Earlier this week, MPR and other outlets noted that the Otter Tail County Geographic Information Systems Department's request for a drone had been denied by the Federal Aviation Administration. Today's Fergus Falls Daily Journal reports in Spy plane? Think again that the county was so not watching people:
The calls started coming last week, when electronic rights advocacy group Electronic Frontier Foundation publicized a list of entities who have applied to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the United States. Otter Tail County was on the list, but its request was denied.
The news was picked up by several websites, with a few highlighting Otter Tail County because of its rural nature. “What Are They Going to Do With a Drone in Otter Tail County?” asked one headline in information technology reporter Nextgov.
Armstrong provided a straightforward answer.
“What we were using it for was aerial photography and to gather data,” he explained.
The department started using the remote control plane in the fall of 2006. A simple model available in retail, the plane had a GPS device and a camera attached, and it was set up to fly over a certain area of land and take pictures at preset intervals.
The pictures were marked with GPS signatures and then put together to create a mosaic of the land. The information gleaned from the mosaic was used for typical GIS procedures, like mapping an area or scouting out a potential ditch route to look for obstructions. The plane was also used in a search and rescue operation with the county sheriff’s office and its posse.
There you have. Bluestem's editor had speculated with friends that the device might be deployed in the drug war, but instead, it looks to have been part of the arsenal against wetland.
The drone, a "six-pound RC airplane made of balsa and tissue paper," is so not a Global Hawk:
“We were flying the aircraft the same way you and your son would grab an airplane from Hobby Lobby and fly it in the park,” he said.’
Photo: Otter Tail County's airforce exposed. Photo via Fergus Falls Daily Journal.