back to article See that over Heathrow? It's not an airliner – it's a Predator drone

Military efforts to approve the flying of Predator military drones through Britain’s skies could pave the way for point-to-point drone deliveries, newly disclosed correspondence has revealed. The detailed discussions, held between various Ministry of Defence (MoD) agencies and the Civil Aviation Authority, took place to enable …

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Joke

Baggage!

I am now stuck with the image of some Jihadist looking very confused as a drone drops an amazon parcel in his lap, meanwhile the BBC reports that Scunthorp is burning because the package was miss-routed in the airport and the drone dropped a hellfire missile.

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Re: Baggage!

That's why you shouldn't order Hellfire hot sauce.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Scunthorp is burning

Well, thank goodness all the Hellfire did was burn the trailing "e" off its name... :-)

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Re: Scunthorp is burning

Well, thank goodness all the Hellfire did was burn the trailing "e" off its name... :-)

Something similar happened to both Bridgwater and Middlesbrough years ago. Neither has ever recovered

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Mushroom

Re: Baggage!

It would be awful to use a hellfire missile on Scunthorpe!

You'd need something with a much bigger warhead...

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Wouldn't this all be solved by kitting out one of those new and pointless aircraft carriers as drone carriers? Little to no visual flight rules stuff to care about. No legal changes the gov doesn't really want. You could even launch them from land with either a very steep climb through restricted space or dropping from a proper plane.

(Gave myself the image of dozens of them dropping out of the back of a herc and it all suddenly went a bit "The Wall" for some reason...)

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If all they're launching is drones, one has to wonder whether a second-hand merchant ship wouldn't have done the job with reasonable aplomb.

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'The job' the two aircraft carriers were supposed to do was to keep UK shipyards working in order to buy votes, and to funnel money to UK defence contractors in order to furnish nice consultancies, so I'd say the job was definitely done already.

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Echo might be "controlled"

But that's only for IFR rules where information and separation are provided. VFR is not controlled by ATC. In Germany class E starts at 2500ft (if memory serves me right), except around class D airspace (like airports) where it can be as low as 1000ft. Class E is where gliders are flying, and those are hard to spot... (yes, they are now required to carry secondary radar equipment.... but still).

I think operating drones in A-D is unproblematic (relatively...) as they get flight paths and altitudes etc. from ATC. Stay away from class E.

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Re: Echo might be "controlled"

Same problem in class D - while ATC must provide traffic information on VFR flights, they are not required to separate VFR flights from each other, or IFR flights from VFR flights, thus your IFR drone still has to somehow avoid VFR traffic...

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Re: Echo might be "controlled"

At least in D you do have the traffic information for VFR (cVFR, most likely) - that's a bit less of a headache. Also much less glider traffic in that airspace ;-)

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Facepalm

Predator/Watchkeeper are hardly State of the Art

It's not quite fair to say that Predator is the state of the art in this field - BAE Systems have had some ptreety smart stuff doing self-flying for a few years now, (https://www.baesystems.com/en-uk/article/surrogate-uav-prepares-for-maiden-flight-in-uk-airspace) and there's a small company called Blue Bear that I know have done flying in formation using only on-board visual sensors on a drone. I can't imagine that this doesn't involve some fairly smart collision avoidance capabilities.

I'm sadly unsurprised that the regulation is harder to sort out than the technology...

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I'm surprised if driverless cars can sort of be made to work with all the challenges that implies that drones can't do far better.

"Don't hit that thing that's coming straight at me" is surely the easiest part of self driving technology? I'd imagine that robots can do that part better than humans using current tech.

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It would seem that fully autonomous flight is still quite some way in the future. Its well worth watching this:

https://vimeo.com/159496346

to see why. The video is a talk to American Airlines flight crew by a training captain and is about the failings of flight automation and of the problems it can cause when flight crew become too reliant on it. Its about 25 mins long and well worth watching, especially as the training captain is using his personal experience to illustrate several points.

Apart from giving a good insight into flying modern airliners, it made me wonder about the current headlong rush into self-driving cars.

As well as highlighting the obvious problems of the car suddenly saying "Problems, Boss: YOU HAVE CONTROL" to a daydreaming, sleeping (or snogging) driver who has consequently lost situational awareness, its descriptions of how automated control systems can get things dangerously wrong, even in the relatively benign environment of controlled airspace, made me wonder if self-driving cars will ever be safe except (maybe) on a motorway.

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Yup. Skynet.

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I've always thought this report of the Tarleton collision between a Tornado and a JetRanger is a warning as to what will happen if drones are allowed into uncontrolled airspace.

Neither pilot saw the other aircraft, and even if the Tornado pilot had, there was no time to do anything.

With pilotless drones pottering about, this kind of crash can only happen more often unless theres compulsory investment on installing anti-collision systems on all aircraft

Page 27 onwards sums up the problems of "see and avoid" quite well. Its bad enough when you can see.....take away the pilots eyeballs and the situation can only be worse

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sorry just realised I didn't link to the report of the Farleton collision (not Tarleton - I made a typo)

its downloadable from

https://www.gov.uk/aaib-reports/2-1994-raf-tornado-gr1-zg-754-and-bell-206b-jetranger-iii-g-bhyw-23-june-1993

interesting insight into just how important vision is in avoiding collision in uncontrolled airspace

with a drone it can only be worse

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Droning on

Drones are only considered a solution for delivery problems because the roads are so crowded. But that makes a drone solution merely a temporary one (a bit like the Pony Express - it only operated for a year or two, despite the folk tales) until better technology makes it pointless.

And so with drones. Once the streets are cleared of both parked cars outside their owners' homes AND 4-person vehicles with just a single occupant - mostly looking for somewhere to park - then the drone solution will become obsolete. Even better is that autonomous road delivery will allow packages to be delivered when people are actually AT HOME rather than at a time which is convenient for couriers (though if pizza joints can deliver in the evening, why is it such a big deal for couriers or the Post Office?).

Maybe [ a sharp intake of breath ] autonomous deliveries could even be made at ....... weekends!

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Well, it's only a couple of short steps once they get approval for the plod to want some for "surveillance" and security you know. Then add "riot control" capability, "criminal capture", etc. This doesn't seem like it will end well.

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Anonymous Coward

In the town, where I was born, flew a drone, we called PC.

"Well, it's only a couple of short steps once they get approval for the plod to want some for "surveillance" and security you know. Then add "riot control" capability, "criminal capture", etc."

Haven't Merseyside Police been doing that kind of thing for quite a few years? Your favourite search engines may be enlightening.

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Range,....

given this is the range of the Predator:

http://obeattie.github.io/gmaps-radius/?radiusInput=337&unitSelector=mi&lat=53.635132&lng=-2.155595&z=6&u=mi&r=337

You'll need to centre the search on 'Waddington' (337 miles as the range of the Predator is ~675, so out and back)

they're hardly being launched from Waddington to police the Middle East,.....

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Black Helicopters

Payload?

Roughly highest payload cheapest per mile.

Canals

Railways

Road transport

Air

You note, of course, that the slowest is the cheapest.

So the payload of a drone to go between distribution centres must match large lorries which do the job now. Or a number of drones combined must be both faster and cheaper than road transport. Meaning an order of magnitude cheaper than small to medium planes.

Nobody so far has really explained the cost benefits of flying drones over driving lorries. Lorry drivers aren't expensive.

Replacing local delivery drivers with drones would be a "brave decision".

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Re: Payload?

"

Nobody so far has really explained the cost benefits of flying drones over driving lorries. Lorry drivers aren't expensive.

"

Far less time between order and delivery. A lorry must wait until there are several deliveries needed for the same area, and the loading can only be started once the lorry is back at the depot. A drone could potentially deliver the goods within an hour or two (or even sooner) after receiving the order.

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Re: Payload?

"

Replacing local delivery drivers with drones would be a "brave decision".

"

It will no more replace delivery drivers than air freight has replaced container ships. Drones will be used only for orders that require an especially fast delivery time of small, light goods - and the customer will no doubt be charged a lot extra for good to be delivered within 3 hours (or so). Most orders will still use lorries & vans.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Payload?

"A lorry must wait until there are several deliveries needed for the same area, and the loading can only be started once the lorry is back at the depot. A drone could potentially deliver the goods within an hour or two (or even sooner) after receiving the order."

Since when did pizza deliveries (y'know, a person on a moped) wait for a lorry to be full?

Going slightly more upmarket than takeaway hot food, are readers familiar with the allegedly superfast delivery services like eBay-owned Shutl [1], which outfits like Maplin (and then Argos) originally marketed as offering deliveries within a few minutes? Shutl must be smart, they even mention DevoPS on their bog.

Maplin used to offer Shitl deliveries, now they don't (well Shutl's website says they do, Maplin's says they don't). Argos used to offer superfast delivery via Shutl, but if they still do, it's well disguised. Argos do still offer fast same-day delivery to many parts of the country, with or without drones, with or without Shutl. As do many pharmacy chains, and car parts stockists for the trade, and [...].

eBay's own website now talks about Shutl deliveries in days not minutes, and mentions Hermes (which many experienced online customers will equate to delivery one day, or maybe never - like Yodel, but even worse).

Still not seeing a worthwhile legitimate business case for drone deliveries, but it's great in terms of free advertising for the big name companies, at least until reality strikes and Theresa May's mates want to put a stop to the whole thing e.g. drones being used for unregulated deliveries of pharmaceuticals etc to Her Majesty's Holiday Camps:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/av/uk-36302136/footage-shows-drone-delivering-drugs-to-prisoners

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shutl

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Re: Payload?

It's not an accident that Amazon was the first to talk about using drones, and that it was followed by the pizza bigs, and then... no one else?

Amazon is already doing two hour delivery to select areas, as my understanding. So yeah, this is about speedy delivery. Nothing else makes much sense.

But I have to wonder about viability. "Robbing the pizza guy" is a thing in some areas, and these are the same areas that have the highest number of orders. We've already seen security bots being abused, I expect worse (or even much worse) for pizza delivery drones.

And while areas dominated with frat houses and the university might not have too much trouble with drones zipping around, in the US, homeowners seem to me to be MUCH more likely to be antsy about the privacy implications. And noise.

If you're low enough to satisfy the privacy folks, you're going to upset the noise folks.

But deliveries to multistory buildings are also going to be quite problematic--unless space is made for the drone to land every few floors. I suppose "smart" phones could handle delivery verification. But you're still dealing with the privacy vs noise problem.

Yeah, I think we're in the preening stage. This doesn't look like it's going to get beyond extremely niche applications for several years at least.

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Happy

Re: Payload?

Surely with pizza delivery, you just fly up to the tall building, and fire the pizza through an open window, frisbee style.

I'll be the one standing hopefully by the window, mouth wide open.

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Anonymous Coward

Embassy guests

Well we know that St Julian of Assange is now unwanted by his hosts, and the plod are sick of this clown absorbing resources in the form of someone watching him 24/7.

Perhaps it is cheaper for everyone for the drone to deliver a Hellfire missile to St Julian and then compensate the building owner for damages. This way everyone wins: the yanks gets their blood, the wikileaks get their martyr, the UK gets saved lots of embarrassment and Ecuador gets rids of a long term pain.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Embassy guests

Ecuador just needs to move their embassy across town, or across the street. The move would purge the guest.

You're welcome.

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Re: Embassy guests

"Ecuador just needs to move their embassy across town, or across the street. The move would purge the guest."

Its not even that complicated... someone just needs to pull the fire alarm.

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Anonymous Coward

"Unmanned Aerial Vehicles"

It's 'Unpeopled Aerial Vehicles'.

Our actually-very-nice Peopleleader said so.

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Headmaster

Buy one, get one (or two) free?

So far nobody has yet demonstrated anything superior to the Mk.1 eyeball and pilot

One would have hoped the two came as a package, or else it gets rather icky...

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Aircraft Registry

This may not be as useful for the civil drone market as you'd think. Ultimately the CAA has limited (no?) power over anything operated on the military registry, although they do own the airspace. So although they may be 'happy' with MoD flying drones of various levels of airworthiness around it doesn't automatically follow they'll allow the same for civilian drones. e.g. they may decide that a civilian Predator needs greater levels of redundancy that make it prohibitively expensive for the intended use.

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Re: Aircraft Registry

Exactly! Just because the military have been given access to fly drones in airspace does not mean every corporation and its dog can do so. A highly priced piece of military kit in limited numbers using flight paths does not extend to shitloads of commodity priced drones making point to point deliveries. Thinking it will is just fanciful. In fact I'd wager the predator would be the only type of drone able to go anywhere near your average sink estate and make it back. I love how these classroom theorists ignore how drone hunting will become the next form of amusement for bored teenagers and miscreants should they try using them en masse.

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WTF?

How About Clearance for RAF Northolt

where the government keeps the Queens Flight and all those ministerial aircraft along with the Met Police cell tracking aircraft?

Rich media artists also get to use Northolt, as have the CIA rendition aircraft.

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