Know before you fly your drone
A Quick Guide to Everything You Should Know Before Your First UAV Flight
I have to admit, patience has never been my strongest virtue, especially when it comes to trying out new tech. That’s why it was no surprise at all when I saw reports of people taking their drones out for a maiden voyage on Christmas morning — before following the proper protocol and getting them registered. It’s hard not to bust out your latest gadget and see what it can do, but UAVs aren’t as innocuous as an iPad — they’re small aircraft, and that means there’s a lot to know before you start those props for the first time.
There are Rules to Follow
Like so many other aspects of life, there are guidelines you must adhere to when flying your drone. Firsts thing first, you absolutely must register your drone before your first flight. There are some relatively sketchy companies out there offering to handle your drone registration for a price — but they’re best avoided. Registration through the FAA costs $5, and their web based process is easy enough to maneuver that you shouldn’t need help.
Then there are the FAA model aircraft operation safety guidelines to follow; the most important of which are:
- Fly below 400 feet and remain clear of surrounding obstacles
- Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations
- Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport unless you contact the airport and control tower before flying
Finally, there are numerous drone free zones within the U.S. Flying in any of them can lead to civil or federal charges, so be mindful of where they are. You can see a complete map here.
You Might Crash
It’s unlikely you were a natural the first time you drove a car, and it’s just as unlikely you’ll be able to fly a UAV the first time without some hiccups.
In order to have the best chance of not destroying your craft, start by reading the manual cover to cover, memorize how to initiate the drone’s “return home” system, and update your firmware. Next, enroll yourself in a drone flight training program and learn how to fly from the experts — you may be surprised to find that it’s not as simple of a process as you assumed. And before you do anything, it doesn’t hurt to invest in a little insurance, you know, just in case.
You May Upset Those Around You
Unfortunately, public opinion of UAVs can be surprisingly negative. The media seems to take particular delight in reporting exclusively on the small number of pilots who fly irresponsibly. If you’re ill-fated enough to be ambushed by an angry bystander while flying, here are some steps you can take to defuse the situation.
- Stay calm and collected.
- Land your craft before engaging in a conversation.
- Do not yell, become physically violent, or do anything else to escalate the situation.
- Know the facts about privacy laws.
- Wear a head-mounted GoPro or similar recording equipment as you fly. You never know when that footage may come in handy.
One of the best ways to improve public perception of UAVs — and their pilots — is by being a kind and thoughtful member of the community. UAVs are noisy; if the sound of your drone is disturbing someone’s peace and quiet, fly it elsewhere. If you’re flying over beaches, parks, or hiking trails, try to do it at a time when they are the least crowded. Most importantly, if someone doesn’t want to be filmed, don’t film them.
Flying will always be a joy if you do it responsibly. Follow the FAA guidelines, hone your skills, and mind your manners. Happy flying, friends!