Drones add to Fourth festivities

Published 12:40 pm Wednesday, July 19, 2017

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

WINDSOR — Windsor’s annual Fourth of July town bash included fireworks, food, music and drones.

It was the last item that gave members of the Town Council pause.

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“We had four over our house,” said Council member Patty Flemming. {mprestriction ids=”1,2,3,4,5,6″}

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Council member Walter Bernacki counted five where he was located.

Council member Macon Edwards wasn’t sure what to make of the phenomena.

“I don’t know if it’s a problem or not,” he said.

Bernacki was concerned about the drones flying too close to the fireworks.

There isn’t much the town can do because their use is regulated by federal law, said Windsor town attorney Wallace Brittle.

Windsor Police Chief Rodney D. “Dan” Riddle agreed.

“We don’t have the lawful authority to do anything about it,” Riddle said.

Drones have also been spotted at Smithfield VA Events’ food and alcohol festivals at Windsor Castle Park.

Flemming wasn’t disturbed by the number of drones flying over her house.

“I was amazed to see so many of them … we looked at them as kind of a fun thing,” she said, adding that individuals located further out may have been watching the fireworks display via the drones on a monitor somewhere.

Jon Teach, a drone pilot, just happened to be at Flemming’s house on the Fourth of July. Based on the number of drones, and their apparent coordination in flight, Teach speculated that they were likely being flown by the fireworks company and making a video of the display.

A drone can fly through the fireworks if an operator is open to the possibility of losing one of its drones, Teach said.

Meanwhile, the Federal Aviation Administrator advises operators not to fly a drone in or near fireworks or over groups of people.

Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), can be purchased easily, beginning at around $60, at well-known retailers such as Tractor Supply, Walmart or online. Since they often come with cameras, operators can take photos or live stream objects below the aircraft.

The Federal Aviation Administration has also made a distinction between UAV’s and unmanned aerial systems, or UAS’s.

A UAS is considered a model aircraft by the FAA. If the aircraft weighs less than 55 pounds and is being flown under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, it does not need to be registered with the FAA. This is the latest ruling based on a recent decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The special rule stipulates that operators must be flying the aircraft only for hobby or recreational use, among other requirements.

However, the FAA does encourage registration as a way to recover lost equipment.  {/mprestriction}