Thank you for taking the time to write that, it's very informative. I think we're talking apples & oranges here, but it's still great info. You bring up some excellent points, especially with regard to safety.
I can understand why you would need millions of dollars worth of insurance to operate a full-scale heli over a populated area. Makes perfect sense considering the potential for damage or even loss of life should something go wrong. Likewise, I can see why the FAA would need to know when you have a large balloon with 100 lbs. of camera gear tethered to 1500 feet of cable. You've clearly entered controlled airspace, and that much weight falling from the sky could do considerable damage.
The difference here is that my heli is under 3 lbs including camera, and can only go maybe 30 mph. The damage potential isn't much more than perhaps a broken window. I'd be flying well below controlled airspace, so the odds of encountering other air traffic are very low.
The best info I've found so far comes directly from the FAA: http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/uas_faq/
If I'm reading it right, they're not concerned with recreational use of unmanned systems, which is what I've been doing. But for commercial use they would require an Experimental Aircraft Certificate AND the operator has to be a licensed pilot.
Seriously??? Although not current, I'm a private pilot so that part doesn't bug me too much. But an experimental airworthiness certificate for my battery powered toy helicopter? The same as for a Lancair or Kitfox or any other homebuilt airplane meant to carry real live people on board? Just so I can ask $50 for taking photos of someone's house? Seems like waaaay overkill. There must be some kind of in-between.
I know there are people out there doing it, I just don't know how they're doing it LEGALLY. Maybe they're not.