The FAA’s Drone near miss is full of FUD

The FAA’s claim that a Drone had a near miss with an American Airlines jetliner is most likely made up.

Why you ask? Because the NTSB dropped a bomb on them with the Pirker fine reversal. This effectively opened the doors for Drone flights under the pre-existing AC  97-51 from 1981. You can read more about that on this post The Legality of Drones and the FAA

Let’s break this down.


I ran across this thanks to Sally French and her blog post FIRST TAKE: WHAT REALLY HAPPENED WITH THE FLORIDA “NEAR-MISS” DRONE ACCIDENT.

When I saw the news on Friday about the alleged near miss I was somewhat skeptical due to the altitude mentioned. 2,300 feet, that is almost half a mile up in the sky. There are serious RC model airplane enthusiasts. And they do have aircraft resembling the supposed drone. The model jet pictured below has actual jet engines and costs a whopping $2,500.

Al's F4 Phantom Drone

Most toy and hobby RC Radios only work at a range of about 300 feet, line of sight. It would be possible to use the Amateur Radio RC frequencies and achieve greater range. These are in the 6 meter band and span from 50.800 MHz to 50.980 MHz in 9 20 MHz wide channels. Licensed Amateur Radio Operators like myself (my callsign is KD5QLN), can legally transmit radio signals in most “HAM” bands up to an astounding 1.5 Kilowatts of power, under the FCC Part 97 rules. While we have the legal ability, generally we don’t. “Flame Throwers” as they are known, are rather expensive and use lots of power.

Ok, so the RC control signals could plausibly make it to 2,300 feet in the sky. But how much fuel does one of these 1 : 7  3/4 scale model Phantom F-4 jets hold. And what is the max range and flight time?

According to this PDF I found on the same site, these large-scale models can hold about 200 ounces of fuel. This gives them at best a max flight time of about 10 minutes, and a range of about a mile.

Also for safety, these 1/4 and larger model jets have a range failsafe. If the jet travels outside the RC controllers radio range it automatically kills the fuel to the engines.


What I really think happened, is that a Military Drone from Tyndall Air Force Base  spooked an American Airlines pilot. This article from Stars and Stripes, a news site for Military people, mentions the Tyndall AFB using QF-4 and QF-16 Drones for training purposes. Another news site Air Force Times has an article from April 23rd,  and mentions one earlier QF-4 crash in July of last year and a recent incident involving a QF-4 Drone with pilots aboard overrunning the landing strip.

Another interesting point is that there is no report for this near miss incident in the ASRS (Aviation Safety Reporting System) and American Airlines is denying that it happened in the first place.

Something to keep in mind, the FAA has no governing power over “Public” aircraft. This means that any aircraft owned and operated by the government, states, or local municipalities fly under an alternate set of rules. Unlike Civil aircraft, there are no FAA safety requirements or regulations other than the common flight rules, that Public aircraft or the pilots must follow.

So there you have it, the FAA is trying to whip up a media frenzy to help people forget the knockout punch it got from 29-year-old Australian Raphael Pirker after the NTSB sided with him.

Camera Drone

The Legality of Drones and the FAA

Drones come in a vast assortment of sizes and shapes.

CrazyFly Nano Drones

Like most things, we have developed a Drone variation for just about everything. From delivering packages to walking the dog and even saving people’s lives. It comes and no surprise that FAA rules have lagged behind technology’s steady race forward. For anything resembling an issued FAA rule on Drones you have to start at this Advisory Circular issued on June 9th 1981.

FAA AC 91-57

It basically lays down the rules for “model aircraft operators”. Most of them are common sense things responsible fliers would do anyway.

For example: “Do not operate model aircraft in the presence of spectators until the aircraft is successfully flight tested and proven airworthy.”

Then there is the 400 ft AGL flight restriction. “Do not fly model aircraft higher than 400 feet above the surface. When flying aircraft within 3 miles of an airport, notify the airport operator, or when an air traffic facility is located at the airport, notify the control tower, or flight service station.”

Next we have the FAA’s Fact Sheet – Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS)

This claims that AC 97-51 “only applies to modelers”

Recreational use of airspace by model aircraft is covered by FAA Advisory Circular 91-57, which generally limits operations to below 400 feet above ground level and away from airports and air traffic. In 2007, the FAA clarified that AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and specifically excludes individuals or companies flying model aircraft for business purposes.

FAA, it would have been nice of you to actually link to the notice in your new article. But I found it anyhow. So now we take a look at the FAA’s “Notice of policy” that it issued by posting it in the federal register on February 6th, 2007.

It states:

“The current FAA policy for UAS (Drones) operations is that no person may operate a UAS (Drones) in the National Airspace System without specific authority. For UAS (Drones) operating as public aircraft the authority is the COA, for UAS (Drones) operating as civil aircraft the authority is special airworthiness certificates, and for model aircraft the authority is AC 91-57.  The FAA recognizes that people and companies other than modelers might be flying UAS (Drones) with the mistaken understanding that they are legally operating under the authority of AC 91-57. AC 91-57 only applies to modelers, and thus specifically excludes its use by persons or companies for business purposes.”

What is the National Airspace System? Good question!

Here is what Wikipedia says it is:

The National Airspace System (NAS) of the United States is one of the most complex aviation systems in the world—consisting of thousands of people, procedures, facilities, and pieces of equipment—that enables safe and expeditious air travel in the United States and over large portions of the world’s oceans.

The NAS requires approximately 14,500 air traffic controllers, 4,500 aviation safety inspectors, and 5,800 technicians to operate and maintain services. It has more than 19,000 airports and 600 air traffic control facilities. In all, there are 41,000 NAS operational facilities. In addition, there are over 71,000 pieces of equipment, ranging from radar systems to communication relay stations. On average, about 50,000 flights use NAS services each day.

A flight through the NAS typically begins and ends at an airport which may be controlled (by a tower) or uncontrolled. On departure, the aircraft is in one of the six classes of airspace administered by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and different flight rules apply to each class. Depending on the class of airspace and flight conditions, communication with controllers may or may not be required.

Ok so what are these airspace classes? Glad you asked.

from the same Wikipedia page:

In the United States, airspace consists of classes A, B, C, D, E, and G. The NAS includes both controlled and uncontrolled airspace.


Class A begins and includes 18,000 ft. MSL and continues up to 60,000 ft. MSL. It is the most controlled airspace and requires a pilot to carry an Instrument Flight Rating and proper clearance no matter what type of aircraft is being flown. Pilots are also required to change their altimeter settings to 29.92 in. to ensure all pilots within the airspace have the same readings in order to ensure proper altitude separation.

Class B airspace extends from the surface up to 10,000 ft. AGL and is the area above and around the busiest airports (e.g., LAX, MIA, CVG) and is also heavily controlled. A side view of Class B airspace resembles an upside-down wedding cake with three layers becoming bigger toward the top. Class B’s are designed individually to meet the needs of the airport they overlay. Pilots must also receive clearance to enter the Class B airspace but Visual Flight Reference may be used. Class B airspace corresponds to the area formerly known as a Terminal Control Area or TCA.

Class C airspace reaches from the surface to 4,000 ft. AGL above the airport which it surrounds. Class C airspace only exists over airports which have an operational control tower, are serviced by a radar approach control, and have a certain number of instrument flight operations. Class C is also individually designed for airports but usually covers a surface area of about 5 nautical miles around the airport up to 1,200 ft AGL. At 1,200 ft. the airspace extends to 10 nautical miles in diameter which continues to 4,000 ft. Pilots are required to establish two-way radio communications with the ATC facility providing air traffic control service to the area before entering the airspace. Within Class C, Visual and Instrument pilots are separated.

Class D airspace exists from the surface to 2,500 ft. AGL above an airport. Class D airspace only surrounds airports with an operational control tower. Class D airspace is also tailored to meet the needs of the airport. Pilots are required to establish and maintain two-way radio communications with the ATC facility providing air traffic control services prior to entering the airspace. Pilots using Visual Flight Reference must be vigilant for traffic as there is no positive separation service in the airspace. This airspace roughly corresponds to the former Airport Traffic Area.

Class E airspace is the airspace that lies between Classes A, B, C, and D. Class E extends from either the surface or the roof of the underlying airspace and ends at the floor of the controlled airspace above. Class E exists for those planes transitioning from the terminal to enroute state. It also exists as an area for instrument pilots to remain under ATC control without flying in a controlled airspace. Under visual flight conditions, Class E can be considered uncontrolled airspace. Airports without operational control towers are uncontrolled airfields. Pilots in these areas are responsible for position and separation and may use a specified Common Traffic Advisory Frequency or UNICOM for that airport, although no-radio flight is also permitted.

Class G airspace is completely uncontrolled airspace which extends from the surface to either 700 or 1,200 ft. AGL depending on the floor of the overlying Class E. In the vicinity of an uncontrolled airport, the CTAF for that airport is used for radio communication among pilots. In remote areas other frequencies such as MULTICOM are used. No towers or in-flight control services are provided although communications may be established with flight service stations which are not part of the NAS.

When these airspace classes were introduced it caused a firestorm with the model and hobby aircraft groups, they demanded the FAA do something to allow them to fly legally. This is why we have AC 91-57. Fast forward 33 years and now we are repeating history all over again. The FAA has had fair warning this was coming. They were well aware of the rise in Drone popularity back in 2007 when they issued that policy notice.

On Thursday Jim Williams, head of the FAA’s unmanned aircraft office, told attendees of the Small Unmanned Systems Business Exposition conference that new rules for Drones under 55 lbs were not going to happen any time soon. “Although it seemed that this could be done faster than the 7-10 year horizon for rulemaking, it did not appear to offer any realistic opportunity for commercial operation in the near future.”

Many people have been frustrated with the FAA’s slower than snail process of new rulemaking. And either choose to ignore the FAA or don’t know about the FAA’s Policy on Drones.

Pedro Rivera a 29-year-old journalist who flew a drone 175ft over a car crash was recently suspended from his job at WFSB-TV in Hartford, Conn. after local Police complained to the station manager. Even though the video never aired, and he wasn’t on the clock. On February 18, Rivera filed a lawsuit against the Hartford Police Department and two of its officers, alleging violation of his First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Raphael Pirker who flew his Drone around University of Virginia campus on October 17th, 2011 was fined $10,000 by the FAA. Pirker and his attorney fought the FAA claiming, “There are no federal regulations that govern the operation of model planes due to the FAA’s failure to hold any notice-and-comment rulemaking period before issuing the ban.” In an unusual twist the NTSB agreed and overturned the FAA’s fine. The FAA appealed. However, on Tuesday a group of large media companies, including the Associated Press, New York Times, McClatchy, Hearst , Cox, National Press Photographers Association, National Press Club, Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and others, filed a “Friend of the Court” brief in support of Pirker. Then on Wednesday Patrick Geraghty, the administrative law judge for the NTSB dropped a bombshell on the FAA stating “there was no enforceable FAA rule” on the type of aircraft Pirker flew.

So since the NTSB has ruled that there is no enforceable FAA rule, the FAA has fallen back to the 1981 AC 51-97. Meaning fying a model aircraft (Drones) “solely for hobby or recreational reasons” doesn’t require approval, but hobbyists must operate according to 1981 guidelines, such as staying away from populated areas, the FAA said.

It is interesting to note that the 1981 FAA guidelines make no mention regarding compensation for the flight of a model aircraft.

Can the FAA really regulate drones in the first place? Tim Adelman an Attorney and Leonard Ligon a Drone expert try to answer this question with a white paper they wrote together entitled, “The Law and Operating Unmanned Aircraft In the US National Airspace System

They state:

There is not a defined and analyzed body of law applicable to UAS (Drones). While regulations currently exist on how aircraft shall operate in the NAS, the regulations do not intuitively apply to UAS (Drones). By working closely with the FAA, the government will be able to obtain guidance regarding approved methods of alternative means of compliance with “see and avoid” and other applicable regulations. And by working closely with local FAA Air Traffic offices such guidance will be invaluable in creating a safe government UAS (Drone) program.

While the FAA is certainly within its authority to comment on airworthiness and airman qualifications, the ultimate responsibility rests with the government user that will lease or own, and ultimately operate the UAS (Drones). Therefore, it is important for the government to develop its own comprehensive program that trains the users to fully understand the policies and procedures for operating UAS in any class of airspace within each user’s area of responsibility.

What can you do to keep you and your Drone out of trouble? How should the FAA handle Drones? To be continued…

Haden on swing.

Who is this redhead named Haden?

 Haden, my 4-year-old son and my greatest project to date.

Of the many projects I have worked on, Haden is hands down the greatest one. Just as any project can be frustrating and exhilarating, the same is true with children. Despite that, it is so much fun to share his enthusiasm and delight while exploring this vast world of ours. Haden Tesla Franklin Eber was born on March 19th in 2010. He is named after our favorite inventors. Mine being Nikola Tesla and Arroxane’s Benjamin Franklin.   As any new father can tell you, it’s an exhilarating experience participating in a birth. My fondest memories of Haden’s birth, are cutting his umbilical cord and giving him his first bath. My not so fun experiences used to happen lots. Crying at 3am, stinky diapers, and colic. Thankfully, he has grown out of those. Lately it has been sporadic episodes of “Not listening and doing what you’re told.”

Haden's First Bath


Haden’s interests? Everything.

Haden’s favorite phrase is “Why?” Give him the answer and be ready for another “Why?”. Even though as times, his “Why’s” are non-stop I indulge him. This is the reason he knows exactly where rain comes from, and what those little drops are on the side of your cold glass. If you ask him he will blurt out, “Condensation!” in a small excited, yet confident voice. The day we brought Haden home, my wife Arroxane and I decided that we wouldn’t talk baby talk to Haden. We are of the opinion that doing this, while cute, impedes proper language skill development. We attribute that decision that we made early on to Haden’s success with speech. Likewise, we also decided that we would answer every question he has, no matter how complex or uncomfortable the question is. And yes, he has already asked about Human reproduction. Arroxane fielded this one by describing in scientific terminology how the process works. He responded in the usual Haden way and accepted mom’s explanation, for now. I’m sure this question will creep up again.

Haden studying the fish


How are we teaching him?

Haden has been enrolled in Montessori school for most of his little life. Even as a toddler, he was learning things like sorting blocks and colors. Montessori also gives him the ability to be social with other children in his age group. The basic philosophy of Montessori is “Children learn by interacting with their environment”. Instead of having your typical “assignments” Montessori children are allowed to explore and do what interests them. This doesn’t mean that we set them loose to run around freely. There are puzzles and learning games also known as “works”, that are strategically placed throughout the classroom. The teachers help guide the children in specific scheduled activities. Sometimes it as an entire group, other times it’s in pairs and occasionally by themselves. As of Haden’s 4th birthday he knows all the standard colors by name,  the entire alphabet, he can count past 10, and he can already read some words.

Opportunistic ants eating a piece of doughnut.

Besides Montessori, my wife and I use any notable experience as a learning opportunity for Haden.  Here is an example of this is:  One weekend in the Fall last year, Haden and I went and got doughnuts early on a Saturday morning. I decided to surprised him by driving to the park where this is a playground. It is a short distance from our house. While he was eating his star-shaped doughnut with sprinkles, he dropped a small piece on the ground. Declaring it “Yucky”, he continued to eat his breakfast. A short time later he looked down and noticed red insects crawling all over his lost piece of doughnut. He looked up at me and asked, “Daddy, what are those things crawling on my doughnut?”. I replied, “They are ants. What do you think they are doing?”. He pondered for a moment and then said “They are eating it.” “That’s right.” I replied. He then asked, “Why are they eating my doughnut?”. I looked over at him and said, “Well they must be hungry, just like you.”. I then sat there for the next 20 or so minutes explaining how ants work together to forage for food and bring it back to the ant colony. I continued to answer the other questions as they popped up. All of a sudden it “clicked” for him and he said, “Just like you and mommy get food at the store and bring it back to the house for us.” I acknowledged his correct answer with a “Yep!” After breakfast and some swings,  I took him to the aquarium in Grapevine where he had a great time learning all about sea life.


Does Haden have his own computer yet?

Haden and his computer

Actually, yes. I like so say Haden was born with a silicon chip in his mouth. At the age of 6 months old, he figured out how to use Grandma’s iPad. We were on a road trip to White Sands New Mexico to visit some of Arroxane’s family and go tour the missile base out there. My Mother and Father in-law both worked there together. That’s were they met. So the 5 of us piled into a rental minivan, pointed it west and started our journey. As you may have guessed, Haden was content to watch the scenery for about 15 minutes. He then began to announce his displeasure with traveling by crying. Despite having a multitude of toys in the back with him, he wasn’t having anything to do with this travel nonsense. In an effort to save our sanity, Grandma allowed Haden to use her iPad to keep himself entertained. Foreseeing such a possibility, she had preloaded the iPad with all sorts of toddler friendly stories and games. He was thrilled. He quickly picked up the intuitive navigation gestures and was flipping pages of his Pooh story book with ease. Ever since then I have engrossed Haden in technology every chance I could. The reason for this is simple. In our modern age, if you don’t know how to use a computer, it’s almost as bad as not being able to read and write. Bill Gates had access to a computer via a teletype terminal when he was 13. That was in 1968 when computers didn’t even exist in homes. Similarly, I got my first computer a TRS-80 Model I when I was 7, that was in 1984, the beginning of the computer age. So naturally Haden got his first computer, a recycled Macbook when he was 3. In the picture above he is on the PBS Kids website playing educational games. He knows how the mouse works and navigates between games all on his own. Sadly as this computer was used and acquired for very cheap and it died one day. Anytime you try to boot it now, you get a sad mac hardware error message. I’ll let him take it apart and inspect the guts. Who knows he may fix it.

Has Haden taught you anything?

Haden taking electronics apart

Absolutely. Haden as permanently altered my perspective. He is the inspiration for my creation of CircuitDough conductive sculpting dough and the companion children’s story series that I am writing entitled, “The Adventures of Eric the Electron”. As most of you already know I’m rather involved in anything electronic. Quite often I have a circuit board or 2 within arms reach. My fondness of electronics hasn’t gone unnoticed by Haden. He is always very interested in what Daddy is messing with. One day he was with me on one of my trips to Dallas Makerspace. I Gave him the opportunity to take some junk apart. He thoroughly enjoyed it. He was surprisingly meticulous and very careful not to damage the CATV modulator while he was disassembling it. Once he had it fully apart the questions started. I had to try to think of a way to explain how the gadget worked that he could understand. This was my eureka moment. I explained to him that there are these very tiny guys we can’t see called “electrons” and there was this one in particular named Eric. I told him “Eric loves to run. Eric runs in special roads that we call circuits. When you switch on your bedroom light, Eric and his friends run up the wall through the light switch into the light bulb and back down again then all the way to the power station and back 60 times in one second!”  “He must be really fast!’ he exclaimed. From then on we are reminded about Eric, “Mommy look! Eric is running through that light.” This laid the foundation for his understanding of electronics.

Haden's schematic

On Monday we had a mishap where Arroxane ended up with both car seats in her car. I didn’t realize this until after she had left for work. Normally we take turns shuttling Haden to school in the mornings. That day happened to be my turn. We contacted Grandma to see if we could borrow her’s. We didn’t get the loaner car seat for a while and so I decided to keep Haden home and teach him electronics. Haden had been given a Snap-Circuits kit by Grandma & Grandpa for the holidays. The recommended age for this kit is 10+, I’m sure if they missed that or not. Haden doesn’t seem to care. I started by drawing the schematic symbols for the 4 components he was going to learn. A battery pack, switch, resistor and LED. Then I took the matching components out of his kit and showed him the symbols I had drawn and the ones printed on the parts. We went through each of them one by one and I explained what they did and what the names were. At this point in his Montessori education, he is already learning how to read and write 3 letter words. I figured it would be easy for him to learn the symbols because they were pictures not abstract lines like letters are made of. Next I made dotted versions of the symbols that he could draw over. Then I drew a basic schematic incorporating all the parts and had him duplicate it. After that I asked him if he thought he could put the circuit together, he said yes. So I let him try it. A few minutes later he had a grin from ear to ear when the LED lit up as he pressed the switch button. He understands which way the LEDs hookup and what direction the current or “Eric” flows. A few days ago he learned the symbol for DC motors. At this rate he will  soon outgrow this kit ment for 10 year olds.

Chores, Obedience and Punishment.

For the most part Haden is a happy smiling energetic 4-year-old. There are however, other days when he is downright defiant and insists on testing our authority. My wife and I don’t put up with it. We decided early on to keep a unified front, so that if one of us tells him something the other one agrees and re-enforces what the first one said. This prevents the “But Mommy/Daddy said…” problem. When tell him no, we mean no. If we have told him no when he asks us for something, then we do not ever go back and tell him yes. Unless he has earned a yes by doing a chore or other worthy task. Most children are smarter than you think they are. They try to develop strategies to get what they want by manipulating adults, this usually includes throwing tantrums. Everyone at one time or another has experienced or seen a toddler fit. We counter this tactic with this simple rule, “If you throw a tantrum, you are guaranteed to not get, do, have, keep, eat, drink etc whatever you thrown the fit about.” You absolutely cannot cave on this one rule, otherwise they will use it as a bargaining chip to get what they want. Likewise, if he is being demanding, and says something like “I want x!” he doesn’t get it. The same rule applies.  Instead, he is encouraged to ask for things by saying, “Please, (insert parent) can I have x?” Recently we had some friends from out-of-town who have a daughter that is just a week older than Haden that were spending the weekend with us. Things were fine for the first hour or so and then the “She did this, he did that” started. The strategy for this scenario is again simple, punish both. This is exactly how they deal with behavior problems in the military. Arroxane is a disabled veteran Marine by the way.

Haden using the vacuum


So how and when do we punish Haden? Well if he isn’t listening and doing as he was instructed, we remind him again with a stern voice and warn him about going to the corner. If he isn’t compliant, then we begin the count, 1, 2, 3. If he hasn’t complied by the time we get to 3 we start the punishment phase. We scale the punishment according to the infarctions severity. Most of the time he goes to the corner on his own. Sometimes he will even go to the corner on his own accord and punish himself if he feels he did something wrong. We don’t intervene and let him stay in the corner.  Occasionally he refuses to go to the corner. In these cases we count to 3 again and if he hasn’t gotten in the corner by the time we get to 3 he gets a pop on the rear end, then he is placed in the corner. We only use our hand to spank, never a belt, twig or paddle. While in the corner he has to stand, stay quiet, and keep his nose in the corner for about 4 minutes. Most of the time he will be crying and or screaming. The rule for the corner is; you must be quiet to get out of the corner. Usually “the corner” is effective and does the job. Once in a while he decides he is going to push the limits and will refuse to cooperate. When this happens, we usually go through multiple cycles of counting and popping the rear end. After it has escalated this far he gets what we call Deadbug, instead of the corner. While the name Deadbug sounds nefarious it isn’t, but it is simple and very effective.  Basically Deadbug is where you lay on your back in the floor and keep your arms and legs pointed skyward like a dead bug. This is easy to do for a short while, but becomes increasingly harder as the arm, leg and abdomen muscles begin to fatigue. It doesn’t take long before he want’s to comply. We always have a talk after the punishment phase and discuss why he was punished, what he did wrong, and why he should or shouldn’t do whatever it was he did wrong. This this done while he is standing up and we are either sitting or crouched to his eye level. This continues until he understands what he did and agrees to comply in the future. We then hug him and tell him we love him. Afterwards he is instructed to apologise to the party that was wronged. After he has been punished that’s it. We don’t bring it up again later or hold it over his head, he did the time already. He may however lose privileges like desert,  TV time, or staying up late due to the consequences of his actions.


Haden doing his laundry

Unlike some parents, we don’t use chores as a punishment. We feel that if we use chores to punish poor behaviour, it creates a certain stigma towards doing work and tasks in general. Instead, we reward his efforts for a job well done. We encourage him to earn extra privileges and TV time by completing chores and work. What chores can Haden do? He knows how to bring down his dirty clothing and put them in the washing machine, add in soap and then start the wash cycle all by himself. When the washer is done, he transfers the clean clothes to the dryer and is sure to put the dryer balls in and starts it. Once the dryer is done, he asks for help bringing the clothes upstairs to his room. He will then go ahead and put his clothes away in his dresser and hang up his shirts, shorts and pants. He also helps me take out the trash and recycling every Monday morning, load the dishwasher, and keeps the cats and his fish fed.

So there he is, my redhead named Haden. Am I a proud Dad? You bet!