Is it a Bird? A Plane? Cows? A Drone?

Last summer, my sister-in-law and I were at a campsite in the Beartooth Mountains when we heard a loud droning sound that seemed to grow closer by the minute? What was that noise? Was it a group of ATV riders? Motorcycles? A really loud drone? No, it was a cattle round-up, complete with cowboys in full regalia. Another time, while shooting the sunrise at Checkerboard Mesa at Zion National Park, we heard a very loud sound of hooves galloping, and they seemed to be growing closer by the minute? What was it? Horses? No, Bighorn Sheep. Unfamiliar sounds, especially in unfamiliar locations can be very unnerving and the paranoia around drones only seems to escalate this. Let’s see if we can find some common ground between drone owners and those who would rather not see or hear a drone in their entire lives.

Aerial view of a campsite

Drones are here to stay, although the leash on the hobbyist just got a little tighter through some new FAA rules covering those who fly for fun. Drones are being used to improve the safety of many jobs as well as to aid in many lifesaving activities like search and rescue and wildfire monitoring. In addition, there is widespread use of drones in agriculture, mapping, construction, and real estate.

Full disclosure: I own a drone and possess a Part 107 certificate. If you use a drone for any part of business, selling photos, social media promotion of your business, or in exchange for anything related to business, the FAA considers you a commercial drone pilot and you must be a Part 107 certificate holder to legally fly your drone for business. I primarily I use my drone for landscape photography and will occasionally fly it to shoot photos of the campground where I am staying to add to reviews. I do this when it is legal and try to do it at a time and in a manner that will not disturb others.

Another aerial campsite view

Things everyone should know


For those who do not own a drone and finding them annoying or intrusive:

1. Shooting at a drone is a federal offense. Plus, really? Does it really make you feel like more of a human to shoot a drone and risk damaging injury to people, animals, or property? Be better. If you think the drone pilot is violating the law, ask she or he what they are doing or call the police. You just might make a friend. The drone pilot is very likely to offer to let you see what they are shooting, if you ask nicely.

2. Regarding privacy: People think they own the airspace above their property. They do not. They have the right to a reasonable distance above their homes or other structures, but they do not own the space. The FAA regulates all airspace, not local authorities. Local municipalities have implemented their own laws and those laws have been overturned. States and local authorities do have the right to enforce existing privacy laws and, in most cases,, existing privacy laws are sufficient. Legally, there is no expectation of privacy if you are on public lands (National Forest, BLM, etc..) This is true whether using a drone or a cell phone camera. 

A little commentary for you to consider: in many cases, anxiety over drones invading privacy or overdone. Most drones come with a wide angled camera, not a zoom and most people are looking for a wide-angle view. So, the mere presence of a drone near you, means they likely find the whole scene interesting. For the most part, cameras able to zoom and truly invade your privacy tend to be more expensive and less likely for the average Joe to spend money on. That being said, yes, there are issues of the random drone spying on people, hovering 50′ over someone’s yard or close to their window. If this happens, do yourself and the cause of civility a favor and ask the drone operator what they are doing? You might be surprised to find out that it is a commercial drone pilot taking photos of your neighbor’s property for a real estate listing or someone hired to do mapping.

Things Hobby Drone Owners Should Know

Let me throw out some information to help everyone stay safe and legal (Source: FAA) for hobbyists. If you fly commercially, you should know, already or know where to find out what it legal. You bear a higher burden of responsibility:

1. You cannot fly directly over people. A lot of good pilots have become quite good at some nice shots where the drone stops just short of going over people. A handful of companies have received waivers for this rule, but it is not easy.

2. You cannot fly beyond the line of sight, with the naked eye. Yes, you might have FPV goggles, but using them while flying alone means you are out of compliance if you are the remote pilot.

3. Unless you are in Class G air space or have been granted permission through the FAA or through the new LAANC.

4. No nighttime flying. It must occur between civil sunrise and civil sunset.

5. You may not fly near other aircraft.

6.You may not fly near large groups. There are usually temporary flight restrictions in place for these. Examples: concerts, ball games, rallies, etc…

7. You may not fly near emergencies, accidents, fires, etc..

8. Lastly, not a law, but a consideration, if you lose control of your drone (flyaway) and it crashes into someone’s property, are you prepared to pay out of pocket for damage?


Considering buying a drone?

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