Predator drones have been authorized to fly over almost 10,000 acres in North Dakota. Starting in the fall Predator drones will use lasers on ground targets from heights of nearly 10,000 feet.
The city of Grand Forks which already has a base will become host to a UAV training facility beginning in October this year. The drone operators will use lasers on ground targets. The lasers help the pilots to practice picking targets for bomb or missile attacks.
Col. Rick Gibney who commands the 119th Wing of the North Dakota Air National Guard said: "People may hear airplanes flying above, but there will be no lights visible and no explosions." The training will be more like real world situations as compared with training that involved only flight simulators. Gibney thought that flight would increase over time as more pilots were required.
Regular airplanes would continue to use the drone airspace. Gibney did not expect any problems as drone shared airspace in Nevada and California. He said: “There’s a lot of other aircraft in those areas, and a lot of commercial aircraft around those areas.” However not everyone considers that the drones do not pose any dangers.
Opponents of the training facility raise questions about the dangers of the lasers used by the drones. Recent FAA regulations say:“Since the MQ–1 Predator [UAS] laser is non-eye safe and will be used during training sorties flown by the military, its use constitutes a hazardous activity that must be confined within restricted area airspace to protect nonparticipating aircraft.” Pilots of traditional aircraft should be notified ahead of time what operations are being carried on or their flights could be endangered.
The number of drones flying within the U.S. is expanded at a rapid rate. Critics say that standards for operation should be drafted more quickly. There are concerns both over safety and privacy. Not long ago a drone crashed near Washington D.C. on a training mission. There are fears also that drones could be hijacked.
California is already considering drones as a means of monitoring suspicious activity on the ground. This use of drones raises privacy issues. Meanwhile the U.S. is becoming a large exporter of drones to foreign countries. For more see this article.
On Wednesday, Homeland Security Secretary said that the state of California is currently considering using surveillance drones as a means of proactively monitoring suspicious activity on the ground on the basis of “public safety” issues. At a recent lecture on domestic drones given by the EFF at New York City’s Hackers on Planet Earth Conference, Timm and fellow activist Parker Higgins said during a presentation that some surveillance UAVs “can zoom in and read a milk carton from 60,000 feet” off the ground.