October 7, 2021

David Barbour practices landing his drone on a portable target mat at Smithfield's drone field. The slower and softer the descent, the better for the device's longevity!

Unlike model planes, miniature
drones are much more than toys

Town Councilman David Barbour made that clear in remarks he made at last Saturday's ribbon cutting at Smithfield's new field for flying drones.

Equipped with tiny cameras that produce high-quality images, professional drones are being used more and more by businesses, industries, and governments, he said – for inspecting utilities like bridges and water tanks and power lines, for marketing real estate and promoting communities, for making rescues and investigations safer for police and fire personnel.

But first one must learn how to operate these amazing devices, and that's where Smithfield's drone field comes in. "It's a safe place to learn fly," Mr. Barbour said.

Actually, the spacious, well-kept field behind Gertrude Johnson Park in West Smithfield is there for three types of drone operators, he continued: (1) amateur hobbyists (once they're properly licensed); (2) professionals like the utility inspectors; and (3) employees of government tasked with public safety and marketing.

Of course, flying drones at Smithfield's park and anywhere else comes with rules to be learned and followed by operators. The basics appear on this sign posted at the field:

The flying limits are especially important here because Johnson Park is located beside busy US 70 Business West not far from Johnston Regional Airport  – just 1.7 miles away, to be exact, according to Mr. Barbour who worked with town staff to get the drone field established.

Parks and Recreation Director Gary Johnson said the project was finished at nominal expense since the large field with fencing had already been set up for public use as a multi-purpose playground.

A professional pilot explains the operation of his high-tech drone (in the sky above and seen close up in the left-hand inset) that's used in fire and rescue emergencies. Other professionals on hand for Saturday's park opening included representatives from the MultiGP Drone Racing League's chapters at Raleigh and Fayetteville who navigated their devices through obstacles set up on the field. (Their drones moved much too fast to be clearly captured on a digital image such as this.)