Trappy - 1 : FAA - 0
March 9, 2014 1:42 PM   Subscribe

Previously on the blue. Raphael Pirker, a.k.a. "Trappy" was the first person ever to to fined by the FAA for the commercial operation of a drone. However, instead of paying up, Pirker decided to contest the ruling with a little pro bono legal help. Last Thursday evening, the judge issued his ruling. The judge dismissed the FAA's case, agreeing with the defense that since the FAA never created any legally binding rules for small drones to begin with, they cannot now apply rules that would be used for a pilot flying a full size manned aircraft to drone operators. For now, the ruling means that commercial operation of SUAS in the United States is, basically, legal. Within 24 hours of the ruling, the FAA appealed the case to entire board of the NTSB. SUAS experimenters who have been waiting in the wings are pleased with the ruling.
posted by smoothvirus (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
...waiting in the wings...
posted by MtDewd at 1:46 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Great news post; really thoughtfully done. Thanks.
posted by mediareport at 1:54 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This doesn't strike me as a backboard shattering slam dunk, nor even something you could flag as positive progress. It's just forward motion.

Forcing them to create specific rules for small drones doesn't mean they're going to create the rules you want them to. And in my cynical mind, i can only see this leading to some sort of "only drones registered to corporations with blabla amount of insurance and operated by a blabla licensed small ROV aircraft pilot can fly them above XYZ really low altitude(think 25 feet) or XYZ distance from the controls". And probably ban flying FPV without that, etc.

I can only see this getting neutered unless you're hollywood, the police, or a big company.

Does anyone remember that one class of ultralight planes that's essentially impossible to get a license for anymore? You had to take the class from the manufacturer to get the license, and then the FAA eventually jumped in their shit. Only a few people have licenses now. Minus the shutting down stage, i'm imagining something like that for UAVs/drones. Some type of pilots license that certifies you for drones up to X size, in Y conditions. Maybe even with a separate certification for flying FPV, ala instrument certified.

As it is now, this shit is like the really really early days of bit torrent when it was just a complete orgy and no one had really gotten sued yet, and there was only this vague fear of "shit is going to hit the fan soon" that everyone kinda ignored.

People who want to keep having these things need to not do stupid shit like this(yea it's in france, but just a random example of behavior), but to really expand on it...

I stand by what i said in the last thread though, and expand that people who are pro-random joe american using these things for recreational or commercial purposes as an individual need to step up their game and go hard for a rebranding effort here. And i mean a unified front. There needs to be a catchy new name and it needs to be painted that only total crackpots call them drones. This needs to be as pervasive as the(ugh, and i feel gross saying this but it worked) "Pro life" Vs anti choice branding.

Drones need to be seen strictly as those big planes with rocket launchers that blow up children and innocent bystanders in pakistan, not school lunch tray sized RC planes with gopros on them. Because the anti-joe schmoe group is going to be using the word "drone" as a club here, i guarantee it. The people who are pro individual ownership but are going SOMETHING SOMETHING POLICE DRONES 1984 DYSTOPIAN CYBERPUNK DARKEST TIMELINE FUTURE are really shooting themselves in the johnson by calling them drones on that one. It can't be a "drone" only when the bad guys use it.

And yes i'm clear i sort of contradicted myself there, but i'm saying we need to separate military and potentially armed from could fly inside a house and carries a camera. If that's not a hard enough distinction, then work from there until you're happy. The point is that a clear distinction of two(or more) types needs to exist if you want this to not turn in to an assault weapons type dumb arbitrary ban you, and i mean the collective you, don't like.
posted by emptythought at 2:28 PM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Walking up the hill from Crocus Bay into Anguilla last week, I passed a guy carrying a big camera-rigged quadcopter. Turns out he does aerial photography for hotels and resorts. And I thought, what a great business, why isn't it big in the US? And then I remembered that in US aviation everything that isn't mandatory is illegal. Except now for a while maybe not! I guess what I'm saying is, who wants to start an aerial photography company with me?
posted by nicwolff at 3:34 PM on March 9, 2014

I've been wondering for a while now, and maybe someone here who knows a thing or two can school me. I got a Gopro last year, and as such have watched scads of videos of drone-mounted cameras over cities and towns all over the these remote controlled craft never fail? I've never seen a "drone crash" video, and I've never read anything about one falling out of the sky and hurting anyone. Are they really that reliable and safe these days?
posted by nevercalm at 4:06 PM on March 9, 2014

Nevercalm there is video out there of a drone crash into the audience area of a stadium. I'm sure it cost a few sawbucks to keep that from becoming a Really Big Deal legally. Pro drone operators are going to be very careful, if as much out of respect for their expensive HD cameras as for their legal liabilities, but things do fail.

The really interesting thing is that in a certain sense drones can't realistically be regulated. I just bought a microdrone for $100; hasn't arrived yet, but it has great reviews, comes with 6-axis stabilization and an onboard camera. Made mostly of plastic and has great reviews on crash survivability, since it's so light. I have no plans to care in any way what regulations might be applied to such a thing because, seriously? The next generation will be even smaller, lighter, cheaper, and quieter. It reaches a point when you can't regulate what you don't know is there and wouldn't hurt you if it did fall on you.
posted by localroger at 4:30 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

This guy has a video of a dolphin herd shot with a quadcopter & gopro off Dana Point and humpback whales off Maui. It might be better if you mute the music. His title: "Drones . . .".
posted by bukvich at 4:43 PM on March 9, 2014

Walking up the hill from Crocus Bay into Anguilla last week, I passed a guy carrying a big camera-rigged quadcopter. Turns out he does aerial photography for hotels and resorts.

While channel surfing last year, I came across the Smithsonian channel's program called "Aerial America" which is simply flyover footage from helicopters and, IIRC, small UAVs with HD cameras (some of the shots, especially over cities seem really only possible with a UAV) along with travelog-style narration about what you are seeing.

It's a damn clever way to make a low-cost show that even if the narration is somewhat cheesy, the vast amount of eye candy makes up for it. For a channel that's still pretty new and very budget restricted that's trying to fill a 24 hour programming schedule, it's a wise choice. If I were to venture a guess, you could make that whole show with a director and crew of 3 or 4 people, a helicopter pilot, funds for travel, gear, and helicopter rental, and once the footage is collected, an announcer and script writer for the narration, and do the editing and post production in-house. You could make a full season of shows for probably less than the money spent on a season's worth of craft services for an average network sitcom.
posted by chambers at 7:53 PM on March 9, 2014

Yo, I know a guy who can get you some outlaw drone GIS, mapping, and surveying. Centimeters resolution, the good shit. For reals, I'll hook you up.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 11:39 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I fly these FPV (first person view) as a hobby. I also fly traditional "line of sight" RC planes. It is difficult to explain to the average person how cool it is to put on a pair of goggles, seeing what your craft sees, and fly through the freaking sky. You think you understand it intellectually, but I guarantee you, the reality will blow your mind. I have a small craft that can dance in between tree branches and when I spot an opening I can power through it, over and above the canopy, taking in the scenery... then I twist and turn and dive through another gap and I'm in the trees again. It's exhilarating.

But it's hard to explain to the general population. They think they're disdainful toys or horrible nudie-taking spy devices. I try to offer people rides on my goggles but their doubts don't go away. these remote controlled craft never fail?
They do. All the time. It's not a question of if, but when. It can fail through factors out of your control. Pilot error, equipment failure, environmental radio interference, and so on.

You can mitigate the risks. For e.g., you can fly in a way such that when your craft fails it doesn't hurt someone (I try not to fly over people's heads). Or you can get auto-pilots that will return your craft to its origin point if it detects a radio control link disconnect (return-to-home feature). You could study how your radio control link works and work to increase the range for your style of flying. And so on.
posted by theony at 2:24 AM on March 10, 2014 [7 favorites]

I'm surprised no one has figured out a virtual rental version of what theony is doing, even before something like the occulus rift is commonplace. I'd like to try what he's doing, but the cost and training time is out of my reach at the moment. Insurance? Sure I'll pay extra for insurance. Are y'all going to wait for Google to do it?
posted by sneebler at 1:51 PM on March 10, 2014

Sneebler, check local forums dedicated to FPV flying, you may find that there's one or two people in a local flying field or park who is willing to give you a ride. I try to give rides whenever I can, and when my extra viewing goggles come I will definitely be bringing both with me so everyone can have a go.

Regarding piloting, there is a definite skill progression that takes time and money... how much and how long is up to you! Many of us have learned through a mixture of guidance from more experienced pilots and crashing beloved planes, and things can get expensive fast :). That said, the biggest investment is your radio and FPV equipment. Planes can get really cheap if you just buy foam and glue stuff together following free plans available online.

FPVLab forums will have lots of video for you to ogle, but nothing quite beats flying :).
posted by theony at 7:44 PM on March 10, 2014 [1 favorite]

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