What you need to fly UAS legally
• An Academy Model Aeronautics license is required to fly Unmanned Aircraft Systems.
• A UAS must remain at an altitude lower than 400 feet.
• A UAS must stay in unpopulated areas only, or in a radio-control field.
• It’s illegal to fly over sporting events, college campuses, airports and populated areas.
• A potential crash with a commercial airliner could shutdown an airliner’s computer panel and risk the lives of everyone on board.
• It’s illegal to sell photos or video footage taken on a UAS without a commercially rated pilot’s license.
Aerial intelligence is here to stay, according to Kevan Stone, a Richmond Hill resident who works with Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) as a military contractor.
“There are fantastic uses,” he said. “There’s no doubt about it.”
Stone said people use the technology in “amazing ways,” such as in disabling explosive devices and helping contain the Ebola epidemic. The future of unmanned systems also holds more practical, daily applications, like delivering pizza and packages.
Popular culture often refers to UAS as drones, which is a misnomer in the industry. Stone said the word “drone” originated when using the flying devices for target practice. Now the word holds a negative connotation, and many people automatically associate “drones” with UAS dropping bombs overseas.
“The biggest challenge right now is to educate the public of the positives,” Stone said. “It’s not about killing people or spying. It’s about taking people out of harms way and providing images that you can’t capture any other way — beautiful images.”
Stone uses his personal UAS to capture images otherwise impossible, mainly shooting film from a camera mounted on a quadcoptor.
“I’ve always been a photographer, but now I’m getting into the cinematic aspect,” he said. “I still have a long way to go, but I like to think there is still some creativity that I’m trying to hone and expand.”
Stone has used his skills as a hobby to create a wedding video for a friend, view the city of Savannah from above and capture battle reenactment scenes at Fort McAllister.
“The only way to capture it was by air,” he said.
He has posted several of his videos on YouTube.
Once while filming in Arizona, a falcon tried to capture Stone’s UAS.
“For a moment there I thought that son of a gun was going to take me out. He definitely challenged me,” he said. “With the quadcoptor, some birds will come around, but because it sounds like a pack of angry hornets, they tend to stay away.”
In the future, Stone plans to offer commercial services through his business, Southeast Hoverworks. He will assist with anything from environmental monitoring, to construction overview, to search and rescue efforts. He said using UAS saves time, money and lives.
In the case of a construction company, for instance, there are two choices for site monitoring — hire a manned aircraft for $5,000 to fly a cameraman over the site and capture footage or hire a UAS for less than $100. For wildlife monitoring, a UAS quickly can fly over a protected area, saving an entire day of canoeing. In 15 minutes, an unmanned aircraft can fly over power lines and perform routine check-ups, without risking lives by exposing humans to high voltage. Law enforcement, search and rescue and news sources can benefit from real-time images of traffic, accidents and the landscape.
Stone said the commercial possibilities are endless, but currently are limited due to a lack of federal guidelines. It’s illegal to sell footage taken from unmanned aircraft, unless you hold a commercial pilot’s license. He said the FAA should release UAS commercial-license regulations and requirements sometime this year, but in accordance with the law, UAS are considered only a hobby for the most part. Stone already completed education in the field and holds certifications he believes the FAA will require to fly the aircraft commercially.
“We are working to lock down contracts with companies such as the fire department, where they buy a system of multiple aircraft from us and we sell our training and maintenance services,” he said.
Until federal regulations are set, his focus is marketing, networking and educating the public.
As a military contractor, Stone uses UAS in a more traditional sense. He has served on overseas deployments, providing reconnaissance intelligence information and tracking targets. He said the ability to drop bombs using UAS exists, it has never been done outside of training. One of his jobs was to provide surveillance for convoys in order to scout out IEDs and other potentially deadly bombardments. He said using UAS for reconnaissance dates back to at least the Civil War, when hot-air balloons were used.
“I can’t tell you how rewarding it is,” Stone said of his work overseas with the military. “I look at these young kids, early 20s, going out there not knowing what they will encounter. The fact that they know that I’m up above them, scanning the road ahead of them and the country side, at least they have something they can lean on.”