I'm a cop and need help making a drone, as well as some info

Hello all,

I am a Deputy Sheriff in TN and I want to make a drone I can use on duty, to search for people who run. I would like to use a small FLIR cam on it. Any advice?


I also hear alot about FAA this and FAA that, my question is why and how can FAA say anything at all?

When I was a kid I use to fly R/C model aircraft and FAA did say anything. Never heard anything, what's the diffrence??


                                  Thank You,

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Thank you all so much for the help and info. One of the main reasons I would like to do this is mostly for officer safety. I.E. lets say your in the woods looking for more then one suspect, if you had a drone wih FLIR you could see them before you put an officer in danger. You could see if they were setting up an ambush. Lots of officers have been killed in that kind of situation. Look at ODMP.ORG its updated every day.

I have recently had a number of conversations with the FAA regarding commercial use of a UAS in the United States air space, and whether they truly have the legal authority to stop people from doing it (this is still being debated and sorted out in court), they can certainly make your life difficult. If you are strictly a hobbyist, read as not taking any money to fly, and as long as you follow the hobby rules of distance from airports and ceiling height you will be fine. Go ahead, put a camera, FLIR, or anything else on your UAS but only as a hobbyist. I have been flying various 'toys' for years but where I began to get questioned was when I was flying during work hours. I didn't directly take money to fly but the FAA doesn't see it that way. I was on the clock for my normal work day and happened to be flying. That said, if you intend to use your UAS while on duty, they will consider this a commercial or state sponsored venture. You are in a good spot however, because you can apply for a certificate of authorization and likely be eligible as long as there are no state or local laws that counter it. Per the FAA:

Certificate of Authorization (COA). This authorization is an approved exemption that allows recognized public entities, i.e. federal, state, and municipal government related agencies and organizations, to self certify their aircraft and conduct operations in accordance with the certificate after approval. The FAA reviews the operation to ensure it is in the public interest, safe, is operated by only the proponent, and does not significantly impact the safety of other air traffic or persons on the ground. To issue a COA normally takes about 60 business days once the proponent completes application and verifies its status as a public entity.

If you really want to fly a UAS on duty my suggestion is go to obtain departmental sponsorship and complete the required applications from the FAA. Keep in mind, and I believe it has been mentioned in this thread before, you will need to be using a commercially available UAS and not one that you might build at home.

Hope that my experience helps a little bit!

Policeman wanting to break the law to catch law breakers.

Move along, nothing new here.


Will, you may find help at rcgroups since this group sure sound like a bunch of diverter's making noise. They build at rcgroups also. Maybe real help.

He's not making money, so why would it be illegal? It can be flown "as a model" (not that the FAA saying you can't make money is going to hold any water anyways).


Hi Will,

You basically confront two situations in the US, one really easy the other at this time virtually impossible.

The FAA has drawn a line (somewhat legally questionable, but taking on the FAA is not for the faint hearted or the 99% in general).

That line is commercial use at the moment, unfortunately Police departments although civil are also still considered commercial.

It is very reasonable for you to get and fly around within Line of sight for your own use and amusement a multicopter and the afore mentioned 3DR Iris would be an excellent choice as it is quite capable, reasonably priced and rugged.

However, the minute you start actually using it for work you come under the egis of commercial and that is where the FAA gets it's hackles up.

Over the next year or two (or three or four the way it has been going) the FAA is supposed to get it together to actually have a plan authorizing (certificated or licensed) UAV flights inside the united states.

So far there is really no information from them at all on what this is going to look like and it could range anywhere from perfectly reasonable to completely absurd and if you were a betting man in this group I am afraid the absurd is taken as being more likely than the reasonable at this point.

I have no doubt that sometime in the next 5 or 10 or 20 years it will work out in some sort of understandable way.

But right now basically you simply can't legally (in the FAAs view anyway) use it for work with your police department.

And there is a very good possibility that by the time they do figure out what they are going to allow it will be both really expensive and really restrictive.

It is really, really stupid that the US who is the total leader in this area should be so utterly backward and reticent about implementing appropriately here, but that, currently is the way that it is.

Regarding what Sean says above, as a civil entity you can possibly obtain a COA from the FAA, but as he also says it would only be for a already recognized commercial UAS and that is very likely out of the reach of your Police Departments budget.

Basically the best you can probably do in that regard is wait and hope things get better.

Best Regards,


Just to underline the grey area you would be working in back in 2010 Merseyside Police in the UK made an arrest on a foggy night using the FLIR camera of there multi. Unfortunately for them the rules for UK operation had changed and they had not reapplied so the first ever UA conviction was thrown out and Merseyside Police had an interview with the CAA on the 13th floor with no biscuits.


The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which regulates UK airspace, confirmed it was investigating Merseyside police over the apparently unauthorised use of its drone to pursue the 16-year-old after he fled from a suspected stolen car in Bootle. It is one of three UK forces using the drones.


To add insult to injury they then lost the thing in the River




To the best of my knowledge after trialing sUAS in 2008-2010 no European Police force still uses them. Perhaps the trials were too early and it should be revisited. Several fire services use UA in Europe.


I just had a look back through my Police tagged stories and see what's there from way back when in 2006


Los Angeles Sheriff’s UAV Runs headfirst into the FAA


 In no way can the USA consider itself world leaders in unmanned aviation, Israel sells more systems than the US now and several countries will have had commercial regulation for more than 10 years before you guys start. The FAA asks for data but will not accept any offered, the FAA test sites do not know the standard they will be testing to yet even though they have been announced with great fanfare. 

Just watch all the faces will change at the UAPO at election time again and everything will be reset once more. I have been watching this happen since 2007 when they said simple rules before six months is out.


The reality is that there are tens of thousands of "drones" or UAS operating inside the United States.  When I began this venture in 2006 there had already been people in Hollywood and even this guy in Illinois that sells systems working with Police Departments, Film Studios, etc.  You can do a search on anything UAV and you are bound to find a company that is centered around working with their local law enforcement agency.  

In 2008, I spoke at the Southern Methodist University Air Law Symposium.  At the time I was using my "drones" for aircraft accident investigations.  There were many reps from the FAA and not one gave me an issue with what we were doing or what we planned to do.  They were actually as excited as all the other "kids" in the room that we could take a toy helicopter or plane and do such amazing work.  

I have worked with DOE facilities to secure their radar signature of small craft.  I have the local air traffic tower on speed dial if I am going to fly within a few miles.  I even have flown over the airport at the request of the airport and the local media after a particularly bad wind storm.  If you would like help and can not find anyone more local.  I am down the road on I-40 in TX.  I feel that it is about forming relationships with the relevant people and they will stay off your back.  The FAA as an organization is shooting itself in the foot by waiting so long to form regulations and have congress pass laws.  As stated, there are tens of thousands of UAS already operating in the US, many by local and county law law enforcement.  Do what you have the local support to do.  

As far as costs, it is not as simple as spending a few bucks on parts and your are in the air with a fully functional drone.  Like anything it takes a lot of mistakes to get it right.  Granted, there are lower barriers with better training tools such as flight simulators and out of the box stabilized aircraft.  However, wisdom comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement.  Even with the best of plans unexpected things happen.  Any modeler worth their salt has crashed a lot of aircraft at their local flying field.  I have had electronics fail, motors quit, connections come loose, software bugs, user error, factory error, etc, etc.  We are all just really "test" pilots.  So do what is comfortable to you.  This is neighbor advice not legal advice to be sure.

Good Luck and Happy Flying,


Hello Will,

Contact the Mesa County Sheriff's Office (MCSO) Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Program, they received an FAA Certificate of Authorization (COA) for flight operations covering all 3300 square miles of the MCSO jurisdiction. Also, read this and view this. Hope this helps.


Hi will,

First let me thank you for what you do, not an easy job you have. Before I joined the air force, I was cadet with the CAP program based out of a police headquarters building in Texas. we were looking at making drones for pretty much the same reason, trying to find someone in a forest. At the time of this project the FAA was way more hostile towards any drone use in america and so we shut it down. as many have already stated, police have been using drones but they are running into legal issues via the FAA. Now disclaimer Im not a legal guy, but you might consider getting a pilots license, (and doh I forget the name of this next part) but you can follow on with some specialty training that will allow you to fly drones legally as a certified pilot. I know this kind of takes away from the whole hobby thing at work, but it could be used as it. as to your vehicle of choice, I actually recommend a fixed with, twin electric  plane that can be made out of dollar tree foam board. Your frame is a whole lot more stable, if something goes wrong damage is minimized to other property and the equipment you use, easier to learn to fly, much more forgiving, and it will offer you more up time. you can equip it with flir, but I dont have enough experience to offer the camera needed, I encourage compliance with FAA navigation lights, simple single led lights to help you. I hope this helps, good luck, and be safe!

Also you can check the airborne law enforcement association http://www.alea.org I literally just found them in vertical magazine which covers helis. they should be able to help you out.

Police can not fly drones without permission.

You are violating privacy of people.

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