Unmanned Aerial Vehicles popular with amateur hobbyists

Hawaii a 'hot spot' for development of UAVs

 UPDATED 9:55 PM HST Apr 25, 2013
HONOLULU -

His viewer is made up of snowboard goggles and duct tape.

On his plane, the booms are made of wood from the hardware store. There's a piece of Tupperware for the cockpit.

A few weeks of work and a few hundred dollars later, Hawaiian Airlines pilot Iam Bouret had created his own flight schedule.

"It's a really fun hobby," he said.

"What we're looking at is 20 to 30 years of technology development in the model airplane world," said consultant Ted Ralston.

Ralston is helping amateur pilots, local agencies, schools, and the military develop programs for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.

And he's not alone.

"This is actually the auto pilot system right here," said Jeff Williams of Williams Aerospace in Kapolei, pointing to a mechanism in the innards of his "Dominator" model.

He had already built four sleek customizable models.

St. Louis University bought his largest prototype and is planning to buy another.

The military has been testing another one to track criminals.

"When this is flying up at 100 meters, they never knew it was up there. You can't hear a thing," he said showing KITV reporter Lara Yamada the UAV footage from a recent military training exercise.

Williams' smallest model is called a Nano-Shryke.

It's got a 28-inch wingspan and only weighs a pound and a half.

It's called "man portable," meaning everything needed for operations can fit into a backpack, taken to a location and launched.

"There are just an unlimited amount of missions these UAVs can do," said Williams.

"It can be used for public land, ocean research, reef studies, beach erosion and more," Ralston said of UAVs.

Right now, the University of Hawaii is expanding its Unmanned Aerial Vehicle programs.

In May, Williams will be launching the state's first hands-on flying school.

And Hawaii could be one of six sites selected by the FAA for a pilot program to use national airspace for practice flights.

"This is the future," said Bouret.

Williams sees service drones as his focus.

He said farmers can monitor disease and hot spots, businesses can secure utilities and commodities, emergency personnel in disaster areas, and so on.

Experts in the field expect the FAA will finalize the general use of drones in U.S. air space within the next couple of years.
 

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