My journey into the drone industry occurred while serving as a UAV Operator for the U.S. Army, where the acronym BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) was not referenced. So upon entering the commercial drone market, I asked “What on earth is BVLOS?”
I remember asking myself, “Why is everybody talking about it – what’s the big deal?” It wasn’t until I started asking myself these questions that I came to the stark realization that the drone world where I had grown up, or in military terms the “UAV world,” is extremely different than the arena dominated by commercial off the shelf quadcopters.
Everything concerning military drone operations seemed so natural, so normal, so… simple. If our mission required us to fly the drone to “location x” – as long as the aircraft could get there – we would do it.
In 2011, while deployed to Iraq, visual line of sight on my aircraft existed for approximately 3-5 minutes. Then, the tiny airframe and its silhouette dissolved into the horizon. I was flying a drone to places nearly 100 miles away, and I did not consider it anything remarkable. In my mind, it was simply what drones were supposed to do.
On an average day overseas, I made calls back and forth with a control tower, navigated through local traffic that included the likes of helicopters, C-130s, and even F-fighter series jets. Also important to note was keeping my aircraft clear from outgoing missile launches. It’s true that UAVs were at the bottom of the aviation priority list (manned trumps unmanned), which is completely understandable. Sometimes getting clearances to land or takeoff could become hindered. Nevertheless, my team and I were able to get the mission done while working in airspace shared with manned aircraft.
It was a complete paradigm shift to entering into the civilian drone sector in 2017. Especially since I was used to flying in an environment where unmanned airspace was very accommodating. An aircraft’s physical capabilities, related to distance and altitude were more or less only the only limitations. Now, flying above 400 feet seemed nearly impossible.
I was admittedly a bit discouraged with how restricted drone-flying is in the U.S. It wasn’t until I did some soul-searching accompanied with some heavy research that I realized why such restrictions were put in place. Nevertheless, I still felt like U.S. drone utilization was being hampered by mistrust and lack of opportunity. I’ve always felt, and still feel so today, that the way I flew drones with the military can, and someday will, be the way drones are flown here in the United States; it’s not a matter of if, but when!
Organizations all across the globe are coming together as we speak to make BVLOS in the United States a reality. Nevertheless, a full BVLOS integration will be an incremental effort, but as a unified industry – we’ll certainly see that day.
As I move forward with this blog, I’ll be highlighting some instances of companies that are paving the way ahead for BVLOS to become the industry standard. Stay tuned for next week as I’ll start with what we’ve done at Consortiq and reveal a real-world example of when we made BVLOS happen both legally and safely – the way it will hopefully be done on an ongoing and widespread basis very soon!
Stephen Glaus Bio
Stephen’s career is characterized by change and flexibility. Since his departure from military service with the U.S. Army in 2013, he has had numerous roles, from suburban mail delivery, to gun store retail management , and then to Afghanistan as a civilian drone operator. During this transitionary period, he also worked full time to complete both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in business.
Having found his footing within the commercial UAS industry, Stephen’s drone experience includes long-endurance military aircraft, engineering developmental aircraft, as well as traditional quadcopter variants. With an insatiable drive for excellence and an unrelenting passion for helping others, Stephen is excited to pave the pathway forward and guide organizations to safe and efficient drone operations.