The Journal Gazette
Sunday, August 29, 2021 1:00 am

Police, hobbyists share drone advice

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

A couple of months ago, Danny Lambert got himself a small Tello drone.

“You can control it with your thumb,” Lambert said, pulling out his cellphone to show the controls. The Wells County farmer also took a course at Purdue University that taught some of the basics.

On Saturday, Lambert attended the Fort Wayne Police Department's first Hobbyist Drone Conference at Sweetwater Sound.

Run by the department's Air Support Unit, the daylong conference attracted about 25 drone enthusiasts, according to Officer J. Matt Rowland.

The focus was on drone safety, rules and regulations. It also offered participants the chance to operate one of the police department drones, sent into flight outside on the parking lot.

The information was technical in nature, but Rowland and fellow officer Bobby Lemon explained why the department ultimately decided to buy a drone that allows indoor flight from Brinc, a Las Vegas-based drone manufacturer.

The $9,000 Brinc Lemur allows a drone to enter the home of a suspect without having to send in an officer, typically a SWAT team officer. The Lemur can break windows to enter, has infrared capability and a spotlight, Rowland said. The drone can also deliver objects that weigh less than one pound, such as a pack of cigarettes or a cellphone, two items that can be crucial in negotiations.

Another new drone in department's arsenal of 18 drones is able to fly in all weather conditions. The Spirit from the Massachusetts manufacturer Ascent Aerosystems cost about $30,000 and will be used in operations such as search and rescue, barricaded subjects and overhead watch, Rowland said.

“It gives us more options in bad weather,” Rowland said, because most drones have difficulties in high winds and wet weather.

Air Support Unit officers are getting trained in the operation of these new drones, Rowland said.

Federal Aviation Authority officials were also in attendance. Rowland said any drone that weighs more than 0.55 pounds must be registered with the federal agency, though that excludes the small recreational planes and drones typically flown in backyards.

Irving Thomas, an electrical engineer whose hobby is model airplanes, has owned a small drone for a couple of years. He is a member of the Fort Wayne Flying Circuits in New Haven.

Although Thomas enjoys the drones and airplanes recreationally, Lambert sees an opportunity to check on his fields of wheat and soybeans, utilizing the drone for weed control and spraying.

“It'll probably never pay for itself,” Lambert said of a $28,000 drone he's looking at, “but it's about weed control.”

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