When most people hear the word “drone”, I think they conjure up images of scary flying machines strapped with missiles and bombs wreaking havoc in foreign lands. I immediately think about the amazing aerial videos that I have been able to get with my quadcopter. A quadcopter is a type of drone, but it is more or less a remote control helicopter with four rotors. It is surprisingly easy to fly thanks to the GPS integrated navigation system. Combine its stability with a small camera like a GoPro, and you have a powerful tool capable of producing Hollywood quality video. Gone are the days when you needed to rent a plane or helicopter to capture the view from above.

So, is this legal? The FAA has been very slow to react with regulations for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Despite Congress pressuring them to define regulations because of the numerous commercial applications for this industry, the FAA will most likely not release regulations until 2015. According to the FAA, flying a drone commercially is illegal while flying a drone recreationally is legal. However, there is much debate on whether the FAA can enforce these rules. Right now it is like the wild west, but the rules and regulations should start streaming in over the next couple of years. Currently, a recreational UAS operator is not allowed to fly over 400 ft, and they must notify the air traffic control tower if you intend to fly within 5 miles of an airport.

I feel very fortunate to have access to some beautiful portions of Essex County, Va, and it has been really fun to see how compelling the county looks when recorded from the perspective of a drone. The images below are snapshots from some videos that I have taken while flying around Essex.

Aerial view of Rappahannock River looking up river from Fones Cliffs
Aerial view of Rappahannock River looking up river from Fones Cliffs

Aerial view of Rappahannock River looking down river from Fones Cliffs
Aerial view of Rappahannock River looking down river from Fones Cliffs

So, is this legal? The FAA has been very slow to react with regulations for unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Despite Congress pressuring them to define regulations because of the numerous commercial applications for this industry, the FAA will most likely not release regulations until 2015. According to the FAA, flying a drone commercially is illegal while flying a drone recreationally is legal. However, a recent court case between the FAA and an operator of a small model airplane taking promotional video of the University of Virginia decided that there was no FAA rule that prevented such a flight. Right now it is like the wild west, but the rules should start streaming in over the next couple of years. A recreational UAS operator is not allowed to fly over 400 ft and they must notify the air traffic control tower if you intend to fly within 5 miles of an airport.

Otterburn Marsh on the Rappahannock River

wheatfield
Large Wheatfield in Essex County, VA

Don’t expect to see packages delivered by drones anytime soon as the risk to the public is currently to great. Among the many commercial uses for this type of technology, I think the most promising application is the creation of promotional videos for real estate listings with expansive parcels of land, scenic views, and/or luxurious amenities.  In addition, farmers are using drones to record aerial video in order to monitor their crops.  Drone technology isn’t just for the military, and it is really good at highlighting the natural beauty of our county

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