FAA Drone Rules Are About to Bite You

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Well-known member
Sep 30, 2020
Hi all. Greetings to all you tech nerds that enjoy using your inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness along with some really cool tech. There are constant legal and rules changes in all tech areas that intersect with those rights, so check with legal sources you trust. But, this thread is about drones, which I've been doing research on for myself. I was into drones years ago and dropped it because of FAA (Federal Aviation Administration, USA) (other countries have different rules) rules and the possibility of lithium battery fires (you can YouTube that). Well, the FAA rules are now FAR worse and more invasive.

I'm talking about all RC (remote controlled) aircraft, including but not limited to: RC airplanes, RC sailplanes, quadcopters, tricopters, bicopters, hexacopters, octocopters, helicopters, blimps, balloons, etc. etc. If it's RC and FLIES in the AIR OUTSIDE in the USA, this thread is about it. PERIOD. Other names for drones include UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) and UAS (unmanned aerial system). And, as the title says, FAA rules are about to bite you if you fly a drone. Some laws even vary by locality. If you own or anyone in your family owns ANY RC aircraft, you need to know this, even the little $ 20 toy that you got for your 8 year old or yourself at Walmart. Yes, the FAA regulates those too.

The topic of the FAA rules is extremely controversial and divisive. It evokes strong emotions. IE, why is the FAA regulating my stinkin' $ 20 (or $ 100 or $ 500) toy? I get it, and I feel that way too. But, this thread is to discuss what the rules are and what the technology is. So, please avoid the political cat fight. I will say this as to the FAA's motives. Their job is to promote a SAFE national airspace system. Not cheap. Not necessarily fun. SAFE! Aside from that, there are huge vested interests like Amazon, Ebay, Fedex, UPS, and others that want to commercialize drones far more than we are now. To do that, we must INTEGRATE all these potentially thousands of drones into the air space system while keeping everybody safe. Also, the FAA reports about 100 drone INCURSIONS per month into restricted airspace endangering manned aircraft. So, stupid people doing stupid things are messing up the hobby for all. So, we get lots of rules and requirements.

Right now, requirements are in effect that you may not know about. And, if you do something wrong with your drone if something goes wrong, you probably don't want to cross a three letter agency. Fines and penalties, should they prosecute you, could be tens of thousands of dollars. Even if you do everything right and legal, things can go wrong. A battery can fail, a wire, a motor, a controller, etc. You can screw up and hit a tree, a fence, a car, a person. The wind aloft can overpower a small drone and carry it away. You can get disoriented and direct the drone the wrong way. If you've followed the rules to the best of your ability, it can make it easier on you if something happens. It is beyond the scope of this post but you may wish to consider drone pilot's insurance by way of AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics) or another organization, etc.

The following is my understanding based on my research. I'm not a subject expert nor a lawyer. You have to do your homework. I like using YouTube videos as a resource. Just make sure the source is credible.

Here are a bunch of FAA links:

The rules your drone and your flight fall under depend on your INTENT for the flight, which can change. Yes, I know, legal can of worms. They also depend on the WEIGHT of the drone at takeoff. There is RECREATIONAL flight, and everything else.

If your flight is SOLELY, exclusively, only, strictly, and purely recreational, IE for fun, you fall under rules section 44809, which are a LITTLE more relaxed. Why all the adverbs? Because if the intent of the flight contains ANYTHING that's not purely recreational, ANYTHING that includes ANY compensation or gain, ANYTHING that includes any motive other than fun (like helping a charity, selling a house, getting YouTube views [maybe if your channel is monetized]), ANYTHING, you fall under different more restrictive rules of part 107. Part 107 includes things like having a $ 173 LICENSE (or $ 323 with training course) to pilot the drone (including commercially), drone registration, and remote ID beacons. So, let's say you take your son or daughter's $ 20 drone up to get photos of your church to help a bake sale. BOOM, part 107 is in play, not 44809. If you're not compliant, will they catch you? Maybe they will if you post it on social media. Will they prosecute you? Who knows? Will they fine you? Who knows? But, what if it cost you $ 10,000 to get $ 500 for the church? OUCH! They are SERIOUS about this stuff! Don't shoot the messenger. I'm just reporting what I've found out. For what it's worth, I've heard they favor education over enforcement.

Here's a cool video about recreational flying from what appears to be a credible source.

What are the rules to fly your drone in 2023?

So, here are the 9 more RELAXED requirements for solely recreational flyers, based on this video. You MUST follow ALL 9 things to qualify as a recreational flyer under part 44809.

1) You MUST be flying the drone strictly for recreational purposes, as discussed.
2) You MUST follow safety guidelines of a CBO (community based organization) (more rules). You must declare which CBO you're following.

What does this mean for Recreational Flyers? - FAA Community Based Organizations

Good, Bad, and Ugly — What CBO Should You Use?

3) You MUST maintain VLOS, visual line of site, with the drone. If you are flying FPV (first person view, with goggles on), you MUST have an observer WITH YOU that maintains VLOS. Also, there are OTHER special rules for flying over people or flying at night. Don't do that without researching it.
4) You MUST NOT interfere with manned aircraft. Note, colliding is not the only form of interfering.
5) You MUST get permission to fly in controlled airspace. That means you MUST KNOW if you're in controlled airspace. Controlled airspace USUALLY means an airport is nearby. See FAA getting started page, FAA Drone Zone page, LAANC system, Aloft app, B4UFLY app, etc.
6) You MUST NOT fly above 400 feet above the ground. Note that helicopters, balloons, blimps, and other drones can be in the same airspace as you. WARNING, 400 feet is just a bit more than a football field in length. If you just "punch" the throttle and see how high your drone can go and you can still see it, you're almost certainly violating this limit. The drone doesn't care. YOU have to care. The FAA DOES CARE! Also, there are usually much stronger winds up high that can easily carry your drone away.
7) You MUST take the TRUST safety exam, at an APPROVED website, AND carry proof of passing it.
8) You MUST REGISTER your drone ONLY at this site ( https://faadronezone-access.faa.gov/#/ , https://faadronezone-access.faa.gov/#/register , $ 5 for three years then renew) and put the serial number on it AND carry proof of registration IF it's >= 250 grams or .55 lbs and < 55 lbs at takeoff. If you've got a 55 lb drone, you have lots more money than me. If the drone is < 250 grams or .55 lbs at takeoff, it does not need to be registered IF it's solely used for recreational purposes (as I understand it). Note that if you have a mini drone under 250 grams or .55 lbs, and you add just about anything to it, you may push it over the weight limit.
9) You MUST NOT fly the drone in a dangerous manner. Avoid ALL incidents involving emergency responders, amusement parks, sports events, political events, concerts, temporary flight restrictions (IE the President is in town), military facilities, etc. Observe the previously mentioned CBO rules. Don't fly under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Don't fly over people. Don't fly at night. Etc.

So, after all this, my response is DANG, I'm glad I ONLY have to comply with all these (not) EASY rules to fly my TOY!!!

But wait, there's more!

10) All drones that have to be registered, IE anything over 250 grams or .55 lbs AND anything used for part 107 non recreational usage, MUST have a remote ID beacon starting in mid September 2023. Most drones manufactured for sale in the USA nowadays will have them built in. This will increase the complexity and cost of your drone and eliminate privacy. It will broadcast your remote ID serial number (not same as registration number) and LOCATION of the PILOT and the DRONE (I think). If you have or buy a drone < 250 grams or build one without a beacon, you CANNOT use it for part 107 flight. If you have a drone you want to add a beacon module to, you can currently do that for about $ 300. Future prices may come down and rules could change.

Remote ID – Is Your Drone Compliant?

Well, that's it. That's all you have to do to legally fly that $ 20 or $ 100 or $ 500 drone you just handed your 8 year old, or yourself. You might want to give this a think before you start. Don't shoot the messenger. I'm just letting you know what's up. This turned out to be long and complicated. Sorry. But, hope it's helpful. I'm going to have to think a good bit about whether I want to buy a new drone, or whether I'll just fly inside.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
The rules your drone and your flight fall under depend on your INTENT for the flight, which can change. Yes, I know, legal can of worms.
Gotta love laws based on "intent". A lifetime ago, MA Governor Ed King enacted "Paraphernalia" laws, targeting marijuana paraphernalia sales. But it was based on "intent". So, it was legal to sell Job 1½-Wide Strawberry Flavored Rolling Papers as long as the seller understood the buyer's intent was to use them for rolling loose cigarette tobacco. In my 2 years working in a tobacco store, I can tell you that not a single purchaser of, say, Bugler Cigarette Tobacco EVER bought flavored rolling papers. While I cannot speak to those who might or might not have purchased water-cooled bongs for their Borkum Riff Bourbon Whiskey pipe tobacco, I can extrapolate. On the other hand, if I bought an album in a record store and, in the process of making the purchase, I stated that my intent was to use the album cover to aid in the removal of seeds from marijuana, that transaction would have been a crime and the seller of that record album would have been guilty of having illegally sold paraphernalia.
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@Dave You make some good points. Unfortunately, intent comes into play in many laws, and it gets complicated, but we haven't found a better way to do things. Unfortunately, almost any "thing" or "tech" can be used for both good and evil, and our laws try to take that into account. As you pointed out, paper rolls can be used for rolling tobacco or weed. Album covers can be used for holding albums or seeds. A baseball bat can be used for, interestingly enough, hitting baseballs, or hitting dogs or people. If you hit another living thing because it's an imminent deadly threat, that's probably ok. If you hit it with criminal malice, that's probably not. A knife can be used for carving steak, or cutting the ropes on a bridge over a river. A car can be crashed into a store, but that could be an accident or a purposeful event. So, it's regrettable that we often have to focus on intent, but sometimes we do. In the context of drones, I would prefer that they focus on what people actually do with drones, rather than the intent. But, if you do something with the drone that harms someone, the lawyers are certainly going to ask were you malicious, stupid, careless, negligent, or did you have an accident while doing the best you could. It's a complicated world.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
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use the album cover to aid in the removal of seeds from marijuana
I was immediately reminded of the Cheech and Chong album that came with a giant rolling paper. The last track on the album has the guys rolling up old gym socks in it and taking a puff - "(much choking and coughing ensues) Not bad!"

Bad intent? You decide... :rolleyes:
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("Greetings aviators, welcome to training. Today's topic is basic -drone- maneuvers." - Except for the word drone, which was originally fighter, that's a quote from Top Gun - Maverick, my all time favorite movie. If you like military aviation movies, see the original Top Gun from 30 years ago and then the sequel from 2022. Both do have some foul language though. OK, where was I - yes, drones.)

(RON SPEAKING IN SLOW MONOTONE VOICE WITH GLAZED EYES) "I don't know what happened. The Amazon web page just took control of my hand and made me click the mouse. I was just watching my fingers move on their own. It all happened so fast. It was like E.T. or something.")

OK, back to normal. Just having a bit of fun. And no alcohol was involved.

I did, however, just buy a drone. Amazon had a pretty good lightning deal which was about to expire, with the counter counting down the time and all. And it was for a pretty good drone so people say. So, I jumped in. Given all I wrote above in this thread, I don't know if I'm crazy or brilliant. My wife said both, all in good fun.

This is what I bought. Side note, I've noticed a very frustrating trend on Amazon where many products have no name and no part number. That makes it very hard to research the products. This one does have both though.

Holy Stone GPS Drone with 4K Camera for Adults, HS175D - Amazon number B08VNW67MF
(Side note, when you quote an Amazon link, you can delete the "slash ref" and all after it.)

Drone Landing Pads, KINBON Waterproof 30'' Universal Landing Pad - Amazon number B078V5K8S9

I'll need a memory card too. I ordered this stuff last night and the drone was on my porch this morning. Amazon's warehouse system is pretty amazing.

But, I really don't know if I just bought something I'll never practically be able to use, bought a whole mess of trouble and problems, or bought something that will be fun without landing me in jail. I certainly plan to follow all the rules, and just getting ready to fly will be a good bit of work. I can fly indoors all I want, in my full and small living room and kitchen. That would probably be fun for a few minutes until either I or the drone gets hurt.

Drones are allowed in GA in most places except for a couple of cities and counties. Back in 2017, the state passed a bill that precluded localities from passing their own drone restrictions. But, they're not allowed in state parks. I might be able to use the county park but it's always full of people. I can't fly over people or at night under recreational rules as far as I know.

Also, I've seen a scary almost "fly away" video and some reviews of this drone complain about it disconnecting from the controller. If you buy a drone, there are a great many features to consider. I've got a whole list in small print on a business card sized note card. (I buy blank business cards for $ 10 / 1000 at the print shop.) But, you DEFINITELY want GPS and "return to home" functions. This saved someone from losing the drone in a video I was watching. Brushless motors which are more powerful and last longer are cool too. Dirt cheap drones don't have these features. To be exempt from registration, and later, remote ID, my drone has to be under 250 grams or .55 lbs and used ONLY for recreation. That's REALLY light, and ANY significant wind can take the drone away faster than it's little motors can fly it back. REPEAT, WIND is your ENEMY! If you're having trouble with a drone bucking the wind, switch to high rates (faster flight, more power), get the thing on the ground with "return to home", and wait for better weather! Faster rates also mean, if you push the controls the wrong way, bad things happen quicker. Learn how to enable and disable return to home from the controller and the smart phone as well as the emergency stop. Only use emergency stop if you want the drone to fall out of the air. Better to fly it back. If you've been flying indoors with GPS off, remember to reactivate it when flying outside. These processes and this drone aren't for kids, as stated by the sellers of the drone, even though the box says age 14 and up.

Regarding connection to the controller and smart phone, these things use WiFi. I think there's no password. That's worrisome. Might be a good topic for @Steve . I wonder if someone can hijack the signal. I hope not to find out. WiFi is a blessing and a curse. Range is pretty limited and it's subject to congestion and interference. I remember the old days (20 plus years ago) when RC planes required separate dedicated radio channels. You pretty much had to fly at a club or out in the boonies all alone. You'd set your radio to a certain channel, usually with a module you plugged into the radio. You then pick up a tag from a channel board and clip it on to your antenna. Nobody else was allowed to use your channel. This was a pain, but I think these radios had longer range and were more reliable.

So, if nothing else, this should be interesting. Hopefully, not painful or dangerous. I'm going to have to think about the legal drone insurance thing too. WHAT HAVE I GOTTEN INTO? I'll call you guys to bail me out of jail. ;)

Hope this helps.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
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So that water powered bottle rocket I was going to get for my nephew needs a license plate?

I shot a rocket into the air,
it fell to Earth I know not where.
Some men with guns came the next day,
boy did they have a lot to say!
They took me away to I know not where,
So much for rockets, it was a great scare.
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So that water powered bottle rocket I was going to get for my nephew needs a license plate?

Not sure on that since it's not remote controlled. Nice poem. I'd keep that bottle rocket away from controlled airspace and at altitudes below 400 feet.

Hi all. Thought I'd give you a little update. For anyone who's reading who hasn't read the whole thread, if you want to fly an RC aircraft outdoors in the USA, you MUST follow the 10 steps (more if you count substeps) outlined earlier in this thread if you want to fly recreationally, IE for fun. There are more steps if you're flying for other purposes. Take this seriously. They can fine you $ 27,000 for just not having a registration for the drone (if relevant). All you old dudes (like me) who used to fly RC airplanes, I'm looking at you. All you people who already have an RC aircraft, I'm looking at you. All you newbies who want to buy a $ 20 drone for your kid, I'm looking at you. There may be age restrictions for kids even if all the rules are followed. These rules apply to ALL RC aircraft pilots in the USA and ALL RC aircraft used outdoors. PERIOD!

I've done at least some of 4 steps on my way to getting into the air.

Those are, 1) FAA Trust Certificate, 2) FAA Airspace Restrictions, 3) Started selecting a CBO, 4) Started investigating local restrictions.

In this update, I'm going to talk about 1) and briefly about 4).

Regarding 4) (numbers refer to this post only), here's a picture of a "rules" sign at my local county park. Note that it says drone use is restricted, not prohibited. I have to figure out the details. There's more to the sign than this image, but it's not relevant to this discussion. You can Google, DuckDuckGo, YouTube for (name of your state) drone laws. You should get several hits. Look over several and compare. In Georgia, drone use is generally allowed with some restrictions, still subject to federal laws. A few localities have banned or severely restricted them but the legislature banned every locality from making a patchwork of laws. Thus far, I've been unable to determine local details, but one snippet of an article said drone use for hunting is prohibited, as an example. Check your STATE and LOCAL rules.

county rules sign 300w.png

Now, regarding 1) I just passed my FAA Trust Certificate test with a score of 100 %. Below is a generic image of the certificate.

generic certificate image.png

Here's how you get yours. Note, there are videos floating around YouTube on how to trick the system, and bypass actually reading and learning the material. DON'T do that. After going through the procedure, I understand more completely that this really is to preserve everyone's safety in this world of really cheap but potentially dangerous RC aircraft that can be everywhere. Read the background data, think about the questions, and the test is pretty easy. It took about 30 minutes. Of course, writing this thread helped give me a jump start.

Start here:

Choose one of the approved test administrators. I chose AMA. The test is FREE, and lasts for life assuming you don't lose the certificate. If a website is charging you, you're in the wrong place and you could get scammed. The AMA site didn't require me to provide any data other than my name for the certificate. Nor did it require me to set up an account. I like that.

Assuming you're using the same site, read the introductory page, then click START. Read each following page and click next. Every so often, it will ask you multi choice questions. Answer each. If you get one wrong, I'm told you can click retry and answer again. (I didn't miss any.) Keep going through this until you're done. Remember back to your high school days of taking tests. Choose the most correct answer if it's ambiguous. I had to do some thinking on some questions but most are memorization.

Once you get through it and pass, it will ask for your name. Use your real name as this will print on the certificate. It will then trigger a download of a PDF of your certificate. Save that in a safe place. Save or email yourself a backup. Print it. You cannot get back to it once you leave the download page. If you lose it, you have to take the test again.

That's it. Keep this certificate with you at all times while flying and be ready to show it to officials should the need arise. DO NOT FLY WITHOUT THE CERTIFICATE WITH YOU! You could face a hefty fine for this little, one might say trivial, mistake.

So, I'm a little closer to flying. Not ready yet. I'm still going to be learning, and printing, the rules for my chosen CBO. I'll probably be going with Flite Test since I've heard of them before and they like to stretch the boundaries of what can be done with RC aircraft, all legal of course. I'll also be familiarizing myself with the controls and app for the drone, making cheat sheets, thinking about emergency procedures, and other things. My particular drone won't require registration nor remote ID. That was intentional. However, adding ANY weight, another camera, a prop guard, a light, anything at all, would push it over the 250 gram limit. Even the micro SD card will add a gram or two. I think I have a 35 gram margin but that's not very useful. Really, just think like a pilot, because you ARE a pilot. Don't think like a goofus and don't act like a goofus. Every accident or court case jeopardizes everyone's ability to keep flying.

Share this information with anyone you know who might have ANY interest in RC aircraft in the USA, or who might already own one. Don't let your friends or family get hit with a huge fine because of simple mistakes. I'm not an expert nor a lawyer. Point people to the experts linked herein and other credible sources.

Hope this helps. Happy flying.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
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I wonder how many people have had drones for some time and are unaware of the new regulations, or don't care. I don't have one so if I did hear anything about the change I didn't pay attention to it. Maybe the next step will be the IDEA, Illegal Drone Enforcement Agency. Keep an eye out for stealth drones next.
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So that water powered bottle rocket I was going to get for my nephew needs a license plate?

I shot a rocket into the air,
it fell to Earth I know not where.
Some men with guns came the next day,
boy did they have a lot to say!
They took me away to I know not where,
So much for rockets, it was a great scare.
I shot a missile in to the air
It fell to Earth I knew not where
Until the next day with rage profound
The man it fell on came around
In less time than it takes to tell
He showed me where that missile fell
And now I do not greatly care
To shoot more missiles in the air

Actually I think this first appeared in an issue of Mad Magazine
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Cool poems guys. While y'all have been practicing poetry, I've been practicing flying. All legal too. I passed my FAA Trust exam, adopted the rules of a CBO (Flight Test Community Association - yes I read them), read and adopted the COUNTY park rules (no drone hunting, no drone fishing, no people or animal harassing, no privacy invading), and am very careful to keep control, sight, and awareness of the drone and not impact people or animals. I got the Holy Stone HS175D GPS brushless quadcopter. If you get a drone, you DEFINITELY want brushless motors and GPS flight control, if you can afford it, unless you're racing or something. It parks itself in the air and holds position very well. My drone is under 250 grams or .55 pounds so it doesn't need registration nor a radio ID beacon. That same lightness, though, means the wind buffets it and the video is shaky. I'm having severe lag problems with the drone sending the video to my Android tablet. I'm going back and forth with Holy Stone. They think it's the tablet. I'm not so sure. In video reviews, people claim Holy Stone is one of the best Chinese brands and reviews are generally very good. Almost nobody has talked about lag. At least they HAVE tech support. Other than the video issue, the drone flies very well.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
Ah, I knew that poem came from somewhere but couldn't remember where or how the majority of it went.

How long does the drone fly on a charge? I am sure it varies but just a ballpark figure. I saw one once when it was almost dark and it had lights flashing on it like a 'Christmas tree' for lack of a better description. It seemed to be moving a bit erratic, probably from the wind.
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@Ralph drone performance varies widely. I had a little palm sized one a few years ago (still have it) that would only go 5 minutes per charge. This one goes about 20 minutes per battery and comes with two batteries. On this particular one, once it gets to 25% battery, it does an automatic GPS return to home position. I can get another 5 minutes or so out of it after it lands but I never fly high or far under those conditions. This drone has GPS so it parks in the air and is pretty stable in a broad sense. But, on a small scale, it's still very light, so if there's any wind the drone jumps around a good bit and makes jerky videos since there's no stabilized camera at this price. If the one you saw was being flown manually, it's likely the pilot was fighting with the wind. :)

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron
It probably was wind since this was on an avenue that is miles long, one end at water. In addition the middle of the avenue has air vents for a subway running underneath. I thought about getting a drone a while back but never did much research into them. At the time about the only practical use I saw was being able to view the condition of my roof without having to climb a ladder to get up there. Drones were one of many things that caught my interest but not enough to jump into them. There's only so many hours in a day :)

Perhaps a silly question, but are any consumer type drones powered by a small internal combustion engine? I would think such an engine might be heavy compared to a battery system, but on the other hand a small amount of gasoline has quite a bit of energy.
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Do not think there are anything like that, which is basically a RC helicopter, which does need registration, because it is well over the allowed mass limit for licence free operation.
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@Ralph , @SeanBZA is probably right in that there aren't many, if any, fuel powered drones under 250 g or .55 lb. Having said that, some people and researchers have experimented with such things. They're usually bigger and are usually expensive. One issue is that an engine / propeller system can't react to throttle changes from the flight controller as fast as electric motors can. Fuel based RC aircraft tend to be pretty messy, especially tiny 2 cycle engines which have oil mixed into the fuel. A good bit of that comes out the exhaust pipe. I've seen a few interesting hybrid power train designs on the internet where, like a diesel locomotive, an engine drives a generator which provides electricity to drive the drone. Those replace most of the batteries with fuel. I saw an interesting design once that used a hollow tubular frame filled with hydrogen as fuel. That drove a fuel cell, which drove the system. Consumers can own any of these systems if they have the money and they follow the relevant laws. Some people own monster trucks after all. I'm afraid I don't have a $ 20,000 drone budget though.

May your bits be stable and your interfaces be fast. :cool: Ron