Remote controlled octocopter. Unmanned aerial vehicles. Programmed miniature helicopters. These are terms that can all be used to describe what we collectively call "drone" equipment. It is too bad that a simple word like drone has taken on such a "big brother" connotation, but since it has, a lot of enthusiasts and drone experts have sought terms to better describe these useful systems.
Useful? Though you may not realize it, the drone is something that is put to use in everything from wildfire monitoring, air quality testing, and search and rescue operations to crop-dusting, deliveries, and high-end movie making.
Though this technology has broad applicability, and though the United States government believes that the drone and helicam industry is positioned to boom by 2025 (by which time it will have created more than 70k jobs), many people around the globe remain unaware of it - or its potential. Additionally, many remain unaware of just how difficult it can be to safely operate this gear, too, and that formal training is usually necessary.
UAV or unmanned aerial vehicles run the gamut from small and "model-like" in scale to weighing in at hundreds of pounds, and yet they all need a skilled pilot to handle them effectively. One long-time drone expert has this to say: "...just like full-scale aircraft, models can be very dangerous in inexperienced hands, especially considering the tight places we sometimes have to operate in to get the desired shot.” (Jordan, 2014)
Becoming a Serious Business
Yes, something like a multi-rotor octocopter may be remarkably stable - which is why it is a filmmaker's helicam of choice - but it still requires proficiency to operate safely. This is why many American colleges and universities are beginning to create degree programs and courses geared specifically towards these non-toys. Kansas State University, the University of North Dakota, and the University of Arizona are only a few with drone pilot certification programs. They also have aerial filming programs, as well as some options for drone experts emphasizing the engineering side of things.
Clearly, the use of a drone or multi-rotor craft is not something for the hobbyist or for those who view these in the same light as a toy for older kids or adults. Rather, they are advanced gear with the need for formal training and expertise. Though some people have turned a long-standing passion for the helicam or octocopter into a career, it is going to become something that requires more formal training. Luckily, opportunities abound.
As an industry in the making, aerial filming systems of all kinds can be said to be evolving right along with any training opportunities. This is why anyone shopping in an online flying camera store or seeking helicam experts should realize that there is a big difference between true "pros" an amateurs at this time.
After all, there are some places where the use of the equipment has not yet had formal aviation rules applied to it. When working with aerial filming experts, hiring them, or even seeking to become one, you must understand that there is still a lot to know, and for the public to learn. Look at recent events in places like Connecticut (where a teenage boy was filming the shoreline with a quadcopter and was attacked by a beachgoer who did not approve of his helicam usage) to gauge how the appearance of a drone or flying camera may be misinterpreted.
Looking up in the sky, seeing a drone, and not being surprised at its appearance may be a common occurrence in the near future. Today, however, it is a surprising sight, and it is gear best in the hands of well-trained helicam experts. You can become one, too; just get the right gear and the best training.
Jordan, Annette. It's a Copter...It's a Plane: It's a Drone Coming to a Video Shoot Near You. Asheboro, North Carolina Courier-Tribune. June 9, 2014. http://courier-tribune.com/thrive-magazine/it-s-copter-it-s-plane-it-s-drone-coming-video-shoot-near-you