Alan Placer of Hobbymasters gives a quick demo of drone flying. Below, a matchbox-sized drone without a camera. (Photo and video by John T. Ward. Click photo to enlarge)


rb drone 070814 2By now, perhaps, you’ve seen the spectacular video shot from within the East River Fourth of July fireworks by a small, remote-controlled helicopter. Or the lovely one of the boardwalk in Ocean Grove and Asbury Park, as seen from a gentle distance above.

Less likely, you’ve seen aerial footage of roof inspections. But Red Bank’s Hobbymasters store is having trouble keeping up with demand for drones from real estate agents and roofers, as well as artists and his customary clientele of hobbyists, he tells redbankgreen.

“They’re outselling remote-controlled planes and cars combined,” he said.

rb drone 070814 1 A small, camera-equipped drone goes for as little as $150. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)

There are “lots of practical uses” for drones, Placer said. Ranchers are using them to track and herd cattle, and repair contractors can access utilities and structures that are hard to see from the ground.

Though he’s been selling the drones for months, Placer piloted his first drone flight just recently, lofting one from the White Street parking lot opposite his store to get a video view of the solar panels on the roof.

Placer said he would “never” have sent up a remote-controlled plane up from the lot, but the quadcopter has such high-quality gyros built in that it’s “incredibly stable,” even in high wind.

One model Hobbymasters carries weighs less than two pounds equipped with a Go Pro video camera and gimbal for full rotation, and sells for $910. Video goggles enable a user to see what the camera sees, live, a perk over models that can easily shrink to a dot in the sky as they ascend.

Placer’s cheapest camera-equipped model, with a data card the user must use to download photos and video, sells for $150. Also a hot seller: a camera-free drone that fits in the palm of your hand, priced at $43.

Customers are using those to “just to fly around the office,” he said.

Placer believes looming regulation is also driving purchases. The Federal Aviation Administration is developing regulations while at the same time trying to enforce disputed authority to regulate drones, and Congress may weigh in next year, if not sooner. Placer believes that whatever rules emerge likely won’t apply to owners of drones purchased in the interim.