Drones

Henry H. Perritt, Jr. and Eliot O. Sprague · 17 Vand. J. Ent. & Tech. 3

Abstract

Drones represent the latest revolution in civilian aviation. The sophisticated miniaturized electronics, electric propulsion systems, low cost, and ability to capture close-in imagery make microdrones attractive assets for aerial activities that have never before been feasible. Larger configurations—machodrones—have longer endurance and range and the capability to fly at higher altitudes. They will complement manned airplanes and helicopters in missions for which their cost proves advantageous or for which manned flight is too hazardous or otherwise undesirable. Specific features of electric propulsion, control systems, and the capability of autonomous flight maneuvers will stimulate new types of missions for microdrones; in other instances, existing mission requirements will lead the design of machodrones. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is seriously behind in delivering on its Congressional mandate to integrate civilian drones into the National Airspace System. Unless the FAA moves more quickly and appropriately, thousands of microdrones will operate commercially despite the FAA’s current prohibition. A novel regulatory approach is desirable for microdrones, while existing regulatory approaches can be adapted for machodrones. Over the next several years, politics, labor markets, and the private supply chain will alter the shape of the aviation industry to accommodate these new small robots, stimulating economic growth.