Spy in the Sky: Grounded in the nation’s capital

In the WTOP series "Spy in the Sky," we examine the types of drones used by the U.S. military and fears about targeted killings, both at home and abroad.

Editor’s note: Some drones are bigger than a jet, weaponized and used in strategic military operations. Others are smaller than a basketball, sent airborne for basic surveillance or weekend recreation.

The label “unmanned aerial vehicles,” or UAVs, is almost a catch-all term covering a wide range of devices that vary greatly in their capabilities and purposes. Yet the use of drones generally sparks intense debate, questions about security versus privacy and even fear.

In the WTOP series “Spy in the Sky,” we examine the types of drones used by the U.S. military and fears about targeted killings, both at home and abroad.

Part 1: Grounded in the nation’s capital

WASHINGTON — Adam Eidinger is well-versed in the do’s and don’ts for his three functioning UAVs.

One mishap and a follow-up call from the feds laid it all out clearly. (Hint: The major “don’t” is flying a drone in the District.)

For Adams Morgan Day last year, Eidinger sent his T-580 — a recreational device equipped with a camera — up for a flyover. But the conditions weren’t ideal, and the UAV got away from him and disappeared.

See the fateful flight below:

Eidinger posted fliers around the neighborhood, with bold font exclaiming: “MISSING DRONE.”

It was effective in getting attention.

“The FAA essentially called me up and said, ‘Mr. Eidinger, are you aware that this is a no-fly zone for model aircraft?'” he says.

Eidinger got into UAVs because he was looking for different angles for video projects. He estimates he’d made 20 flights before learning the act is illegal in the nation’s capital.

But the local chatter surrounding his flight ultimately helped launch a drone user group on the Meetup website. At least 240 operators are registered in the group, which has regular events.

“For under $1,000 you could be in the sky, flying with high definition and getting some pretty decent footage,” Eidinger says.

The easy access and capabilities generate concern among privacy advocates.

“Obviously we can’t have flying robots crashing into passenger aircraft or plummeting through our roofs,” says Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union. “So the FAA is proceeding very cautiously before allowing these devices to integrate into our national airspace.”

Not cleared for takeoff, Eidinger says he now keeps his devices grounded in the District.

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