APEX – CNN will fly a tethered drone integrated by a Triangle company from its roof to provide pregame and postgame news footage during the Super Bowl in Atlanta this weekend.

Triangle-based Vector Aerial, a provider of FAA-certified, licensed and insured unmanned aerial systems and services, is arming CNN with a top-of-the-line drone and tether  to cover crowd activity before and after the game. The tether, about the size of a computer cable, allows the drone to fly for two to four hours without recharging at 150 feet over the rooftop.

Founded in 2014, bootstrapped Vector Aerial, based in Apex, has been “primarily a defense contractor,” but is expanding its commercial use activities and on emerging technologies, said co-founder and company President Luke Layman in an interview with WRAL TechWire.

Layman, a North Carolina native, was a fighter pilot with the U.S. Air Force from 2002 until 2014, an experience he said taught him to think in three dimensions and tactically, skills necessary for flying.

Luke Layman

The drone field is highly regulated and CNN had to apply to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) for permission to fly the drone during the Super Bowl.

The FAA only began allowing commercial drone flights over people in the last year, Layman said. It has also allowed uses for protecting critical infrastructure and more regulations “will define what we can and can’t do with unmanned systems,” said Layman.

For instance, while “We have technology to detect drones, we can’t do anything to mitigate potential bad actors,” Layman explained. “The FAA won’t allow you to disrupt unmanned systems or their communications.”

Among other uses, Vector Aerial drones have been used by first responders, the North Carolina highway patrol, and for swift water and search and rescue operations during Hurricanes in Eastern NC and on the Florida Gulf Coast. The drones can get into flood zones and spot the best places to launch boats or find people isolated on rooftops.

Drone in action. (Vector Aerial photo)

For about two years it has also provided what Layman called “counter drones” that, among other uses, can let prison officials know they may have been used to deliver contraband (their use near prisons has been outlawed in NC). “It provides early warning that a nefarious drone is present.”

The company has seven employees in Apex and its Florida site and about 22 throughout the United States.

North Carolina has a “deep heritage in flight,” Layman noted, something acknowledged on its license plate “First in Flight” motto. He noted their are aviation manufacturing and service companies in the state and it is “quickly emerging as a leader on best practices on how to use drones.”

The NC Department of Transportation’s division of aviation is a leader in the field, he said. It was one of ten partners selected to participate in the Federal drone integration pilot program (IPP).

The plan for the IPP is for state and local governments to field drone applications which might currently be out of the bounds of regular flight. Those applications include delivery of medical support by delivering medical devices, blood, or other items safely.

This idea was tested in Raleigh late last year with a test delivery to a hospital.

“We’re excited about the landscape for using unmanned systems in NC,” Layman said. “We’re emerging from a defense specialty to commercial opportunities.” Those include uses such as monitoring commercial oil and gas infrastructure and inspections of cell phone towers.

Government may gain new power to track, shoot down drones

NC State research: drones effective at monitoring marine species

Duke researchers use drones to measure impact of hurricanes on NC beaches