How To Fly A Drone Responsibly
Let me guess — you want to know how to fly a drone. Great!
Maybe you were playing with your cousin's remote control car and thought, "This thing should fly!"
Or maybe you attended a phenomenal wedding on the shores of Valencia and watched a 23-minute video of drone footage. Who's to say? (I am to say. It was AWESOME.)
Whatever the reason, drones are becoming more and more popular by the minute.
According to a report by the Federal Aviation Administration, the number of U.S. commercial drones is expected to grow by a factor of 10 over the next half-decade...
No matter your reasons for wanting to own, maintain, and operate a drone, you better believe the right one for you exists, and we can help!
Wait A Second — What IS A drone?
First of all, let's start with the basics. You can't fly a drone if you don't know what it is!
A drone is an unmanned (or un-womanned) aerial vehicle. That doesn't mean uncontrolled — but it means the pilot is not in the vehicle itself.
Mostly, we're talking about commercial drones today, so we're not talking about this:
For the most part, we're talking about things you can purchase at your town's technology store. I doubt your local Best Buy has any of those multi-million dollar bomb-droppers in the back room.
But that's not to say that the history of drones doesn't include some military trivia.
History of drones
Even though it can seem like drones have exploded just recently, their history goes all the way back to 1849. Austrian soldiers attacked the city of Venice with unmanned balloons filled with explosives.
Of course, that's not the whole story...
There's a good reason drones didn't become standard practice immediately following that — many of the balloons blew back and bombed the Austrians themselves. So clearly there were a couple kinks to work out.
Luckily, the kinks were worked out! And that means that now, you can have the drone your heart desires delivered right to your front door.
Think about it — what would you need a drone for?
In fact, drones have many uses, but some of the most popular are:
If you use drones for nature, you might be able to snap photos like this!
Whether it's professional or just for fun, if you pick the right drone, you'll have a lot of fun!
If you're new to the world of drones, it can feel like people are speaking a foreign language.
But stay with me here — we can de-mystify it all. Here are some common definitions about drones:
Don't worry if the lingo confuses you at first — that happens to everyone! But if you stay focused, you'll be able to pick it up in no time!
Types of drones
It won't surprise you to learn that many types of drones are available. Largely, these are broken up into different types, and just like a good bird-watcher, I want you to be able to know these drones by sight.
There are four major types of drone, and they are:
Knowing how to fly a drone can certainly be influenced by knowing what you're flying. So watch out for all these different drones!
Nothing matters more than controlling your drone.
Just to start with, some drones can cost more than $3,000! That is a lot of money to let get away from you because of a windy day.
So before you make that mistake, let's learn some drone controls.
In general, the four controls you'll need to worry about on a multicopter drone are:
Once you've nailed down your knowledge of the controls, you can get ready for some serious fun — drone maneuvers!
Dancing in the sky
I know what you're thinking.
"But when will I get to show off my drone's sweet dance moves?"
Well, we're getting to that. But if you don't treat the craft of drones with respect and patience, three terrible things could happen:
While some drone maneuvers are hard to explain in words and lend themselves more to the practical, some can be! The website Clayviation described a maneuver they call Dizzy Up like this:
"Starting from a few feet above the ground, lift straight up while rotating. This only uses your left stick, simply placing it in a forward and left or forward and right position.
Practice different combinations of quickly up with slow rotation, slowly up with quick rotation, etc. Rotate both clockwise and counterclockwise."
With moves like these, you and your drone can dazzle!
https://giphy.com/gifs/scooby–doo–where–are–you–mystery–incorporated–69jvP3VXUYhr3YUYu9” target=”_blank” rel=”noopener”>via GIPHY
Just like a camera, drones have modes. Many of these vary by drone, and operator skill. However, you should read up before using your drone.
Some modes will require you to draw paths!
Here are a few common flight modes:
"By 2020, the commercial drone market is expected to generate just under 2.4 billion U.S. dollars in global revenue." — Statista
Staying on the right side of the law
Can I tell you a secret?
There is absolutely no reason not to properly register your drone. Wanna know why?
According to the Federal Aviation Administration:
"Even if you're only flying in your backyard, drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds must be registered.
1. Register your drone with the FAA – Visit faadronezone.faa.gov and select "Fly Model Aircraft under Section 336" to get started.
It only costs five dollars — that's why!
To make sure your drone is good with the feds, you have to be over 13 years old and have $5. That's certainly a lower bar than registering your car in my home state of New York.
When you click on the link to register, it will ask you for a valid email address.
And if you're still not convinced, here's a gem from the FAA: "You will be subject to civil and criminal penalties if you meet the criteria to register an unmanned aircraft and do not register."
That's way too much hassle over a small amount. Register your drone.
Drone licenses and certifications
If you're interested, you can also receive certifications and licenses for your drone, to prove you know your stuff.
Unfortunately, though you have to be 13 to register a drone, you have to be 16 to pass the knowledge test. But after that, you can receive your remote pilot certificate, and you will be an FAA-certified remote pilot!
One fringe benefit of registering your drone is loss prevention.
Luckily, Uncle Sam is VERY interested in where all things in the sky are, be they UFOs, drones, and suspiciously not Carl's house from Pixar's "UP."
This means that you can mark your drone with a registration number, and if your drone is lost or stolen, you can use that number to attempt to locate it. It won't always end in recovery, but better safe than sorry.
You know how they say there are no shortcuts? Well, they're wrong. And I'm going to show you one right now.
Print out this list. And before every flight — every single flight — look at it, and do what it says.
I promise you your drone experience will improve.
Before the day you fly
Immediately before you fly
Always fly responsibly!
If your SD Card isn't formatted, you might get your drone in the air only to realize it can't take pictures. If you haven't done an obstacle check, you might not have noticed a large tree in the distance.
Also, something like checking that all controls are responsive prior to take-off could actually prevent you from crashing.
For the uninitiated newbie, it's easy to get swept up. "I don't want to learn all this boring stuff — I want to fly," they think.
And so they have a bad experience because they weren't properly prepared.
Of course there's another side to that problem.
And lest you're knowingly shaking your head at hotheaded newbies, the experience drone flyer faces a different obstacle. "I'm good at this and I know what I'm doing," they'll think. "I can skip a few steps."
And you know what? Enough of those skipped steps and the veterans run into a problem, too, as a result.
But if you follow the checklist, it will help you with things that you, as an advanced drone flyer might forget, and as a new one, might not know to check for.
Some tips include:
"The commercial drone market is expected to grow to around 8.7 billion U.S. dollars worldwide by 2021." - Statista
Not surprisingly, drones are a relatively new area of law, and that comes with some problems. The Founding Fathers certainly did not enshrine Americans' right to small, unmanned aerial vehicles in the Constitution.
However, even though there are legal holes where drones should be, here's a classic and familiar standard to go by:
Don't drink and drone.
Seems simple enough, right? Whereas specific statutes exist for bicycles, mopeds, motorcycles, cars, and even horses, most states haven't caught up with drones yet. But that doesn't mean they can't get you for injudicious use of drone.
The code says:
“No person may operate model aircraft so as to endanger the safety of the national airspace system."
The FAA doesn't want you to do it. Your mother REALLY doesn't want you to do it. And it's not worth it just to show off to your friends at a party.
Don't drink and drone, and don't let your friends do it, either.
That's a good place to start, here's the next step:
Where to fly and where NOT to
Would you like to guess where you should fly?
You're going to be disappointed when I tell you.
If you're not experienced, flying over grass doesn't hurt.
All these seem pretty obvious, no? Based on what I've told you, I'll let you guess if it's a good or bad idea to fly your drone over the White House.
All kidding aside ... do not.
How To Fly A Drone
Though there are many who claim otherwise, you cannot learn to fly a drone in seven minutes. HOWEVER, in seven minutes, I can guarantee you'll find enough resources to keep you busy. Check out this one:
Or this tutorial on quadcopters:
This one will give you five steps a beginning drone enthusiast should master:
So you’ve crashed your drone
If you remembered to do a good pre-flight check, it was good weather, there were few obstructions, and you didn't drink and drone, you still might end up with a crashed drone.
In this case, I definitely hope you kept the receipt. But also — relax!
Here's your next step:
Retrieve the drone. And often you'll be amazed at how little the damage was — maybe a broken propeller here or there. Don't panic until you can assess the damage and take your next steps.
How to use drone camera (legally!)
I want to tell you a story.
One night, in Lower Township, New Jersey, a man allegedly shot down his neighbor's drone, after his neighbor put it to hover to take pictures of another neighborhood house for his friend — a builder.
Is the story funny? Obviously. But it gets a serious point across.
With great power comes great responsibility.
Just because you can do something doesn't mean you should. And just because you feel that you can go wherever you want with your drone doesn't make it legal (granted, it's not always legal to shoot it down).
In Florida, for example, Criminal Code Section 934.50 forbids using drones for surveillance in violation of another person's reasonable expectation of privacy. In Arkansas, AR Code Section 5-60-103 forbids using drones to invade privacy and commit video voyeurism. In California, Civil Code Section 1708.8 forbids the using drones to record another person without consent. And Nevada law (NRS 193.130) prohibits weapons on drones.
So when you pick up that remote, you should think carefully, or you could end up in serious trouble.
Think about it...
...the story of the New Jersey man's shot drone could've ended in much less comic ways.
So how do you know if your drone game is any good?
How can you tell if you're improving at all?
Well, there are some skills that, if you master them, you'll be pretty far from where you started. But your ultimate goal is not to learn any one particular skill — but to use them in conjunction to get more out of your droning experience.
Let's check out a couple:
The figure 8 will help you focus on flying and improve your perception of where your drone is in 3D space. It requires combining turning and passing-by skills.
Want more variety? Try varying the size of the loops, or the speed at which you are doing them.
Flying in circles
This will give you an opportunity to improve your droning. Making accurate circles will enhance your skills. For this one, just pitch forward with your right stick, and give it some yaw to turn.
With these in your back pocket, you'll be able to combine them with other skills to make more complex figures as a result. If you're a photographer or videographer, you can also practice moving your drone around as smoothly as possible.
Dot Your I's And Cross Your T's
Now you have a head full of knowledge about drones, but we're not done yet!
And here are a few more things to make your droning experience the best it can be!
Similar to your pre-flight checklist, DJI Guides has a helpful maintenance checklist to follow. If you want to keep your drone in fantastic shape, we recommend you keep an eye on:
Drone pilot ground schools
A lot of droning can seem solitary and only for lone wolves, but it's not only a solo game!
And if you're the kind of student that doesn't thrive alone, don't worry.
You can join a drone pilot ground school to get an instructor who can get you FAA-certified as a remote pilot. It might cost you a pretty penny ($299).
But we can't all learn Figure Eights by ourselves.
Phones have become a part of our lives and you want a phone that can jive with your drone. Here are a couple of apps that might pique your interest:
It has the information for UAV laws in over 20 countries, so you'll never accidentally break the law. And it also allows you to map out flight paths for your drone from the app itself.
Another app meant for avid droners, this app will tell you everything you could want to know about the weather (and you should want to know everything.) With apps like these, you'll be able to more confidently plan your outings, knowing exactly the conditions you'll face.
Best drone for me!
And finally, the moment you've been waiting for — what is the best drone for YOU?
Honestly ... I can't just tell you that.
I know that My Dear Drone chooses the 818 Hornet as a great drone for beginners (it's a quadcopter.)
It's a fact that the DJI Phantom 4 has an excellent smartphone app, and it's undeniable that it's solidly outside the range of anything a beginner needs. But we sold Phantoms when I worked at Best Buy, and they rarely came back.
Off the top of my head, I can't tell you which drone is perfect for you.
But you know what to look for, how to obey the law, how to take care of a drone, what you want to learn, and where to get more information.
Hopefully, that information takes you higher and higher in the world of droning, because, above all, remember ... the sky's the limit.
Featured image via Pixhere
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