Just a decade ago Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), or drones, would have been a thing of science fiction. Today, though, drones are fast becoming a part of everyday life. But many are unclear on the rules and regulations of flying drones, and even more are unclear as to their purpose. Let’s dig in and try to answer these questions.
The first question many people ask is, “What exactly constitutes a UAS?” The short answer is a UAS or drone is any unmanned aircraft. There are many different types, from the surveillance and strike drones flown by the military, to the most common being the toys sold in many RC hobby shops.
The type you will most likely come across are those sold in hobby shops and electronics stores. They usually consist of a controller and the aircraft itself. Most have a camera built into the drone and some kind of video screen built into the controller.
Drones have a sliding scale of models. At the low end are the those you see sold in toy stores or mall kiosks that have no camera and are most likely meant only for indoor flight. At the high end are the kind sold in big-box electronics stores and hobby shops that require a separate camera and monitor (most times your smartphone can serve this purpose) and are made for both indoor and outdoor flight and often require a special certification to fly.
There are several personal and commercial uses for drones, more than would probably fit in this article. We’ll stick to the most common two uses in each of these two categories. The first most common personal use is fun. Most of us had an RC Car at some point in our lives or at least knew someone who did. They were fun to drive around the house or in the driveway. Same goes for drones today. Add a camera and way to monitor that camera and you come to the second most popular personal use, drone racing.
Drone racing is fast becoming one of the most popular nonphysical sport, next to E-Sports. Drone racing is most times done indoors and involves two pilots flying their drones through various obstacle courses. The purpose is to see which pilot can navigate the course more efficiently and arrive at the finish line first. Most drone racing models have a simple camera and monitor or smartphone screen, but some have gone even further as to incorporate VR headsets to give the pilot the point of view of the drone itself as it flies through the course.
Warning: those who are susceptible to motion sickness or who do not do well with movies like Cloverfield or the Blair With Project, just skip this video.
There is some overlap between personal and commercial use, but the two most common commercial uses are aerial photo/video shoots and, more recently, goods delivery. There has been a significant rise in drone use in the real estate market, providing home buyers a new perspective of the property. Additional users of drones include farmers, photographers, filmmakers, fire departments (Notre Dame’s damage could have been much worse), and law enforcement. Emergency services can utilize drones to assist in investigations, such as accident reconstruction.
Drone photo and video shoots can be used where more traditional helicopter-mounted cameras may be considered impractical. The entertainment industry is utilizing drones more frequently to lower cost and increase unique camera angles.
Other uses are for aerial surveys of locations for geographical or historical purposes. One example would be the surveying of historical sites for the preservation of the site, such as the Notre Dame cathedral.
Only more recently have drones been considered for goods delivery by companies such as Amazon. However, there are quite a few legal hurdles for these companies to get over before drone deliveries become a reality.
The use of drones for recreational use is governed by the Federal Aviation Administration (https://www.faa.gov/uas/) .
Here are some important rules to know:
- All drones weighing greater than 0.55 pounds must be registered with the FAA prior to their use
- Drones may not be operated in controlled airspace (around and above many airports) unless you are flying at a recreational flyer fixed site that has an agreement with the FAA.
The FAA has posted a list of approved sites on their website. The Auburn Municipal Airport is not one of these sites.
- Never fly over groups of people, public events, or stadiums full of people
- Keep your drone within your line of sight
- Never fly near emergencies such as any type of accident response, law enforcement activities, firefighting, or hurricane recovery efforts.
- Never fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
This has hopefully answered at least some of your questions regarding drones, what they are used for, and some of the laws regarding drone flying. If you still have questions, check out your local courthouse, library, or the FAA website for more information. And if this article has in any way inspired you to pursue drone flying as a hobby, a Facebook group in your area would be a great place to start. Happy flying!
Joshua Northcutt, is a resident of the Federal Way area of Washington State. Known as Shirochan in podcasting circles, Joshua hosts the Hazardous Verbal Waste Podcast. To hear more from Joshua you can check out his podcast website hazardousverbal.com, the Jnorth Media Facebook page, the HVW Podcast Fans Facebook page, Twitter @Tousisama, and Instagram @hazardousverbal. He can be reached at [email protected],