Richard Landoll received a UAS as a Christmas gift, just like thousands of others.

Landoll, 65, said he plans to operate his unmanned aircraft system as a hobby around his 2 acres near Marysville.

Richard Horner, 45, originally from England now living in Manhattan, uses his custom-built UAS for research in experimenting with different hardware options and software programing.

Landoll and Horner were among the 26 diverse UAS enthusiasts who learned about new regulations, which require a pilot’s license for a commercial operation, new rules that could be approved in June and safety at the UAS multirotor hobby course on Saturday on the Kansas State University Polytechnic Campus.

Danielle Brown, director of the professional outreach department at K-State Polytechnic, said expectations were that 15 would take the $200 course.

Twenty-six signed up, and the course was broken into two segments.

“It usually takes a few tries to get a course up and going,” she said.

Bright future

Horner said he sees a future for unmanned aircraft technology.

“This is going to be a multibillion dollar industry,” Horner said.

“Think about it. Today, it’s several hundred dollars an hour for a helicopter to do something $1 of battery charge can do,” Horner said. “It can do anything a helicopter can do today: photography, survey for crops.”

Ana Juia Azezevo, from Brazil, and Guillermo Balboa, from Argentina, are K-State Polytechnic students learning about the new unmanned aircraft technology and also were part of the course.

Balboa said the technology is being used by farmers in Argentina, but there are no regulations.

“The regulations are important to be on the safe side,” he said.

Landoll said that so far he’s just flown his UAS in his front yard and hasn’t reached a point of taking photos.

However, his company, Landoll Corp., which sells farm equipment, has used unnamed aircraft.

“We build tillage equipment, and you follow a piece of equipment going down a field. We are doing some of that already, hiring someone.”

“There are a lot of regulations,” said Landoll, who is also a licensed pilot.

“I appreciate that. It is something that concerns all pilots, even at our small airports; making sure you don’t run into one,” he said.

Horner said the open-source technology of the UAS allows him to write his own programs.

“I like to be able to control how it operates and do different and unique things,” he said. “I can take images that look like they are from a satellite but with much more detail.”

UAS, also known as drones, sales skyrocketed the past 18 months. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimated 400,000 were sold at Christmas.

Included in the course were flying techniques under the big net on the K-State Polytechnic campus.

Addressing concerns

Retired Air Force Col. Kurt Carraway, UAS program manager, outlined some of the current regulations and safety concerns.

“Some people have a fair amount of remote-control aircraft experience, but they are still confused on those rules,” Carraway said.

For commercial use of a UAS, FAA regulations require certification and aircraft registration and that the operator be a licensed pilot, he told students.

“As of December, everybody has to have some type of registration,” he said.

A hobby user has to be registered but the operator doesn’t have to be a pilot. But any use of the drone that enhances a business is considered commercial.

Carraway said that since December, there are 3,000 licenses for commercial operations.

“If you are doing a flight that is just purely for hobby, that is hobby use. But that line gets a little bit confusing,” he said. “If you are a realtor and you want to take videos of homes that you are putting on the market because that is going to promote the sale of that house, that is a commercial operation. Even if the realtor is going to provide the service at no extra charge as part of the listing, that is still commercial because it is going to the commercial operation. If you are a family farmer and using it to maximize the yield of the farm, that is commercial.”

However, new regulations are in the works that might not require a pilot’s license, Carraway said.

“When the rules come out in June, or whenever that may be, that is really going to enable the journalists, the realtors and the family farmers to do what they want to do legally. I would categorize that as a very reasonable set of requirements.”

He said earning a pilot’s license is expensive.

“You buy a very capable system for $1,500 but you need $10,000 worth of training behind it,” Carraway said.

Horan is a reporter at the Salina Journal.