On a hot summer day in an upscale neighborhood north of Chicago, I was shooting a typical drone survey and mapping job. Today’s DroneAscent mission: gather more data points at 165 feet on behalf of the county Highway Department for a section of road being expanded from 2 to 4 lanes. I was located on a quiet side street of the highway. There was no shoulder, so I was parked on the street with my hazards on.
When shooting for aerial inspections and mapping missions, I use a DJI Inspire 2 with the Zenmuse X5s camera. It’s a great aircraft with a powerful camera. I have magnetic signs on my vehicle, and I wear a company logo safety vest so I don’t become a hood ornament. I also use a 5HP generator so I can recharge batteries in the field and reduce down time due to recharging.
I was half-way done with the shoot and preparing to take a break to grab some lunch when I noticed a gentleman approaching me from the highway. As I was putting away my generator, I heard: “Hey, you got a permit for that thing?” Those who know me say I am a pretty laid back person, with a good sense of humor. With my head still in the car, I replied. “I sure do, I even have a license!” That response was met with silence. When I turned around, I was face to face with a man who seemed irritated, to say the least. “Why were you flying over my house?” he demanded. I gladly explained the parameters of the job and how it involved the roadway.
He wasn’t happy with that and asked to see my permit, license and any other documents. I save the authorization from the county Highway Department on my phone expressly for this purpose. As I was searching for it, he lost patience with me and said, “Hey, just give me your license now. I’m not buying any of this.” That made me stop. I said, “Sir, let me get you a card. It matches the company name is on the side of my truck, DroneAscent. The local police know I am here. You are free to call them and check.”
The gentleman went on to explain the drone scared his wife while she was in the back yard. I apologized and explained again I was here on commissioned business on the county’s behalf only. Frightening people is never our intention, which is why we make it a policy to notify local authorities of the project in advance when in public space or high traffic area. He then said his wife was sunbathing nude, so I was breaking the law and was never allowed to fly over his house again.
Having been a commercial pilot for 24 years, 8 years with the airlines, and a certified flight instructor since 1993, I am deeply knowledgeable of FAA rules and regulations. Gliding into the burgeoning drone industry was a natural expansion of an already ingrained skill set for me. While drones are, of course, fun, the pilot still has a set of rules to abide by. Additionally, since drones are still new and many don’t know much about them, public education is as important as the adherence to high professional standards and the FAA regulations.
I explained to the man that people don’t own the airspace above their houses. Airplanes and helicopters fly over houses all the time and are not breaking any laws. Similarly, one cannot stop a drone aircraft from flying over a home. As you can imagine, that information was not received well. I didn’t have the heart to tell him that I had permission from the county to enter any and all private property along the route in order to get the job done. Since I didn’t need to do that, sharing that information would have made things much worse.
I was polite and professional, and shared a variety of explanations about the scope of work and how I wasn’t interested in anyone’s private lives or homes. He was not swayed and finally said, “Hey buddy, I get it! You’re dense and will never understand!” I thanked him and wished him a pleasant day. He added, “Just try flying that thing over my house again, and see what happens!” I replied, “Unfortunately, Sir, I’m not done. I will be flying over your home this afternoon.” He was immediately in my face, and said, “Just try it!” I stayed calm and motionless until he walked away. I shared that the FAA considers drones to be aircraft and that it is illegal for civilians to shoot down a drone.
Our DroneAscent pilots don’t get hazard pay, but I pondered the possibility of billing for it! Even though an easy job turned a bit difficult, and a good day had soured for a short time, the mission was completed the right way. We had our scope of work and our authorizations and notifications were in order. I took every opportunity to educate, and my professionalism and integrity were maintained throughout to ensure a growing, positive reputation for DroneAscent.
As with every new technology, comfort is the last barrier to normative acceptance. Eventually everyone will be more comfortable with drones collecting data, doing aerial inspections and surveys, helping realtors take impressive home photos, advertising products and businesses, and even saving lives. Until then, I’ll leave you with a quote from a fellow UAS pilot, Sgt. Esterhaus, from Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”
To learn more about how DroneAscent can help your business, call us at 773.668.4466 or get a quote at https://www.droneascent.com/estimates/
– Bob Warfel, DroneAscent, Vice President of Operations