Hello! My name is Trevor Mahlmann. I am a registered and Part 107 certified remote (drone) pilot and with permission, frequently operate my quadcopter within the 5 nautical mile airspace surrounding the Purdue University airport.

I’ve seen an influx of aerial photography recently and gotten a lot of questions about how to obtain permission/fly legally on campus.

There are a couple things you must familiarize yourself with and do ahead of time to ensure your flight is a safe and legal operation – not only for your safety, but also the safety of those around you.

You might think:

  • “Ah, I am just going to get a picture real fast.”
  • “How will anyone notice? My drone is so small/fast”
  • “No one will have any idea I did it.”
  • “It take too much time to get permission and register and..”

No.

The airport at Purdue is very active and at peak times, planes depart the field once every couple of minutes.

The airport needs to know about your operation.

It helps keep the pilots in those planes safer, too. (a good percentage of which are Purdue students and teachers)

If you learn only one thing from reading this article:

Flying quadcopters and camera drones at Purdue is an enjoyable activity and one that is a privilegenot a right.

In many places (for example: National Parks) drones have been banned due to careless operations by other pilots – major bummer. I wrote this article to help prevent the same thing from happening at Purdue.

With that said, there are a couple boxes you must tick before flying a camera drone, quadcopter, or other small unmanned aircraft on the Purdue campus.

  • Is your drone registered and labeled with your registration #?

    • Your drone/quadcopter must be registered with the FAA (https://registermyuas.faa.gov/) if it weighs between 0.55 and 55 pounds. (all major camera drones, DJI/GoPro/3DR solo/etc fall within this category)
  • Are you flying commercially, or just for fun?

    • If you intend to sell or profit off the material (videos, pictures, or other data) you collect while flying, you must be certified/have a Part 107 certificate and follow more strict rules than hobbyist pilots. (who fly for fun/just because)
  • Where are you going to fly?

    • For example: Engineering Fountain, Bell Tower, Cary Quad – there are many interesting subjects to capture on campus.
  • How long will you be flying for?

    • 20 minutes,  an hour, two hours? Asking yourself how many batteries you have will give you your max flight time. (3 batteries at 15-20 minutes per — 1 hour)
  • What does the weather look like for the time of your planned flight?

    • It’s 9am on a nice day. Want to fly from 3-4pm? Check weather forecasts once or twice before your flight. Probably not the best idea to go flying if a storm is actively approaching.
  • Are you proficient in the operation of your aircraft?

    • Did you just get your drone? Or have you had it for a long time and you fly regularly. If you are a new pilot, it is best to practice your skills in a large open area (e.g. the Intramural Fields, when not in use for practices or other sporting events) before operating on the main campus.
    • Have you had your drone for a long time, but haven’t flown in more than a month? Best to do a couple practice flights.

Other general guidelines the FAA notes you must always follow, regardless of whether or not you’re near an airport.

  • Never fly higher than 400 feet.
  • Never, for any reason, lose sight of your aircraft. Use an observer to assist if needed.
  • Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations, and you must see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles at all times.
  • Do not fly in a reckless, erratic, or high-speed manner, should you lose control of your aircraft.
  • Do not intentionally or willfully fly directly above unprotected persons or moving vehicles, and remain clear of individuals and vulnerable property.
  • Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Ensure the operating environment is safe and that the operator is competent and proficient in the operation of the sUAS. (drone)
  • Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
  • If you think someone has a reasonable expectation of privacy, don’t violate that privacy by taking pictures, video, or otherwise gathering sensitive data, unless you’ve got a very good reason.
    • (for example: flying low or close to people enjoying their day around the Engineering Fountain – drones are noisy and can be annoying. Do what you came to do. Get a picture or two. Fly for a bit and be done.)

The Purdue University Airport is so close to campus, one final precaution must be noted before flying.

Think of it like an upside down wedding cake. The highest you can safely fly near the:

  • VOSS Solar system sculpture: 20-30 feet.
  • Purdue Memorial Union/Memorial Mall: 50-75 feet
  • Bell Tower: 150-200ft (the BT is 160′ tall. Use that and your controller to judge how high you are/how high you can go when flying)
  • Engineering Fountain: 200-300ft
  • Mackey Arena/Cary Quad and further: 400ft

As you go farther from the airport, you’re able to fly closer to that 400ft maximum.

If you flew at 400 ft at the VOSS sculpture or in Purdue Village, you would be flying above the path planes use to land. Big no-no.

Calling the Purdue Airport to request permission:

Once you’ve familiarized yourself with the above rules and feel comfortable as a pilot, you call the Purdue University Airport Control Tower to request permission.

When they pick up, you simply say: “Hello, my name is _____. I am looking for permission to fly my quadcopter / drone at or below _____ feet at the ______ (location) for _____ time. (minutes/hours)

e.g. “Hi, my name is Trevor Mahlmann. I am looking for permission to fly my quadcopter/drone at or below 250 feet near the Engineering Fountain for 1 hour.”

They will respond with a confirmation/denial of your request, and sometimes when the airport is very active they request that when you finish your operation, you call and let them know so they can relay that to pilots in the area.

The phone number for the Purdue Airport Control Tower is: (765) 743-2611

You can use the above information to help draft your flight plan and what you will say to the personnel when they answer. Have a great flight!

If you have any questions at all, please don’t hesitate to ask!

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I, a Part 107 licensed remote pilot, captured all photos in this article with a registered DJI Phantom 4 or Mavic Pro quadcopter and the required permission from the Purdue University Airport Control Tower, following all rules and regulations.

I am a full-time professional photographer. If you would like to help make more photos like this possible, join my community and support me here on Patreon!