If Nathan Chin, Southern Oregon University's assistant football coach, looks like he's having a bit too much fun these days, it's because of his new toy. Who wouldn't love the chance to pilot a remote-control aircraft that can hover and record high-definition video?
But as fun as SOU's new drone may be, it's serious business, too. Chin and the rest of the SOU coaching staff hope the craft will give the Raiders a leg up on the competition this fall. The aerial technology also is a safer way to film practices than the conventional method, which has involved two stationary cameras atop scissor lifts that can tip over with tragic consequences for the camera operator.
Football film is just one practical, peaceful application for a technology that has developed a reputation as a weapon of war. It's nice to see drones used for non-military purposes, and the football application seems ideal. Other uses have included real-estate companies taking aerial shots of properties for sale.
Some caution is in order, however. Drones can be purchased relatively inexpensively by anyone, and require no license to operate, but there are rules. The Federal Aviation Administration considers them "model aircraft," limited to flying no higher than 400 feet. And it's easy to fly a drone in the wrong place. Wildland firefighters have asked the public not to fly near fires because the drones can interfere with retardant bombers and other firefighting aircraft. Drones have strayed near or into restricted firefighting airspace three times this summer, up from once last year.
So, have fun with these new gadets, but use some common sense, and let's be careful out there.