This Christmas was a bit different than those in years past. For me anyway.
To my absolute astonishment, my wife, the woman who has put up with my nonsense for the better part of 30 years, went out and bought me an unmanned aerial system. A UAS. A drone.
Like many aeronautically minded folks, I logged in and obtained my Part 107 Remote Pilot certificate as soon as they became available. I renewed it when my initial two-year certification period was up, too. The process was simple, straight-forward, and not particularly time consuming. It also didn’t cost me a dime. I’m a big fan of things that don’t cost me anything.
Through this whole process, I didn’t actually own or have access to a drone. Not on a regular basis anyway. Jason Schappert and the good folks at MzeroA.com were kind enough to let me play with one of their zippy little units while we were filming one day.
On an unannounced visit to my old friend Dr. Irvin Gleim up in Gainesville, where red covered books abound, Paul Duty was kind enough to take me out to the parking lot to demonstrate and let me practice with a drone they’d been using.
This is all fun stuff. The technology is intriguing. The potential is amazing. But, as ever, I continued to be far too cheap to actually buy myself something that might be nothing more than a really cool toy.
The event that finally pierced my logjam of indecisiveness came when my wife was lamenting her inability to find me a Christmas present that I’d really like. I’d like an RV8 or RV10, or course. But that was a bit out of her price range by a substantial amount.
I wouldn’t be the least bit disappointed with a Fender Telecaster, or a Taylor six-string, or even a cute little parlor guitar. But with a house full of musical instruments it didn’t strike her as particularly noteworthy gift, if you’ll pardon the pun.
I owe a lot to one of her co-workers who said, “Why don’t you buy him a drone. Guys love drones.”
Well, yes we do, nameless co-worker. Thank you for noticing.
Now, being a rule-following sort of dude, I actually read the unit’s manual. I charged the battery in the controller. I charged the battery for the drone itself. I downloaded the app that allows me to update the drone’s software, see what its camera sees, and even fly the darned thing if I choose to dispense with the traditional controller. These few steps left me all set to fly — almost.
As is true of a traditional manned aircraft, the FAA charges $5 to register a drone. And as with a traditional manned aircraft, you’re required to put that registration number on the drone where it can be seen. (Yes, there are exceptions to this rule. There’s no need to write to correct me. I know. Believe me, I know.)
Unlike the registration process for a traditional manned aircraft, and happily so, the FAA allows you to register a drone online, with a credit card, in a matter of minutes. Before I could even lift my coffee cup for another swig, my registration was complete, my paperwork was printing, and I was about to be off to the races.
That “off to the races” thing could be taken literally, by the way. Drone racing is a real thing. It’s just one of the many things you can do with your drone.
Personally, I’m looking forward to being able to inspect my roof after particularly damaging sub-tropical thunderstorms without getting anywhere near a ladder. I’m also looking forward to getting a low-level aerial view of the forest behind my house. It’s dense and daunting, and while I’ve been making good progress with an axe, a chainsaw, and a machete, I’d like to get a view from 100′ overhead so I know what I’m getting into ahead of time. Nobody needs to stumble onto an alligator nest unaware and unprepared.
Here’s the rub. My house sits 1.16 miles from the approach end of Runway 29 at my local airport. That’s close enough that I’m right under the traffic pattern, and close enough that a lot of folks would assume you can’t fly a drone at my house. After all, there is a rule that you can’t fly within five miles of an airport. Unless…there’s that exception to the rules again.
My local airport is a non-towered facility. That’s an entirely different thing than saying it’s an uncontrolled field. There is control. You can find most of what you need to know in the Aeronautical Information Manual or Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations, more commonly referred to as the FARs.
My responsibility is to make the airport administration aware of my intentions. So I did. I wrote them to let them know where I’ll be flying, that I’ll limit my flights to no more than 100′. I told them what kind of drone I’d be operating, and that I was aware of the traffic pattern above me.
As you might expect, I got a message in return. It was a doozy. In layman’s language it said exactly what I was hoping it would say, which was more or less, “You’re good to go. Just remember the safety of flight is entirely up to you as PIC of the drone, and you’re limited to a maximum of 400′ AGL.”
Fair enough. Now I’m in business. After logging into a couple websites, spending a whopping $5, and sending an email, I had complied with all the regulations necessary for me to step out into my yard, or pretty much anywhere else in town, and launching the drone my wife so graciously provided me with.
It’s time to fly.