Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ghost Riders In The Sky (Drones "R" US)

February 3rd, 2012 

by Steven Aftergood 

          A House-Senate conference report this week called on the Administration to accelerate the use of civilian unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or “drones,” in U.S. airspace.

          The pending authorization bill for the Federal Aviation Administration directs the Secretary of Transportation to develop within nine months “a comprehensive plan to safely accelerate the integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system.”


         “The plan… shall provide for the safe integration of civil unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system as soon as practicable, but not later than September 30, 2015.”

          The conference bill, which still awaits final passage, also calls for establishment of UAS test ranges in cooperation with NASA and the Department of Defense, expanded use of UAS in the Arctic region, development of guidance for the operation of public unmanned aircraft systems, and new safety research to assess the risk of “catastrophic failure of the unmanned aircraft that would endanger other aircraft in the national airspace system.”

          The Department of Defense is pursuing its own domestic UAS activities for training purposes and “domestic operations,” according to a 2007 DoD-FAA memorandum of agreement.  (“Army Foresees Expanded Use of Drones in U.S. Airspace,” Secrecy News, January 19, 2012.)


           Update: In the recently enacted FY2012 National Defense Authorization Act (section 1097), Congress mandated that “the Administrator of the Federal Aviation Administration shall establish a program to integrate unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system at six test ranges.” This new test range program is supposed to be established within 180 days.


  1. Now if those domestic drones turn out to be really smart, maybe we could even teach them fracking!

  2. I only remember Burl Ives from his later years, and loved his ghostly performance of Ghost Riders (and the Ghost Herd and Ghost Rider illustrations). Was struck by the British plaque citing the "World War". As for these domestic drones - not surprising, sort of creepy. Am a bit conflicted about the program.

  3. Tom - I'm absolutely certain they could direct and coordinate fracking activities from the air. It's probably a good (easy to achieve) time-and-motion exercise. In this household, the younger generation is currently considering (and developing) future cell phone built-in and add-on applications. I'll add this to her list (which also includes some cooking today and assembling a new, larger dog crate so that Andy's recuperation can continue in a space approximately the size of Montana, a place I believe where police drone activities were deployed early.)

    Nell: I think this Burl Ives performance is super and I went with it instead of the better-known and excellent Marty Robbins version because the rendition was more consonant with my own emotions about this. I can see why aerial drone surveillance might be helpful in police work for reasons I suspect we would all approve of (such as locating victims of abduction), but it's clear that we're now a long way from Sky King. In this case, I really distrust the politicians and question whether we should do everything we can do. Also, the notion of the USAF renting out idle equipment for profit, while comprehensible, doesn't sound particularly great. You can't beat Zeppelin photos, however. Perfect for every occasion, I think.


  4. I grew up listening to Burl Ives. Wonderful to find him here on your page.

  5. It's very likely that someone at DoD might have been inspired by Spy King. I certainly don't think we should do anything we can do. The planet would be doomed for sure. On the other hand, we can't do everything the government thinks we can do, or would like to do. One of the problems with this drone testing, is that they are mere machines managed by mere mortals. Drones have certainly proven to be effective in many instances, but they are probably more fallible than DoD would ever admit. And heaven forbid the thought of renting them out for profit. By the way, DoD spends an unspeakable amount of money pursuing projects that don't work. One that comes to mind is the Osprey - the helicopter/airplane hybrid that just won't stop crashing. And yes, the Zeppelin photos are perfect for every occasion, and particularly for this one.

  6. Great to see Burl Ives fans here. I think I first became aware of him when I saw him play Big Daddy in Cat On A Hot Tin Roof on NBC's Saturday Night At The Movies when I was very young. That was great! Incidentally, the USAF has already been renting drones out to local police forces in the mid-west and west and turning the fleet into a mini profit-center. It's a weird tie-up that reminds me of other remarkable dual-use engagements, such as when late Time-Warner chieftan made his first big killing (during his days running Riverside Memorial Chapels) repurposing the funeral home limousine fleet as celebrity chariots during the evening/overnight shift. I worry quite a bit about the mere machines/mere mortals (sitting at gaming-type consoles) aspect of all of this. I loved Sky King. Curtis

  7. Not at all happy to hear about the USAF drone rental agency. Jonny and I used to watch Sky King together. Nell

  8. Yes, those drones are so creepy. I am reminded by my son who tells me of various inventions in CS that they don't really want to let out of the bag for fear of how much more of our privacy will be invaded . . .

    As if we will care about privacy if there are drones flying overhead.

    Of course, nothing will ever go wrong in this country, right?

  9. It's a very, very odd and disquieting story. I imagine this is one of those instances, by the way, of the "bipartisanship" we're supposedly lacking and which we're all supposed to hope fervently to see occur more frequently. Jane's upstairs working on the family ray-gun, fortunately, and Caroline has construction of the Ark underway. I'm just working on contracts for a documentary, so that the Watchers will have something to Watch. Curtis