Researcher: UAVs Many Years Away From Entering National Airspace

thumb_tritoninflight3_1A British researcher told a crowd on Tuesday at the NASA Langley Research Center in Virginia that he doubted the Federal Aviation Administration could open unmanned aircraft to civilian airspace in the next couple years as ordered by Congress.

John McDermid, a professor of software engineering at the University of York, said significant challenges remain in developing the right software to load on UAVs to “sense and avoid” other aircraft. He said that software is a requirement in order to open the national airspace to UAVs.

“I honestly doubt it’s possible. Or would only be possible in very limited circumstances,” he said according to a report by the Daily Press.

The FAA has estimated that tens of thousands will populate the national airspace by 2020. Considerable progress has been made on the unmanned front — namely the landing of the X-47B on the deck of an aircraft carrier — but plenty of obstacles remain before the skies above the  U.S. are littered with UAVs.

Restrictions from the national airspace have posed training challenges for the military. Training exercises are relegated to the expansive military ranges on bases in order to incorporate UAVs.

Transiting UAVs is another challenge. Officials have limited options in regards to flying UAVs from one base to another because of FAA restrictions.

It’s the abrupt, unpredictable changes that pose the greatest challenges for developers.

“Trying to design something that will cater to all possible situations is actually very difficult,” Mc Dermid said according to the Daily Press.

About the Author

Michael Hoffman
Michael Hoffman is the executive editor at Tandem NSI and a contributor to He can be reached at
  • SFC Pappy

    The Government And Big Business Will Put Them Up Anytime They Want To. End Of Conversation.

    • joe

      Hardly. Put them in the sky generally, yes sure – it’s the countries airspace – and most of the airspace of the US doesn’t have anything particularly significant beneath it (whatever the inhabitents of Nowhere-In-Particular, North Dakota may think).

      ‘Civilian airspace’ however has the specific connotation of airliner routes.

      Given just *how much* safety crud a new airliner design is made to go through, unmanned aircraft won’t be allowed into these high-traffic, critical routes without a *lot* of safety evidence. Also note that this is a Brit talking, and European Health & Safety legislation tends to be even worse.

  • SFC Pappy

    The Government Will Put Drones Over The US As Soon As They Want. No Matter What The Congress, Supreme Court Or The People Have To Say. Worry When A Hellfire Bakes Your Neighbor.

    • Anonymous

      Seriously, stop capitalizing every single word…

      • blight_

        Gotta commend him for using Shift+Letter instead of hitting capslock and typing away like it’s teletype?


    So, the British are know telling us our future? Boy the irony :-) But in all seriousness, do Air Hogs count?


      Without the British you wouldn’t have all the systems and stealth technology you have, sadly it’s a brain drain that’s costing Britain massive losses of scientists and engineers. That’s because you pay them so much more and you make offers British firms can’t refuse. There’s a saying in the U.S. intelligence services; that “the British taught us everything we know, but not everything they know” which is also the reason you outsource sensitive secret intelligence operations to the SIS because your agencies leak like a sieve and your CIA, FBI, NSA et al, are run by charlatans and cannot be trusted. It seems that treachery has become a national pastime and betrayal all the rage in the U.S.

  • Lance

    Yeah your right they can put one over your house anytime. That’s why CO towns want to shoot them down!

  • Ricky

    I really don’t see the differences on uav and a manned one if there both controlled by someone. Just one is in a cockpit and the other isn’t. So its like not letting a f-15 fly across.

    • Bruce

      The title of his speech was “Are Unmanned Aircraft Autonomous, Adaptive, and Safe?” so i think you can infer he was talking about autonomous UAVs.

      • Ricky

        If they stay only on the border, the autonomous ones. I’ll be okay with that. But still sketchy. And I wasn’t replying to the article, just something I was thinking about at the time.

  • hibeam

    The high speed chase to be replaced by “we will pick you up at our leisure”. Not too exciting but safer.

  • YepHeJumped

    Well lets see the public has known of UAV’s for more than a dozen years. When i worked at the “Skunk Works” the average “Top Secret A/C” were around for 10 years before the public was made aware of them…anyone else have one of these fly over their house lately?

  • hibeam

    Solar powered cell phone towers. They climb during the day, spiral down at night. Coming to a city near you..

  • fanboy

    actually the UK is a world leader in integrating UAVs into civilian air space

    beyond that, it’s relatively easy to integrate a UAV into a civilian air space
    between radar, transponders and the extra safety systems UAVs will be sure to get, they’ll be if anything safer than a manned aircraft, which suffer accidents all the time and which lack unblinking 360 degree sensors that never get distracted, can’t fall asleep or suffer a heart attack

    this whole discussion is more about pilots not wanting to lose their jobs than safety issues; if safety was truely the government’s first concern, they wouldn’t let us drive cars, now would they…

    • blight_

      The problem is that instrumentation can mislead a pilot or a UAV. On the plus side, UAVs don’t have to learn how to fly different aircraft…

  • Mike

    Reading these comets disgust me the issue is not UAV being able to fly in the sky with commercial aircraft……the issue is why are military planes going to fly over civilian air space??? It is an invasion of privacy and a waste of taxpayer money. The military industrial complex is out of control…. In this bankrupt country the military is supposed to defend our freedoms not destroy them. If someone wants to run around their backyard naked they should be able to do so without having the government or the military taking pictures of them……I don’t support a communist USA

    • anon

      Trust me Mike, no one cares if you are running around naked in your yard….. build a bomb in your back yard and that’s a different story. Talk to known al qeada members about it on your phone and plan to get on an airline on Christmas eve with the bomb in this under pants and you can bet you ‘ve lost your rights.

      • blight_

        I guess the Dec of Ind could be replaced with

        “The only people who have to worry about the King are the King’s enemies, therefore..”

        • anon

          No People can be bound to acknowledge and adore the invisible hand, which conducts the Affairs of men more than the People of the United States. Every step, by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation, seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency.

          GEORGE WASHINGTON, first inaugural address, Apr. 30, 1789

    • joe

      Because there are defined commercial airspace routes criss-crossing the country between every major city air terminal. Think of them as interstate highways in mid-air.

      Getting from airbase A to airbase B, if there’s any distance between them, means you *will* cross at least one, probably several. If you’re not cleared to fly in that airspace (e.g. armed fighters, pilot trainees and cargo flights carrying hazardous explosives), the FAA has to temporarily close it to civilian air traffic as you pass (think closing a main road to allow a wide load or similar).

      This screws up schedules for Southwest, BA, FedEX, etc and (since you’ll be trying to take the route that spends the least time in closed airspace) still means you’re taking the long way round.

      If you are cleared, you can fly along the route (which most military cargo flights do), it’s less work for everyone else and faster for you because (obviously) the defined corridors represent the most direct routes between places.

    • David

      UAVs aren’t military planes. They are planes. The military buys these planes and arms them to use.

      The government or industry can also buy these planes too and use them for civilian purposes. Monitoring crops is one use. Search and rescue another. As another poster said they would also be great to have for chasing criminals instead of an officer chasing a criminal at 100+ mph and endangering others. There are many civilian uses.

      I doubt the government cares that you like to run around naked in the back yard. The only person who considers you important enough to observe is you and your family.

    • Mystick

      Military aircraft fly around public airspace all the time… there are marked “routes” these take, even though they are as free to maneuver as any other aircraft.

      There’s a black C-130 that regularly flies at about 1500 feet over Carroll County, MD… as well as MD-NG A-10’s doing an NOE run while I was fishing in the middle of the Potomac in western MD, F-15’s, an F-22(once), UH-60’s of various flavors.. I’ve even seen AH-1 Super-Cobras, AH-64s, and even the 2 choppers with VM-1 a couple of times. But they are all on their way from somewhere, to somewhere. I don’t have a problem with that – in fact, it’s good to see what our tax dollars are paying for “in action” and relatively close up… “showing the flag”, as it were.

      I think the issue at hand is military vehicles – manned or unmanned – LOITERING over an area for a long period of time… for what they are specifically designed for – surveillance and interdiction. THAT is the issue.

  • hunter76

    Airspace around airports and urban areas is “civilian” and also target rich. I want assets there that can loiter, watch, and, if necessary, strike.

  • Mystick

    Many years? Many years AGO, perhaps.

    They are flying MQ-8’s out of PAXNAS, including nav runs up to Aberdeen and down to Oceana… formation tests with manned vehicles in public airspace…

    There have been reports of other UAV’s also. The case where an MQ-1 assisted in the capture of cattle thieves in Lakota, ND… several reports by pilots of near-misses with what appeared to be a UAV.

    UAV’s are here already.

  • Navbm7

    So once these UAVs are flying in ‘civilian’ airspace what’s to keep an over zealous police department from using them to gather information UNRELATED to criminal activities?
    How do you keep terrorists, home grown or otherwise, from arming them?
    The same tired arguments are used to push for there use as was used when all cell phones were reguired to have GPS chips installed: Search & Rescue, faster response, ect.
    ENOUGH! Just keep the things grounded and then we don’t have to worry about them.

  • MadDog

    The concern of UAVs is so bogus. UAVs are operated by humans. Nothing flies autonomous for the most part except commercial airlines carrying thousands of people daily. Where’s the concern over helicopters hovering miles away with extreme zoom cameras or all the cameras mounted at intersections or the one on the freeway that pans my backyard all the time. Who is going to profit from all this fear mongering. Figure that out and you’ll understand what/who’s really behind all this overblown diatribe.

  • Scott

    Umm..cough, cough, Bullsh*t, cough, cough.

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