Bill Frietag took farmers outside of a tent on a very cloudy, overcast day with humidity in the air. He wanted to demonstrate how to fly an unmanned aerial vehicle, called a drone in layman's terms. The Beck's Hybrid's employee was following Jim Love, who had just demonstrated how to fly a fixed wing UAV. Frietag had a helicopter-designed UAV ready to go. He had programmed in a mission plan for it on his computer.
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"This day wouldn't be a good one to fly if we we're really wanting to take pictures for information on a field," he says. "There is too much haze. However, on a cloudy day with high clouds, you can still fly and get good information."
While it's unclear what the Federal Aviation Administration will do or when they will finally issue rules on UAVs, most people are adhering to a top flight limit of 400 feet since that's the maximum allowed by FAA for model hobby aircraft. The helicopter UAV can go that high easily, Frietag says.
Part of using a UAV and making it a tool, not a toy, is getting experience in how to fly it and how to maximize efficiency form it, he says. One tip he offered was to launch it or land it on manual controls. While it can do it automatically if a mission plan is programmed in, it requires more battery power to do so. Operating manually saves battery power.
The industry is in its infancy and better, cheaper batteries are coming almost daily, he notes, but for now how long the batteries last is a major concern.
A story circulates that the drones are so programmed in that someone put one together in his living room, set it to fly from there, and when it returned home, it crashed into the window trying to return to the exact spot where it was programmed. Whether that's legend or not, they do return to the spot where you want them to, Frietag says. He demonstrated how he could pinpoint the landing by returning to the small, rectangular white cardboard 'launching pad' where the flight started.