- Associated Press - Sunday, July 6, 2014

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - A pair of Fort Wayne entrepreneurs knows they can get the featherweight helicopters they build off the ground; now they’re trying to do the same with a photography business that rides on the same small vehicles.

Brendan Keen of Fort Wayne and Nathan Jackson of New Haven started tinkering with remote controlled helicopters — more commonly called UAVs, for unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones — more than a year ago. Now they’ve invested about $2,500 in building a 5-pound, six-rotor model that can carry a GoPro camera hundreds of feet in the air (they never fly it higher than 150 meters, Keen explained) for flights lasting up to 10 minutes.

In the month or so that they’ve made a hard push to turn UAV photography into a going business, they’ve shot photos for clients of homes for sale, horses, even an outdoor festival.

The business partners, both 24, say their main advantage over traditional aerial photography is price. They tell The News-Sentinel (http://bit.ly/1rcrMZ8 ) that most assignments could be done for $150 to $200.

They don’t need a pilot and a photographer, and they don’t need to buy or rent a full-size aircraft and buy aviation fuel to pursue their photography. The helicopter they’re currently using (like most small UAVs) runs on a small, rechargeable battery.

What might seem to be a limitation actually works as an advantage, Keen said. Limiting their altitude to no more than 150 meters for safety reasons gives them a tighter, closer perspective on their subjects that conventional aerial photography offers.

“Any aircraft flying as low as we’re flying is in serious trouble,” Keen noted.

Keen and Jackson are navigating some dense regulatory murk with their business. The Federal Aviation Administration has claimed authority to regulate UAVs as model aircraft. That entails a lot of regulations, such as a prohibition on using them for commercial purposes.

What’s changed most recently is that earlier this year, an administrative law judge said the FAA could not slap a fine on a photographer using a UAV to shoot photos for a client.

Judge Patrick Geraghty, who reviews cases with the National Transportation Safety Board, pointed out numerous contradictions in FAA policy concerned aircraft, model aircraft and UAVs. At the same time, the FAA has authorized a commercial use of drones — BP will use them to inspect pipelines — and a number of sites for more experimentation with commercial use of drones.

“It isn’t a safety issue,” Keen said. “Safety is definitely our top priority. It’s a control issue.”

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Information from: The News-Sentinel, http://www.news-sentinel.com/ns

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