Tethered Drones

By: Cody Andrushko

Drones (also known as Unmanned Aircraft System (“UAS”)) are currently a subject of controversy within the United States and globally due to the potential safety, security, and privacy threats that people face when exposed to them. Currently, drones are operated both for recreational and commercial purposes.

Tethered drone, a hybrid field of drones, has recently seen new innovation and implementation. Companies, such as Fotokite, who recently was awarded one million dollars in the GENIUS NY business accelerator competition, has developed patented flight control processes that enable kite-like operation

Tethered drones, as opposed to free-flying drones, have potentially three significant advantages: (1) power, (2) security, and (3) control.

Having the device tethered has allowed companies to develop drones that can be continually powered for prolonged operation. As a result, tethered drone devices and services have seen recent marketing to municipal governments for implementation within police forces and fire departments. Tethered drones often offer better vantage points and larger perspectives than current tools used, which enables first responders to better assess quickly evolving and often-dangerous situations, where information saves lives. Drone cameras can be outfitted with an array of sensors, which can enable tethered drones to be tailored to particular market sectors, such as infrared cameras for fire departments.

Tethered drones have seen practical application by the secret service that is operating an undisclosed model of the tethered drone while protecting President Trump. Tethered drones will likely see larger implementation for security purposes in the future, as they are often: portable; designed for quick set-up; able to provide aerial imaging (for often larger and better perspectives); enabled to operate for a long period of time permission; and incorporated with video feed and control software that can be hard lined into the drone, which enables more secure operation.

Further, the tether enables operators to have more control over the device. While the drone still has a radius of movement, the tether enables more control when unforeseen weather or operation issues occur because it is still limited by how much tether has been provided.

However, although some people seek to avoid UAS regulations by tethering their drone and arguing that it is more akin to a balloon or kite, than a drone; the FAA does not agree. The FAA addressed this issue in a recent document [Docket No.: FAA-2015-0150], “…a small unmanned aircraft that uses powered systems for actions such as propulsion or steering is not a balloon or kite subject to part 101” and further states that “the definition of small UAS in this rule includes tethered powered small UAS.”



  1. Patrick C. Miller, Swiss company Fotokite wins $1 million business competition, UAS magazine (April 25, 2018), http://uasmagazine.com/articles/1848/swiss-company-fotokite-wins-1-million-business-competition-award.
  2. US Patent No: US 9446858 B2, https://patents.google.com/patent/US9446858B2/en?q=tethered&q=drone&status=GRANT.
  3. Trevor Mogg, Tethered drones to help Secret Service provide security for president, Digital Trends (Aug. 3, 2017), https://www.digitaltrends.com/cool-tech/secret-service-drones-president-security/.
  4. Billing Code 4910-13-P, Department of Transportation: Federal Aviation Administration, Operation and Certification of Small Unmanned Aircraft Systems, https://www.faa.gov/uas/media/RIN_2120-AJ60_Clean_Signed.pdf.