Local engineer uses drone to take aerial photos for fun

If you saw a futuristic unidentifiable object flying above the Waynesville- St. Robert Lions Club Christmas Parade this weekend, don't worry — you aren't going insane, aliens are not invading Waynesville, and no, the Russians are not spying on Pulaski County.

It's not a bird, nor a plane, but a drone, owned by Army National Guard combat engineer Kerry Proffitt of St. Robert.

Proffitt uses the drone, called a DIJI Phantom 2 Vision, to take basic aerial photos of the area as a hobby.

"I have an interest in seeing different perspectives, whether it is underwater with a camera, on the ground or aerial," Proffitt said. "I'm not a professional photographer by far, but I do have interest in it. I would like to use it to capture local events, assist with emergency situations that may request such an asset, or even photography or videos upon request."

Recently, Proffitt used the drone to take aerial photos of the Waynesville Christmas Parade and Walmart during Black Friday sales.

"With such a device, you are more capable of going to the closest open area, going through your pre-flight checks and capture an aerial view of the disaster," he said. "This can also come in handy for natural disasters, as well, to assess and determine extent of damage done. [The drone] comes in handy for your emergency personnel and emergency management personnel."

Proffitt developed an interest in drones, also known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), while watching videos of military UAVs.

Proffitt recently purchased DJI Phantom 2 Vision online for around $1,200.

"It has become easier than ever and more affordable for the common consumer to find and purchase [drones] for themselves, whether it be for photography, video creation, or even just the fun of flying around," Proffitt said. "It's not within the means anyone can go to Walmart just yet and purchase such an item like the DJI Phantom 2 Vision, but it is widely available online for $1200 with all the parts."

Prior to purchasing the drone, Proffitt has used common military UAVs that allow for reconnaissance of areas to allow for better planning and safety of the armed forces. He said UAVs are fairly easy to operate.

"Do I recommend someone with absolutely no experience to go out and grab one and just take out? Probably not," he said. " But yes, it is simple enough for the inexperienced to fly one. It runs simply from a radio controller and either an Android or Apple device for live video and photo/video capture."

Proffitt's drone has the capability of operating 300 meters with line of site.

"Given how high you can fly can depend on your location, weather conditions, and FAA regulations or even regulations/laws in your area," he said. "Air space management is important when you are deciding to take on operating a UAV."

According to reporting from the Associated Press, there is no prohibition on flying drones for recreational use, but since 2007, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has said they can't be used for commercial purposes.The FAA plans to propose rules next year that could allow limited use of drones weighing up to 55 pounds and where drones can fly.

Many of the commercial advances in drone use have come out of Europe, Australia, and Japan. In Australia, for instance, an electric company is using drones to check on remote power lines.

This week, Amazon announced on "60 Minutes" it could possibly use drones to deliver light-weight packages by 2015.

Proffitt said that he thinks drone use will gain popularity in the future.

"In my own opinion, I believe the use of UAVs or even unmanned vehicles in general — whether ground, water or air — will become more and more popular as it can allow our society to venture into areas that some either can not enter or can not safely enter," he said.

For those of you in fear of mysterious flying objects invading our skies and privacy, Proffitt said drones are nothing to be afraid of.

"These are unmanned devices that ARE controlled by a human presence," Proffitt said. "Given there are thoughts that such devices could be used to invade privacy. I can't deny there are people that may use such things to do so, but this is no different than use of binoculars or telephoto lens on cameras.

"With anything that a person owns, there is a risk involved. When it comes to use of an aerial device, you must know the risk involved specially in the case of loss of control or hitting/being hit by an object/person."