Drone Club Takes Off at South Jersey Makerspace

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Bas Slabbers
    Drone Club: A hobbyist tinkers with his custom-built quadcopter at the Rotor-E Drone club meeting in early July.

    Gone are the days when remote-controlled airplanes were all the rage among hobbyists.

    These days it's all about drones.

    That's the sentiment of members of the new Rotor-E Drone Club, which meets at the SoHa SMART makerspace in Haddon Township, New Jersey.

    "I think these things will be our buddies," said Lavon Phillips, the self-described futurist owner and operator of SoHa SMART.

    Phillips and more than a dozen hobbyists get together to discuss the physics of flight, go over some safety tips, and — of course — share their drone stories.

    "My initial thought was, maybe I could use this for paintball," said 11-year-old Aidan McManus, who got his first drone as a Christmas present from his parents.

    "I thought I could do recon with it, but that didn't really work out," he said, laughing.

    Most personal drones are quadcopters, meaning they have four rotating propellers, and range in length from a few inches to a few feet.

    Since they're selling for as little as $30 now, drone proponents are increasingly trying to spread the word on how to fly them safely.

    "Would you put your hand in a weedwacker? I mean, I would never do that because obviously I'm going to end up with lacerations or worse because I was dumb," said Leon Stankowski, one of the speakers at the meeting.

    "The same is true with spinning blades. Even though they're plastic, they can do damage at some speed," he warned.

    The Federal Aviation Administration has stricter rules. Among them, pilots have to fly personal drones within their line of sight, no higher than 400 feet off the ground, and during daylight hours.

    "I think it's a little bit of ignorance on their part, and they're afraid of it," said Keith Brown, who occasionally flies drones for work. "It boggles my mind that they would regulate something so innovative that people work so hard to enjoy."

    But Phillips, the makerspace owner, thinks regulation will eventually fit innovation — and not the other way around. He's looking forward to the day when drones play an integral role in our lives, from guarding our homes to grabbing us a beer out of the fridge.

    "I enjoy having the access to them. I would love a machine to help me and watch me and watch over me."