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Posted on Tue, May 15, 2012 : 1:26 p.m.

Drones in Michigan: U-M one of 25 universities authorized to fly unmanned aircraft

By Kellie Woodhouse


The University of Michigan is the only state entity once authorized to fly drones in U.S. airspace.

AP Photo

University of Michigan is one of 25 schools nationwide —and the only entity in the state of Michigan— once authorized to fly drones in U.S. airspace.

According to reports from and U-M was one of 25 universities authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly drones. Records show the school's authorization has expired, but reports that U-M flew drones over Fort Grayling and Lake Douglas and had authorization to fly drones over Grand Traverse Bay.

The drones —which included a student-designed glider and the first unmanned autonomous seaplane ever developed— aren't being used to spy on individuals, but instead are the products of ongoing research by aerospace engineering students and faculty that could have military and commercial applications, reports.

Nationwide, drones are being used for a variety of research. reports that Middle Tennessee State University faculty are researching how drones can make agriculture practices more effective by allowing farmers to pinpoint areas suffering from weed encroachment and that Kansas State University researchers are using drones to improve emergency disaster responses.

U-M's drone research first came to light recently after the Electronic Frontier Foundation won a suit forcing the FAA to disclose entities sanctioned to fly drones in U.S. airspace.

EFF representative Rebecca Jeschke expressed concern over the drone research, telling that drones "pose questions about privacy."

Read the and articles.

Watch a U-M generated video describing select unmanned aircraft research below:



Wed, May 16, 2012 : 1:02 p.m.

Could they maybe just start with gliders?


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 4:53 a.m.

I saw one of these taking off at the Ann Arbor airport last fall. It flew to the west and could be heard for quite a long time. It appeared to be using a very small high-pitched engine of some sort. There was no mistaking what it was. It took off toward the southeast on a runway different from what the passenger craft were using, then cut sharply toward the west once airborne. When it turned, its extremely thin profile was clear, tagging it as a drone. I hope the research was useful.

Matt M

Fri, May 18, 2012 : 3:57 a.m.

Excellent reporting, Todd.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 2:34 a.m.

My concern is for the careless operation which results in a crash into my house or setting a field on fire or all the 'rescue' traffic which will come by to claim their property. Just like the ultra-lites and the hot air balloons. So what if they tore up the roof. To them it was just an oops, TWICE. Different pilots.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 1:48 a.m.

"but instead are the products of ongoing research by aerospace engineering students and faculty that could have military and commercial applications, reports" Great! I am glad U of M is helping the military come up with new ways to kill people. I really don't worry about drones flying over my house because I am a good American with nothing to hide. Only those who are involved in anti-American activities will speak out agianst this wonderful technology. USA USA USA!

Dog Guy

Wed, May 16, 2012 : 12:35 a.m.

The University of Michigan immediately comes to mind when drones are mentioned.

Unusual Suspect

Wed, May 16, 2012 : 1 a.m.

I was thinking of Ann Arbor voters.

Unusual Suspect

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 10:57 p.m.

To all the tinfoil-hat types... the fact it's a drone has nothing to do with spying. The next Piper Cub that flies over your house could be spying on you using some of the same equipment. Don't get all spooky-scary just because it's a drone.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 12:36 a.m.

Don't forget the geeky little kid down the street with a digital camera duct taped to his RC aircraft Christmas present

Ron Granger

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 10:32 p.m.

The problem with drones is the threat to privacy everywhere, all the time. Even in your bedroom, if one is anywhere near an otherwise private window. Helicopters cost thousands of dollars per hour to operate, so their use is very limited.

Ron Granger

Wed, May 16, 2012 : 2:11 a.m.

Security cameras are already routinely abused. This brings the potential for abuse to a new level. With the outsourcing of security services to private corporations, we can expect that these drones will be operated by for-profit entities with limited accountability.


Wed, May 16, 2012 : 12:34 a.m.

If your bedroom is visible from a drone, it's probably visible from a dozen other vantage points. That's why they invented drapes. If an agency feels the need to conduct surveillance on you, they're going to do it with whatever is available. Whether it's with a helicopter, or a drone. My guess is they'd go with the cheaper option. But as operating a drone also carries its own operating expense, I doubt they'll be out hovering around each and every bedroom window in the city just waiting for any possible malfeasance. Please stop with the histrionics.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 10:14 p.m.

No big deal huh?

Let me be Frank

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 9:36 p.m.

The AA PD should have these so in the event of a 911 call regaring a crime in progress or committed it could be use quickly to search the location before the Police can arrive.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 8:34 p.m.

For all of you people who are so terribly frightened of drones flying around our airspace, please tell me what's the difference between drones and surveillance helicopters. The only difference between the two is that the pilot isn't actually aboard the aircraft. And if it's the fact that drones got their start in military operations, that same technology that you see lifting off from the pad at U of M hospital also began with the military. So everybody just stop whining and fretting. There is absolutely nothing unconstitutional at all here. Move along.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 9:19 p.m.

Brad, The article cited a research seaplane as being autonomous. To have any practical use in a commercial or law enforcement capacity they would have to have some command and control input. Flying ony preprogrammed routes is inherently inefficient as circumstances on the ground can, and most often will change during the course of the flight. That is why ALL military drones (the kind I suspect most of these commenters have their collective underwear in a twist about) are remotely piloted. But even if they were programmed to fly a prearranged route, How is that worse than having an aircraft under constant control from a constitutional standpoint?


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 9 p.m.

The word "autonomous" appears in the article with indicates a craft that has no pilot aboard or anywhere else. That's a significant difference.

Audion Man

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 8:20 p.m.

No doubt for the Alumni Association to track down grads to whine for more money.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 7:25 p.m.

Are they quieter than the super loud banner-towing antiques on football Saturdays? Maybe the impoverished uom and athletic dept thereof could make a buck.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 7:19 p.m.

Drones are just hopped up R/C planes. No big deal. Next thing we'll find out that there is research into driverless cars. Once those hit the streets...

Bob Krzewinski

Wed, May 16, 2012 : 2:09 a.m.

Speaking as a 28 year airline pilot, many drones are big enough to take down an airliner.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 7:08 p.m.

If they could otherwise fly a helicopter, what's the difference? Shall I put a tin foil hat on every time Survival Flight is overhead, too?


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 8:49 p.m.

The difference is that one has a human at the controls, and the other has software. Have you ever used anything with software that works right all the time? OK, now how would you feel about that happening to a full-sized helicopter?


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 7:44 p.m.

Is aluminum foil a conspiracy to prevent us getting real tin foil at the nearby grocery?

The Black Stallion3

Tue, May 15, 2012 : 6:55 p.m.

Let them fly over Detroit every night.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 6:23 p.m.

This is pretty scary. I don't want to have drones flying around so much that it'll seem commonplace. Add this to the tearing down of the Consistution, the militatization of the police, the radicalization of politics and the constant fear being shoved at us, one can see we're well on our way down the slippery slope.


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 6:16 p.m.

Privacy, heck! If they flew them over Ann Arbor maybe they could identify who is letting their dog poop in my yard!


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 6:03 p.m. ooooo scary...the reporting that is


Tue, May 15, 2012 : 6:02 p.m.

wow, hype much? Did U of M or any other Universities fly Predators with racks of Hellfire missiles on their racks? Wouldn't be much of a draw or a poll if you showed them images of the actual drones now would it?