Lars Rosell hoped to make money by selling photographs taken with a camera-mounted drone he owns, but until government regulations catch up with the technology, his Armstrong Aerial Photography business is going to have to stay grounded.
“The FAA is in the process of regulating drone usage,” Rosell said. “I thought I’d be able to make money out of it, but I can’t because regulations are not set yet. So it’s just a hobby.”
Rosell is from Sweden and lives in Dayton. He is retired from the Royal Swedish Air Force and is the technology coordinator of Lenape Technical School in Manor. For 30 years, he has been flying remote controlled airplanes and helicopters for fun. Now, with the development of camera-mounted small-scale drones in recent years, hobbyists like Rosell are getting to see the world from new heights.
Taking photos or videos for recreational use is permitted by the government. But making money from the footage pushes the activity into a hazy area that requires special authorization, Rosell said.
On Thursday, Rosell took his DJI Phantom drone for a spin near the steps of the John P. Murtha Amphitheater in Kittanning’s Riverfront Park. He maneuvered the white plastic drone easily above the Allegheny River, viewing the aerial footage on his smart phone which was mounted to the remote control device.
The drone is surprisingly light and small, weighing in at about 1.5 pounds and measuring 15 inches across in two directions. It sounded like a swarm of bees as all four rotors spun to a barely visible blur.
“It’s a lot of fun, but you have to take time to learn,” Rosell said.
People who decide to get into flying drones need to be responsible and practice a lot, he said. And people have to follow guidelines established by the FAA. That means flying under 400 feet, clear of obstacles – and always flying within the line of sight. Drone operators must also steer clear of people, stadiums and airports or risk getting fined.
Rosell suggests those planning to take up the hobby practice flight coordination using computer simulated programs. Once that is mastered, it’s time to practice outdoors.
“It takes a lot of practice. And you will crash – everybody crashes,” he said. “But without practice, it will end up in a pine tree on Christmas Day.”
He said drones have gotten a bad rap because of misuse by inexperienced people and their association with spying. But since small-scale drones used by hobbyists don’t have the capacity to get detailed photos, they don’t pose much of a privacy problem, he said.
“There’s more of a privacy issue with Google Street View,” he said.
Rosell, who is a member of Ford City’s Civil Patrol Squadron, hopes that once definitive regulations are passed, the drones can assist rescue workers at emergencies.
“It’s a new technology and there will be new ways of using them. If you handle them right, they will enhance our life,” he said.
And until government regulations are shored up, Rosell said he is content to fly his drones for pleasure.
“My mission right now is to take pictures around where I live and find interesting views,” he said. “You get to see the world from a perspective you usually don’t get to see.”
Brigid Beatty is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-543-1303 or [email protected]