Drones: Not just flights of fancy

Fred Ford’s newest surveying tool looked a bit like a miniature stealth bomber.

Standing on a soccer field in Silverdale on a recent morning, Ford held the slender, black drone by its wings and gave the machine three sharp jerks. The drone’s propeller whirred to life, emitting a high-pitched whine.

Ford took a step forward and shoved the aircraft away from his body. The drone knifed into the air, gaining altitude until it nearly disappeared against the blue sky. Then it went to work.

The drone, a Swiss-made eBee, is designed specifically for mapping. Sent aloft, the unmanned aerial vehicle will fly a pre-programmed course, capturing hundreds of overlapping digital images of the ground below. Special software stitches those images together to create an intricate 3D model of the terrain.

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