In 2012 the Electronic Frontier Foundation sued the FAA under the Freedom of Information Act for the publication of the files revealing who has applied for and been granted licenses to fly drones, or unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) domestically. The files that the FAA released are each an application from an entity that wished to procure a UAV license called a Certificate of Authorization (COA) which is needed to fly a drone above 400 feet or for the military, outside of restricted airspace—which means outside of bases. Each COA application includes maps of where the drones will fly.
Within the thousands of files they released, only two entities have applied for drone licenses in New York State. One was Cornell University, which applied in 2008 for licenses for a dozen homemade UAVs used to collect the fungal spores of plant pathogens (less than 100 microns in size) above agricultural fields.
Below are a photo of their homemade drones and the satellite image maps included in their application with their original captions. The captions on the maps aim to assure the FAA that the routes they plan to fly these little drones will not interfere with the regular national air space traffic.
The entire flying area at the Kentland Farm. The UAV will never be more than 1,000 ft from the airstrips in any direction. Two UAV turf grass airstrips (A and B, in white) are located on a hilltop offering unobstructed views for UAVs flying over agricultural fields to the immediate right of the airstrip. There are no main roads or highways near the farm or flying area.
The proposed flight area is located approximately 12 statute miles south of the Baton Rouge Metro Airport on an approximate 185 degree heading. Our flight levels will be from the surface (16 ft MSL) to 500 ft AGL. This appears to be Class G airspace up to 1200 ft AGL where the airspace appears to become Class E.
Red border is the approximate limits of the Louisiana State University Agriculture Experiment farm. Blue line is the proposed flight box for the aerial sampling flights for Asian soybean rust. The GPS coordinates for the center of the farm is approximately Latitude 30o 21’ 54” Longitude -91o 10’ 07” .
The other entity is the New York Air National Guard’s 174th Attack Wing’s division called the 138th Attack Squadron (138 ATS). Their drone couldn’t be further from the cute, colorful, innocuous (by comparison) drones at Cornell.
What lives in Syracuse Hancock Field Air National Guard Base is the MQ-9B Reaper UAV. It’s a behemoth hunter-killer, the same one the CIA uses for targeted assassinations in northern Pakistan. It can carry massive payloads and film crisp surveillance video from two miles up in the sky. Since 2008 the 138th ATS has been a functioning drone school for not only American military but also for “international [drone] exchange students.” According to their COA application:
“This COA is critical to the combat mission training for the Air National Guard and has major implications for the Flying Training Unit (FTU) targeted for operation by the 174th Fighter Wing, essentially training pilots and sensor operators for the USAF and its International exchange students being trained by the U.S. Air Force under a partnership agreement between the U.S. government and cooperating nations.”
Below is a photograph of the Reaper as well as a handful of the eery and perplexing yet beautiful maps included in their COA application.
To see more maps from the Cornell COA application check them out on the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s website here. To see all of the COA applications with all of their unique and beautiful maps and satellite images including the NY Air National Guard’s you can dig through the many many many disorganized files available for download on the FAA website.