Local Flight Gurus Call Amazon Drones a Stunt

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CLEVELAND -- When we were growing up, we were taught to look both ways before crossing the street.

Future generations may have to look up before leaving the house.

They’ll be watching for Amazon delivery drones -- that is, if the company lives up to the hype it created this week.

In an interview with 60 Minutes, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos revealed Prime Air, a system of unmanned drones that he says will take packages straight to a customer's doorstep.

But the folks at FliteTest, a web show that focuses on educating, entertaining and elevating the world of flight, said there would be significant hurdles.

“It’s really, truly great that they’re using this to inspire people, but right now it’s just nothing more than a publicity stunt," said Josh Bixler, the host and operations manager of FliteTest.  "The technology is capable of doing it, but is it safe?  Is it efficient?  And is it practical?  No.”

Alex Zvada, FliteTest's product specialist, added the concept is not cost effective and there are too many flight restrictions.  For example, the drones would not be allowed to fly over roads or near airports.

Bezos acknowledged some of the limitations in his interview, but said FAA rule changes could make the flights legal in four or five years.

He said the "octocopters" Amazon would use are in a testing phase and can only carry packages up to five pounds.  Ninety percent of Amazon's deliveries weigh less than that.

"It’s great that (Amazon's) inspiring people," Bixler said.  "The hobby is wonderful to get into, it’s a really great thing.  It inspires people to do more to defeat the laws of gravity, so props to (Amazon) for doing that.”

The flight technology is currently used in many capacities.  Because it can take a camera where humans can't, it helps farmers monitor crops, firefighters detect hotspots and police map out routes around flooded roads.

It has even been used in South America and Africa to hunt down poachers.

While the FliteTest crew was at Fox 8 News for the interview, they demonstrated a few of their unmanned aerial systems.  Watch the videos above and below for more.

They also plan to test Amazon's proposed system to see how the delivery of Bixler's favorite beverage, a Mountain Dew, might fare.

Kenny Crumpton spent some time with FliteTest in September.  See that video here.

6 comments

  • Not Sure

    Bezos, in his comments, told us why he is doing this. Shipping costs are going up and squeezing his margins. This is just a publicity stunt to “scare” the shippers and hopefully they will keep costs in-line. Use an energy vs. 1lb. package vs per mile delivery analysis and you will find that diesel trucks are the more efficient way to deliver packages considering ALL other costs. The problem is when you try to reduce fuel costs and load more packages into fewer trucks, delivery times suffer.

    Time is a relative thing….vastly important to some….not so important to others. You want it fast, you pay. If your patient, you save money.

  • Ben

    II fly a little of remote control planes but the really flyer in the family is my son. Still I am the wallet “$$” for the hobby so I do know a little about this. When we saw this we knew it was not real. First the type of brushless motors needed to lift a 1 lbs box is very expensive. These unite would then range in price from at least 2 or 3 thousand $. Then there’s the battery range flight time right now on full load is 5 minutes 10 maybe? at best. Then there is the transmitter range 1 mile 2 miles at best. Then there’s “what you do with the box after? And finally there’s human nature. Every single kid and some adults with a air gun would be aiming at them.
    right now yes in theory it could work we have the technology i have seen unites at my local RC club that fly using pre determined patterns around a field with a built in gps and come back to the take off spot within a foot. in reality it would not work plus you would need 1 pilot per machine per box being delivered . Right now you have 1 driver per 100 box .
    P.S.
    They are not easy to fly. Unlike the video it takes a lot of practice and money. About a year before anyone could do what they showed on the video. Don’t believe me lol go buy one at your local hobby shop and have fun. It will be the best 3 minutes of your life before you crash it and break it to the point where it’s not fixable and you need to by another one.

    • Carter

      When they said they are easy to fly they were clearly referring to the smaller quads such as the Blade mQX. Also, with the current technology, you don’t need a ton of skill. Take the DJI Phantom for example, a 10 year old could fly that. I agree you however about the limitations, and I hope Amazon realizes how impractical this is.

  • Matthew Elyash

    I bet all their Amazon purchases somehow get “LOST” from now on, lol !! But Seriously the guys at Flite Test ARE a great inspiration to me, for the hobby AND the video Production portion of it. As for Amazon delivering via Drones, 5 years, Not likely, the FAA won’t even begin the process of integrating Commercial Drones into US airspace till 2015, and if the time it took to get rules on cel phone use are any indication It will be a seriously long wait.

    Multirotors are great for what they do, but they are NOT efficient, and they have very short range. This flying across the countryside and landing in somebodys back yard, Like that is gonna happen! I mean what happens when the family dog runs over to it and ends up hamburger!!! There are GREAT uses for Drones, and for Multi Rotor camera platforms, in search and rescue, roof and infrastructure inspections, a ton of things, but delivering something from a warehouse? Get Real.

  • snapchat android

    They are waiting for a change in regulations in the US though as it is illegal at the moment to fly these drones. The reason being that they could fall on someone’s head or crash on a helicopter or plane. With these drones Amazon will be able to deliver a product 30 mns after ordering it online!

  • David Gwynn-Jones (@davidgwynnjones)

    Down here in Australia we just love the FliteTest guys!

    For those people freaking out about privacy with ‘drones’ remember they only have a very limited flight time, as Josh said they make a huge racket and *most* pilots can’t afford to lose/destroy their aircraft so they fly them pretty carefully. Also most RC pilots are too busy keeping their craft in the air to worry about peeking through someone’s curtains!

    Here in Oz the authorities are about to relax the regulations even more and deliveries in non-urban areas are not far away for us, so your FAA might want to get a move on!

    P.S. Hey Fox8, give the FT guys a regular gig!

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