Drone-bird to scare away flocks tested at airport

December 20, 2017  - By

Drone operational rules have quite a few restrictions, largely aimed at keeping unmanned aircraft away from manned and commercial aircraft operations. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has set a boundary limit for UAV operations to stay a minimum of 5 miles away from any airport. So it’s a little surprising that at least one airport is actually carrying on trials to fly drones within airport property.

The reason is birds. Most airports are large, open spaces where birds love to land in large numbers to seek food and to rest, so airports and aircraft have to cope with the problem of avoiding bird-strikes in the critical phases of take-off and landing.

Airports have used remotely compressed air cannons, and manually fired ordinance that “screams” or explodes making various forms of loud noise, or dogs or even hunting falcons of different species. Birds, however, become habituated to cannons and guns, and neither dogs nor hunting falcons can be relied on to actually herd birds away from runways.

All this is in an effort to drive flocks of birds away from runways and low-altitude aircraft traffic corridors. At high altitude, a bird strike is usually survivable and an aircraft still has sufficient energy to be able to glide in the event of a complete engine-out situation, giving the pilot time to find a landing place. U.S. Air’s Chesley Sullenberger was a great airman to save his passengers and aircraft, but he was also lucky to have the Hudson right there to ditch into. He was some cool dude when he put his Airbus A320 down on the river, once losing both engines at low altitude on take-off after flying through a flock of Canada Geese.

Enter Robird, a drone that looks — and behaves, in the right operator’s hands — like a female peregrine falcon, with flapping wing propulsion and attack moves emulating the predatory bird. Flown by a pilot and accompanied by an observer whose primary job is to ensure the UAV “bird” stays away from runways, the pair seeks resting flocks of birds that pose risk to aircraft within the boundaries of an operational airport.


Clear Flight Solutions in Holland has recently undertaken a trial at Edmonton airport in Alberta, Canada, where it obtained special flight clearance to fly within the airport grounds to demonstrate how its mechanical falcon could clear birds away from airport danger zones.

Of course, drones and aircraft don’t mix either, so flight rules within the drone systems (GPS/autopilot?) apparently include geofenced no-go areas corresponding with runways and approach areas, and there is a shutdown mode in case of loss of signal or other failure — avoiding runway incursion is all important.

Registration is back on

Since U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations requiring registration of small UAVs (sUAV) and model aircraft were struck down last spring by the appeals court, the need to register has been in abeyance. However, Congress has rolled a new requirement back into the recently signed $700 billion National Defense Authorization Act, making registration of any sUAS or recreational model aircraft a legal requirement, subject to fines for lack of compliance.

The FAA has continued to advocate registration as a means to track wayward operators and to enforce separation of drones from manned aircraft. AUVSI has also continued to support the FAA position. A 2012 law, on the other hand, was said to prevent the FAA from making rules covering “model aircraft,” defined as “unmanned aircraft” flown for recreational purposes.

The new regulation within the Defense Authorization Act has now apparently clarified and overcome any contradictions — recreational model aircraft and drones all have to be registered.

DJI claims and counter-claims

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE’s) recent claims that manufacturer DJI could be spying for the Chinese Government have been refuted by DJI.

DJI has responded that allegations are wrong and that ICE should consider withdrawing or correcting unsupportable assertions. But claims persist that the Chinese government may be using information gathered by DJI UAVs to target potential assets for purchase.

A large wine producer in California used DJI UAS to survey its vineyards and monitor grape production, but soon afterwards a number of Chinese companies apparently purchased vineyards in the same area. So it’s being alleged that the companies appear to somehow have used DJI data.

DJI UAVs collects reflective images of leaves to calculate the nitrogen levels of plants using a specialized infrared scanner. The scanner enables growers to deduce how much nitrogen to add to the soil to optimize plant growth. Information on the location and stages of crop growth can also be collected. As of May, it’s been reported that DJI’s only customers using this particular scanner were wine producers along California’s Pacific Coast.

Most UAVs would seem to be capable of collecting location and geographic information data; however, these claims are being leveled at manufacturer DJI. In a website statement, DJI denied any wrongdoing but hinted that some of its data storage may have been compromised.

This story may be far from over.

Potential new aircraft control systems?

I recall climbing around in the fuselage of a Jet Provost training jet back in my apprenticeship years at BAE in the UK — I was wiring in auxiliary systems. But the thing I remember most was the mass of control cables running down the top center of the aircraft and winding their way to control surfaces via pulleys, with in-line tensioners and rubber lined holes to pass through bulkheads. I thought, How reliable could this be? Of course, it’s the way almost every aircraft control system has been constructed since Wilber, Orville and wing-warping. Up until we got fly-by wire and electrical actuators, that is — then mechanical cables became less prevalent, except for reversionary back-up.

But making surfaces pop up into the airstream around an aircraft is how we’ve been able to take off, maneuver and land aircraft/UAVs — up to now. Elevators, rudders, ailerons, leading and trialling edge flaps, speed brakes — all of them control pitch (up and down), yaw (left to right), roll and manage lift. These mechanical control surfaces sprout out of the wings and horizontal and vertical stabilizers, and provide control for the pilot, autopilot or onboard flight computer.

Now BAE Systems and Manchester University (MAN U) in the UK have come up with a different way to control a flying vehicle without using moving control surfaces. If the smooth surfaces of a stealth aircraft were to be never disturbed, the stealth radar signature of the vehicle would remain unchanged even during maneuvering — a handy enhancement to have to keep an aircraft as invisible as when it’s “clean” in level flight.

The BAE/MAN U innovation, incorporated into a new MAGMA drone, uses internal, redirected air from the engine to “blow” the aircraft into a different direction. The small demonstration UAV has apparently completed a successful first flight.

These innovations could both reduce mechanical complexity and improve the integrity of a stealth signature, by removing conventional control surfaces. Wing circulation control redirects supersonic air from the engine and blows it through the trailing edge of the wing. Thrust vectoring changes the direction of the aircraft’s exhaust.

When used together, these control the direction of the aircraft by manipulating the air around it. Hydraulic and electrical actuators have been replaced by air redirecting ducts and air blowers, which may simplify build and flight controls without making the air vehicle more visible to radar. Of course, taking additional airflow from the engine means the engine has to be more powerful to provide the additional airflow, so this doesn’t come for free.


The technologies being developed may enable cheaper, higher performance, next-generation aircraft. Its hoped that R&D will contribute towards technological improvements for advanced military aircraft. These trials are an important step forward in the exploration of adaptable airframes — along with other work to improve the performance of UAVs in collaboration with the University of Arizona and NATO Science and Technology Organization.

MicroPilot adds sense and avoid

MicroPilot in Manitoba, Canada, is a leading supplier of autoflight solutions for the UAS industry. The latest MicroPilot autopilots include integrated control datalinks, and they are small, lightweight and interface with a wide range of sensors. MicroPilot has now integrated its UAV autopilot with the FLARM sense and avoid system, adding an essential element for autonomous and beyond-visual-line-of-sight (BVLOS) operations.

FLARM is a traffic awareness and collision avoidance technology used by light aircraft and UAVs. When integrated with MicroPilot’s autopilot, the system alerts the autopilot of any close-by, suitably equipped aircraft. FLARM outputs the velocity and altitude of these detected targets, and the autopilot then decides how to avoid them.

FLARM collision avoidance systems, used by manned aircraft for more than a decade, now come with an ADS-B out option that broadcasts the UAV’s position to alert other aircraft to its location. Together, the MicroPilot autopilot and integrated FLARM system offer a unique combination of automated flight control and sense-and-avoid capability for UAS developers.


So bird-hunting, wing-flapping, bird-like UAVs being used to clear airports to prevent collisions between birds and aircraft; you will need to put down your $5 registration fee with the FAA if you want to fly your own UAV because new legislation has replaced that previously struck down in the courts; DJI and the U.S. ICE seem to be on some sort of a collision course; BAE and MAN U appear to be on the verge of a potentially revolutionary system with which to affect flight control of aircraft and a combined system for autoflight and collision avoidance — just a few of the many things happening this month in the UAV industry.