The skies are clear for General Atomics to test fly a new military-grade drone over San Diego, reported Voice of San Diego.
The Federal Aviation Administration is currently evaluating General Atomics' proposal to fly the Predator, better known as the MQ-9B Reaper, but for domestic affairs purposes has been renamed as the SkyGuardian.
The drone is massive, has a wingspan of 79 feet, and weighs 12,500 pounds. The pilot run above the city, located on the Pacific coast of southern California, could set a new precedent for the US, one where civilian airspace will include military-grade drones as a new form of surveillance - the defense contractor calls the drone, "persistent eye in the sky."
In regards to the upcoming flights, the Voice of San Diego said, "there's still a lot the public doesn't know about the project:"
For months, I've been trying to understand whether regulators are satisfied that the technologies on board the SkyGuardian — which allow it, among other things, to automatically detect and avoid collisions with other aircraft — are safe to put above the heads of San Diegans. I've also been trying to figure out who's backing the test flight and why.
Last year, General Atomics announced that San Diego was supportive of the project. But in March, Jose Ysea, a spokesman for the mayor, said the city's drone program was not working with the company on the SkyGuardian. General Atomics also announced last year that a test flight was scheduled for 2020 — one industry report said summer —but a date hasn't been set yet and the cause of the hold-up is unclear.
"We can't get into details about a military aircraft program," wrote Marcia Alexander-Adams, a public affairs manager for the FAA, in an email. "The FAA is working closely with the manufacturer to ensure the aircraft operates safely in civilian airspace."
In a complaint filed Friday, VOSD alleged that the FAA is improperly withholding public records initially requested in March about the SkyGuardian flight in violation of the Freedom of Information Act. The law gives the public the right to access certain documents in possession of the U.S. government. By law, those documents are supposed to be released in either full or partial form within a few weeks of a request.
The complaint also names the Federal Communications Commission and makes similar allegations. Earlier this year, the FCC appears to have granted the company an experimental license to fly a drone in the deserts between California and Arizona.
"VOSD believes that access to the records that it seeks from the FCC and the FAA about this drone program are essential to its readers and the public's understanding of this program before the flight takes place as early as this summer," Thomas Burke of Davis Wright Tremaine, who is representing Voice of San Diego, wrote in the filing. "There is particular public interest in this flight, not just because it is unprecedented and will open up civilian airspace, but because drone crashes are fairly common."
Testing military-grade surveillance drones in civilian airspace, above a large city, with limited public awareness or even debate, shows the federal government is quickly installing a Chinese-like surveillance state.
In late May, an MQ-9 was deployed from Grand Forks Air Force Base to surveil the social unrest in Minneapolis.
Under the strict lockdowns in April, Baltimore City officials approved a small fleet of spy planes to fly above the Baltimore Metropolitan Area to monitor crime.
While everyone is distracted with virus-related headlines - the federal government is erecting a massive surveillance state with military-grade drones to surveil people in metro areas.