COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – A Columbus man is facing charges related to a drone spotted before the Ohio State-Wisconsin football game earlier in the 2022 season.
NBC4 obtained the affidavit record for the case, which detailed an officer’s account of the Sept. 24 incident. Detectives from the Columbus Division of Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit said they spotted a drone around 9 a.m. above the Ohio Stadium. The drone flew south and then landed in the Lincoln Tower Park practice fields nearby.
The Counter Terrorism Unit went to the fields and found the drone pilot, identified as 34-year-old James Fentress, according to the affidavit. Fentress told the detectives he did not have a TRUST certificate or a Part 107 license.
The TRUST certificate is required by law for recreational drone pilots to show proof that they have passed an aviation knowledge and safety test, and a Part 107 license is a requirement for pilots doing commercial work, according to the Federal Aviation Administration. Any certified drone pilot who wants to fly in controlled airspace — common in cities and near airports — has to request authorization prior.
In the affidavit record, the officer accused Fentress of operating an aircraft without a valid aviator’s license and violating air traffic rules. The officer stated that during football games with large crowds of people attending, a temporary flight restriction goes in place three miles around the stadium and 3,000 feet up. However, the FAA starts these no-fly zones one hour before a game and ends them one hour after, and the affidavit records Fentress as flying at the stadium over 10 hours prior to the 7:30 p.m. game. Checking public air maps also showed that the Ohio Stadium is actually in uncontrolled airspace, save for temporary flight restrictions for games.
The Franklin County Municipal Court did not charge Fentress with violating air traffic rules, but it did hand him two counts of operating an aircraft without a valid license. Fentress pleaded not guilty at his arraignment in November and is scheduled for pre-trial on December 29. According to section 4561.14 under the Ohio Laws & Administrative Rules, prohibited acts, Fentress could face up to 90 days in prison, fined up to $500 or be sentenced to both if convicted.
Other drone operators in Ohio have faced charges at the federal level, but those stem from flights in the middle of sporting events. One of them, 24-year-old Dailon Dabney, is facing up to four years in prison after a federal prosecutor accused him of flying into the Cincinnati Bengals’ stadium mid-game and posting a video of it to Youtube.