Brunswick’s Drone Buzz: The Cape Fear Drone Club

by May 23, 2017Across the Cape Fear, Brunswick County, North Brunswick

On a call from his summer work in Rochester, Minn., Cape Fear Drone Club pioneer Kent McIntire maneuvered his way through expressing his passion for drones.

PHOTOGRAPHY and VIDEO contributed by Cape Fear Drone Club and Kent McIntire

Cape Fear Drone ClubAs a founding flyer in the Cape Fear Drone Club, as well as the Wilmington Area Drone Users group, McIntire, 22, sounds like the seasoned veteran he is talking about drones, but also the youthful adventurist who seems to get a wellspring of elation each new flight.

“It’s that overriding factor that makes you want to come back every day and fly them,” McIntire said. “It’s all about that new perspective for me personally, it’s a never-before-seen angle.”

Often setting up flight meet-ups at Brunswick Forest’s open fields, McIntire explained the complexities and joys of these unmanned aerial vehicles or “UAVs.” A range from military, to commercial, to recreational use such as first-person view (FPV) racing opens a fascinating avenue to exploring one of the globe’s latest subcultures.

Cape Fear Drones, according to its Facebook page, specializes in “everything UAV related.” It also has graphics showcasing what McIntire described as “unparalleled” views. We interviewed McIntire about the club, the drones, and the sprawling set of reasons for flying drones:

NBM: What makes a drone a drone?

McIntire: What makes a drone a drone is the fact that it can simply spy. A drone can be considered everything from a helicopter to any style of airplane. Drones is more of a misnomer; it alludes to something that is autonomous in a way that is “hide-minded.” I like to call it a UAV; especially if you’re talking about it at full length. Drone is totally fine, but an unmanned aerial vehicle is exactly what it is…it does seem like an oversimplified response, but in my mind brings images of a stupid flying device that bumbles around and has a preset course—it does its own thing. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Cape Fear Drone ClubNBM: How did you get started on drones?

McIntire: I’ve always had a desire to be a pilot—commercial aircraft, airplanes, originally everyone wants to be a fighter pilot. Unfortunately, starting out as a private pilot is anywhere from five to ten thousand dollars—and that’s kind of on the low end. When I started Cape Fear Drones, I was 18 turning 19. I was pretty young so I definitely didn’t have the kind of money to get private flying lessons. I did do ground school, so I did do the initial steps, but it was kind of random coincidence. I was walking through Wal-Mart, and I’ve always kind of liked drones, and I saw an SD “Nano” drone. They’re pretty much a quadcopter; I want to say the size of a person’s palm. They do all the things a drone does: they spin around, left, right, up, down, and they’re really cool. It was one of those things where I flew once and I instantly wanted to just do it ten more times.

Cape Fear Drone ClubNBM: How might the “Average Joe” get started with drones?

McIntire: A lot of people like to go out and buy the next coolest thing. I would highly suggest against that. If I had a dollar for every time I had a repair for someone who just crashed, I’d have a lot more than I have…people want to go out and get the most advanced drone with the most safety features; that’s kind of a backward way of doing it because no one actually knows how to control it in the moments that matter. I had more than one instance where my girlfriend was flying with me and it would get caught in her hair…For people who want to get into the drone hobby, just start small, practice a little bit. See what you like…it’s all about your preferences.

NBM: What’s the price range?

McIntire: I’ve seen people build them for as low as $100, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between that and a $1,000 one. One of my all-time favorites was the Hubsan H107d. I think nowadays they’re about $130…they’re so much fun! It was a little FPV drone, it had a little FPV camera, and it was really quite amazing because it was about the size of your palm, but at the same time you’ve got a screen, you’ve got a controller…I liked to mess around with people—I’d hold it in my hand and take it off and just zip it around trees, and five minutes in they’d think the thing disappeared. You’re still looking at the screen and you think you can’t see it but lo and behold it’s right behind them. It was great because worst-case scenario it hits a wall and, you know, it’s a half ounce drone—no harm no foul, but it really gave me more of a special awareness of what’s around me. They’re really a unique machine. Helicopters are one thing, planes are another, but drones, they’re just new; they’re never really been anything like it before.

NBM: So they have a unique niche?

McIntire: But that’s the beauty of it! Because they exploded from some very obscure hobbyist, expensive kind of commodity to an exploding industry…I think it’s important that we use them for the safe and fun devices that they are. I’ve never had a drone that I’ve put down and not wanted to fly again.

NBM: Where can you fly them?

McIntire: A lot of people don’t understand rules and regulations you should know to fly. Me personally, that was one of the first things I learned. Living in Wilmington, you know we have an airport, we have a lot of military aircraft that come over the bridge, over the river, and from far. I personally have a license (FAA approved), so I can call air traffic control and set up specific parameters if you’re near an airport. Otherwise, the rules are generally keep it under 400 feet and {at least} five miles away from the airport, and keep it pretty much in sight. Don’t fly over people and just, I guess for a lack of a better word don’t be an idiot.Cape Fear Drone Club

NBM: Can a drone survive a crash?

McIntire: Oh yeah. It just depends you know. A drone can crash into a wall, and if no critical parts are injured, it’s all good to go…on the same side of that, I’ve had some drones get caught by a propeller and strip a gear. It honestly just comes down to sheer luck…thankfully I’ve never had any major crashes and I credit that 100 percent to mainly just being safety conscious. One other thing about the big drones is that they have all these cool safety features: GPS, return to home, auto avoid, but people tend to think that gives them leniency to you know, not pay as much attention, but that’s one of the things a small drone will teach you. You always have to be aware because there’s always the unexpected.

NBM: What are the uses of drones?

McIntire: At this point it’s almost ‘what aren’t the uses?’ Agriculture, infrastructure inspection, real estate, virtual tourism, FPV racing…even I were to name off all the things they can do I know I could still think of about a million things they are applicable to. Especially nowadays hospitals are using them for quick delivery. Amazon’s trying to get them to help get things to people’s porches; it might soon be dropping a pizza on your porch. As the world progresses, I do feel like they will be more of a common sight.

As far as the military goes, you know, they have their surveillance…they keep us safe…they’re kind of in their own field and they’re state of the art. For me to fly one—that would be mind boggling.

NBM: How can the everyday person make use of a drone?

McIntire: It’s all about your preferences. I like FPV racing because I can put goggles on and zip around a field, but I might not want to do that every time. I also have a drone that’s a tricopter. It’s a big, kind of clunky machine. But me personally I just like experiencing new types of flight, just flying new things. The cool thing about it is that some of these drones are just so customizable. It just keeps staying fun.

NBM: Tell us more about Cape Fear Drone Club.

McIntire: I do have a grand vision overall for the overall Wilmington area. I’d really like to start coordinating lots of races, lots of get-togethers, I really just want people to see what it’s all about. Pretty much anyone who’s interested is always welcome.Cape Fear Drone Club

NBM: Why should I go and learn about flying drones?

McIntire: Well if you were in the 90s, it would be ‘why would want to learn how to use a computer?’ Some don’t care…but {drones} are not going away anytime soon.  As we become a more technological society, I feel like they’ll be synonymous with cell phones and laptops: something that we can call on for help, something that we can call on for security. People who think nothing of them today, I guarantee will be thankful for them tomorrow. You have to be willing to crash c couple of times, but you’ll definitely keep coming back.

McIntire shared details about his first flight distancing more than 1,000 feet. He said he caught a big thrill when he realized he could only truly see its position on screen.

Aspiring pilots need not spend big bucks on the endeavor. Some drones cost as little as $15-20, according to McIntire’s research.

With the privilege, though, comes responsibility. According to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), operators are required to fly drones within the 400-foot altitude range, never over stadiums or sporting events, emergency response efforts, or while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, among other regulations. Officials also instruct drone operators to learn about airspace restrictions such as the “No Drone Zone” in and around Washington, D.C.

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