ABOVE PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - The images are breathtaking as drones are claiming new pathways in the sky and flying their cameras where cameras have never flown before.
Their use is only limited by the imagination of the pilot.
"Mapping for surveying applications is a big one," says Steel City Drones owner, Dave King. "You can put a thermal camera on this for search and rescue; farmers will use them to see the health of their crops, home inspections, roof inspections, real estate marketing, promotional videos and so much more."
Then, there is the recreational side of drones. They range in size from tiny units that fit in the palm of your hand to $1,500 units that are heavy and rival in size what the professional fliers are using.
King has about $21,000 in his top drone and carries $2 million of liability insurance.
While any drone over a half pound must be registered with the FAA, recreational fliers carry no insurance and don't need a license like the pros do.
To Dave King that is a point of concern.
"You have a 25-pound thing in the air that can kill," he says.
That is why he and Jake Lydick of Eye-Bot Aerial Solutions are sticklers for the rules.
Both men as Lydick points out "learned how to fly a real airplane, so I could do this because I wanted to have a thorough knowledge of airspace."
There are strict restrictions on how high recreational and professional drones can fly.
King says, "I can only go 400 feet high and I have to stay within reasonable line of site."
King's advanced drones have sensors that indicate altitude, most recreational drones don't and that worries the pros.
"Because of helicopters," says King, "someone flying into a helicopter, because there's tons hospitals within a five mile radius of Pittsburgh, and a helicopter can come from anywhere at any time. A drone flying into the tail rotor of a helicopter or smashing into the cockpit could have deadly results."
There are also no-fly zones within five miles of any airport or hospital helipad, and in Allegheny County there are 12 hospital zones and two airports overlapping and covering most of the county.
Flying your recreational drone in your own backyard may be okay, but stray over your neighbor's place and you have to have permission of the property owner.
And forget about taking your drone to our regions parks, they are prohibited. However, Allegheny County has three model airplane fields and is considering allowing them there. But that has not yet been finalized.
The professionals worry that misuse by recreational users could result in further restrictions for all drone operations, so it's incumbent on anyone using a drone to learn the rules.
Lydick says with the advanced cameras on drones, the flying tripods are poised to remove people from dangerous situations.
"There are things that you can do with a drone, that you have to dangle people from ropes and there's no sense in that," He says.
While small quadcopters might be harmless toys that put only mom's fine china in jeopardy, Phantom's that are being pushed by retailers as Black Friday specials are a different story. The potential for fun and great photography is their draw, but their potential for harm cannot be ignored.
If you are considering a drone for someone for Christmas, remember, it must be registered.
For information on how to do that and what you need to know, go to the Academy of Model Aeronautics website at: www.knowbeforeyoufly.org
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