DENVER — Rick Zelenka is a private pilot and a patent attorney who has been awarded two patents of his own for his invention – drone-detecting radar for airplanes.
"Drones are here. They're expanding," said Zelenka. "We need to figure out how to operate with them."
Zelenka's company, Drone Traffic, just won a NASA-funded contract to develop the lightweight radar system that can be installed on aircraft. He's targeting planes that land at smaller airports.
"Sometimes drones are operating in an area that is hazardous to a general aviation aircraft ... a business jet or the small little Cesnas that I fly," Zelenka explained. "What you want to be able to do is locate those drones."
The radar will pick up a drone in the area and record the information. The data will then be sent to the ground. That way, other pilots who don't have the radar on their aircraft can also be alerted of the hazard in the airspace.
The FAA has documented more than 100 drone incidents per month. That's why Zelenka is is passionate about his radar.
"Most are not collisions, but several are," Zelenka said. "They actually hit an aircraft and cause property damage. Other planes have had to land quickly. No one has lost their life, but unfortunately this problem is going to get worse."
Zelenka has partnered with other companies to develop the radar software. He says a working prototype should be ready in early 2020.