When most people think of UAVs, they think of the attack drones used in Afghanistan and Iraq, such as the Predator and Reaper. These are large aircraft with wingspans up to 65 feet and weighing over 10,000 pounds. However, there are only a few aircraft types of this size that are currently in production. The vast majorities of UAVs are much, much smaller and designed to perform a plethora of different missions. Some UAVs are so small that they can be launched by hand and are no larger than a bird. The implications for this new breed of air vehicles to the aviation industry are enormous.
Hopefully, we will never have the need for widespread use of Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles (UCAVs) in the United States civilian airspace. Instead, UAVs will allow aviation operations to expand into amazing new arenas that were once only seen in science fiction films. Perhaps one of the greatest advantages of a small UAV is the ability to fly undetected within close range of people and equipment on the ground. This has particular benefits for the law enforcement industry which is waiting eagerly to be able to use UAVs for surveillance in urban high-crime areas.
Looking past law enforcement applications for UAVs, there are virtually unlimited potential uses for unmanned flight and new roles are being discovered every day. Some of these applications might include pipeline surveys, air pollution sampling, endangered species monitoring, aerial searches for mineral deposits or oil, water body temperature surveys, and the list goes on and on. The aviation industry needs UAVs because they will provide vast new opportunities for new companies, new jobs, and new technological development. It would be shortsighted to think that UAVs are a fad and will pass in time. Unmanned civilian flight is coming and it is the role of the aviation industry to maximize the potential of this diverse new technology.
This may very well be one of those crucial turning points in technological history where one can either resist new technology only to be left behind or embrace the advances and lead the pack into unexplored territory. Who knew that the internet would change the entire world? We may someday look back and wonder how we ever lived without the marvels of unmanned flight. My point is: unmanned flight will likely affect your life in some way, whether you are a pilot, mechanic, aviation manager, or just someone interested in aviation. I encourage you to look for ways to help make unmanned aviation a positive influence on the aviation industry and not resist the inevitable with unfounded negativity. This does not mean that you have to “like” the idea of unmanned flight, but I would encourage that criticism at least be constructive.