The Arlington Police Department's unmanned aircraft program is taking off.
The Leptron Avenger is a 58 inches long, 11 pound, aluminum and carbon fiber, battery-powered, GPS-equipped, video and still image camera aircraft. And it takes a team to fly it.
“The minimum we can operate the aircraft with is three people. It is our preference to operate with four people,” said Brook Rollins, APD’s unmanned aircraft mission commander.
The team includes a pilot, a safety pilot who observes the pilot, a camera operator and a ground station operator who can also control the small helicopter from a different set of controls.
“The pilot has to be able to see the equipment at the exact time he's flying the equipment,” said Sgt. Christopher Cook.
But before flying, there will be times when a search warrant is required. The same laws that apply to manned aircraft apply to these.
Sgt. Cook stressed that it's more helicopter than drone.
“They will only be flown usually for less than an hour just based upon the batter limitations, they'll never carry weapons, they won't be used of general surveillance of our citizens,” he said, adding that they will be for limited and specialized situations not routine police operations.
“[The aircraft] are not going to be in the trunks of police cars going down the road,” said Sgt. Cook.
FAA regulations limit the aircraft from exceeding 400 feet in the air or from flying over crowds of people like at a stadium event.
Police say they will be used when searching for a missing person or capturing images of fatal traffic accidents to allow scenes to be cleared much quicker or for storm and fire damage assessment.