In the aftermath of last week’s blizzard in the Buffalo, New York, area, various television networks ran footage taken from drones—unmanned aerial vehicles—to show viewers how bad the snow had been. I was surprised the different angles we were given from, what the anchors said, were different drones.
A few weeks ago, a couple of YouTube videos went viral. In each the viewer was treated to an incident from the drone’s eye view. In one, a hawk attacked the drone. In another, the drone was downed by a flock of geese.
Drones usually are in the news, it seems, when used by the United States to take out “targets” who pose a threat to the United States. Unfortunately for those who might be near such a target, at best the drones are on “target” only 20 percent of the time. At worst, the figure is two percent. The other people killed are so-called collateral damage. They are the “whoops—sorry about that” unintended, but no less dead, consequences of drones. Senator Lindset Graham has said U.S.-operated drones have killed over 4,500 civilians.
There are serious arguments to be raised against use of drones. We should not employ vehicles for military uses over the soil of other countries absent those countries’ permission or a declaration of war. Were these aircraft operated by pilots inside cockpits, their overflights might be considered acts of war. Of course, the United States has been doing the piloted aircraft over other countries thing for quite a while now. Also, we have not declared war since December 8, 1941.
Another troubling aspect of employment of drones is their inaccuracy.
There is the way in which we remove humans further from the actual process of warfare. The greater the distance from the weapons, the more easily use of such weapons is morally, if noy justified, at least set aside.
Flights of aircraft over private property is a Big Brother type development few seem to notice and about which even fewer seem to care. Then again, if people are ignorant of basic aspects of their government, yet know Snooky is on “Jersey Shores” and Angelina Jolie is the significant other (or did The National Enquirer announce they were married?) of Brad Pitt, little wonder people are feign to voice privacy concerns when drones are mentioned. Those people might be just as ready to say how valuable drones are in producing those funny virals where the drones are shot down by birds.
I understand there are valuable uses for drones. However, the good might come at a really bad price.
The FAA does not have a comprehensive program to control drones. Even if it did, the military’s drones, and the drones operated by other extensions of the government, no doubt would be exempt. The FAA estimates there will be 7, 500, drones aloft within five years of such regulations being announced. How many are aloft now?
With so many drones aloft, it only is a matter of time before a drone gets sucked into the intake of a commercial jet aircraft engine. In March, 2013, an Alitalia pilot reported a drone near the aircraft he piloted as he was on his approach to JFK. On March 22, 2014, a US Airways flight almost collided with a drone near Tallahassee.
A drone in a jet engine would shred machinery. A mid-air impact with any aircraft can be disastrous. In the late 1960s, 83 people were killed just south of Indianapolis when an Allegheny Airlines DC-9 collided with a Piper aircraft piloted by a student. In that mid-air collision, the student pilot probably had more training than people who operate drones.
I hate flying. I am paranoid when I board an aircraft. I have a self-hypnosis tape I play the night before and the morning of any time I fly. There are problems enough with aircraft piloted by highly-trained but still-human beings. If we add all those drones to an already-crowded airspace, we flirt with disaster.
And hell, Amtrak doesn’t go very many places.