Washington Post reporter: Drones revolutionizing aviation | CraigDailyPress.com

Washington Post reporter: Drones revolutionizing aviation

— Unmanned drone aircraft could be delivering pizzas and packages to your front door from miles away in the not so distant future, if the predictions of one Washington Post reporter hold true.

National security journalist Craig Whitlock spoke Thursday as part of Seminars at Steamboat at the Strings Pavilion, detailing the rapid rise in popularity of drones — both the military and hobby variety — and the lack of regulations to control the rogue aircraft.

"In good ways and bad, drones are transforming aviation," said Whitlock, who has written several investigative pieces on drones, initially on their military use.

Developed for the U.S. Department of Defense as a predatory military aircraft, remote-controlled drones can be as small as a preying mantis or as large as a Boeing 757 commercial jet, Whitlock said.

They can explore international territory via high-powered cameras and deliver supplies to troops fighting in remote locations.

Drones first piqued Whitlock's journalistic curiosity about four years ago, when he noticed that, while the Obama administration was embracing drones as weapons of war, the government was secretive about how and where they were using them.

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Through his research, Whitlock learned that drones crashes, both in the U.S. and in operations overseas, were extremely common, and he created a database of all the crashes as part of an in-depth piece in the Washington Post.

While Whitlock had primarily covered the revolutionary use of military drones until that point, a separate revolution was happening with the public's use of drones, he said.

Popularity of the camera-equipped aircraft has exploded through the past few years.

Realtors, insurance agents, photographers and even media outlets are eager to put the drone cameras to use, and hobbyists are purchasing drones more often.

While the craze is popular, it's also dangerous, and drones have been blamed for interfering with firefighting or emergency medical transports, coming close to commercial aircraft and spying in otherwise private backyards.

Drones present safety and privacy concerns that aren't being properly or quickly addressed by the FAA or lawmakers, Whitlock said.

"The laws we have on the books at the federal and state level aren't nearly sufficient," he said.

Regulations in place currently limit commercial use of drones, though hobbyist users are relatively free to maneuver their aircrafts as they please with few restrictions, Whitlock said.

While tougher rules and regulation are needed and likely forthcoming, Whitlock said it hasn't stopped companies from dreaming up future uses for drones.

Amazon has hopes to use a fleet of drones to deliver packages, and Whitlock suspects commercial aviation will one day consist of drone aircraft transporting travelers without flesh and blood pilots on board.

"Drones are going to change life in ways that we're just beginning to comprehend," Whitlock said.

To reach Teresa Ristow, call 970-871-4206, email tristow@SteamboatToday.com or follow her on Twitter @TeresaRistow

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