The rotors of the drone whirred as the unmanned aircraft system – decked out with red and green flashing lights just in time for the holidays – hovered inside a hangar used by the N.C. Department of Transportation.
“This is a very fun and exciting technology,” said Basil Yap, an NCDOT drone project manager. “I know how excited I was when I first got my drone, got it out of the box and started flying it.”
For Triangle residents with drones high on their wish list this holiday season, the NCDOT wants to ensure they know the rules before they take their new aircraft to the sky.
The department has even made gift tags, available online, to attach to new drones so recipients know what to do before they fly.
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“We want people to understand, albeit they may be seen as toys, they are an aircraft and can pose a safety problem,” said Bobby Walston, DOT’s aviation division director.
Drones, which go by a variety of names, have become increasingly popular over the past few years and generally sell for less than $100 to thousands of dollars. The aircraft range from nano-drones that fit into the palm of your hand to larger ones that weigh six or seven pounds.
“Whether you call them unmanned aerial systems, radio-controlled airplanes, toys that fly, we kind of sum them up by calling them drones,” Walston said. “And some are estimating this year that by the end of the month there will be 1.2 million drones sold in this country.”
But as the new technology grows in popularity, knowledge about the rules of operating these unmanned aircraft don’t always follow, NCDOT officials said.
“There are limitations because for a long time, manned aircraft have been in the airspace, and we don’t want to interfere with any manned aircraft flight,” Yap said. “They could get into a jet engine and cause a mechanical malfunction there and cause a loss of power for the aircraft.”
Kathryn Trogdon: 919-829-4520; @KTrogdon
Here are some guidelines to follow if you purchase or receive a drone:
Register your drone at www.registermyuas.faa.gov. Drones under .55 pounds do not need to be registered.
▪ Take lessons before flying. Some lessons can be found free online.
▪ Always fly below an altitude of 400 feet and fly within your direct line of sight.
▪ Do not fly within five miles of an airport, near stadiums or other public events or for compensation. You can use mobile applications like B4UFLY to ensure that you are not within this five-mile radius.
▪ Do not fly drones that weigh more than 55 pounds.
▪ Do not fly at night, even if your drone is equipped with lights.
To find an NCDOT gift tag for drones, go to nando.com/dronetag/