March 29, 2006 1:41 PM PST

Drone aircraft may prowl U.S. skies

Unmanned aerial vehicles have soared the skies of Afghanistan and Iraq for years, spotting enemy encampments, protecting military bases, and even launching missile attacks against suspected terrorists.

Now UAVs may be landing in the United States.

A House of Representatives panel on Wednesday heard testimony from police agencies that envision using UAVs for everything from border security to domestic surveillance high above American cities. Private companies also hope to use UAVs for tasks such as aerial photography and pipeline monitoring.

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"We need additional technology to supplement manned aircraft surveillance and current ground assets to ensure more effective monitoring of United States territory," Michael Kostelnik, assistant commissioner at Homeland Security's Customs and Border Protection Bureau, told the House Transportation subcommittee.

Kostelnik was talking about patrolling U.S. borders and ports from altitudes around 12,000 feet, an automated operation that's currently under way in Arizona. But that's only the beginning of the potential of surveillance from the sky.

In a scene that could have been inspired by the movie "Minority Report," one North Carolina county is using a UAV equipped with low-light and infrared cameras to keep watch on its citizens. The aircraft has been dispatched to monitor gatherings of motorcycle riders at the Gaston County fairgrounds from just a few hundred feet in the air--close enough to identify faces--and many more uses, such as the aerial detection of marijuana fields, are planned.

That raises not just privacy concerns, but also safety concerns because of the possibility of collisions with commercial and general aviation aircraft.

"They're a legitimate user of the airspace and they need to play by the same rules as everyone else," Melissa Rudinger, vice president of regulatory affairs at the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said in a telephone interview.

Pilots undergo extensive training on collision detection and avoidance. Planes that fly at night are required to have certain types of lights, for instance. Operating an aircraft near busy airports (in government parlance, "Class B" airports) requires a transponder that broadcasts its altitude. And during all flights that take place in poor weather or higher than 18,000 feet above sea level, the pilot must be in radio contact with controllers.

No such anti-collision rules apply to UAVs. Rudinger is concerned that UAVs--either remote-controlled or autonomous drones--will pose a safety threat to pilots and their passengers. She's not that worried about larger UAVs operated by the military that have sophisticated radar systems, but about smaller ones that have limited equipment and potentially inexperienced ground controllers.

"The FAA needs to define what is a UAV," Rudinger said. "And they need to regulate it just like they do any other aircraft, and integrate it into the system. The problem is the technology has advanced, and there are no regulations that talk about how to certify these aircraft, how to certify the operator, and how to operate in the national airspace system."

For its part, the FAA says it's created a UAV "program office" to come up with new rules of the sky. Preliminary standards for "sense and avoid" UAV avionics are expected in three to four years.

"Currently there is no recognized technology solution that could make these aircraft capable of meeting regulatory requirements for 'see and avoid,' and 'command and control,'" said Nick Sabatini, associate FAA administrator for aviation safety. "Further, some unmanned aircraft will likely never receive unrestricted access to (U.S. airspace) due to the limited amount of avionics it can carry because of weight, such as transponders, that can be installed in a vehicle itself weighing just a few ounces."

Complicating the question of how to deal with UAVs is the fact that there are so many different varieties of them. Some are essentially large model aircraft and weigh only a few ounces or pounds, while some military models are the size of a Boeing 737. Most are designed to sip fuel slowly, so they have long flight times and low airspeeds--meaning that they could be flying at the same altitude as a jet aircraft but at half the speed.

Egging on Congress and the FAA are manufacturers of UAVs, who see a lucrative market in domestic surveillance and aerial photography.

"It is quite easy to envision a future in which (UAVs), unaffected by pilot fatigue, provide 24-7 border and port surveillance to protect against terrorist intrusion," said Mike Heintz on behalf of the UNITE Alliance which represents Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman. "Other examples are limited only by our imagination."

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26 comments

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Times are getting crazy!
I don't know for certon if athoritys have thought about this much.I wont to leave my childern with a better land than I have and that my father had.The problem today is that WE THE PEOPLE OF THESE UNITED STATES have been to lazy, or to frusterated with our gov.to get involved.As a resalt,we have given to much power to the gov. as a hole!!!DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN!!!!!!I don't wont anyone,esp. the police,to be watching my every move.I would love to ask someone responable"Who do you think you are!?What gives you the right to serv.all inorder to catchy the few?"The problem with that is that noone in paticuler is responsable.There for noone is held accuntable if these aircraft are used for the rough resons.America,ARE YOU BLIND!?
Posted by sayhi-gripnchic (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
My reasons for concern...
1. Citizen's won't know they are being surveiled, so citizen oversight cannot exist. Who will report the impact of this program to LAC citizens?

I can see and hear a manned helicopter, so I know it is up there above my house. A LAC resident will have no idea that the government is above their house zooming in on them, and this could be for a sustained period of time. So, a citizen has no idea they are being surveilled. If a helicopter is shinning its bright light on my home for a sustained period of time, then I'll know about it and have the opportunity to petitition my government for redress of gievances).

2. Not currently feasible to monitor citizens unless probably cause is established. However, that will change.

It is extremely expensive and difficult to patrol the city 24/7 with a manned helicopter. These drones currently cost $30K a piece, and that price will go down. Within a few years it will not be out of the question to have dozens, or perhaps, hundreds of these things circling the sky watching all aspects of daily life. So, it will be feasible to surveil entire areas of the city on a 24/7 basis. With no one even knowing about it. This is not possible now. Helicopters are prohibitively expensive, so they are utilized in a limited fashion - say, for chasing suspects. But with these drones, the budgetary constraints are lifted and therefore probable cause will not necessarily be a limiting factor any longer.

3. Will inter-department checks and balances be implemented?

How is a county legislative body going to monitor the Sheriff's use of these drones? How will local legislators know that they are being used AFTER probable cause has been established. Will the Sheriff be required to obtain a warrant before they can fly surveillance missions over the homes of "suspects," where search warrants were not obtained or obtainable? Who will oversee the use of these devices? What standards will the Sheriff have to meet before they can fly a drone over a given area of the city? Who will create these standards? Where are the checks and balances?

4. This can be used to monitor local gov't officials as well.

What if someone other than the current Sheriff comes to power. Let's say George Bush III becomes the next Sheriff in town and he decides to use these silent, always pervasive flying eyes to "get dirt" on the local gov't officials. Who will be there to stop this activity? Will the folks that oversee the program have the power to curtail it?

If gov't officials are going to seriously evaluate implementing these new technologies, they need to make sure they can closely limit their use and manage their downside risk. If they are going to use them to help law enforcement catch bad guys, where a warrant exists or probable cause has been established, then great. But this technology is incredibly enticing, and it will be easy to justify expanding its use. What gov't officials have to do is make sure that any expansion of its use is publicly discussed and decided upon within the appropriate governmental body, because it will be very easy for law enforcement to use this technology however they see fit.
Posted by Average-Joe (1 comment )
Link Flag
What are you talking about? What could we have done to avoid this? Vote?

hahahhahhahahha!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by joshxdavis (2 comments )
Link Flag
YES SAYHI! .... Americans used to have common sense. Now we have selfish seniors, who want to look like heros to their grand kids, but have failed them with their "what difference can I make" attitude. THEY got their retirement, so screw everyone else.

We came CLOSE to getting America back, a year ago. Remember all those town hall meetings where people, and retired folks came out to town meetings AGAINST government health (hell) care? They were screaming and fighting mad. That my friends, is what made America in the first place. SPEAKING UP!

Notice how quickly towns stopped holding meetings, and Notice how the press (crooked) stopped showing the people speaking out?

I'm not making this up. I've met several seniors who act like they care, but really do not. "Who cares, I'll be gone in a few years anyhow" - I've heard it more often than I want to remember.

DRONES? the death of what America stands for..... the death of Freedom!
Posted by sgiarratana (1 comment )
Link Flag
I can only hope that the folks who we trust with our security have a better command of the English language than does sayhi-gripnchic. I look for leadership from/by people who have exerted a little more effort to get an education than he or she obviously didn't.
Posted by ReadRyder (1 comment )
Link Flag
agreed, so much apathy out there reminds me of the slowly boiling frog in the flask, as the temperature is turned up gradually it just sits there and cooks to death
Posted by robertrowshan (29 comments )
Link Flag
A MAJOR HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION!
Please little white crackers, stop pushing big brother
Posted by tree_man (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
SHOOT THEM DOWN OR LOOSE FREEDOM
even if they do have practical use for natonal security, they dont have business flying in the aspect of everyones lives, i dont give a hoot how religious and forgiving you are.....
Posted by tree_man (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
aerial refueling of unmanned aerial systems
The article by Ms. McCullagh is spot on but late to the party. A look overseas will show that Europe is taking the lead to get Unmanned Aerial "Systems" (the use of "Vehicles" is old school today in this industry) into airspace over the countries of the European Union. As usual the control of U.S. airspace by manned aviation is being fought for by FAA and Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association who both are so set in there old ways could mean that the unmanned aviation world will pass us by. Unless we in this new industry of unmanned aviation take the offense and fight them for our piece of the sky the new lucrative markets will be lost for years to this very new industry. Soon aerial refueling will be taking place over the skies of the world to keep such unmanned cost competitive systems air-born days or weeks at a time due to the new technologies of engine bearings soon coming to market. I have been working on this aerial refueling technology for the past couple of years that will allow the refueling of even the smallest unmanned aviation systems to be refueled in mid-air at airspeeds below 150 knots. There's money to be made in this industry a lot of it by flying such systems, this industry is moving at light speed. AOPA and FAA will try to hold back this technology while the rest of the world flies past us it is ingrained to there old ways of thinking and who they serve. I only hope that the unmanned industry gets it's lobbyist ready to do battle against these two monoliths of aviation past who will try again to control of people's airspace. How aviation business by unmanned aviation "systems" will be done in this country and the world is now being fought out on capital hill. There's a new kid on the block. Game On.
Posted by Alan Sinsel (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
aerial drones over Texas
I've been observing moving objects over southeast Texas for quite some time. Only recently did learn they were drones. After some research, I realized how extensively they've been used. For instance, back in 1995, Ellington Airbase, which is about 5 to 10 miles east of my residence, replaced an entire squadron of F-18's with a dozen UAV's. Recently, one that looks remarkably like one mentioned on the internet shows up every morning, not only very huge in size, but at the exact time each time. It also leaves at the exact time each day. I have observed commercial airliners comeing quite close to this one. Until a friend told me about drones, I really did think I was observing UFO's. My family thought I had lost my mind or the ability to see properly. Sincerely, Mark Sudela
Posted by Mark Sudela (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Really? So you noticed them pretty much 5 years ago? I, too, live near Ellington, it's only about a 20 min drive for me.. It wasn't until 6 months ago, perhaps a lil more recently that my husband first pointed out how 'the stars' didn't seem quite right.. I don't know if it's that we're just now noticing these or what, but it seems as if the activity has become more blatant.. I swear, they know we watch them..
Posted by YayItsLaura (1 comment )
Link Flag
I live in the drone capital of the US Southern Arizona is the training area for the loudest drones on the planet. The constantly fly during the day for 8 hours and the training drones are very noisy. My neighbors say that it is the priced of freedom and I should accept the loss of peace and quiet. I moved to remote area to get away from the city noise. The real estate agent made no mention of the noisy planes. I hate drones and want to move to the Texas coast. I heard that there are drones in that part of the US too. What is going on
Posted by 42volcan (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
All of this goes back to a group of men (elites) who want to rule here and the world for that matter. Conspiracy theory maybe but you are not able to see the big picture, some are beginning to see but it is cloudy for the most part. We have joined hands with the old enemy and have found (developed) a new one. Most people are content with the way things are since it doesn't seem to affect them but the truth is they are being kept from the real truth about what is REALLY going on. The push for broadband in rural america is a big part of their plan. Connect the dots may help some CFR members know. All the past Presidents know, but none (most) people don't know. North American Union? When did congress vote on this project? Or the people for that matter- Hows the picture looking to you now. I understand, what does it matter; right? And even if you don't like it what can you do about it, right? Isn't boosting China's economy more important to you than what is going on with our economy?; WRONG! Two Percent of America is Gay but has more power than the average citizen. Don't you find that strange? Look at the inner city drug problem that has spilled over into vast areas of America, so much so that drones are needed for surveying marijuana crops. Come-on, wake-up! War on drugs my A$$. Soon you will be given a number to replace your cash. All transactions will take place with that number, even health-care, house payments, fuel allotments and the like. First they need to produce the ultimate market crash or some other crisis (plague or out-break of civil disobedience). Like 911, it will unfold before your very eyes. You might even be commanded by the government to be put in a safe zone or something similar. The big picture will come into focus when these things happen, for now it is only a conspiracy theory. Or is it?
Posted by Charlesmoore2 (3 comments )
Link Flag
Twinkling hovering laser cloaked objects in the sky. Bright white with little flashes of color. Others blue-green. Adjusting binocular focus at one end expands them to what looks like the riffling of a gun barrell that pulses. Bringing into sharper focus looks like a ball of static electricity, again pulsing, and with some color; however, inside the ball is the shadow at a certain focal point of a strange looking helicopter or other arial vehicle that seems to move on a horizontal axis. . IIn the middle of the range the image can be concentrated to a laser hot pulsing light too bright to watch but momentarily. These things can remain stationary for long periods of time but do seem to drift somewhat while they appear to be fairly stationary. Some nights there is an entire constellation of them seemingly a mile or so apart in a grid over the city. What are they, what are they doing? Any technical information and photographs would be appreciated. post a link
Posted by sbsesq (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Great description. If there's no reason for Govt or LLE to be spending taxpayer's dollars on you and you have a pending lawsuit against someone with big money - you may want to look at LE or Govt. employees who are moonlighting for well financed PI agency.

Get a video camera then contact the Feds.
Posted by observantbynature23 (1 comment )
Link Flag
I saw it too! I ran across your post during a google search. What are these? I saw it this past winter overseas. They were exactly as you described. They form a grid pattern. Every now and then, one or more will move as if to adjust its position. They seemed to change color constantly. As you said, they stay still for a while and then move, then stay stationary in another position. I saw this in late 2008 around October/November over Iraq.
Posted by mustangstevegt (1 comment )
Link Flag
This flew over pittsburgh 1 hour ago. I recorded it on phone and does not show up. has pixel stealth tech of some sort. Looks like stealth heli or glider on its side. Changes direction and can disappear. Look slike glider and pulses.
Posted by alexaha (1 comment )
Link Flag
We do not need this. This is so scary. This scares the **** out of me. There is NO REASON to have this type of technology. What happened to privacy? It has infared/thermal/whatever vision that can see inside your little houses. This is like Fahrenheit 451.
Posted by joshxdavis (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
This is no longer America, it has become Amerika.

There is no privacy, it is the nightmare of George Orwell's 1984 and when I can I will leave this country
and find some South pacific to live on.
Posted by Shadow6900 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
goverment will not be happy till we all have locaters in our ass.call your reps in congress.this unacceptable to a free society. they have used 9/11 as an excuse to treat americas whole population as criminals.this technology can be seriously misused and eventually will. remember NSA is still listening to us.dont be sheep. its probably too late.
Posted by jetmech1121 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Have you ever read more of a fluff FLACK piece on another brick in the wall move by the good ole' US Government to prison-a-tize life in Amerika?! This is a huge control the population move. If allowed, constant live aerial surveillance with state of the art optics, cameras, and recording equipment that will receive full tax paid funding will be an invasive reality in more ways than we can currently imagine. These blowhards are simply part of the sell your soul machine for a dollar and damn a single thought about any consequence. How illustrative of the brain dead, zombified media drones already buzzing our airspace on a daily basis. I hope folks can comprehend the grade school misdirection of the media and commenters thinly veiled as positive feedback to get this put in place, disguised as "feel good momentum" and "entertainment" and "pressure on the Fed" (from who exactly?), and "gee, this will be cool and good for everyone". This country is on a Marxist Elite know better take over plan that was put in place long ago and is now accelerated. The annihilation of the middle class and poor has been underway since the 70's. As a primer, read the Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein. She captures the historical elements and formula in detail about what has been going as a means to steal power and do away with people's rights while folks are purposely distracted by flat wages, rising costs, and forced to work several jobs to stay afloat and attempt to keep family together. All by design...and theres a lot more...
Posted by crashingtiger1 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
All of this goes back to a group of men (elites) who want to rule here and the world for that matter. Conspiracy theory maybe but you are not able to see the big picture, some are beginning to see but it is cloudy for the most part. We have joined hands with the old enemy and have found (developed) a new one. Most people are content with the way things are since it doesn't seem to affect them but the truth is they are being kept from the real truth about what is REALLY going on. The push for broadband in rural america is a big part of their plan. Connect the dots may help some CFR members know. All the past Presidents know, but none (most) people don't know. North American Union? When did congress vote on this project? Or the people for that matter- Hows the picture looking to you now. I understand, what does it matter; right? And even if you don't like it what can you do about it, right? Isn't boosting China's economy more important to you than what is going on with our economy?; WRONG! Two Percent of America is Gay but has more power than the average citizen. Don't you find that strange? Look at the inner city drug problem that has spilled over into vast areas of America, so much so that drones are needed for surveying marijuana crops. Come-on, wake-up! War on drugs my A$$. Soon you will be given a number to replace your cash. All transactions will take place with that number, even health-care, house payments, fuel allotments and the like. First they need to produce the ultimate market crash or some other crisis (plague or out-break of civil disobedience). Like 911, it will unfold before your very eyes. You might even be commanded by the government to be put in a safe zone or something similar. The big picture will come into focus when these things happen, for now it is only a conspiracy theory. Or is it?
Posted by Charlesmoore2 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
As for being too late, some of you are right. Do you remember anyone voting on the North American Union's formation? Did congress order the war in Iraq? Who is responsible.... Big Brother is not our brother! Uncle Sam is not our uncle either. They will kill you just like Hitler killed the Jews - remember Waco? As for me, I fight using my real name, they know my blogs, my comments and who I am. I don't keep what I do a secret and I got balls and smarts - I will follow them that do right but don't expect me not to fight back! I am a bone breaker in a one on one (or ten). I will not carry a weapon but I do not fear death at all. But what can you do about a UAVs that rules the sky and has not bones to break? Oh wait I think an EMP pulse gun will take them down! Oh shoot, did I just say that! CIA will be knocking down my door tomorrow for that one.
Posted by Charlesmoore2 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Well get ready America. SKYNET will be flying over anytime now. Please be on your BEST behavior or you get to find out what the FEMA camps are allll about.

Please forget your privacy. Forget your name and obey.

Doesnt matter a non US citizen is the president. Doesnt matter that the bankers control our country and are trying to kill us off. Nope. What matters is YOU citizen. Your thoughts are OBSOLETE and if you cant slave for the NWO its only a matter of time before your MADE to understand.

Enjoy!
Posted by hvypetals (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Great, that's all we need, like one of my patients would say, "another ghetto bird"! Why don't we use surveillance money to educate our college kids instead, so they do not turn to crime and so law enforcement do not end up spying on them. Do we really want to be a police state? We need to wake up and learn to clearly set our priorities. What is more important, education and employment, or should we waist tax money on gadgets?
Posted by noble2017 (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Wait, I thought the C in Cnet stood for computer, not Conspiracy.
Posted by Palmer_Eldritch (11 comments )
Reply Link Flag
 

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