The Mississippi Department of Marine Resources wanted to fly a two-pound toy helicopter with a camera attached over remote marshland to monitor invasive species.
It was an idea that would save money — no $200-an-hour plane rental — while giving researchers more flexibility.
The problem? FAA regulations for a toy helicopter under such a situation are the same as those for a predator drone.
“The whole beginning of this was that we got the idea that we could use a remote control helicopter to find invasive plants in places where it became impossible to go by boat,” said Mike Pursley, DMR’s aquatic invasive species coordinator and field project manager.
“It would potentially save a lot of money,” he explained. “It would help find invasive hogs, plants — and it could help documenting day-to-day effects of coastline erosion.”
Pursley said the department applied for a grant and got the toy helicopter. But meeting FAA regulations proved too difficult. For example, Pursley said, even though DMR had a permit to fly the helicopter in a well-defined 50-acre plot of land, the local aircraft tower required two days’ notice. Regulations also required two people to man the flight, with both the pilot and official observer having medical airworthiness certificates and pilots’ licenses.