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“That’s the only thing that I know of that our guys are attaching, either still or video cameras to take pictures of the environment. Or, in some cases, they’re used to give the pilot a virtual view through the cockpit, a first-person view,” said Rich Hanson, AMA’s head of government and regulatory affairs.

The heart of AMA’s efforts in the coming years, Mr. Hanson added, will be to tighten up definitions and distinctions for drones and model aircraft.

“Even though [one piece of legislation] may not be problematic for us, future legislation might be, if we’re considered a drone,” he said.

Very different motivations

While the technical differences are important, the true distinction between a model plane and a drone stems from the motivation of the operator.

The drone industry, by its own admission, is catering to the military, law enforcement and private companies looking to make profits and increase efficiency.

There are very different reasons why Mr. Barnett and his friends in the Chesapeake club gather at their Crownsville field every week.

“I just enjoy this. There’s so much to learn,” he said. Unlike the commercial drone business, dollars and cents never enter into the equation when he’s working with his students.

“I take great offense if someone tries to pay me,” Mr. Barnett said.