There has been much talk about the use of and Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), or drones as some people like to call them.
This is all new technology and while there is a rush to accept this technology as beneficial the final results are not in yet for fire and rescue services. And the reason the final results are not in yet is because there are not enough skilled and professional pilots who are qualified to fly a UAS in conjunction with fire and rescue services.
More research and study is needed to determine how a UAS can be best utilized to be an amazing tool to aid first responders in saving lives and property.
Now I happen to be a FAA certificated pilot and one of the very first to apply for a FAA Section 333 exemption to fly professionally with fire and rescue services.
I feel there is a great benefit to the use of a UAS but I’ve already uncovered some real issues and problems from my flights so far under the FAA hobbyist rules while I await final approval to fly under a Civil Certificate of Authorization.
My FAA exemption request I’m seeking approval for is “Description of Relief Sought: The petitioner is seeking an exemption to operate unmanned aircraft systems with a maximum weight of less than 55 pounds to perform public safety operations with fire departments, ambulance services, emergency medical service operations, and search and rescue agencies in order to provide real-time operational assistance in emergency operations.”
Keep in mind the FAA is most concerned about safe flight and competent pilots and not fire departments or EMS. I’d suggest your comment be about giving my application a thumbs up as a FAA certificated and qualified pilot so we can further the investigation of the use of UAS in public safety flights.
It is just far too apparent to me how people off the street may assume that just because you can purchase a toy drone on Amazon or your local mall, that makes them competent to fly with emergency responders. Oh that is so not true.
I’ve watched too many people do things with their drones that is grossly unsafe and the thought of them flying near emergency responders, quite frankly frightens me at times. We need professional pilots with training and experience, not novices. You don’t just let anyone jump in and drive an ambulance, do you?
The reason these devices are called Unmanned Aircraft Systems is because they are aircraft and need to be operated as such in accordance with FAA airspace regulations. This might be an unpopular stance but I think UAS pilots need to meet FAA training guidelines first before they begin to fly. These non-trained pilots simply don’t know what they don’t know. Inexperienced pilots will make mistakes, frighten people, cause injuries, and setback this field for years.
For example, will inexperienced pilots know what controlled airspace is inappropriate to fly in and what communications procedures must be followed to comply with FAA requirements? Will they know not to fly
I’ve learned that a UAS pilot at a fire scene needs to manage a lot of information that a firefighter never has had to deal with. The first big problem is to maintain a sterile cockpit. In piloting lingo this means to maintain a cockpit free from distractions so the pilot can be focused with the most important tasks at hand.
In the real world, the minute you pull out the UAS, people want to talk to you. That causes distractions and that can lead to silly mistakes. You have to tell people you can’t talk and do it in a polite way.
Then there are all the issues of safe flying. For example, even before you takeoff you have to consider if the current conditions meet the standards for flying under visual flight rules (VFR) or are below minimums.
Wind is another big issue. You need to be very aware of wind speed, gusts, and wind direction on your UAS. It is possible for gusty wind conditions to impact your aircraft and lead it astray.
On top of all that are scene management of all the vertical challenges which include wires, tall trees, obstructions to GPS signal, etc.
I plan to write a future article on what software tools and flight applications I have found most beneficial.
Not every fire dispatch call is appropriate for UAS support. It’s knowing when to fly that is important. So far in my early flight research the most obvious beneficial flights are:
- Structure fire.
- Missing person.
- Incident on busy road to monitor traffic to balance traffic flow.
- Woods fire.
- Open water rescue.
Because not every call is best suited for UAS support that means the UAS pilot has to engage in regular and ongoing flight training to be optimally ready when the call comes. A UAS is like any other piece of critical equipment on the truck. It has to be regularly checked and made sure both the pilot and craft are operationally ready.
Personally I log several hours a week of logged flight time to practice flight skills and specific situations.
Make a checklist for everything. As an aircraft pilot I use checklists for every stage of flight. If it was possible, I’d have a checklist for my checklists. A good checklist helps you to not miss a critical step. I use checklists to fly my UAS craft and I turn to them on every flight.
Lesson 6 Fight the urge to fly when flight conditions create unnecessary risk. For example, just a few minutes ago a call was dispatched for an appliance fire but with winds gusting currently to 18 knots, I’m not going to fly. Know when to say no.
More to Learn
There are more lessons to be learned during this evaluation period and I’ll keep sharing them with you.