The author of this essay is writing about an airport in the state of Florida, but her studies here apply to the Drone program that is to be implemented throughout the United States, this makes this a very important essay.
On Thursday, March 15 and Friday, March 16, 2013, The Tampa Bay Times Hernando section ran articles about the Hernando County Aviation Authority’s application to be one of six major sites housing an experimental drone program. According to the Times article, “The testing would focus on whether drones can be integrated into general aviation unrestricted air space.”
We appreciate the coverage, because otherwise, most residents of the county would still be in the dark about this proposal. What is the Hernando County Aviation Authority thinking? Anything for a buck? Why would they solicit an experimental program for drones, that could have the potential to turn Hernando County and all surrounding counties into a laboratory for success or failure?
Commissioner Rowden seems to be using the “paranoid” ploy to downplay real and valid concerns. Gary Schraut, chairman of the authority, likened citizens who would protest this move to ignorant, medieval, fear mongers, afraid to fall off the edge of the earth. Many people before the age of exploration really did fear the unknown. Many well-informed residents of this county on the other hand, fear the known, which is to be taken as a sign of intelligence. David Lemon, an Aviation Authority member, experienced military and commercial pilot, tells me he has been voted off the board. He is an outspoken opponent of the use of drones at the Brooksville-Tampa Bay Regional Airport.
We do have some knowledge of drones from their use in the middle east.
When average citizens are asked the purpose of drones, they inevitably say “to spy and kill.” Of course there are other uses, like border patrols, but they are still in the experimental stages. By some accounts, drones have killed close to 3,000 people in Pakistan alone. The United States Government sources recently shut down Internet access to drone statistics overseas, but British sources still have some accounts. Among the 3,000 casualties, 160 are listed as children, and 20 as mourners at a funeral. The ratio is 10 bystanders to 1 al Qaeda or Taliban terrorist target. Civilian casualties are reported from 74% to as high as 90%.
Do drones go awry? Have accidents? They most assuredly do. Remember the NATO drone strike that accidentally killed 24 Pakistani soldiers in the Salala incident? How would you feel if a 45 foot wing-span drone came crashing onto the school grounds of one of our elementary schools, killing hundreds of children? In a March 2013 article in The National Geographic Magazine, a number of spine-chilling drone accidents are detailed. One incident in 2011 in Afghanistan, tells of a 400-pound Shadow drone crashing into a C-130 Hercules transport plane. How will our light aircraft at the Hernando airport fare? I believe we’ll lose local air traffic business, as well as many other businesses when word gets around. I wonder if the Motor Coach Rally folks want to share the runways with drones? Do they know what may be coming?
There are at least two ways of controlling drones. The GPS method is very vulnerable. The GPS control signal delay in commands is a valid concern. John Raquet, a designer for new navigation systems for drones, says. “Its signals can be blocked by buildings or deliberately jammed.” Was this the real reason all along for the control tower….. unobstructed, line-of-sight drone control? Is that why it will remain active even as other towers with double the traffic are being closed? We all remember the incidents when Iran intercepted our drones. They claim to have diverted them by hacking in. Our scientists are working to improve the systems, but in the meantime, we in Hernando County and Central Florida, could become an experimental crash lab for zealous scientists.
The second method, direct control by a “skilled, well-intentioned operator” can pose a hazard. According to the National Geographic article, the FAA is concerned about this very thing. Further they tell us, “The safety record of military drones is not reassuring. Since 2001, according to the Air Force, its three main UAVs– the Predator, Global Hawk, and Reaper– have been involved in at least 120 ‘mishaps’, 76 of which destroyed the drone. The statistics don’t include drones operated by the other branches of the military or the CIA. Nor do they include drone attacks that accidentally killed civilians or U.S. or allied troops.” Why not carry out these tests at a military base such as MacDill where they can be tested over water and with military aircraft until proven safe, if they ever can be. Do drones have the potential to save lives? Yes, but they also have the potential to take them.
Do we, the citizens of the United States of America, want to be at the other end of these drones in a bizarre game of Russian Roulette? How dare our elected officials and government servants in this county tell us that we are paranoid or ignorant. We are neither. Many citizens of Hernando County are understandably concerned if not alarmed by the lack of research and judgment on the part of the Aviation Authority. Expect to hear from us in peaceful protests across the county and in the County Commission meetings.
The sole purpose of government, all government, is to protect the lives, liberty and property of its citizens. This drone testing program has the potential to destroy all three. We appeal to our Commissioners to turn down this proposal and protect the citizens of Hernando County who elected them for that very purpose.
There will be an anti-Drone rally on on March 23 at 9:00 AM at the Old Court House on Main Street, corner of Jefferson Street, Brooksville, Florida.