In 2015, when you think "drones," you're thinking either pilot-less weapons used by the military or some harmless remote control toy to buzz your friends and take pictures over the backyard pool. Maybe, if you’re a big thinker at Amazon, you're dreaming of friendly flying robots swooping quietly up to a front door to drop off that latest deck of Cards Against Humanity.
TAKE A PHOTO BREAK: 10 aerial trams with unmatchable views
Whatever the case, modern-day drones are much more than that. Increasingly, they're becoming one big headache — one big, potentially dangerous headache. For example ...
1. A couple of drones landed on the White House lawn earlier this year, and in March, one got a little too close to President Obama for the Secret Service. (Turns out President Obama was playing golf in South Florida at the time, but still.)
2. In July, the FAA investigated a video posted online (and shown above) that showed a drone — or a remote-controlled aircraft of some kind — with a gun attached, shooting at a target.
3. In June, "hobby" drones hovering over a California wildfire got in the way of firefighting planes, forcing them to abort their mission at a cost of some $10,000-$15,000, according to the Los Angeles Times.
4. Drones hampered rescue efforts in Southern California in a July wildfire that destroyed dozens of cars on a major freeway. At least five drones caused planes to drop their fire-fighting payload early and return to the San Bernardino Airport. "It can kill our firefighters in the air," John Miller of the U.S. Forest Service told NBC’s Channel 4 in Southern California. "Not only a life threat to our firefighters in the air, but when we look at the vehicles that were overrun by fire, it definitely was a life-safety threat to the motorists on Interstate 15."
5. A couple of California legislators have since proposed a law that will allow firefighters to down a drone that's interfering in an emergency.
Rules of the sky
The number of incidents of drones getting in the way is, in aeronautical terms, soaring. In 2014, 238 sightings were reported by pilots to the FAA. According to the agency, more than 650 were reported by Aug. 9 of this year. Many of the incidents are kept in an FAA database.
"The FAA wants to send out a clear message that operating drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal," it said in a release. "Unauthorized operators may be subject to stiff fines and criminal charges, including possible jail time.”
Drones aren't inherently bad. It's OK to fly a drone. In fact, the FAA doesn't require any kind of license or certificate for hobbyists, as long as operators stick to certain rules. Like:
- Fly below 400 feet.
- Keep the aircraft within line of sight.
- Remain clear of manned aircraft operations.
- Don't fly within five miles of an airport without permission from the airport.
- Don't fly near people or stadiums.
- Don't fly anything that weighs more than 55 pounds.
Note: If you're using a drone — or, as they're sometimes called, an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) — for commercial purposes, you do need permission from the FAA.
The Academy of Model Aeronautics and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, in partnership with the FAA, have launched the "Know Before You Fly" campaign, which educates recreational and business users, along with public entities, on the legalities and safe practices of UAS use.
It's all an effort to keep the increasingly crowded skies friendly so that when that flying Amazon robot drops off a package at your front doorstep — it's coming — nobody gets hurt.