Unmanned Aircraft in the National Airspace System

1 Jun

Collisions and near misses were becoming more commonplace in the NAS throughout the early fifties, but came to the center of attention in 1956. On June 30, 1956, a piston Trans World Airlines Super Constellation and piston United Air Lines (UAL) DC-7 collided over the Grand Canyon, killing 128 passengers and crew.34 But the crowding of the skies was not the only issue: jets were mixing with propellers in catastrophic fashion. On April 21, 1958, a United States Air Force (USAF) F-100 jet collided with a piston UAL DC-7 piston aircraft near Las Vegas, killing 59.35 Less than a month later, a USAF T-33 jet collided with a piston Vickers Viscount piston aircraft over Brunswick Maryland, killing 12.36

The following day, Senator Mike Monroney and Representative Oren Harris introduced the Federal Aviation Act.37 On August 23, 1958 – just three months after its introduction – President Eisenhower signed the Federal Aviation Act, transferring the CAA’s functions to the new, independent Federal Aviation Agency.38 That same month, Pan Am accepted delivery of the first 707, marking the beginning of the jet age.39

The Federal Aviation Agency was established to “provide for the regulation and promotion of civil aviation in such a manner as to best foster its development and safety, and to provide for the safe and efficient use of the airspace by both civil and military aircraft, and for other purposes.”40 The Federal Aviation Act enumerated specific areas of responsibility of the new agency to achieve this end. The individual sections of the act provided tools for regulators to address the inevitable coming of the jet age.

§ 312(b): Development Planning: Aircraft

“The Administrator is empowered to undertake or supervise such developmental work and service testing as tends to the creation of improved aircraft, aircraft engines, propellers, and appliances.”


34 Air Collision Confirmed, Los Angeles Times, July 8, 1956 (Page 1).
35Airliner and Jet Collide in West; All 49 Aboard Die, New York Times, April 21, 1958 (Page A1).
36 Jet Hits Airliner; 12 Killed in Crash, New York Times, May 21, 1958 (Page A1).
37 Federal Aviation Act, P.L. 85-726 (1958).
38 See FAA History, supra note 10.
<<<end note 45.1>>> Flight Times by Piston and Jet Aircraft from Chicago, The Geography of Transport Systems, http://people.hofstra.edu/geotrans/eng/ch3en/conc3en/airtraveltimes.html, cited January 1, 2013. In addition to speed and altitude, jets added range. The following diagram compares ranges of piston and jet driven aircraft in 1958.
39 Delivery ref.
40 See Federal Aviation Act, supra note 46 at 3.