Drone flying has become a popular hobby across the nation. Some people simply have fun piloting an unmanned aerial vehicle, while others enjoy the ability to capture stunning images from above.
If you’re interested in getting a drone, there’s no shortage of options available to you. But first, it helps to familiarize yourself with these devices.
In general, drones are multirotor flying devices piloted by remote control. In addition to the propellers, they include instruments like a gyroscope, accelerometer, and compass to maintain stable flight.
Toy drones are the smallest, least expensive option. They’re meant only for entertainment and are designed to be flown indoors, sidestepping the more stringent requirements for drones that are flown outdoors.
Camera drones are one of the most popular options, allowing you to shoot aerial photos and videos. They’re often larger, heavier, and more expensive than other drones.
Racing or stunt drones are very fast and agile, and are usually flown via “first person view.” They can be tricky to fly, so it helps to get some experience on other drones before getting one.
Some drones are specifically marketed to beginners. They offer an inexpensive introduction to the hobby, letting you to develop your flying skills before deciding if you want to buy a more complex drone.
“Ready to fly” drones can be flown as soon as they’re unboxed, while “almost ready to fly” ones require some assembly. “Bind to fly” models require you to purchase a separate controller or link the drone to a smartphone app to fly it.
Consider getting a drone with features to assist novices. For example, it can be disorienting when you turn the drone to face you and the controls are reversed; “headless mode” creates a static directional control to avoid this confusion. Drones may also come with helpful features such as automatic takeoff and landing, obstacle avoidance, and a “return to home” function that brings the drone back when its battery is running low.
If you are purchasing a camera drone, look at factors such as the image quality and camera type. Gimbal cameras offer better stability than fixed cameras and are less likely to produce blurry photos or videos.
Many drones can connect to smartphones and have their own apps, allowing you to easily download pictures, set up flight paths, and more. However, drones piloted solely by phone controls will rely on WiFi or Bluetooth, which results in a more constricted range. Drones with GPS capability are usually able to fly farther.
Check to see how easily it will be to get spare parts for a model. You don’t want to damage a rotor and find that a replacement is prohibitively expensive or in short supply.
Naturally, drones with enhanced features are costlier than more basic models. The simplest options cost as little as $20, while high-end quadcopters have a price tag of $1,500 or more.
Drones weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration if they will be flown outdoors. This registration is a way to hold a pilot responsible if they fly recklessly, but also helps with reuniting a lost drone with its owner.
A person must be at least 13 years old in order to register a drone. Registration costs $5 and is good for three years.
Those who want to use their drone for commercial purposes must be registered as a drone pilot by passing an aeronautical test at an FAA-approved center. Certified pilots must be at least 16 years old.
Insurance isn’t required for a drone, and policies that cover damage to the device are usually geared toward people who own multiple drones or very expensive ones. Check with your insurance company to see if your regular homeowners or renters insurance policy will reimburse you if the drone is stolen. The policy may also cover damages resulting from a fire or other cause, but not those resulting from a crash.
Check to see if you have adequate liability insurance. This will come in handy if you accidentally cause any injuries or damage when flying the drone.
Learning to fly
Read the instruction manual to learn more about the controls for the drone. Some apps let you take a virtual test flight, allowing you to get comfortable with the controls before actually sending the drone up.
The typical remote control has one stick for the throttle and yaw and another for roll and pitch. The first stick controls the direction the drone is facing and how high it flies, while the second moves the drone forward, backward, or side to side.
Trim controls may be present to ensure that the sticks are balanced. Camera drones sometimes have additional controls to point the lens.
Practice flying the drone in an open area, on a day that isn’t too windy. Do a quick preflight check to assess any potential hazards, make sure the battery level is sufficient and the compass is calibrated, and confirm that the drone is responding to the remote’s commands.
Use gentle motions on the controls, since the drone’s movements will be more erratic if the sticks are pushed too hard. The throttle should always be engaged until you are ready to land, and should only be cut when the drone is a few inches off the ground.
Practice taking off, landing, and hovering. You can then move on to more complex exercises such as flying forward and backward; flying forward, rotating 180 degrees, and returning; tracing a square in the air; and flying in circles and figure eights.
Some drones may have features to make flight easier, such as automatically leveling out or hovering. They may also have safety features that keep them from drifting into no-fly zones or flying too high.
Between flights, the drone should be stored in a cool, dry area with no magnetic interference.
Drone enthusiasts often form social organizations for pilots to fly together. The Academy of Model Aeronautics is a good resource for connecting with these clubs.
Drones can be useful for certain tasks around the house. For example, you can send the device up to take pictures of your roof, chimney, or other areas that might be difficult or hazardous to inspect in person.
Many people are elated to see a neighborhood from a new vantage point, taking photos and videos along the way. Some drones can be used to chronicle an adventure by automatically following a subject and taking selfies on command.
Pairing a drone with a virtual reality headset gives an immersive experience akin to flying. This can be especially thrilling when using a racing drone.
Most if not all recreational drone pilots will crash a drone at some point. But a few precautions will minimize the risk that the drone will be seriously damaged or destroyed.
Don’t fly in dangerous conditions, such as thunderstorms or high winds. Avoid flying in poor visibility conditions, including nighttime.
While many drones tout their long range, it’s best to only fly the drone where you can see it. Flying solely by first person view won’t let you see nearby hazards, such as power lines.
Keeping a visual lock on the drone can also help you recover it if a problem arises. The GPS receiver can be blocked by obstacles like tall buildings, while the compass may be affected by metallic objects or electromagnetic interference.
Keep an eye on the battery life. The battery will perform more poorly in hot or cold temperatures, as well as lower air pressures. It will also drain more quickly if flying against wind, potentially causing it to crash before it can return.
After a crash, clear away any dirt or debris and give the drone a visual inspection. You may need to replace some components, or find a hobby shop or other location where it can be repaired.
Drones usually come with warranties, which will cover repairs if the crash is a result of a mechanical defect instead of your own actions. Contact the manufacturer to let them know about the incident and see if they can offer a solution.
Safety and privacy
When working on the drone, disable the battery to prevent it from unexpectedly starting up. Always keep your fingers away from the propellers.
The FAA forbids the operation of drones over or near areas where they create safety or security concerns. To avoid interfering with air traffic, drones shouldn’t be flown higher than 400 feet or near airports.
Other no-fly zones include military bases, prisons, power plants, building fires or other emergency scenes, and stadiums or other places with large groups of people. The FAA’s B4UFLY app identifies nearby restricted areas.
Connecticut law allows municipalities to bar drone flights over public water supplies or land. The state also forbids drone use in state parks or forests unless authorized by the commissioner of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
Give plenty of leeway to people or animals below. Drones should also be kept away from active highways and moving vehicles.
Don’t pilot a drone under the influence of drugs or alcohol. You should also avoid distractions such as phone calls while flying.