Drones are creeping into American airspace more every day. This week, the Air Force is boasting that an MQ-9 Reaper from Holloman Air Force Base’s 29th Attack Squadron played a role in rescuing three people unaccounted for along the Gila River in New Mexico. How did officials know they were missing? Two of the three were soldiers from Fort Bliss, Texas, who weren’t where they were supposed to be.
While the Air Force didn’t say the Reaper actually found the trio, it did note its use on such a non-military mission represented a breakthrough. “I think this is a big step forward to show that we have the capabilities to extend ourselves outside our normal flying ranges, and in this case, to support these important humanitarian missions,” said “Dustin,” who – as an Air Force drone operator – is like Afghan warlords and Indonesian generals who are known by only one name (they may also have to change the name Reaper to something more gentle, as well as rethinking calling the 29th an attack squadron, if they keep this up).
(MORE: Revisiting the Reaper Revolution)
The rescue comes as Lakota, N.D., looms as a test case for the role a Predator drone (flown by the Department of Homeland Security) played in the arrest of man for cattle-rustling, kind of. “It may have been the first time a drone was used to make an arrest,” drone dweeb John Villasenor of the Brookings Institution told U.S. News, “but it’s certainly not going to be the last.”
Fact is, civilian drone use is catching on. While there has been criticism of the Federal Aviation Administration’s recent push to ease drones into national airspace, researchers at Utah State University, for one, are cheering the government’s decision. After finding satellite imagery could not provide enough detail to study conditions involving wetlands and agriculture, the Utah Water Research Laboratory founded the AggieAir Flying Circus.
Made up of researchers, developers, navigators and drone pilots, the AggieAir Flying Circus has built drones that can cheaply gather high-resolution images covering wide areas, which experts can use to help deal with natural and water resources problems. The planes are launched big a big slingshot, basically, and fly for an hour or so along a programmed course, snapping pictures every few seconds.