J. VanDomelen Mil/Aero Blog

J. VanDomelen holds a Bachelor of Science in Information Systems and myriad certifications from Microsoft, Cisco, and CompTia in varying facets of computer software, hardware, and network design and implementation. He has worked in the electronics industry for more than 12 years in varied fields, including advanced systems design of highly technical military and aerospace computer systems, semiconductor manufacturing, open source software development, hardware design, and rapid prototyping.

31 August, 2015

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) – also commonly known as drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), and remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) – have been a hot spot in the military and aerospace (mil/aero) market for years.

In fact, industry analysts have credited UAS as having previously saved the global mil/aero market and many businesses in a downturned economy. Investment in military and commercial aircraft waned in response to a challenging economy and high fuel prices, but interest and investment in unmanned aircraft has, to the surprise of many, maintained a strong upward trajectory.

The UAS market segment has continued to be a bright spot in an era of declining military spending. Some market analysts predicted the demise of UAS, while others anticipated (at the very least) a sharp decline in unmanned aircraft spending. Yet, UAS spending soldiers on.

Worldwide UAV production is forecast to soar from $4 billion annually to $14 billion, totaling $93 billion in the next 10 years with military research adding another $30 billion over the decade, according to a 2015 market study from Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia.


“UAVs are no longer of interest only to aerospace companies, but increasingly technology companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon see a need to be in the market,” says Philip Finnegan, Teal Group’s director of corporate analysis and an author of the study. “The market for UAVs looks very strong, increasingly driven by new technologies, such as the next generation of unmanned combat systems, and the development of new markets, such as civil and consumer drones.”

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31 August, 2015

Two officials in the U.S. Department of the Interior in Boise, Idaho – Office of Aviation Services Director Mark Bathrick and National Unmanned Aircraft Specialist Bradley Koeckeritz – are seizing the opportunity to determine whether unmanned aircraft can help combat raging wildfires.

The Paradise Fire in the Olympic National Park is serving as the test bed. The National Park Service (NPS) describes the Paradise Fire as “located well within Olympic National Park in the Queets Valley wilderness,” roughly 13 miles North/Northeast of Quinault, Washington. The fire was caused by “a lightning strike in late May but smoldered undetected until June 14.”

Firefighters on the ground and in fixed-wing and rotor-wing aircraft have battled the fire, which has engulfed roughly 2800 acres, for months. Aerospace professionals want to see what unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly called drones, can do.

fireretardant drop

Federal Government officials flew a ScanEagle unmanned aircraft system (UAS) from Insitu Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of The Boeing Company located in Bingen, Wash., over the Paradise Fire this month (just days ago, in fact).

The ScanEagle’s payload, including infrared and thermal imaging technology from FLIR in Wilsonville, Oregon, collected data that is proving valuable for real-time hot spot detection and fire map boundary detection. Armed with this information, helicopter pilots could concentrate on areas in most dire need of attention.

The sheer size and number of wildfires has stretched resources thin, however, and testing was cut short. It was determined that further testing could not be performed until more resources become available. Even so, Washington Public Lands Commissioner Peter Goldmark is thinking positive — unmanned aircraft could prove integral to fighting fires and this mil/aero geek couldn’t agree more.

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31 August, 2015

With wildfires raging in the Northwestern United States, aerospace professionals, firefighters, and myriad others are wondering whether unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also referred to as drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) could bring some much-needed relief.

It is a hotly debated issue today, whether unmanned aircraft help or hinder in civil matters, scenarios, and environments. On the one hand, drones have delivered a helping hand to firefighters, helping locate and identify not only fires, but also survivors in dangerous areas thick with smoke and flames. On the other hand, helicopters used to battle the Lake Fire in San Bernardino National Forest in California had to be grounded due to interfering private drones.

kamiah wildfire

Some area residents had deployed drones to capture videos of the wildfires and in so doing, put more lives at risk. A small unmanned aircraft can easily go undetected as pilots’ visibility is impaired by thick smoke and attentions are focused on keeping track of other airplanes and helicopters battling the fires. If a small UAS (sUAS) is sucked into a helicopter’s propeller or an airplane’s engine, it can quickly bring the aircraft down.

Nonetheless, proponents see tremendous promise for UAS aiding firefighters today and in the foreseeable future. Mark Bathrick, director of the Office of Aviation Services (OAS), and Bradley Koeckeritz, national unmanned aircraft specialist at the U.S. Department of the Interior in Boise, Idaho, aim to test the efficacy of UAS in fighting fires. What better place than Washington State? And what better time than now?

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31 August, 2015

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), also known as drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are rising rapidly in popularity, use, and functionality. Are there limits to their use? Do the risks ever outweigh the benefits? Military and aerospace (mil/aero) professionals, lawmakers, and the general public are pondering these questions, and more.

In the face of adversity, many key decision-makers have opted to employ unmanned aircraft – a key tool in the military and aerospace (mil/aero) arsenal. Military, law enforcement, public safety, and myriad other organizations have entrusted important missions to unmanned vehicles – with great success.

Can UAS benefit those fighting fires of great magnitude, such as the wildfires currently rampant in the Northwestern United States (including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana)? Some fear drones would interfere with piloted firefighting aircraft, while others see great promise for UAS gathering intelligence, delivering needed supplies, operating above or below piloted aircraft, and flying at night.

scaneagle infrared

Among the proponents are Mark Bathrick, director of the Office of Aviation Services (OAS) for the U.S. Department of the Interior in Boise, Idaho. Bathrick, a former U.S. Navy aviator and test pilot, thinks it is high time to put unmanned aircraft or optionally piloted aircraft to work delivering crucial, real-time data to firefighters – and he is not alone.

Bathrick and Bradley Koeckeritz, national unmanned aircraft specialist at the Department of the Interior, sought to test the effectiveness of unmanned and optionally piloted aircraft in fighting fires – and they have the opportunity to do so now in the Pacific Northwest.

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31 August, 2015

Wildfires are burning out of control in the Northwestern United States, claiming natural resources, property, and lives. Firefighters have come from as far as Australia and New Zealand to help. Nonetheless, the situation is dire and Mother Nature is bringing little relief – winds are high, while rain is scarce. As a result, officials in the Federal Government, various state land management agencies, and local fire departments are currently in hot pursuit of the latest and greatest technology advances to help extinguish these raging infernos.

The fires in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho have consumed more than 1.2 million acres of land, destroyed dozens of homes and outbuildings, and claimed the lives of firemen, residents, livestock, and wild animals. Approximately 30,000 firefighters and both fixed-wing and rotor-wing aircraft have been deployed from various different locales to battle the blazes; despite all this hard work, some fires remain serious threats at just 25 percent contained. Many officials recognize the need for advanced technology, to help extinguish wildfires and to attempt to keep firefighters out of harm’s way as much as possible.


Advances in satellite (and satellite payload) technologies have enabled key decision-makers to generate accurate mapping and meteorological data, providing a detailed bird’s eye view and greatly enhancing the efficacy of the fight on the ground. Satellite imagery and weather prediction tools previously proved valuable in the same area in March 2014, as heavy rains and strong winds hindered search-and-rescue efforts following severe landslides. Even with the advent of satellite imagery and data, firefighters on the ground require access to real-time information – data from drones.

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31 July, 2015

Commercial passenger jets on the ground or in the hangar don’t make airlines money, and that means that airlines are motivated to keep every airplane in its fleet operational. One key way to do that, and to meet airworthiness requirements and comply with regulations, is through proper aircraft maintenance.

Some of today’s aviation maintenance technicians (AMTs) suggest that airlines are doing quite the opposite: cutting corners to save money. Members of Transport Workers Union Local 591 allege in a lawsuit that American Airlines (AA) managers pressured mechanics to skimp on maintenance and repairs to the aircraft fleet.

To keep airplanes in service and generating revenue, AA management representatives allegedly subjected AMTs to “ongoing pressure from to commit maintenance fraud, disregard maintenance discrepancies, deviate from federally-mandated maintenance procedures, abstain from required lightning strike and bird strike inspections, and otherwise violate federal aviation standards,” according to the lawsuit. These representatives, the plaintiffs contend, would threaten discipline, termination, arrest, station closure, and staff reductions if AMTs didn’t comply with their wishes.


The lawsuit describes multiple instances of mechanics being pressured to cut corners to put airplanes back into operation, and threatened with “retaliatory action for reporting safety violations.” Safety violations cited in the lawsuit include: the fraudulent sign-off of maintenance work, expired oxygen canisters and missing equipment on aircraft, improper maintenance of door seals, cracked engine pylons, painting over damage, and more — all of which were flown in revenue service with flight crews and passengers onboard.

FAA officials, made aware of the allegations, launched an investigation into the airline’s maintenance activities in Chicago and Dallas. An AA spokesperson insists that company officials “continually and consistently work with regulators so that American’s maintenance programs, practices, procedures, and overall compliance and safety are second to none.”

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31 July, 2015

Commercial airline pilots flying for Allegiant Air (of which there are more than 500) were recently so “uncomfortable remaining silent about company practices that negatively impact…safety” that they were moved to pen a letter to passengers.

In a letter, the pilots call Allegiant Air “the most profitable airline in the industry” with “48 consecutive profitable quarters” and accuse company executives of “driving a race to the bottom in service [and] safety standards.

“The fleet is plagued by persistent mechanical problems due to poor equipment and the company’s unwillingness to invest in its operation or its workforce, as attested by the numerous FAA safety investigations, aircraft groundings, and training program closures,” the pilots flying for Allegiant Air describe. Despite taking home “tens of millions of dollars in dividends in the past few years,” the company’s CEO has “refused to reinvest returns into our infrastructure [or] operation” and the airline has adopted a “minimalist approach to maintenance and safety.”


“With Allegiant making millions in profits each year, our customers should not be put at risk by a company that is content to just barely meet safety standards – a mindset that results in the delays and cancellations you experience when you fly with us,” the pilots explain. They close the letter to passengers by calling for investments in the company’s infrastructure, fleet, pilots, and mechanics and pledge to “continue to speak out to protect travelers and our pilots from being taken advantage of by a company consumed with a dangerous approach to its safety standards, customer protection, and employees.”

What the letter doesn’t include are specifics. For this reason and the timing of the letter, Allegiant Air officials have dismissed the pilots’ claims, calling the letter a “scare tactic” and attempt to benefit from contract negotiations for higher pay.

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31 July, 2015

Airlines worldwide, when faced with high fuel prices and other fiscal challenges, adopted a number of different methods both to save money and to increase revenue. Budget airlines – such as Ryanair, Allegiant Air, and others – are known for having become especially frugal.
Some of the airlines’ cost-cutting and income-driving tactics include: putting more seats on each plane, reducing weight, filling every seat, and redefining basic comforts (including, in some cases, access to the onboard bathroom) as extras, and charging higher fees. Fuel prices have since declined, but extra fees and cost-cutting practices remain in effect, in most cases greatly boosting company profits.

Are some cost-cutting measures threatening the safety of flight crews and passengers, as well as people and property on the ground? The traveling public hopes not; yet, many airline pilots and maintenance technicians believe so.

boeing maint

Aviation industry analysts have written a great deal on the topic over the past decade, drawing correlations between airline maintenance cutbacks and commercial airplane crashes.
“From 1994 to 2004, maintenance problems contributed to 42% of fatal airline accidents in the United States (excluding the 9-11 terrorist attacks). Maintenance related accidents and incidents are caused by a breakdown of the organization processes, decisions, and culture,” Jeff O’Brien wrote in his 2012 article, entitled “When Poor Aircraft Maintenance Costs Lives” (http://ow.ly/Qj0MR).

In fact, in 2003, National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) Member John Goglia was quoted as saying that cost-cutting has hurt maintenance and the industry needs to focus on improving it, or expect more disasters (http://ow.ly/Qj0Th).

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30 July, 2015

Are airlines’ cost-cutting measures endangering the lives of passengers? Some commercial pilots think so, including those at Allegiant Air – a budget airline in Enterprise, Nev., formerly known as WestJet Express.

Allegiant Air has been in the news a great deal this year – for reasons both positive and negative. On the positive side, Allegiant is expanding operations at some airports and establishing hubs at others. On the negative side, the airline seems to be plagued with problems lately, including: noise complaints, pilot and flight attendant strikes, flight delays and diversions, and various emergency landings – and all that is just in the past two months.

This week, 144 passengers on Allegiant Air Flight 426 – which was one hour late leaving Las Vegas – were alarmed (and may even have feared for their lives) when the pilot made an emergency landing due to a lack of fuel. In an audio recording released today, the pilot can be heard pleading with an air traffic controller to permit him to land the passenger jet immediately; yet, a temporary flight restriction was in place at Fargo’s Hector International Airport to enable the Blue Angels to practice in advance of a weekend air show. The pilot refused to divert the plane to another airport, claiming not to have even 20 minutes’ worth of fuel. The Blue Angels were moved and the flight was allowed to land in Fargo.

Allegiant Air Boise_Wing_Passengers

FAA investigators are looking into the event, especially considering all flights are required to have 45 minutes’ worth of extra fuel on board. Allegiant management says they are doing the same, checking “all channels of communication” and “circumstances leading to the declaration of emergency.”

This story doesn’t end there, certainly. Be sure to read on.

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30 July, 2015

Sikorsky Innovations executives in Stratford, Conn., are on a quest for cutting-edge technologies that can benefit vertical flight applications. In fact, they are putting their money where their mouth is, offering a $25,000 cash prize to the winner of the next Entrepreneurial Challenge.

“If you are a startup with concepts in the areas of energy storage, sensors, virtual reality, or 3D printing, you should strongly consider learning about the 6th Sikorsky Entrepreneurial Challenge,” says Entrepreneurial Challenge Lead Jonathan Hartman.
The competition, having evolved since it was launched in 2002, features four hot global technology topics: (1) wireless sensing, (2) augmented reality, (3) aerospace quality additive manufacturing, and (4) next-generation energy storage.

“Sikorsky is serious about finding aligned, disruptive technologies,” affirms Sikorsky Innovations Senior Manager Simon Gharibian. “As a global leader in rotorcraft, Sikorsky is looking for determined enterprises that are ready to test their concept and win the opportunity to work closely with us. We have been impressed by the level of creativity among past winners, and expect to see high-caliber companies vying once again as part of the competition.”


“Sikorsky Innovations launched five years ago with the charter to take on the toughest challenges in vertical flight,” said Chris Van Buiten, Sikorsky Innovations’ Vice President. “The Entrepreneurial Challenge represents one of the resourceful methods the organization has embraced to mine new ideas and talent. Innovation springs from all technology domains, and we are looking forward to seeing what the 6th Entrepreneurial Challenge brings.”

Applications are due to Sikorsky Innovations by 5 p.m. EDT on Friday, 16 Oct. 2015. Visit www.sikorsky.com/EChallenge to enter the competition and to read all terms and conditions.

Sikorsky Innovations is the technology development division of Sikorsky Aircraft Corp., a subsidiary of United Technologies Corporation (NYSE:UTX).

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