Nashville entrepreneur uses drone to film fireworks show - WDAM - TV 7 - News, Weather and Sports

Nashville entrepreneur uses drone to film fireworks show amid massive crowd

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NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) -

Officials said more than 215,000 people packed downtown Nashville on July 4 to see the Let Freedom Ring display. The Nashville Symphony Orchestra accompanied the choreographed bursts of colors and smoke streaking across the skyline.

The sight captivated audiences — and Music City even nabbed the title of second-best show in the country. Most people celebrated this Independence Day with a boom. But one man celebrated with a drone.

Local entrepreneur Robert Hartline says he controlled a quadcopter to film the show from 500 feet in the air.

"I'd call it a drone," Hartline said.

Attached to an HD camera, The DJI Phantom relies on a GPS system and remote function to soar over the ground. He posted more than 17 minutes of the show on YouTube. He said the batteries died before the finale.

Hartline said he launched the device from Pinewood Social, across the river from where crews set off fireworks near LP Field.

"I've heard negative connotations, like, ‘This is spying on me,'" said Hartline, referring to the machine. "I've never used it for that purpose. I just use it to make really awesome video."

It appears risky to dart through the rockets' red glare, and only vague federal guidelines regulate devices used for recreational purposes.

But after Friday, the issue flew onto some people's radars.

"Whenever you send anything up in the air that could unfortunately disturb that explosive activity, you are now causing a public safety concern," said Megan Buell for the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance.

The department issued the permit for the festival's firework company, Pyro Shows. Under its contract, the company maintains a 700-foot fallout zone - the radius where debris typically falls.

"Seeing all the footage with the drone, they absolutely kept back from the fallout zone," Buell said.

No doubt, the gizmo captured serious sparks, but it also encapsulates the ongoing debate of how the government will regulate these drones.

Guidelines for these "model aircraft" are set by the Federal Aviation Administration, which recently clarified special rules in the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012.

According to the FAA, the aircraft must be flown for recreational use in the operator's line of sight. The device must also weigh less than 55 pounds unless "certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization." Operators must contact control towers if they plan on flying the aircraft within five miles of an airport.

"We want people who fly model aircraft for recreation to enjoy their hobby – but to enjoy it safely," Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a press release.

Earlier this year, government officials banned drones from all National Parks, and the administration recently warned against flying drones near highly-populated areas in a careless manner.

Hartline hopes his video reveals these drones' potential - a force for good.

"I love seeing something beautiful, and our town is growing, and our fireworks show is what we're proud of," Hartline said.

But as the conversation about this technology evolves, so might the response.

"Next year, if we have a 1,000 people bring a 1,000 drones, then you're looking at possibly an issue," Buell said.

As of June 24, the FAA began a 30-day public comment period on the guidelines. Visit the Agency's Aviation Safety Hotline website or call 1-866-835-5322, Option 4.

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