“Is it a bird? Is it a plane? … No, it’s a remote-controlled helicopter delivering the daily packages for UPS!” Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, or UAVs, are slowly transitioning from weapons of war to civilian flying robots that will become part of our daily lives. Congress has allotted billions of dollars to support their transition into the National Airspace System and as a result, the new air traffic surveillance system, NextGen, will accommodate UAVs on routes shared by manned aircraft. It is important to note, however, that UAVs are not typical remote controlled planes found at a hobby store. They are highly sophisticated pieces of equipment that pack a technological punch comprised of advanced software and avionics. As they return home from war, they will be reconfigured to serve in a variety of domestic applications.
Most people are aware of the UAV, “Predator”, which supported ground troops in Iraq during recent years. However, most Americans are unaware that UAVs range in size from a full-scale aircraft, capable of carrying out complex missions with large payloads, to small “pigeon” sized birds used for discrete surveillance operations. Domestically, they will be used for crop dusting, firefighting, traffic surveillance, border patrol, pipeline patrol, commercial fishing and crime fighting, to name a few. Quite possibly, as UAVs are researched and developed further, you will see them with a UPS logo delivering packages to your neighbor across the street. Considering how far aviation has come since the Wright Brother days, the concept doesn’t seem too far fetched.
It is safe to say that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are the future of aviation and they will someday become commonplace at your local airport. At the same time, it is safe to assume the first airline to offer pilotless flights will quite possibly go bankrupt. It was not long ago, however, that airmail cowboys of the sky transitioned into professional pilots, creating the airlines that became part of American culture. Perhaps years from now your grandchildren will call Magellan Jets to book a flight flown by a person stationed on the ground at a computer. For now, all of Magellan’s flights come equipped with professional pilots on board who will ensure you safely arrive at your destination. Just don’t be surprised if you see an airplane in the taxi line without any windows…
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