Is History Repeating Itself?

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Hobby Drone With Camera | Photo by patch.com

I guess I’ll quote Yogi Berra one more time because it does seem like “deja vu all over again.” Back in the mid 1970s when I was living and working in Eau Claire, Wisconsin the big craze exploded. Everyone wanted to have a Citizen Band (CB) radio and thousands, if not millions, were sold in a short span of years. What used to be a communication medium for truckers and electronics geeks only became crowded with a lot of blabbermouths taking over the airwaves with unnecessary jabbering which very often interfered with important and sometimes even emergency messages.

CB Radio
1970s CB Radio Similar To One I Had | Photo by popscreen.com

There were rules that were adhered to by CB users such as no vulgar language and no talking over other people’s conversations. In fact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) had rules you had to follow, like the ones I just listed, which were and probably still are punishable by fines and possible revocation of the license you had to get. You were given a call sign that you had to say every time you wet on the air. If my memory serves me the FCC had only a dozen inspectors at the time whose job was to enforce those rules. With the explosion of CD radios there were way too many users for them to keep up with the bad language and other infractions. The FCC issued more rules to cover what was happening, but it was like locking the barn door after the horses already ran away. The best part of using CB radios occurred on the highways. Truckers would report accidents and road hazards to help keep motorists safe. Yes, they did report sightings of “smokeys” (the police or state troopers and their radar traps). We “civilians” could listen-in on their reports to make sure we weren’t caught speeding either.

The reason I brought this up is that I see a similar situation occurring now, but this time it is with drones. Let’s start off by defining what a drone is and how they came into being. A drone is defined by Wikipedia as “An unmanned combat aerial vehicle (UCAV) also known as a combat drone or drone, is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that is usually armed (aircraft ordinance), such as with missiles. Aircraft of this type have no onboard human pilot.” The aircraft are controlled remotely by a trained UAV pilot from a remote terminal. Drones are safer to operate during wartime since there is nobody onboard should the vehicle crash on its own or get shot down by an enemy.

Dr. Lee De Forest | Image by slideshare.net
Dr. Lee De Forest | Image by slideshare.net

Dr. Lee De Forest, an early inventor of radio devices, is credited with being one of the first to explore the concept of a drone in an article in Popular Mechanics back in 1940.

Dr. John Foster Stuart
Dr. John Foster Stuart | Photo by ozy.com

A nuclear physicist, Dr. John Stuart Foster, Jr. former head of the the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory (now known as the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory), is credited with making the military drone into a usable weapon of war. According to Wikipedia Israel used unmanned target drones from the U.S. Ryan Firebee to “spur Egypt into firing its entire arsenal of anti-aircraft missiles. The mission was accomplished with no injuries to Israeli pilots, who soon exploited the depleted Egyptian defenses.”

Military Drone
Military Drone Firing Missile | Photo by dronesarefun.com

The first documented time that an armed drone was used in war was in the late 1980s when Iran armed a drone with 6 RPG-7 rounds in the Iran-Iraq War. The U.S. Military reported that at least 1 UAV was airborne at all times during Desert Storm. The first documented “kill” by an American military drone was in Kandahar on October 7, 2001.

Hobby Drone With Camera | Photo by patch.com
Hobby Drone With Camera | Photo by patch.com

As with many inventions hobbyists got into the act making their own  unmanned vehicles. It wasn’t a very big step to go from radio controlled (RC) aircraft to a drone with a camera on it. Companies are producing thousands of them and the public is gobbling them up. Most of them use horizontal blades which enable hovering and takeoff and landing in a small space. Problems started to arise pretty quickly though. Inexperienced drone “pilots” were accused of spying on their neighbors, trespassing on private property, interfering with commercial aircraft, and even flying in the no-fly zone surrounding the White House in Washington, D.C.

FAA Registry For Drones | Image by govtech.com
FAA Registry For Drones | Image by govtech.com

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is responsible for keeping the airways safe. As I said previously, it almost seems like closing the barn door after the horses got out because there are already so many in the hands of the public and so many more being sold every day that I wonder just how well the FCC’s enforcement of these regulations will proceed. How will they catch you if you don’t register your drone? How will they catch you flying it illegally in forbidden airspace without many investigators to follow up on possible witnesses who saw the infraction?

Fire Retardant Drop
DC-10 Dropping Fire Retardant In CA |Photo by Mike McMillan through boingboing.net

There have been many incidents of drones interfering with commercial air traffic and you might remember the incidents in California where drones prevented fire retardant dropping airplanes from flying the necessary path over wildfires. My fear is that a careless drone “pilot” will have his vehicle sucked into the jet engine of a commercial airliner causing the plane to crash. Let’s hope the drone enthusiasts pay attention to the rules and fly safely and responsibly.

If you have an idea for a future topic let me know what you would like me to talk about or explain. You can comment below or email me at: [email protected].

 

 

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