DENVER — Hobbyists and commercial drone operations are only getting more complex when it comes to airspace. That means it's becoming more dangerous for plane pilots, especially near busy airports. Rick Zelenka, a private pilot, has spent a few years perfecting his drone radar system to combat that problem.
"It spots a drone and it identifies it," Zelenka explained. "Then that information is shared on the ground. Then it's shared with other pilots in the sky."
Zelenka won a NASA-funded contract to develop the lightweight radar system that can be installed in an aircraft. The prototype was just tested at Platte Valley Airport in Hudson, Colorado. Veteran pilot Randy Settergren was behind the controls.
"It’s refreshing to be able to see that there is looming tech out there," Settergren said. "You just never know where a drone may be these days. Drone technology is just moving so quickly. It’s making these highly capable drones and putting them in the hands of people with no formal training."
On Zelenka's website, there is a list of incidents where planes have struck drones.
"My main goal is to increase safety and get ahead of this problem," Zelenka said.
The prototype test in the skies over Hudson was a success but Zelenka said there is plenty of work to be done before his system hits the market.
"We're hoping to expand the range and fix up the display a little bit," he said.
Just this past April, a Drone Remote Identification Rule was finalized by the Federal Aviation Administration, and will help identify drones in flight and the location of their control stations.
Zelenka said the new rules will just make his drone detecting radar work that much better. He says the "drone community" will conform and comply with the new FAA rule within a year.