Drones provide birds-eye only views, but also carry risks of fines, jail time

Drones provide birds-eye only views, but also carry risks of fines, jail time

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - Of the 3 million drones sold in the U.S. last year, 1.2 million were given as holiday gifts.

But that Christmas gift could land you in some trouble if you're not careful.

That soft buzzing sound is almost a constant now around Brown's Island and downtown Richmond as residents fly drones in the area.

It's a birds-only view now obtainable for hundreds of would-be pilots.

"You grow up as a kid thinking, 'Man it would be nice to fly.' And this is as close as you'll ever get to flying," said Daryl Watkins, the man behind that awe-inspiring aerial photography of Creative Dog Media. He's been flying drones commercially for several years now.

  • MOBILE USERS: CLICK HERE to view drone photos from Creative Dog Media

"There's a lot of people that need to learn the rules, both for safety reasons but also for compliance," said Watkins.

If your drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds, you're required to register it with the Federal Aviation Administration. Yet, at last check, only about a half million drones are registered with the FAA.

  • CLICK HERE for information on registering your drone with the FAA

NBC12 obtained a database of all the registered drones in the U.S. There are 13,308 in Virginia with 483 of those in Chesterfield; 417 in Richmond; and 266 in Henrico.

NBC12 asked Watkins if he believes there are even more drones than that flying the skies of  Central Virginia.

"I think it's a lot more that own them, no question," he said.

Watkins recently teamed up with another longtime drone pilot, Scott Strimple to form Virginia UAS. That's an organization to educate and consult with small businesses and government entities to help them implement safe and legal commercial UAS operations.

"It's not just a big blue sky out there," said Strimple.

"I love it (the technology), but it enables you to go to a local big box store or online outlet and purchase something and read a quick start guide and launch it in the air with absolutely no training, no knowledge, no experience whatsoever," he said.

He says there are strict rules about where you can fly drones, as well as altitude limits.

He says practice truly does make perfect when it comes to flying drones.

"It's a muscle memory kind of thing (to) get your thumbs and your brain talking so that you can concentrate on your camera work," said Strimple.

Failing to register your drone with the FAA can lead to penalties and fines as high as $250,000. Jail time is even an option.

Both Strimple and Watkins say if you buy a drone, stick with a smaller one before you invest a lot of money in an expensive drone.

"Go out to an open field, away from people away from things, objects. Give it some practice; give it some time and gradually get better," said Watkins.

Check out NBC12's Facebook Live with Virginia UAS:

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