I’m pretty sure Mrs. Nussbaum never knew. It had to be obvious there were about 50 small trainer aircraft passing over her pool every day, but then the Nussbaum’s farm was close to the airport and there was flight training. But despite the fact that The Pool, as it became known to pilots and ATC, was a good five miles away from the airport, students persisted in using it as a reporting point for VFR entry into the pattern.
“Two Charlie Tango over The Pool with Information Bravo” was almost a mantra of the flight students. A cynic might suggest the popularity of the pilot-defined VFR checkpoint had something to do with Mrs. Nussbaum, age undeterminable at 1,000 feet agl, sunbathing in the altogether by her pool. It was hardly a rarity in the world of aviation.
At the University of Illinois, back in the days of gender-specific dormitories, one of the women’s dorms had a rooftop deck frequently sporting nubile coeds getting a quick dose of Vitamin D with a full court press toward the sun. For reasons unknown to ATC, the traffic pattern on the northeast side of the airport widened by about a mile during the summer months. What else would you expect when you put a couple of hundred 20-year-olds at the controls of airplanes and offer majestic scenery below?
That brings me to UAVs.
Why unmanned aerial vehicles, called drones, are being deployed is not always clear, but their popularity is increasing dramatically as the once tens of millions of dollars price tag has dropped to tens of thousands. This simple market dynamic has resulted in the multibillion-dollar UAV industry’s pressuring the FAA to loosen up domestic drone flight restrictions to make room for more.
Whether they’re operating out of Creech AFB in Nevada patrolling in Afghanistan or they’re deployed by the Miami-Dade County police department, the Montgomery County, Texas Sheriff’s office, or any of a growing list of locations including universities and federal agencies, one thing is for sure. UAVs are filling up the sky faster than Florida Love Bugs, increasing the potential for unintended in-flight mating with civilian aircraft. But I am less concerned about in-flight mating and more concerned about mating on the ground and the plethora of other private things people do when under the delusion that they have some degree of privacy in their lives.
Flying UAVs is fertile territory for the twenty-something wannabe pilot crowd that grew up on video games. Regardless of the mission, UAVs are generally equipped with, at a minimum, surveillance equipment with zoom power capable of determining at 50,000 feet not only Mrs. Nussbaum’s age but whether her moles were precancerous. Am I the only person who sees a conflict of interest here?
I don’t hear voices from outer space, wear a tinfoil hat when I go to bed or subscribe to conspiracy-theory magazines but this whole thing gets under my skin. Call me a Luddite but we managed to get along just fine for almost 230 years without eyes in the sky that can zoom in on the package UPS left on my porch and read the plain, white wrapper.
I’ve been groped, X-rayed and photographed by the TSA at the airport, but in my own backyard I expect privacy. At least at the airport I know what to expect. The problem is that in my own backyard, even though they’re flying overhead, I probably won’t know if someone is watching; I’m pretty sure Mrs. Nussbaum didn’t.