When Americans hear the word “drone” they often think of unmanned war or spy planes flown by the U.S. military, most likely up to no good. However as the technology has become cheaper, many civilian agencies, organizations, and even private citizens are getting in on the trend. A few weeks ago, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos announced on 60 Minutes that hoped to have a fleet of drones in the air by 2015 in order to deliver Amazon purchases in less than an hour. Anthony Cumia, the “Anthony” half of Opie & Anthony on Sirius/XM has also documented on the show his love of civilian drones, posting many videos of his flights and even appearing on Fox News to discuss them. During one break, Cumia admitted to letting the drone get away from him—the flights are planned using a computer program, not an RC control—and his drone may have gone a mile high.
Last spring, a drone similar to those used by Cumia and Amazon buzzed the JFK airport, being spotted by an airliner pilot while landing. Since then, the FAA has sought to rewrite the laws for unmanned civilian aircraft that were written in the 1980s. To that end, the FAA announced Monday that six teams in six states would put the flying robots through rigorous testing not only in the hopes that drones can be integrated into U.S. airspace also by 2015, but that the U.S. doesn’t fall woefully behind international competitors.
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The unmanned drones are not just for hobbyists like Cumia or package delivery. These aircraft could be used in search-and-rescue—to both locate the injured/stranded and deliver life-saving supplies like water or food—or in law enforcement. In May of 2012, Massimiliano Lega used a drone to find two trucks buried in the Naples countryside, presumably by local Mafioso. Once the FAA’s tests are complete, unmanned aerial aircraft could be the next revolution in American flight.