From the Wild West to the National Airspace System: Roadmap for Integration of Unmanned Aircraft into the National Airspace System

By David Cain, J.D.1

  • I. History of Aviation – Unde Vinimus
  • A. Unmanned Aviation
  • i. Early Unmanned Efforts: From Tethered Flight to World War I
  • ii. The Golden Age: Unmanned Flight from World War I to World War II
  • iii. From Radioplanes to Rockets: Unmanned Advancement in World War II
  • iv. Beyond the New Horizon: Unmanned Flight from World War II to Present
  • B. Regulatory History of Manned Aviation
  • i. Over the Channel and Through the War: Blériot to the Air Commerce Act
  • ii. The Aero Bramble Bush: Air Safety, Air Commerce, and the CAA
  • iii. The First Giant Leap: World War II and the Coming of the Jet Age
  • iv. Case on Point: The FAA and National Airspace Integration of Jet Aircraft
  • C. National Airspace System – The Rise and Fall of Latency
  • II. Current UAS Regulatory Landscape – Ubi Sumus
  • A. Recent Unmanned Regulation Timeline
  • B. RTCA Special Committee 203
  • C. Unmanned as Exceptions to the Rule
  • III. Roadmap for Regulatory Change – Quo Vadimus
  • IV. Conclusion – Quo Potuimus Vadere

Leading Edge v. Bleeding Edge

The leading edge is the forward edge of an airfoil, the point on the wing that first impacts the air. Behind the leading edge, all lift is created. Beyond the leading edge lies the bleeding edge – where grand theory meets early adoption – where test pilots once died.

To say that Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) are on the bleeding edge of aviation overstates the risk of modern UAS operation. To say that UAS technology presents regulatory issues on the leading edge of the law understates the impact of UAS on the aviation regulatory process generally, aircraft certification and the National Airspace System (NAS) specifically.


1 J.D., 2013, California Western School of Law. © 2013 David A. Cain. All rights reserved.  The author thanks Prof. Glenn Smith, Roncevert Almond, Drew Derco, Prof. Bill Grazier, and Linden S. Blue for their comments and support.

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