First drone approved for NC skies takes flight in Raleigh
Posted January 29, 2015
Updated January 30, 2015
Raleigh, N.C. — The only group permitted to fly drones in North Carolina took to the skies Thursday in Raleigh, where a team of researchers will use the unmanned aircraft for agricultural and environmental research.
Lake Wheeler Farm is one of six locations in North Carolina where the state and the Federal Aviation Administration have granted approval for the NextGen Air Transportation Center to operate drones.
One of those, the $50,000, 5.5-pound Trimble UX5 Aerial Imaging drone, is equipped with a near-infrared camera that can detect problems in the health of crops, according to Gary Roberson, an associate professor in biological and agricultural engineering at North Carolina State University.
"There's a lot of interest among farmers and crop consultants in using this technology," he said. "What we're looking for is the ability to manage nutrients. We're looking at the ability to detect and manage disease. There's also some application in the livestock industry."
The FAA currently prohibits commercial use of drones, but it does allow government use if a state approves it. Hobbyists need no FAA approval as long as their drones remain in sight.
NGAT director Kyle Snyder says authorized drones will fly only over N.C. State property and will stay clear of homes, roads and other areas where safety and privacy are concerns.
"When we're flying, we want to make sure we're flying in big, safe areas," Snyder said. "We can do the research that says how these (drones) will be used."
The federal government is still working out regulations for drones. NGAT says that, if drones are well-regulated, they can have a variety of practical uses, including working in emergency services – such as finding a missing person – and monitoring infrastructure.