Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport hosts drone demonstration

Contact Reporterhbridges@vagazette.com

Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport hosted a public drone demonstration on Saturday, and at times, you could glimpse both a drone and an airplane in the same field of vision, albeit at much different altitudes.

This doesn't happen often.

Drones usually aren't allowed in flight near airports, much less at them, without certain permissions and regulations. Saturday's event, airport owner Larry Waltrip's idea, was arranged in partnership with the Virginia Department of Aviation and Federal Aviation Administration's Flight Standards District Office in Richmond, as well as the Academy of Model Aeronautics.

With safety regulations in place, Tidewater Drone Club members demonstrated drone racing and aerial photography, and the airport remained open.

The event was the first of its kind in Williamsburg, and one of the first at a public airport in Virginia.

Randall Burdette, Virginia Department of Aviation director, said integrating drone operation into airports is a new effort. But he's all for it.

For one, "This may help light the spark in some young kids," said Burdette, who attended Saturday's event. Interest in drones could spark interest in aviation, prompting kids to pursue STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) or aviation fields.

A big reason for Saturday's demonstration was promoting the benefits of drone technology.

"There's so much negative press about it," said Anthony Bennett, drone club member. "To me, it's all about awareness."

From real estate to agriculture, "anywhere that you need an aerial view of something … this is it," said club member Robert Pegg, pointing to an aerial photography drone he built. Pegg spent 47 years at NASA Langley as an engineer.

"People think that their privacy is being invaded by these eyes in the sky peeping at them," Pegg said.

"We go by strict rules," Pegg continued. "So that we don't invade people's privacy. We are not a menace to anything else."

"I'm all about drones," said Raynald Morris, chief information officer of W.M. Jordan Company, a construction business based in Newport News. "I want to see what other people are doing with them."

That's why he attended the demonstration Saturday. And, from his business' standpoint, Morris touted the benefits of drone use: thermal imagery, inspection, mapping, volume calculations.

"That's just touching on the surface of it," he said. "And that's just the construction business."

"Drones are actually used to save lives as well," said Daniel Morris, referencing their use to find survivors in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Morris is incoming president of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International's (AUVSI) Hampton Road Chapter, a group also involved in Saturday's event.

Past AUVSI Hampton Roads president Jay Willmott said, in addition to making the demonstration an annual event, the hope is to use information gathered from Saturday to promote similar events at other airports.

"It's important that the unmanned and the manned aviation communities work together," Willmott said.

There's still much work to be done in integrating the two.

"But we did break some ground here, because the airport is open, and it is International Drone Day," Willmott said.

Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.

For more information

Tidewater Virginia Area UAS, UAV Drone Users Group Club meets at 1 p.m. on the first Sunday of every month at Williamsburg-Jamestown Airport. All are welcome.

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