FN drone demo provides introduction to aerodynamics

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Chris Simpson, Lead Mobile Engineer at FiscalNote, shows the team his collection of UAVs.

Chris Simpson, Lead Mobile Engineer at FiscalNote, shows the team his collection of UAVs.

A “drone” in popular nomenclature has traditionally meant a mindless being that goes about a task. This may be an apt use of the term when applied to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), but one that only leads to confusion, according to FiscalNote’s Chris Simpson.

Chris is an avid pilot of remotely controlled aircrafts, a passion he shared during a recent ShowFN at the FiscalNote office. While this community of which Chris is a part has been active for many years, the hobby has come under more scrutiny lately with improved technology.

The term “drone” can mean different things to different people, explains Chris. It could mean the small, remotely-piloted aircrafts that he flies; it could be more heavy-duty units used for surveillance; or it could represent a fully-autonomous military aircraft, conducting attacks. The confusion only leads to frustration when policy and regulation are discussed.

Rebecca Brown, Grant Jung, and Rishi Banerjee inspect a remotely-piloted aircraft.

Rebecca Brown, Grant Jung, and Rishi Banerjee inspect a remotely-piloted aircraft.

A FiscalNote analysis in March found state legislation addressing drone usage on the topics of law enforcement, privacy concerns, and hunting practices. Recently, drones have been blamed for interfering with firefighter response to wildfires, while the commercial application of drones is continually cited by Amazon.

During his ShowFN, Chris decided not to dive into these issues; rather, he taught us about the principles of flight. Using the diagram below, Chris explained how the curved edge of a wing forces more air below the wing – creating lift.

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Helicopters, he explained, are able to direct this lift by tilting their blades. For drones with multiple rotors, this direction is achieved by alternating the speed at which specific blades are rotating.

While those in attendance acknowledged that they had learned quite a bit about drones, the time had come.

“Are you going to fly one? If not, what am I doing here?” a coworker joked to a round of laughter. This prompted Chris to change the projector display to a live video feed from a multicopter on the table.

We imagine that few offices have drones flying in their conference rooms. When Chris is able to program these to bring us coffee, we’ll certainly post an update.