f Jim Nance, VP of Industrial Services and avid radio controlled aircraft hobbyist, talks about his hobby and the future of drone technology - Wilcox Environmental Engineering, Inc.

Q – How long have you been involved in the RC aircraft hobby?

A – I’ve been involved in the hobby for 10 years.

Q – What got you started in the RC aircraft hobby?

A – I’ve always been interested in aviation. Though it was a YouTube video of an RC helicopter doing some amazing aerobatics that initially peaked my interest in RC aircraft.

Q – What was your first RC aircraft?

A – My first RC aircraft was a small fixed pitch electric helicopter, the Esky Honey Bee II.

Q – Are RC aircraft difficult to learn to fly?

A – Learning to fly RC aircraft can be a very steep learning curve for some and for others, not so steep. RC flight simulators are now readily available and do help to speed up the learning process for most people.

Q – What are the most difficult RC aircraft to learn to fly?

A – Overall, RC helicopters are the most difficult to fly because of the continuous stick/control input adjustments required to control these aircraft. I would then say that RC multi-rotor aircraft rank second in difficulty to fly and then RC airplanes. RC airplanes are, however, the most difficult to land.

Q – What types of RC aircraft are you capable of flying?

A – I’ve flown everything that’s available today, helicopters, quad-copters, the numerous different types of airplanes and jets.

Q – What are your favorite types of RC aircraft to fly?

A – My favorite RC aircraft to fly are 3D airplanes, which are highly aerobatic airplanes with light wing loadings and extreme power-to-weight ratios. I also enjoy flying high-performance RC aircraft such as electric ducted fan-powered jets, which some models exceed 100 mph. I’m also in the process of venturing into flying hotliners, which are electric-powered carbon fiber-constructed airplanes that can reach speeds in excess of 200 mph. Of course, I jumped on the drone/quad-copter bandwagon a while back and I also enjoy flying these aircraft.

Q – What is a drone?

A – The U.S. Military defines unmanned aircraft as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), which are used to fly reconnaissance and combat missions. The term “drone” is a synonym used for these UAVs. Though for whatever reason, “drone” has also carried over to indicate unmanned aircraft used for hobby and commercial purposes. The FAA defines hobby and commercial unmanned aircraft as Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). Most of what the media and general public refer to as “drones” for hobby and commercial use are actually RC multi-rotor aircraft, with most being RC quad-copters.

Q – What are some of the recent advancements in drone technology?

A – The greatest advancements have been with the flight control systems. The high-end drones are now equipped with high-tech electronic hardware such accelerometers, gyros, GPS, sonar and IR sensors. Couple these advancements with some very sophisticated software and there are now drones available that can take-off, fly a pre-programmed course and land autonomously, all while avoiding any potential collisions with other objects…very amazing technology. Advancements in lithium battery technology are also important. Today’s lithium polymer batteries weigh much less compared to NiCad and NiMh batteries, possess greater energy capacities and can withstand greater current discharge rates. This all translates into more power available to the aircraft and longer flight times. Lastly, advancements in mirrorless camera technology have been beneficial to drones being used for aerial photography and videography.

Q – What are the future challenges related to drones?

A – There will always be discussion on the privacy issues related to drones. Though I believe the greatest concerns are related to safety. As commercial drone usage increases, more concerns will be raised about the potential of drones coming into contact with other drones, full-scale aircraft and people and property on the ground. Another concern is that very little manual flying skills are required flying with a drone given the rapid technological advancements in the flight control systems I mentioned earlier. This is both positive and negative. The positive being these flight control systems provide a very robust and stable flying platform. The negative being that sometimes things go wrong such as mechanical failures, electrical failures and software glitches. These types of events may require the remote pilot to manually fly the drone. So, it’s highly recommended to have the skills to manually fly a drone before solely relying on the flight control systems and autonomous flight.

Q – What is required for a person to fly a drone commercially?

A – The FAA recently released new rules on August 26, 2016 regarding commercial use of drones. A person must now complete and pass the FAA’s Remote Pilot Knowledge Test. Upon passing, the person will receive a Remote Pilot Certificate (RPC) which is valid for two years. Of course, once a person receives the RPC, there are also rules that must be followed while flying drones commercially.

Q – What industries will drones be used in the future?

A – Drones are going to be used in numerous industries such as agriculture, mining, manufacturing, oil and gas exploration, oil and gas refining, insurance, government, real estate and even environmental consulting.

Q – In what ways will drones be used in environmental consulting?

A – Well, I never disclose all my secrets, but I can tell you that we are in the process of testing numerous applications in which drones will benefit both Wilcox and our clients. Stay tuned, it’s going to be very exciting!