Wisconsin is one of the emerging aerial technology hotspots and has been the stage for many drone laws and regulations. Drone Laws in Wisconsin restricts when, where and what altitude an unmanned flying vehicle can be flown.
The Wisconsin Administrative Code, specifically Section 323.26 defines when and where aerial surveillance is permitted which includes: Operators must notify a property owner before flying a UAV over their property. UAVs may be flown in daytime hours—from half an hour before sunrise to half an hour after sunset.
UAVs cannot be flown within five miles of any airport or landing strip without permission. UAVs can be flown within five miles of a military facility with prior permission.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) maintains the primary responsibility for enforcing Federal aviation rules and regulations. Sheriffs also play an important role in identifying potential violators and enforcing Wisconsin's Drone laws.
Wisconsin §941.292(1) defines a Drone as “an aircraft operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft”. Chapter 114 of the Wisconsin State Statutes applies to aircraft including drones.
All Wisconsin statutes are available at http://docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/statutes/prefaces/toc. The following is an abbreviated overview of Wisconsin law pertaining to the use of drones:
- It is unlawful to fly drones near wild animals, impede, obstruct, or harass a person lawfully engaged in hunting, fishing, or trapping, and/or disturb a lawfully placed hunting blind or stand (WI §29.083).
- Law enforcement cannot use drones without a warrant for investigative purposes in a location where the general public lacks access (WI §175.55).
- Drones may be flown over lands and waters of this state, provided they are not flown over lands and waters and at such low altitudes as to intentionally interfere with any existing use to which the land and water, or space over the land or water is already in use (WI §114.04).
- Operating a drone over a correctional facility or its grounds is unlawful (WI §114.045).
- Owners of drones are forbidden to operate their drones recklessly. Operating a drone recklessly is prohibited. If a person is operating a drone while under the influence of drugs, an intoxicant, or with a prohibited alcohol concentration above 0.04, they will be in violation of the law (WI §114.09).
- Drones are not meant to be weaponized and against the law (WI §941.292).
- Using a Drone to photograph, record, or observe an individual at a place or location where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy without their written consent is unlawful (WI §942.10).
The definition of an airplane is any device invented, used or designed to hover or fly in the sky. An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle System (UAS), or drone, as defined by the FAA, is an aircraft operated from or within the aircraft without the possibility of direct human intervention. Recently, the FAA has issued new rules for small UASs used in professional applications.
The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 defines “model airplanes” as small unmanned aerial vehicles used for recreational or hobby purposes only.
The FAA's website lists all rules and regulations regarding the use of small UAVs in a complete list at http://www.faa.gov/uas/.
- Any unmanned aircraft system must weigh less than 55 lbs (including payload and fuel).
- Unmanned aircraft systems must be registered with the FAA if they weigh over 0.55 lbs and must display proper FAA registration markings.
- Operators must maintain a visual line of sight with the UAS while in flight, assisted only by corrective lenses.
- The operator of an unmanned aerial system must give way to all manned aircraft.
- You must operate your UAS in accordance with a community-based set of safety guidelines, as provided by http://suas.modelaircraft.org/ama/images/sUAS-Safety-Program-web.pdf.
- Operation of UAS within the radius of 5 miles of an airport requires notification of the airport operators and the control tower.
- You must comply with any flight restrictions issued by the FAA for the United States (current flight restriction lists are available at http://tfr.faa.gov).
- Operators of UAS’s are subject to FAA enforcement for careless and/or reckless operation.
In addition to the statutes/regulations listed, 18 USC Part I, Chapter II, §32(a)(1) makes it a federal crime to willfully destroy, damage, or wreck any aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States.
WI §943. 01 criminalizes willful damage to another's property. Likewise, the inappropriate, abusive, negligent, or reckless use of a drone may also be illegal under current Wisconsin peace and order statutes.
If you suspect a drone operator of breaking a law, please contact the Sheriff's Office or the local police department.
Is Madison, Wisconsin a drone-friendly city?
I scoured the entire Madison area to find places that do not prohibit drone pilots from flying. From this research, I learned that the Dane County Park System does not allow flying of any kind unless you are in a specific location within Badger Prairie County Park Aeromodelling Field in Verona, Wisconsin.
Standing within a park and operating a remote controlled aircraft, including drones, is not allowed except at the Badger Prairie County Park aeromodeling field by permit only. We do not regulate air space or flying over park land. Friends groups may work with the Parks Director to get a special permit to use drones for events or park promotion.
To summarize: Drone flying in our parks is not allowed. You can get a permit at Badger Prairie Park to fly drones. The parks department does not regulate air space or drone flying. Friends groups can get a permit to fly drones for events.
There is also a mandatory $30 permit granting you access to this aero field.
This is the only site I have been able to find that explicitly allows the use of drones for recreational or hobby purposes in the Greater Madison Area, besides flying from a property owner that grants you access while following the other drone rules.
I added a full-list of the Parks included in the Park System at the bottom of the page.
Want to find somewhere safe to fly your drone? You can scout out safe and legal places to fly on your own using our guide to Where to Fly a Drone In Wisconsin.
Want to get a feel for what footage you could get flying a drone in Wisconsin? Here are some ethereal views over the beautiful Wisconsin River:
Dane County Park System: Park List
Anderson Farm County Park – Recreation Park – Oregon, Wisconsin
Babcock County Park – Recreation Park – McFarland, Wisconsin
Badger Prairie County Park – Recreation Park – Verona, Wisconsin (Allowed in Aeromodelling Field with $30 Permit)
Black Earth Creek Headwaters Natural Resource Area – Black Earth, Wisconsin
Black Earth Creek Wildlife Area Sunnyside Unit – Wildlife Area – Black Earth, Wisconsin
Blooming Grove Drumlins Natural Resource Area – Madison, Wisconsin
Blue Mounds Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area – Blue Mounds, Wisconsin
Brigham County Park – Recreation Park – Blue Mounds, Wisconsin
CamRock County Park – Recreation Park Cross-country Ski – Cambridge, Wisconsin
Capital City State Trail – Madison/Fitchburg, Wisconsin
Capital Springs Recreation Area Natural Resource Area – Madison, Wisconsin
Cherokee Marsh Natural Resource Area – Waunakee, Wisconsin
Cherokee Marsh Wildlife Area – Westport, Wisconsin
Crystal Lake Wildlife Area – Lodi, Wisconsin
Donald County Park – Recreation Park – Mount Horeb, Wisconsin
Door Creek Wildlife Area Wildlife Area – North Unit – South Unit
Dorn Creek Fishery and Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
Falk Wells Sugar River Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
Festge County Park – Recreation Park
Fish Camp County Park – Recreation Park
Fish Lake County Park – Recreation Park
Goodland County Park – Recreation Park
Halfway Prairie School Historical/Cultural Site
Halfway Prairie Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
Ice Age National Scenic Trail Trail Ice Age National Scenic- Springfield Hill Natural Resource Area Ice Age National Scenic – Table Bluff Segment
Ice Age Reserve Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
Ice Age Trail Junction Area Natural Resource Area
Indian Lake County Park / Indian Lake Park – Cross Plains, Wisconsin
Jenni & Kyle Preserve – Recreation Park
Joyce M. Baer & George J. Socha Conservancy Natural Resource Area
LaFollette County Park – Recreation Park
Lake View Hill Park Historical/Cultural Site
Lewis Nine Springs E-Way Natural Resource Area Seminole Mt. Bike Trails
Lower Mud Lake Natural Resource Area Natural Resource Area
Lower Yahara River Trail Trail
Lussier County Park – Recreation Park
Lussier Family Heritage Center Indoor Facility
McCarthy Youth & Conservation County Park – Recreation Park Cross-country Ski
Mendota County Park – Recreation Park
Morton Forest Forest
Mount Vernon Creek Fishery and – Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
Mud Lake Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
North Mendota Natural Resource Area Natural Resource Area – Wildlife Area
North Mendota Wildlife Area Hyer Rd Unit – Wildlife Area
North Mendota Wildlife Area Prairie Unit – Wildlife Area
Pheasant Branch Conservancy Natural Resource Area
Phil's Woods Natural Resource Area Natural Resource Area
Prairie Moraine County Park – Recreation Park
Riley-Deppe County Park – Recreation Park
Salmo Pond County Park – Recreation Park
Scheidegger Forest Forest
Schumacher Farm Park Historical/Cultural Site Farmstead Map Overview Map
Silverwood County Park – Recreation Park
Springfield Hill Natural Resource Area Natural Resource Area
Stewart Lake County Park – Recreation Park
Sugar River Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
Sugar River Wildlife Area Basco Unit – Wildlife Area
Sugar River Wildlife Area Davidson Unit – Wildlife Area
Tenney Park Lock and Dam Historical/Cultural Site
Token Creek County Park – Recreation Park Cross-country Ski
Token Creek Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
Vienna Pothole Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
Viking County Park – Recreation Park
Walking Iron County Park – Recreation Park
Walking Iron Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
Waubesa Wetlands Wildlife Area – Wildlife Area
William G. Lunney Lake Farm County Park – Recreation Park Cross-country Ski
Yahara Heights County Park – Recreation Park