech will bring piloted drones to an airspace near you. Any idiots -- think of your least considerate neighbors -- will be able to fly around in them if computers handle the tricky stuff and the pilots just have to indicate direction, speed, and altitude. And literal swarms of flying weed whackers will hover over you barring regulation against it.
posted by pracowity at 12:56 PM on November 1 [1 favorite]


I just got a drone. It is always warning me I'm in a "restricted area". I'm not. The map clearly shows I'm about a mile from restricted space (the broad radius around a small non-commercial airport). At times, it says I'm in a "No fly zone", but lets me fly. Mind, I'm not in any no-fly zones. It's just buggy that way, and really only tends to teach: ignore the warnings. They are wrong. I mainly fly it over my own land anyway, I've got acres of woods.
posted by Goofyy at 1:05 PM on November 1


I remember reading about an airport terminal that was shut down because a passenger walked through the wrong door. IIRC a guy who was in charge of security at Tel Aviv airport (where they're quite serious about security) commented that if they shut down every time they had a security scare they'd have to close for good. My point is that security needs to be resilient. In this case they could have ascertained that they weren't under attack as soon as they saw there was only one drone and that it wasn't trying to approach aircraft. That should have been the end of the lockdown.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:13 PM on November 1


There's a difference between airport security and aircraft security. A drone that represents a collision risk can't be handwaved away with thoughts of "good intentions" in the same way that somebody violating security protocol in the airport itself can.
posted by Dysk at 3:10 AM on November 2 [1 favorite]


I'll stipulate that a drone is a collision risk, but is it more dangerous than a large bird? Or more dangerous than, say, a flock of birds? There are also substantial risks in closing the airspace of a major airport and diverting all flights. If this is the best way they can deal with it then trolls can force them to close their airport every night.
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:34 AM on November 2


Airports invest millions of dollars into figuring out how to keep birds out of approach and departure paths.
posted by tobascodagama at 6:01 AM on November 2 [1 favorite]


If this is the best way they can deal with it then trolls can force them to close their airport every night.

Which is a large part of why you've seen so many people in the thread arguing for regulation on the drone market to allow meaningful enforcement. But yes, it's very difficult to stop a sufficiently motivated and capable (and funded) adversary from disrupting things, and not just with regard to airports.
posted by Dysk at 6:23 AM on November 2 [1 favorite]


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