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The Increasing Prevalence Of 'Flying Computers' And Consumer Drones

OKC Drones monthly meetup at Wake Zone Cable Park in Southeast Oklahoma City.
Patrick Smith
OKC Drones monthly meetup at Wake Zone Cable Park in Southeast Oklahoma City

Drones are becoming a common sight in the skies over Oklahoma. The hobby of remotely flying these small, unmanned aircrafts has seen a spike in popularity in the past few years.

Don Price is a member of a drone enthusiast club calledOKC Drones. The group recentlyhad its monthly gathering in southwest Oklahoma City. Price has been flying remote-controlled vehicles for over 30 years, but became interested in drones in the past year due to the advances in technology.

“Most of your modern consumer grade drones have got GPS built into ‘em,” Price said. “If your batteries run low it'll automatically fly home and land itself. They're basically flying computers.”

Robert Huck is the Director of Applied Research and Unmanned Systems with the Gallogly College of Engineering at the University of Oklahoma. Huck notes there has been an increase in the popularity of drones.

“With the miniaturization of electronics and the autopilot systems and the composites and plastics manufacturing capabilities these vehicles are now kit form,” Huck said. “They have very stable autopilots. It's much easier to fly, whether it's a fixed wing or rotor wing and the prices come down to under $100 for a vehicle you can fly with remote control.”

While drone flying opens up many new possibilities for its users, there are certain restrictions put in place by theFederal Aviation Administration that drone pilots need to know.

“There are requirements set by the FAA that we fly below 400 feet, and that we keep farther than five miles out from a military base or an airport,” Price said. “The proposals that are coming upto go into law are going to try and make it to where we cannot fly within five miles unless we have permission from the airport or the control tower of that venue.”

According to Huck, there is also a distinct difference between hobby flying and commercial flying.

“Non-revenue generating, line of sight, RC frequencies, below 400 feet that's hobby,” Huck said. “If you're not doing that you're not a hobby, and if you're not a hobby the FAA has to give you special authorization to do that.”

Commercial use also includes flying over crowds of people. In order to use drones for commercial purposes, fliers must get a Section 333 exemption from the FAA and register their drone.

University of Oklahoma Department of Aviation Director Ken Carson emphasized the importance of flying safely and correctly.

“It is a vehicle moving, kind of like a lawnmower. You always want to make sure you're not mowing right next to someone,” Carson said. “You've got a vehicle with some rotor blades moving at a speed and if something goes wrong, is it going to crash into some people?”

Price says a primary concern for drone enthusiasts is public perception.

“The media has reported the problems with invading privacy and that's a big issue with me," Price said. "If someone is going to be videoing you and able to see you personally, you're going to know it. You're going to see their craft, you're going to hear."

Price believes most drone hobbyists aren't trying to spy, but want use the unique viewpoint a drone offers to capture photos and videos. He also insists investing in a quality product is vitally important.

“It is much more advantageous to go out and spend the money on a good drone and then really enjoy the hobby, than take the chance on something that may or may not come falling out of the sky,” Price said.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has set up a task force to study how to require registration for drones. The regulations may be in place by Christmas, when retail forecasters say drones will be a very popular gift.

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