Hi there,

I have been doing some IRIS+ based measurements of atmospheric temperature profiles and

submitted a research proposal to the National Forest Service to fly above a site on NFS land.

Here is the response:


Unless you're able to point us toward FAA regs that indicate your proposed use would fall into the model aircraft (hobby/recreation) category, or produce a FAA certificate for Civil UAS use we won't be able to move forward with this aspect of your request.


I pointed out that this is not a commercial enterprise, we are not charging or making money, off of this and it is done during daylight,line of sight, and below 400" AGL

Anyone here that can help me ?

Thanks for reading this


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Hi Dan,

Unfortunately, I believe that the NFS has issued it's own prohibition for all civil drone use over NFS land.

Mostly resulting from a very few isolated but media hyped incidents.

Most notably crashing a Phantom into Yellowstone's number one Geothermal pool.

But also from complaints received from various park users relating to noise and the pollution of the pristine wilderness.

Probably in a few years they may provide very limited access on a case by case basis, but for the time being drones are out over NFS managed land.

On the other hand, from their response, you could certainly make a clear case that you are operating entirely within the FAA's current definition of model aircraft, spelling out each one of the FAA's regulations and how you are meeting them.

Unfortunately, I still think this is likely to be an exercise in futility as the NFS has already issued a blanket no drone policy.

If anybody else out there understands this differently than I do, please chime in here.

Best Regards,



Thank you for your words and thoughts.

I have a fundamental, maybe foolish stance on this.

It is not a hobby

Sure I could say I have a hobby of measuring the temperature structure function of the near boundary layer, yet it does not seem seem right. Our Institute, Caltech, requires us to absolutely comply with all laws and regs to a very high standard. I do not want to push a gray area.

That said, I have other methods to start with, and can fly on our site about a mile from the NFS land.

As time goes on, unless I can find a way around that is solid, I will need to go through the eye of the storm

after all it is only a hobby. {Humor)


Palomar Observatory

I'm very interested in your findings and any clarity that comes out of this discussion from those who are more informed.

Although I can't answer your question, I believe there are a few distinctions that need to be made...

  -  No-fly zone, except locations where allowed—an RC field in NY State for example

  -  http://www.fs.fed.us/locatormap/
  -  Need more clarity on this, as I'd love to capture scenic footage with the IRIS+ around the Tahoe National Forest where I live. They allow motorcycles and snowmobiles in many parts, but I have yet to find anything regarding model aircraft.

  -  http://www.wilderness.net/map
  -  Aircraft cannot take off or land, and I suppose that depends on the National Forest Service's definition of aircraft or motorized equipment vs FAA's definition of aircraft. Where do recreational model aircraft fall in? Likely prohibited, as they are designated pristine areas.

  -  261.18 The following are prohibited in a National Forest Wilderness:
  -  (a) Possessing or using a motor vehicle, motorboat or motorized equipment except as authorized by Federal Law or regulation.
  -  (b) Possessing or using a hang glider or bicycle.
  -  (c) Landing of aircraft, or dropping or picking up of any material, supplies, or person by means of aircraft, including a helicopter.

  -  Under 3 or 55 lbs, non-commercial use, < 400ft AGL, 5 miles from major airports, etc.


I just gotta ask.  I have heard of the National Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service but I have never heard of a National Forest Service.



different from the florist service 

looks like the various agencies of the USG have declared drone flight can be hobby or commercial but completely ignored scientific/research whether by public university or private citizen scientists.



ps who WILL be doing private botanical research involving certain plant diseases and their detection via NIR  via

you guessed it an IRIS+ drone..

To me, I understand that goverment regulation is always behind technology.  In the best case one needs to engage in a process that does not create antibodies..a biological analogy (don't piss off the gov). Technology will always outpace government at least in my lifetime, maybe for ever. The Citizen Scientist movement is new and individuals who have drones with NIR Cameras, and the ability to do analysis of the data, so exceeds what governments have known in the past requiring resources like; major research institutions or government agencies that it causes a pause in progress. I hate it when that happens. It then becomes necessary to find ways to partner to help show the way. For example if a flood happens and the drone community provides information to help the first responders then we have a story. That said, to use the technology with confidence we need to fly, fly ,fly and then fly some more. I am just trying to measure the temperature profile in a remote site with my "angry bee" and at all times, above board. My experience has been like that classic statement ..see if I got this right; "no one ever steps into the same stream twice"

meaning every time I spool up and climb, it is a different flight.

Yet I understand where you are coming from.

safe landings

Well, if the science is the priority then you should consider a balloon.  Obviously I'm not referring to party balloons if anyone is wondering ;-).  Since you are not looking to take measurements above 400 feet, a tethered balloon is doable.  Dealing with wind will be an issue, but balloons are less likely to be frowned upon. 

Setting that aside, it sounds like you have run up against a bureaucrat over zealously applying a policy (not a law).  Your only real option is to go above his head.  Caltech has a world wide reputation.  If a researcher from Caltech has a legitimate reason to take scientific measurements with a drone, it should be given all due consideration.  Again, we are talking about the NFS making an exception to a policy, not a federal or state law.

Clearly the policy was put in place to stop civilian idiots from flying their drones around in annoying and dangerous ways, not to prevent legitimate scientific research.  You are not a civilian.  You are a researcher with a prestigious institution. You may want to speak to someone from the administration at Caltech to explain your situation.  They may have more luck reaching out to someone senior at the NFS who can see the "forrest from the trees" and cut through the red tape to allow you to conduct your research.

Thanks Erik,

Yes I have used kites and balloons in the past.

My application requires sampling different areas relative to wind direction and runs along a mountain ridge.

Kind of difficult with a tethered system, with enough directional thrust one could do some maneuvering.

Makes me wonder if one could get by with a tethered drone / Drone assisted balloon ?

Still, a drone is a drone, yet at parks; all dogs on a leash...

The wind is accelerated on a ridge making exact placement difficult not to mention the wind shear. I try for 3 meter or better spatial resolution.

The above link is to the US Forest Service which is exactly my point.   There is no such agency as "National Forest Service" and anyone submitting a proposal to said non-existent agency is not going to get any responce and in point of fact such a proposal will be tossed in the trash.  For the record there are four federal agencies in charge of US public land, 1. US Forest Service, 2. National Park Service, 3. US Fish and Wildlife Service, 4. Bureau of Land Managment .  If you're not even smart enough get the name of the agency correct then you have zero chance of getting any approval of any kind.


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