Book Review: Enter the Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America

 - July 8, 2016, 12:52 PM

The FAA opened a new chapter in aviation history on June 21 this year with the release of the first operational rules for routine commercial use of small, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), a k a drones. “We are part of a new era in aviation, and the potential for unmanned aircraft will make it safer and easier to do certain jobs, gather information and deploy disaster relief,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in a press release about the new rules.

There is nowhere you can find the curious and circuitous back-story to this historic announcement, except in a new non-fiction book just released this July: Enter the Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America, written by AIN senior editor Bill Carey and published by Schiffer Books of Atglen, Pa.

Carey’s first recollection of the subject that became the topic of his book goes back to 2007, when he served as the moderator of a panel at an airline-oriented conference in Amsterdam. Two of the panel’s participants talked about “mainstreaming unmanned aircraft in civil airspace,” he writes in the introduction to his book, but “the airline crowd seemed largely disinterested.” Nevertheless, “I was intrigued and continued to follow unmanned aircraft.”

And follow it he did, as a freelance reporter, as editor-in-chief of Avionics Magazine and as a senior editor with Aviation International News. Carey participated in nearly every annual meeting of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, attended numerous press events on UAVs (unmanned air vehicles), visited UAV manufacturers and test sites and interviewed many industry people, government officials and even “drone” protestors.

Although civil applications of UAVs date back to the 1990s, Carey focuses on the emergence of unmanned aircraft as a civil and commercial phenomenon in the U.S. following the passage of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012. And while Enter the Drones is not a history of the military use of unmanned aircraft, for which there are other books, Carey readily includes military UAV developments that relate to their commercial use.

A side note: “Drone Etymology,” the title of Chapter 2 of Enter the Drones, remains a surprisingly contentious topic. The FAA prefers “UAS,” as does the DOD, (although the FAA did use the word “drones” in its June 21 press release mentioned in the first paragraph). The general media and apparently most non-aviation people prefer “drones.” And the publisher preferred the use of “drones” in the book’s title. In the book’s text, Carey primarily uses “UAVs,” but also uses “drones” fairly often. Obviously, drone etymology is a “to be continued” topic.

The 11-chapter, 192-page Enter the Drones is illustrated with 59 color photographs, many taken by the author, and includes 17 pages of endnotes. While the book is definitely serious history, some of its sections read almost like a mystery novel.

Enter the Drones, The FAA and UAVs in America should be required reading for anyone involved in or considering becoming involved in the UAV industry, and certainly for people in manned aviation, as well. After all, the commercial use of drones isn’t coming; it’s already here. I can also imagine Enter the Drones being used as a college textbook and as the basis for discussion topics at UAV and other conferences.

My only quibble with the book is that it has neither an index nor a glossary, both of which I think readers would have found helpful.