A Generation of ‘Flying Fools’

When Americans think of hijacking these days, one date sticks in their minds — Sept. 11, 2001, the day that 19 terrorists coordinated the hijacking of four airplanes and killed nearly 3,000 people. But there was a time in aviation history when “skyjackings” were so common that they were a topic of great concern at the FAA.

Stretching from the early 1960s into the mid-1970s, this “golden age of hijacking” featured the hostile takeover of more than 150 aircraft. The outbreak of lawlessness in the air led to new laws, regulations, executive orders and treaties. In addition to experts inside the FAA, pilots, aircraft designers, law enforcers and others brainstormed ways to address the threat domestically, and the International Civil Aviation Organization played a key role globally.

A scene from 9/11 as captured by an FAA employee

“Hijacking — or what to do about hijacking — confronts the government of the United States with serious challenges that require the harnessing of its technological, political and legal skills,” State Department official Frank Loy said in 1969.

The FAA deployed “peace officers” on select flights. It tested a system that combined behavioral profiling of passengers with technological screening and occasional interviews by U.S. marshals. And by the mid-1970s, the foundation of today’s passenger- and baggage-screening system had been laid in airports across the country.

The Cuban connection
It didn’t take long after the first successful flight of a powered airplane for the new technology to become a target of criminality. As noted in the 2017 book Violence in the Skies: A History of Aircraft Hijacking and Bombing, the first known theft of a plane was in 1911, followed by another incident in 1917 that ended with the two scofflaws dying in a crash.

While the earliest unverified accounts of skyjacking date back to 1919 in Hungary and 1929 in Mexico, the incident officially recognized as the first occurred Feb. 21, 1931, in Peru. A rebellion led by Lt. Col. Luis Miguel Sanchez Cerro was the impetus for that crime. Some disenchanted followers of his commandeered a Pan American Airways tri-motor plane for a flight from Arequipa to Lima to drop leaflets on the city. The captive mail pilot, Capt. Byron Dague Rickards, later received a Chicago Daily News award for his daring during that rebellion.

It took another 30 years — and the rise of Fidel Castro in Cuba — for skyjacking to surface as a major concern in the United States. Several Cuban aircraft were hijacked to the United States and elsewhere before and after the Castro-led Cuban revolution, but those defections from a newly communist neighbor didn’t stir much angst in America.

Then on May 1, 1961, Antulio Ramirez Ortiz forced a National Airlines pilot to take a detour to Havana, not the United States. Three more such attempts, including the first on U.S. soil, occurred between July 24 and Aug. 9.

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Danny The Drone Dude

Throughout childhood and into college, I pictured the adult version of myself in a whole host of careers. The ideas ranged from the predictable (doctor) and practical (electrician) to the sensible (electrical engineer) and fantastical (wildlife photographer).

One future that I never could have imagined, or that any aptitude test could have predicted, was becoming a commercial drone pilot. Yet here I am today, living that dream in my spare time while working for the federal agency that taught me how to do it safely.

The genesis of droning dreams
I joined the Federal Aviation Administration as a writer-editor in December 2012, just as the integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system became a priority. Congress had addressed the issue earlier that year in a series of mandates, and the FAA published a comprehensive plan and integration roadmap in November 2013.

FAA writer Danny Glover and his son, Anthony, on the job for a client (Photo: Cedar Box Photography)

Back then, I had only a passing knowledge of drones of the military variety, like the Predator and Reaper. But as I learned about smaller unmanned aircraft systems, I started picturing myself at the remote controls. I could experience the thrill of flight without being in the air myself, a prospect that rarely appeals to me.

Periodic exposure to UAS-related issues as a writer and editor heightened my interest. I reported on the first “UAS Day” at the Air Traffic Control Association, edited some content for the “Know Before You Fly” educational campaign, interviewed an FAA lawyer about the legal landscape surrounding drones, and wrote about the Pathfinder research program.

I talked about drones at home often enough that my wife and children heard the not-so-subtle message. They bought me one for my birthday. That’s when this 1980s child of one-joystick Atari games realized I wasn’t technologically adept enough to operate modern electronic toys.

I bounced that drone off every wall and piece of furniture in our house, testing the limits of the flexible plastic construction and propeller guards. Our teenage son, Anthony, was a natural at the controls — but when I let him fly the drone outside, he promptly rebelled against my orders to stay low and away from trees. He snagged the drone on a limb 25 feet in the air.

The whole family, and probably some amused neighbors, watched as an irritated and frantic father tried mightily to rescue his new toy. I tied a small rock to a long stretch of string and repeatedly heaved it into the air until it finally sailed over the limb. A few firm, downward yanks of the string freed the drone but not the rock. It dangled 15 feet above the ground for months, prompting the occasional curious question from visitors to our house. (more…)

The Key To UAS Integration

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

Collaboration with the drone industry, state and local governments, and the public is the key to successfully integrating drones into the national airspace system, federal officials said this week at the nation’s biggest technology trade show.

“Let’s figure out the right balances,” Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Finch Fulton said at CES in Las Vegas, where Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration officials discussed the challenges of drone integration.

Fulton and Earl Lawrence, executive director of the FAA’s Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration Office, participated in a discussion about drone innovation. The topics included the new UAS Integration Pilot Program and the work of the Drone Advisory Committee.

Fulton opened the discussion by explaining the Trump administration’s “revolutionary approach” in the pilot program. Initiated late last year, the program facilitates partnerships between “lead applicants” in industry and state, local and tribal governments. The partners will work with the FAA to test ideas for advanced UAS operations that currently are heavily restricted.

The city of Palo Alto, Calif., for instance, recently outlined two proposals involving the Stanford Blood Center and Palo Alto Airport. The blood center wants to work with the UAS provider Matternet to deliver blood samples on a designated flight path to and from Stanford Hospital. And the airport is eyeing a partnership with Multirotor to explore ways to integrate drones and manned aircraft while avoiding airfield conflicts.

Fulton said the pilot program is designed to identify “reasonable time, place and manner restrictions” on drone operations. As an example, he said research through the program could reveal that the best way to integrate drone deliveries is to conduct the operations at night.

“Instead of just imposing rules and figuring out ways to say no,” Fulton said, “we come to the public and try to figure out ways that we can say yes and to enable this innovation.”

Lawrence said the pilot program is essential in a world where aircraft are more personal in nature, sometimes flying from people’s palms, but operate in a complex airspace system that evolved over time. The program will pull together experts who know how to achieve safety in their particular realms of expertise in order to develop a “safety culture” for drones.

“We’re having to relearn how we did that almost a hundred years ago now and fit it into the processes,” Lawrence said.

The Drone Advisory Committee is part of that collaborative effort, too. The DAC membership includes representatives from the drone industry, local government, academia and other aviation interests. “It’s our opportunity to reach out and get a good cross-section of individuals who are affected by this new technology,” Lawrence said.

A drone pilot who was part of the panel discussion praised the FAA for successfully integrating drones into the national airspace during last year’s hurricanes in Florida, Texas and the Caribbean. Taylor Mitcham, the “chief drone ninja” at Florida-based SkyNinja, was among the pilots who received emergency FAA authorizations to fly in disaster-stricken areas.

“The FAA had a great response,” she said. “A lot of times we got instant airspace authorizations in a lot of areas that were very critical, especially with our cell-tower inspections that we were doing out in the Florida Keys.”

Lawrence made clear that the FAA is eager to safely achieve that kind of integration on a broader scale by engaging with industry. “We all want to serve the community. We all see the benefit,” he said. “We’re learning together.”

NTSB: Drone Pilot Caused Crash

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

A drone pilot crashed his Phantom 4 small unmanned aircraft system into a U.S. Army helicopter in September because he was flying it out of his line of sight, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded today.

The drone pilot was a hobbyist, not a commercial operator who had passed an airman’s knowledge test to be certified by the Federal Aviation Administration. The accident occurred 2.5 miles from where he was operating the controls.

The Army pilot, whose Black Hawk helicopter was part of a presidential movement to New York for a United Nations meeting, saw the drone and tried to avoid it but didn’t have enough time.

In addition to flying beyond line of sight, the drone pilot was operating during official night conditions, in an area regularly used by helicopters and in restricted airspace. This demonstrated a “lack of understanding of the potential hazard of collision with other aircraft,” the NTSB report said.

NTSB illustration of the crash scene

NTSB illustration of the crash scene

The agency also criticized the drone pilot’s use of a mobile application with limited capability for alerting pilots to temporary flight restrictions. “Sole reliance on advisory functions of a non-certified app is not sufficient to ensure that correct airspace information is obtained,” the report said. The pilot also did not have Internet access on his mobile device to check for TFRs before the flight.

The operator didn’t know he had crashed until the agency contacted him. “The sUAS pilot reported that he lost signal with the aircraft and assumed it would return home as programmed,” the NTSB said. “After waiting about 30 minutes, he assumed it had experienced a malfunction and crashed in the water.”

The pilot purchased another drone five days after the accident.

Drone Journalism After A Disaster

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

When disaster strikes these days, it doesn’t take long for drone pilots to document the damage from the air – and for people to start talking about the imagery.

The reactions tend to fall into one of two camps. Those who appreciate the aerial perspectives of nature’s fury celebrate the technology that delivers it. But more cynical viewers (usually other drone pilots) see the footage as evidence of bad behavior.

The pessimists have a point. Drone operations are heavily restricted in disaster zones because of the prevalence of emergency responders flying manned aircraft at low altitudes, and some drone pilots do break the rules. Just this week police arrested a California man for flying his drone near an airport frequented by aircraft fighting wildfires in the state.

But people shouldn’t rush to the judgment that every aerial disaster photo or video was obtained illegally. That attitude undermines the quality visual journalism being produced by conscientious drone pilots, like Josh Haner for The New York Times.

Haner, who last year used his drone skills to help illustrate the “Carbon’s Casualties” series on climate change, was in Santa Rosa, Calif., last week to film the aftermath of deadly wildfires. His footage brings the fire’s impact to life from the sky – and it was all shot legally.

“Exercising the most caution around breaking news is something I’m very passionate about,” Haner told Drone Book. “I think as a journalistic community we need to think about when we fly and make ethical decisions that err on the side of caution.”

Haner shot the footage in two locations outside the range of temporary flight restrictions imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, a fact that he confirmed beforehand by calling 1-800-WXBrief. He also showed his remote pilot’s certificate to police at the nearest road block, and they told him where he could fly without being over an active fire.

No flight restrictions were implemented in the area of the footage for about 24 hours after the fire started, but Haner and his editors decided against flying over active fires.

“Just because we can fly in areas before TFRs go into effect doesn’t mean we should,” he said. “In this situation we postponed our flights until we felt comfortable there were no fire or rescue flights in the area even though there were no TFRs in effect for a very long time.”

The first TFR took effect as Haner transmitted his footage to the newspaper. “I was glad that I’d already finished as I don’t like going anywhere near TFRs,” he said. “It’s just not worth it.”

Another video in Santa Rosa shot by drone pilot Douglas Thron gained traction online. It featured a U.S. Postal Service truck driving through a neighborhood destroyed by fire.

“It was a trippy thing — he was actually delivering the mail,” said Thron, who was on assignment for NBC’s “Today.” “I was shocked to see him because most of the roads were blocked off, but he obviously had access.”

Thron appears to have flown his drone before a TFR was implemented for the area.

The Los Angeles Times also published aerial imagery of the wildfire’s damage, and its approach to getting the story is worth noting. “No drone was used,” Marcus Yam said in an email. “I flew in a helicopter for those aerial surveys.”

The point is that it’s possible for journalists to obey the law and capture newsworthy aerial footage in disaster areas. Dozens of journalists are, like Haner, certified to fly drones themselves; news outlets can contract the work to highly experienced drone pilots like Thron; or they can go the old-fashioned but costlier route of hiring helicopter pilots.

So the next time you see powerful aerial footage of a disaster scene, resist the urge to jump to any unwarranted conclusions about how it was obtained. Just appreciate the moment.

Blazing An Aerial Imagery Trail

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

Photo: Fireground Images

Keith Muratori has made a career out of fighting fires – and photographing them. Now he is taking his joint passions for extinguishing and chronicling flames to the air.

When he’s not on duty, Muratori listens to an old-fashioned scanner and monitors modern tools like Twitter, fire-paging text services and fire photographer groups on the walkie-talkie app Zello to identify blazes. Then he records the tragic moments with either the camera around his neck or the drone in the air above them.

“The action, operations and vivid colors captured in firefighting imagery are amazing,” said Muratori, a veteran of the Bridgeport Fire Department in Connecticut. “It’s also about capturing the history of the fire service or a fire department, as well as the opportunity for firefighters to learn from this imagery.”

A native of Shelton, Conn., Muratori earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology but developed an interest in firefighting while working on a wellness program for the department that he now calls home. His wife’s admiration for her grandfather, a retired Bridgeport firefighter, also inspired Muratori to make a career change. He initially worked as a volunteer firefighter in Shelton and has been on the paid force in Bridgeport for 17 years.

Muratori’s passion for photography took root at an earlier age, and he naturally gravitated toward documenting fires on film. Fire photographers like John Cetrino and Bill Noonan in Boston and Bob Pressler in the Bronx served as role models. Muratori is one of two official photographers for the Bridgeport department.

 

Watching fires develop while he was behind the lens gave Muratori a new perspective on their behavior, and fighting them inside gave him insights into how to photograph them. “Fire photography became a perfect fit both as a hobby and profession,” he said. “Photographing fires was making me a better fireman, and firefighting made me a better fire photographer.”

(more…)

Mobile Payments: A Developer’s Guide To Processing Money

This is an excerpt of a white paper I wrote for The Application Developers Alliance.

Earlier this year, Forbes.com contributor Gene Marks asked a question that gets to the heart of commercial transactions in the digital age: “With all the advances in technology, and all the things our smartphones do, why aren’t we paying for everything using a mobile app?”

Mobile PaymentsMarks posed the question in the context of his prediction that Starbucks will be the “kingmaker” in the world of mobile payments, but until there is a king, app makers and companies that wish to leverage mobile devices to sell their products and services face many choices. They have to decide how to collect money, which operating systems to use, and which payment providers have the friendliest fee structures, best support and most security.

Xconomy Deputy Editor Gregory Huang captured the essence of the challenge. “There are so many players coming in from different angles and at different levels of the value chain,” he wrote. “Besides all the techies with apps and software platforms, you’ve got retailers, brands, banks, credit card companies, payment-processing firms, and a slew of loyalty and rewards programs, all vying for a piece of the pie.”

This guide will define the current state of the mobile payments landscape, which continues to evolve rapidly, and help players in the app industry explore their options.

The methods to mobile payment prosperity
The term mobile payments has many different meanings, from consumers using smartphones or tablets instead of their laptops to make purchases from their homes to merchants swiping credit cards on tablets or smartphones. But none of them are mainstream yet by any stretch.

The third annual Global Mobile Payments Index released in January found that such payments comprise only about 20 percent of global transactions. But that figure was up from 13 percent of transactions the previous year, a growth rate of 55 percent. The index is based on data for transactions made through Ayden, which processes payments for more than 3,500 medium, large and enterprise-sized organizations mainly operating multi-national businesses.

The realities of modern culture are certainly favorable toward even greater adoption of mobile payments. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 90 percent of Americans have cell phones, 58 percent have smartphones, 42 percent own tablet computers and 32 percent own e-readers. Research by BI Intelligence tells a similar global story, noting that consumers around the world have purchased 1.3 billion smartphones in just four years — and the penetration of tablet devices into the market is double what it has been for smartphones.

Read the full paper in PDF format.

The Challenge Of Cross-platform Development

AppAlliance_Device Fragmentation This is an excerpt of a white paper I wrote for The Application Developers Alliance.

You might think that in a perfect world, application developers would write code just once and it would run everywhere. But that mobile utopia doesn’t exist. Instead, developers practice their craft in a digital universe that includes multiple versions of competing operating systems and thousands of devices in various screen sizes.

This fragmentation forces developers and the companies that hire them to answer tough questions every time they imagine the next big thing: Should they build for one operating system over another? Should they develop only for the big two, Android and iOS? If so, should they build the apps simultaneously, and should they design one app for both or two different apps for the two platforms? Should they use tools designed to streamline cross-platform development? How should they test the app for the hundreds of Android options? Or should they go to the Web via HTML5?

All of those questions and more are behind the mobile industry’s pursuit of interoperability, the term that describes the ability of apps to work on numerous devices and platforms. “Right now it’s frustrating,” said Peter Braxton, the founder and CEO of Jump Rope Inc. “For someone who’s trying to build a business and presence on different platforms, it’s really hard because it’s additional investment in resources, both time and capital, each time you encounter a new platform.”

Pure interoperability is not technically possible. It also doesn’t consider the cultural, regional and language differences of customers, or their preferred user experiences or devices. Every market has its own peculiarities (try asking a Finnish person to fill in the “State” field in an address form); every device has its own style. In short, there are many reasons to have different versions of an app for different devices, markets and groups of users.

That being said, app makers have sound business reasons to maximize the available market for an app without technical constraints. This white paper defines the challenge, explains why it matters and discusses the options available to developers, including tools to help both developers and non-developers build interoperable products more quickly. The paper concludes with case studies based on the efforts of several experts in the app industry to achieve interoperability or help others do so.

Read the full paper and case studies.

Monetization: Picking The Path To App Profitability

Monetization White PaperThis is an excerpt of a white paper I wrote for The Application Developers Alliance.

Developers get their motivation to build from a passion that is equal parts creativity and innovation, but to a certain extent, the bottom line to success is the bottom line. Those who make money on their applications get the resources they need to fund future creative projects. As CEO of HitFox Group Jan Beckers says, “Monetization is survival.” The best way to make sure that happens is to map a path to monetization for each app well before it hits the market.

One of the first questions to answer is whether to put a price on the app or rely on in-app purchases, advertising or other approaches to generate revenue. As AppMuse CEO Mark Stetler noted last year, “The mobile app ecosystem is steadily trending to a point where the free mobile app is the rule rather than the exception.” Developers also have to decide where to sell their products — exclusively in one of the top app stores, in third-party venues, in specialized markets, or a cross multiple platforms.

The advantages and disadvantages of each monetization strategy vary from app to app. This paper explores the many options to help app makers streamline the decision process.

The big decision — App Store, Google Play or both
Realtors love to say the three most important factors in marketing a property are “location, location, location.” Their mantra sounds a lot like the question app makers ponder every time they imagine a new product: “Locations, locations, locations — which ones will lure people to the revolutionary invention I’m about to build?”

The two most important locations are Apple’s App Store and Google Play, the top marketplaces for the iOS and Android systems. Most developers will build for one operating system or the other because of their dominance — 91 percent of the global smartphone market in 2012, according to International Data Corp. — and perhaps both.

Developers have more than 500 million reasons to consider the App Store. That’s how many iOS devices Apple had sold as of last December, including 75 million in the fourth quarter of 2012 alone. The operating system is limited to Apple devices, but app consumers can choose from an array of those — multiple generations of the iPad and new iPad Mini, the iPhone, the iPod Touch, and even Apple TV.

The App Store appeals to developers because of its size. At more than 800,000 apps as of January, it is the largest store. The 23 categories also give users the broadest selection of apps. They have downloaded more than 40 billion of them over the years, activity that has generated payouts of more than $7 billion to developers.

Some developers don’t like the App Store’s “walled garden,” which requires them to get Apple’s advance approval to market apps. But DLP Mobile CEO Zak Tanjeloff sees a money-making advantage in that approach. “The App Store has a higher proportion of quality apps, thanks to the approval process,” he said. “That means developers can, and have, charged more for their apps.” He added that consumers see the App Store as “a safe community” because of its connection to the iTunes payment process.

But developers definitely should consider the restrictive nature of the App Store when plotting their monetization strategies. To win Apple’s endorsement, app makers have to adhere to guidelines that cover user experience, functionality, content and the use of specific technologies. Companies that want to give their apps away for free and instead make their money on in-app purchases also may not make the App Store cut. Once apps are in the store, they face additional reviews for every update.

Read the full paper in PDF format.

Discoverability: How To Get Noticed In A Market Overflowing With Apps

Discoverability White PaperThis is an excerpt of a white paper I wrote for The Application Developers Alliance.

If an app drops in the store and no one is around to see it, does it make a profit? The answer is no, and therein lies one of the major challenges facing application developers today.

Developers can make the most innovative app of the year or perhaps the decade, but if consumers cannot find it because of marketing obstacles, all of the engineering prowess will be for naught. What good is an angry bird without gamers to fling it from a slingshot or an Instagram without amateur photographers to capture nostalgic memories and share them?

Discoverability matters. It is as central to successful app ventures as the creative genius behind great apps. This paper identifies the challenges that developers and companies face in getting their apps before the right audiences, explores the current options available to do so and proposes solutions for optimizing discoverability.

The discoverability challenge
The app marketplace is immense. The virtual shelves in the major app stores are flush with about 1.5 million products, with more on the way every day. The download data is even more intimidating to developers hoping to be discovered. Consumers downloaded more than 40 billion apps between 2008 and mid-2012, but experts estimate that half of the business goes to only 0.1 percent of the available apps.

When the analytics provider Distimo released new data about apps in December, it rightly concluded that the exploding growth in the marketplace makes it more difficult for new developers to have their work discovered. Last July, the new Apptrace tool found that 400,000 of the then-650,000 iOS apps were “zombies” that had not been downloaded even once.

But even overcoming the download hurdle does not ensure success. While nearly 1 billion apps get added to devices every month, one in four of them are never used again.

The challenge also is daunting because consumers head primarily to overstocked app stores to shop. David Gill, vice president of emerging media at Nielsen, said his firm’s research found that 53 percent of app shoppers learn about products in app stores, which favor existing apps that have been installed often and recently over new apps.Add to that reality the short attention span of app consumers — they typically spend just three to 10 minutes shopping for each product — and it’s clear that guiding consumers to any given app can be like drawing them a map to a needle in a haystack.

“Consumers have a hard time finding good apps,” Appsfire co-founder Ouriel Ohayon wrote last year at GigaOm. “But, paradoxically, they don’t care enough to read reviews, compare apps or even search for apps. On mobile people are lazy.”

Read the full paper in PDF format.