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    • In December, over 1,000 flights at Gatwick Airport — Britain's second-busiest — were diverted or canceled and flight operations were disrupted for 36 hours due to reports that one or more drones were spotted in the airport's airspace.

      No videos or photos have emerged. Police briefly detained two suspects, but released them after determining they weren't involved.

      The only evidence: around 100 eyewitness accounts and a damaged drone found near the airport that may or may not have been involved. A reward has been offered for information, but so far little is known. Some people question whether there was ever an unauthorized drone. Police suspect that many of the later sightings were of a drone operated by the Sussex Police.

      In January, flights at Heathrow Airport — Britain's busiest — were briefly disrupted after reports of a drone near the airport.

      Once again, no videos or photos emerged, and neither the drone nor its operator have been found.

      These aren't the first times drones have disrupted airport operations, and they won't be the last. But nobody seems to be quite sure how to solve the problem.

      Drones are so small and can fly so close to the ground that it's not really possible to spot them with radar. In the US, the FAA has spent years testing various drone detection techniques, with some success, but has found it extremely challenging. They also recommend against the use of drone countermeasures like jammers because they could interfere with other equipment and could create even greater hazards if drones start falling out of the sky.

      Instead, the FAA is working on legislation that would require drone manufacturers to make their drones remotely identifiable and trackable. But this is a complicated regulatory solution that could take years to come to fruition, and even then could potentially be bypassed with some hardware hacking or with entirely homemade drones.

      The reality seems to be that nobody quite knows how to prevent drones (or even just reports of drones) from causing massive airport disruptions. We could be looking at a future where this sort of thing becomes commonplace and is just one more inconvenience air travelers will have to plan for.

      What do you think? Do you have a clever idea for detecting or intercepting malicious drones? Or are we doomed?

      📷 by Sorasak on Unsplash

    • A few years ago, I was fond of taking visitors on helicopter tours of SF. There was a particular pilot I flew with many times. You get to fly low over the city, through the spans of the Golden Gate Bridge, under the bridge... It's incredible.

      Apparently it takes a zillion hours of flying to be licensed to fly where they do.

      He said that in all his years of flying, he felt in control of the variables until the age of drones. He believed that if a drone struck his tail rotor, that had the potential to bring him down. The drones fly everywhere he does and at his altitude, so the only thing to do was fly slowly, watch like a hawk and hope.

    • You'd assume common sense would be the best deterrent, but unfortunately as the saying goes, common sense isn't so common any more.

    • What do you think? Do you have a clever idea for detecting or intercepting malicious drones? Or are we doomed?

      The radar cross section (RCS) of a drone is roughly the size of some species of birds.

      We have radars that can pick up these slow-moving targets, but we don't park them in front of most major civilian airports due to the expense.

      If we have a couple of incidents with collisions that kill or injure, I'd bet the money would be made available to procure these for major airports in this country.

    • Interesting! Makes sense. But once we've detected a drone, what do we do about it?

      Flight operations would still have to be shut down, and tracking the drone itself via radar wouldn't necessarily make it any easier to locate the drone operator. And the FAA recommends against countermeasures that could cause the drone or projectiles fired at it to fall to the ground. So a single drone hovering over a runway could still potentially shut down a major airport for hours.

      I guess maybe we could deploy a hunter-seeker drone to capture the invader drone in a net and carry it to a safe place? 🤔

    • I'd think best combat would be via radio intercept and interference with their base, unless programmed to independently fly, which is unusual. So in US at least, FCC may have allot more say than FAA over the misbehaving of drones, once their build standards are officialized. It's starting to look as if allot more will depend on Bezos divorce. 😋 

    • I'd think best combat would be via radio intercept and interference with their base, unless programmed to independently fly, which is unusual.

      Back in my days of employment, I worked with a couple of individuals who were pretty big into drones.

      Most of the 'heavy-duty' ones had smarts built into them so they could 'fly home' to a given lat/long point where the flight originated.

      One individual in particular was getting HD resolution video from his from two or three miles out. The device would sense a certain battery level, then would go into 'fly home' mode...only taking a few minutes, apparently.

      So, if the drones that are creating aviation hazards to flights with humans, how much radio power - and on what frequencies - are you going to jam that signal?

    • So, if the drones that are creating aviation hazards to flights with humans, how much radio power - and on what frequencies - are you going to jam that signal?

      All great questions, for those who make the big $$$ ;-)

      To my mind, I think they should be easier to contain than the flying flock of geese at LaGuardia, several years back, or other birds. Maybe the plane design should also be enhanced to protect the motors from entering debris.

    • All great questions, for those who make the big $$$ ;-)

      Yet, it will be the politicians that will screw it up enough that a fully feasible technical solution just won't work.

      (the commercial aircraft itself should be the generator of the jamming signal during landing and takeoff, but only if signals are received by the aircraft. No signals? No jamming required.)

    • One thing I have to say is I'm astonished at the safety we've been able to achieve with air travel. Oh my God. So many flights, such bad weather, so many chances for human error with air traffic control, pilots, mechanics, complex equipment, aging planes, people of malicious intent. And yet. And that's a case where governments had a lot to do with it.

    • "The aviation administration limits amateur drone flights to an altitude of 400 feet and prohibits flying them in controlled airspace without a permit. Flying a drone near a major airport like Newark Liberty requires clearance from air traffic controllers."

      This sounds more like a joke than an aviation safety regulation. How do they actually enforce it, is the question. Given the high stakes involved, allot more severe measures and technologies should be involved. How about simply shooting the stray drones down.

    • How about simply shooting the stray drones down.

      What device would you use to ensure complete and utter destruction of the drone *and* not have the shrapnel from such an event (remember, must also account for the device [e.g. missile] you're using to take out the drone...) *not* inflict damage to people or property in the air or on the ground?

    • Tough questions. Someone should hire these guys for advisers? 🤡

      Isn't drone standard for frequencies and their communication protocols operation regulated, just as it's done with walkie talkie frequencies? It would be allot easier building equipment and software to intercept them. It's just a matter of  💲 💲 💲, I think.

    • In a five second search of Das Google...

      So, for $3000, you can jam drones up to 1000 meters away.

      Frequencies:

      Thus, not only do you wipe out drones flying, but also have the possibility of wiping out portions of cellular phone service in the same area. Drones work much like cell phones on any one of a set of frequencies in the alloted band.

      ...and that's why this is a pain in the butt to solve.