FORT LEE, Va. (Aug. 25, 2016) -- With commercial sales hovering around the $2 billion mark annually, aerial drones are among the hottest commodities in the electronic gadget world these days.

Consumers are clearly enamored with airborne audiovisual capability and the market has responded with onboard multifunctional cameras that produce high-definition photos and video. Combined with speed, maneuverability and remote operation, it’s easy to understand why drones are the “cool toy for the creative-minded.” Unfortunately, they’re an equally attractive surveillance tool for those with evil intent.

“While most NTAT (Non-Traditional Aviation Technology) and UAS (Unmanned Aerial Systems) incidents are caused by operator unfamiliarity with relevant regulations, the increase in encounters involving critical infrastructure, military installations and/or sensitive locations … continues to present detection and disruption challenges for law enforcement,” read an information paper provided by the Fort Lee Protection Office, Directorate of Plans, Training, Mobilization and Security.

“In other words,” clarified a Protection Office spokesperson, “drone usage has become an anti-terrorism (and crime prevention) focus area because of the potential threat it poses. Awareness of safe and legal operation is key, as well as individuals helping law enforcement by immediately reporting suspicious or intrusive activity.”

A Fort Lee policy published in January defines the use and limitations of radio-controlled model aircraft and commercial drones over the installation and its assigned airspace. The document (Fort Lee Policy 01-16) is available online at www.lee.army.mil/about/policy.letters.aspx (click on Security tab). Some of the pertinent guidelines are as follows:

• UAS operators must be 13 years of age or older and a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident.

• Any UAS weighing more than .55 and less than 55 pounds (typically does not include “hobby” aircraft) must be registered with the FAA at https://

registermyuas.faa.gov. Failure to do so could result in civil penalties up to $27,500, a possible criminal fine of up to $250,000 and/or imprisonment for up to three years.

• While operating a UAS, an owner must be able to show the FAA registration certificate to law enforcement officials. The UAS also should be marked with its assigned registration number.

• Take lessons before flying a model aircraft. Learn safety procedures and things to avoid – individuals could be fined for reckless behavior if they endanger people, other aircraft or property.

• Stay below 400 feet and keep the radio-controlled aircraft in sight at all times,

“The best advice is to read the policy and know the guidelines,” said the Protection Office spokesperson. “Every member of the Fort Lee community is responsible for maintaining the highest possible safety standards, and knowledge of rules is part of it as well as immediately reporting any incidents of inappropriate NTAT/UAS/drone/model aircraft operations to the military police desk at (804) 734-7400.”

Additional force protection guidelines include the following:

• Report NTAT and UAS intrusions to the military police desk. If a stationary aircraft is encountered without its owner in sight, do not touch it. Provide details to law enforcement.

• In the interest of force protection and privacy, UAS operators will not post or publish aerial photography or video taken on Fort Lee to social media or open source venues without prior authorization.

• All requirements for obtaining aerial photography or video on post must be coordinated in advance with the Installation Antiterrorism/Force Protection Program manager at (804) 734-6410/1575.

Another good resource is the website knowbeforeyoufly.com. It includes fact sheets, videos, news articles and more.