There Are now 10,000 (Legal) Drones over Maryland’s Skies


white drone hovering in blue skyModel airplane enthusiasts were into flying tiny aerial vehicles before it was cool. But now, the niche hobby faces an unprecedented threat to their way of life.


“Honestly, I could see it right away,” said Thomas Pfarr, the official club photographer for DC/RC, to NPR. “The idiots are going to kill us.”

NPR recently covered Drone Day 2016, where DC/RC gathered at Boyd’s Model Airpark in Boyds, Md. The District of Columbia is a no-fly zone, but this airpark is outfitted with a tiny runway for the model planes. The members of DC/RC all look like someone’s recently retired dad, and they spend hours creating flying replicas of obscure planes from aviation history.

And while some members have experimented with the drones and quadcopters that have suddenly become so popular, many of the members look down on the new craze.

“You’re operating a device; you’re not really flying,” said one member.

“As a photographer it’s great,” Pfarr added. “From a flying point of view, it’s absolutely boring.”

Tell that to the 9,259 registered drone owners in Maryland, as of May 31. The Federal Aviation Administration recently released a new registry of drone owners, but the actual number of drones is certainly much higher, as many people purchased drones before registration was possible or simply chose to stay off the radar. According to the FAA registry, the most drones are in the suburban areas around Baltimore and Washington.

According to a map created by The Baltimore Sun, there are no registered drone owners in Crisfield, but there are definitely drones. And even though eight million people fly on a plane every day in the United States, already the number of drones far outnumber manned aircraft.

The registry may hugely underestimate the true number of drone operators in the United States, but there are now more registered drones than all other types of aircraft combined. Today, the FAA has 460,000 registered drones, compared to just 315,000 other aircraft (there are just 2,806 aircraft in Maryland).

Unfortunately, the only reason the FAA keeps a registry is because of irresponsible — and sometimes criminal — behavior of drone pilots. In the past, drones have been used by peeping toms, crashed on the White House lawn, and interfered with firefighting aircraft.

Now, model plane enthusiasts are worried those dumb drone pilots are going to spoil their sport for good.

“It’s almost impossible to separate ourselves from [drone pilots],” said Rich Hanson of the Academy of Model Aeronautics. “So we think the best strategy is to try to educate them and bring them into the fold.”

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