The radio squawks and the following exchange is heard:
Pioneer one: “Pioneer one departing, Falcon pick us up at 2 mics. Out, and bird dog until arrival.”
Falcon: “Copy that, 2 mics. Advise at 5 mics. Out, Falcon will launch at 4 mics. And pick up pioneer one at 2 mics. And walk them in.”
Pioneer one: “Pioneer one, 5 mics. Out.”
Falcon: “copy that, prepared and launching in three zero seconds. Falcon is airborne pioneer one, proceeding to route at 300 ft. will intercept at two nautical miles.”
Falcon: “Pioneer one, I have visual on you, and will walk you in.
Pioneer one: “Copy Falcon ..SITREP”
Falcon: “Route clear, sending live feed, proceed along route as planned. LEO will be at Stringer St. that will be your mark to right turn, then 400 ft. to Gate one on your left.”
Falcon: “Pioneer one, Gate one un-obstructed for entry, locked on the X which is also secure at this time. Falcon to arrival detail, prepare for arrival.”
Falcon: “falcon to arrival detail, arrival, I repeat, we have arrival. I will stay on you until entry.”
Falcon: “entry made, returning to station.”
Some readers may have guessed at the participants in the above scenario or even been a part of such a detail in the past. No matter what, it’s plain to see that helicopters are an amazing tool to have at your disposal for your motorcade movements. They can advance the route in real time from a bird’s eye view, which is a great way to go from the known to the known with a good idea of the terrain you will be encountering.
However, the truth is, the simulated communications you just read were not with a helicopter, but instead were between an Executive Protection team, and it’s FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Licensed and experienced UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Pilot. Executive Protection is evolving every day, and one of the areas out front is technology. Developing are new forms of detection, tactical hearing and visual aids, vehicle security and transport, radio systems, and now UAV’S.
The Rise of the Machines
In 2006, the FAA approved the licensing of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle’s, better known as “drones,” for commercial use. In that year, 3 licenses were issued, a contrast to 2017 when more than 3,100 licenses were issued. The FAA requires that in order to operate a UAV for any reason other than recreation, you must be a licensed UAV PILOT. Once you obtain your license, you then will have to go through a background check by the NTSB (National Transportation Safety Board). Your drone system will have to be registered with the FAA and it will be given a tail number like an airplane. As you can imagine, anything having to do with aviation is monitored closely and heavily restrictive as far as rules go. Add to that the cost of insurance and the price of your professional drone system, which can run anywhere from $800.00 to upwards of $75,000, depending on your required system and its potential uses by your EP team.
There are two main systems for now and they are autonomous, and radio controlled with a pilot. Autonomous systems are programmed ahead of flight and are mostly used to perform one time, or light Arial missions.
These systems are technologically very smart and agile. In the Pyong-Chang Olympic games opening ceremony, 1,218 autonomous drones, the size of soda cans, were used to create a spectacular light show never seen before, setting a new Guinness book world record. Because these systems are not controlled by humans the FAA still deems them illegal for commercial use without hard to get, limited use, permits. This type of system could be an asset in the future for limited security intel gathering, such as photo taking and site surveys.
The drones would be able to fly in undetected, gather the information needed and extract quickly. The FAA, however, will not approve these systems for commercial use until many safety concerns are met and solved. One of the main concerns is because there is no pilot, an autonomous drone experiencing a malfunction can just fall out of the sky without warning or go off course. A drone weighing 1 pound, will fall at a rate of 32 feet per second and could exceed 120 miles an hour in its decent. If that drone hits something on the ground it will impact that structure or person with the same force as being struck by a car at 60 miles per hour. For these, and other reasons, there is still work to do with these system types, though, engineers are hard at work.
Radio Controlled Drones
The next and more common drone system is the remote radio-controlled drone by an operator or “Pilot”. These systems are very sophisticated quadcopters that are able to reach great heights and speeds while conducting various missions. While the FAA restricts commercial drone pilots to 400ft, or 400ft above the tallest structure your filming, it still could involve flying at a thousand feet or more for short periods of time. These systems, with a capacity to fly for 28 mins, can exceed 50 miles per hour, cover a range of more than 4 miles, and are very dynamic in their performance. With onboard camera systems shooting video in 4k at 60 frames a sec and filming in HD video at 1080p, day or night, its an impressive package right out of the box. Additionally, different camera systems like FLIR (night vision) can be added to your drone package to allow for conducting night missions.
The FAA predicts that commercial drones will jump from 80,000 registered systems (mostly cinematic) in 2017, to more than 420,000 units by 2021. Police, fire, news, and insurance companies, all use some sort of drone system with experienced pilots. Now, the security industry, along with search and rescue teams, are quickly falling in line. There are many ways drones can help enterprise security teams manage their risk mitigation efforts more efficiently, safely, and make them more cost-effective.
The Benefits of UAV’s
A drone can be used in perimeter control details, monitoring parking lots, campuses, stadiums, outdoor venues and checking rooftops. A drone can be deployed and get to an intruder or intrusion and assess a potential problem faster than an officer can with less risk, so personnel know better how to respond. A good drone system and pilot can cover a three-acre plot of land, in three minutes, five times faster than a manned patrol unit on foot or in a patrol vehicle. The reason for this is because a person standing at 5ft 7 inches can see a horizon distance of 2.9 miles in clear conditions. A drone system flying at 100ft. can see a horizon distance of 12.2 miles almost five times the distance unobstructed.
Certain drone systems have autonomous features backed up by a pilot, to enable the pilot to track a motorcade, people, vehicles, or marine units. So, you can see how many different options an EP team with a licensed, experienced pilot has for operational supremacy over those without a drone or UAV team.
As useful as these systems are, there are some downsides if they are not used correctly or fall into the hands of those with ill-intent. Currently, the military can send a drone to remotely deliver an explosive package 1,200 miles at 23,000 feet with the ability to destroy a target within 3 inches. A commercial drone is also a delivery system and can be outfitted with carrier systems. The good news is, the FAA has limited civilian drone operations to systems weighing under 55lbs and thereby, limiting the carrying capacity. There are some who fear the delivery of powders, toxins, firearms, and drugs, to name a few, but with any technology, there is room for abuse.
Probably the biggest limitation to drone enthusiasts, or professional drone pilot’s, is flight time. While getting much better, flight time is limited to 28min but with systems being able to land, receive a new battery, and then return airborne again within 10-15 seconds, we can live with the limitation for now and still provide an effective Arial operation. There are also flight restrictions on and over certain locations, so please know the laws regarding where you fly. Steep fines, loss of licenses and even jail time can be received for unauthorized flight operations.
As EP situational issues change and we experience more complex threats, and as clients travel to more remote locations and want better security of their homes, licensed UAV teams will be in greater demand. If your agency is one of the few that can offer, deploy, and use an experienced drone system to enhance the security of your client(s), you will find yourself in high demand in this ever-changing world of security and executive protection.
How modern technology is advancing our craft
By: Mark Roche EPS
Mark Roche is a US Based Certified Executive Protection Specialist and licensed UAV Pilot.