MIDDLETOWN -Hovering like mechanical sparrows over a windswept Maryland field on a bright Saturday afternoon, small drones seem harmless - but they are at the center of an ardent dogfight over US regulations.

Every few weeks, members of the 800-strong DC Area Drone Users Group gather to fly their remote-controlled unmanned aerial vehicles and discuss the ways they could be put to good civilian use.

“The applications are endless,” said German expat Peter Schloemer, 57, after flying a Multirotor, a black octocopter that resembles an insect, around the hilltop with compatriot Uwe Doergeloh, 41.

“Anything you can use a helicopter for today, you can use a drone.”