A drone comes in for a closer look at the U-11 Peters & May crew at work on Sunday. (Staff photo by David Campbell)
A drone comes in for a closer look at the U-11 Peters & May crew at work on Sunday. (Staff photo by David Campbell)

Fans sitting along the riverbanks watching the hydroplanes fly by on the waters of the Ohio River might have noticed two objects flying through the air during the races.

Two unmanned aircraft systems – often referred to as “drones” – hovered high above the race course this year providing fans with another vantage point of their favorite drivers and boats.

Dan Foard and his team hopes the 2015 Madison Regatta is just the first of many races to come where the “drones” are used to provide another option to fans and racing officials.

Foard, an Emmy Award-winning videographer, worked as a helicopter camera operator with broadcast television stations for years when he began branching out with other options for videography.

He began using GoPro cameras with hydroplanes to enhance the fan experience before moving on to other aerial options.

Foard and his son, Cameron, began working with Larry Oberto and Oberto Racing last year on a documentary about the team.

This year, the Foards helped to provide hydroplane fans with a birds-eye view from over the Ohio River that can’t be seen by sitting on the shores of the river. The footage was uploaded to H1 social media and to the Oberto Racing YouTube Channel.

Foard said the goal was to improve technology behind the sport.

“This sport needed this technology,” he said.

The crew used two DJI Inspire I systems, which the Federal Aviation Administration recognizes as an aircraft.

Jim Martin, an aviation safety inspector with the FAA, said a team from the federal agency was on scene for the Brett Hunter Airshows throughout the Madison Regatta weekend. Although he wasn’t in charge of watching the unmanned aircraft system, he did observe the setup since he was in the area.

The crew flying the unmanned aircraft had to have a certificate of authorization from the federal government and an exemption to fly the aircraft for commercial purposes, Martin said.

They had both the certificate and the exemption, Aaron Wood – a spotter with the team – said, but the authorization to fly the unmanned systems proved to be the most difficult part of the weekend.

The clearance through the FAA allowed the drones to fly up to 200 feet in the air. The team also had authorization to fly within a one nautical mile zone of the event.

Foard said he received clearance for the project after partnering with two independent aviation consultants, Kris Pederson and Dave Arnold. H1 Unlimited webmaster Walt Ottenad also helped to bring the team’s work to the fans though various outlets.

“We knew this would change the sport forever,” Foard said.

H1 Unlimited Chairman Steve David agreed and allowed the team the opportunity for a trial at Madison.

Foard doesn’t expect this to be the crew’s last opportunity to showcase a different view of the races.

“We feel as if this was a successful test,” Foard said. “I’m actually really pleased.”

Although plans haven’t been finalized and he still needs to do a full evaluation on the event, Foard hopes to be at the races in the Tri-Cities and San Diego later this year.