By David Loomis
INDIANA – On Saturday, a state police helicopter drew donuts in the night sky atop a shaft of searchlight over downtown during IUP Homecoming 2018 weekend. The roar of the low-flying chopper was inescapable, its beam accentuating a loud Big Brother vibe and sending residents to social media to “comment.”
Now, a silent partner has joined the legions of state and local police and public-safety assets, armaments, animals and apparatus, all routinely deployed for what university officials call “unsanctioned celebratory events” linked to annual Homecoming and IUPatty’s parties.
It was an unmanned aircraft system, a.k.a. an unmanned aerial vehicle.
It was on display earlier Saturday in the borough police parking lot. The Indiana County Emergency Management Agency demonstrated it from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Five emergency-management drone pilots and three managers offered authorities and guests computer-screen aerial views of the entire Homecoming parade route from 7th to 13th streets.
ON TUESDAY, two of the agency’s Federal Aviation Administration-certified commercial drone pilots showed off the DJI Matrice 210 in the agency’s parking lot on Haven Drive. (Walmart price for a “professional” model: $14,999; ICEMA’s price: $19,000 and change for nighttime thermal-imaging and other photographic upgrades, according to county emergency-management director Thomas A. Stutzman.)
Data systems specialists Dave Angelo and Stacy Kinter guided the eight-pound drone and its two-pound camera through zippy aerial maneuvers against a brilliant azure sky, all in a whisper. Their controls looked like tablet computers mounted on steampunk holders. According to the manufacturer’s spec sheet, the machine can ascend 16 feet a second, fly 50 mph and go for 38 minutes on a battery charge.
Angelo and Kinter recounted the Saturday drone demo for rubberneckers from other public safety agencies.
“They liked it,” said Kinter. “They could see stuff they usually couldn’t see. They could see the entire parade route in one aerial shot.”
The surveillance led to no arrests.
SATURDAY WAS NOT the drone’s first assignment, the co-pilots said. The agency flew it during the county fair in late August, for a ground-breaking ceremony at a local industrial park, and at an earlier demonstration for borough authorities a week before Homecoming.
During Homecoming, the drone did no nighttime duty. For that, a special waiver from the FAA is required, the pilots said, and borough officials requested surveillance only of the daylight parade.
What’s the forecast for IUPatty’s, the notorious annual unsanctioned celebratory event during a weekend in March?
“If they request us, we will apply for a nighttime waiver,” said Kinter.
David Loomis, Ph.D., retired associate professor of journalism at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, is editor of The HawkEye. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
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