Got a drone? Awesome!
Before you launch it and start flying, be aware once the drone is airborne, you could be entering a highly regulated federal airspace that could have financial and legal consequences if you aren’t where you are supposed to be. In addition there are multiple variables in flying a device that is affected by wind, rain, and external obstacles that it could come in contact with.
I’ve been flying my new drone now for two months and have picked up a few tips along the way that should prove helpful for anyone that might be considering the jump into this new way of seeing things.
- Purchase an inexpensive toy model: Practice your crashing on it. I purchased this one and was surprised how tough it was. You will gain confidence on these palm sized drones. Once you can master flying these, the bigger ones will seem like a breeze.
- Research which drone you need: Set a budget and think about what capabilities you need. Are you planning on just flying around or shooting high-resolution video or photos? There are so many drones on the market now and so many choices.
- Read the manual: Just do it. Resist the urge to charge the batteries and launch it. Knowledge is power, and knowing the capabilities of your drone will give you more confidence if and when something goes wrong.
- As part of your preflight check, pay attention to weather. Drones do not fly in the rain. You should also be wary of the wind over 15 mph. Wind will quickly deplete your batteries and, if your drone is too far away and if you get a battery warning, the drone may not make it back to you. (And that’s a real problem over water).
- All batteries charged? Inspect all parts, motors, props. If anything looks amiss, fix it. The last thing you want is to have something fall off and have your drone crash because of it. Vibration and wind will have an effect on the airframe.
- Research your airspace where you are flying ahead of time. You can check the VFRMap online to see how close you are to airports. To understand how to read the maps, there’s a great video tutorial here, along with many other YouTube videos. If you have a smart phone, use Verifly to look at the airspace and purchase on-the-spot liability insurance.
- If you are flying for a business or for hire, you must be licensed by the FAA with a Part 107 certificate. You then can apply for waivers or authorizations to fly in restricted airspaces. You must also contact Air Traffic Control and nearby heliports that are in the area you are flying in.
- Always take a good long look around the area where you are flying. Make sure you will not be near any wires such as telephone or high electrical wires, cell phone or tower support wires, buildings, trees etc. One clip of the prop and your drone will fall.
OK, now you’ve got all that, practice taking off and landing several times before actually flying the drone. You will gain confidence the more you do this. Many of the popular drones have return to home, or RTH, function, which is great because it brings the drone back to where you took off. But if you’re on a moving boat or platform, that location might be in the water. If you are in a grassy or sandy area, get one of these landing pads. Ground obstacles wreak havoc on prop blades.
Fly with a friend
A really good thing to have is another set of eyes that scan the sky for incoming aircraft. FAA rules dictate your drone must quickly descend and land if another aircraft enters your area.
You will be noticed
Flying a drone usually has curious folks wanting to talk to you while you are flying. I’m always happy to share info, but try to keep your attention on the drone while flying. Land your drone if the conversation becomes a distraction or politely let them know that it’s hard to talk and to keep your drone flying safely.
Don’t fly over people
Just don’t. This is reckless and could get you into a heap of trouble, both legally or financially, if something goes wrong. If your landing zone becomes populated with people, put the drone into hover mode and look around for a clear area to land. As I was flying my drone last weekend, another amateur drone enthusiast was buzzing over a small beach populated behind me. People like that ruin it for the rest of us.
Log your flights.
After every flight, make note of your flying time. This helps you keep track of battery usage and hourly usage on drone components.
These are just a few things I’ve gathered in my brief time as a drone pilot. Gathering information while obtaining my FAA Part 107 certificate has really prepared me to fly safely. I also follow many professional drone news sites and Facebook pages to keep current on regulations in this fast-changing industry.
Of course, if all that sounds complicated and time-consuming – it is. If you don’t want to invest your own time and energy into learning the tricks of the trade, drop me a line. I am happy to put my new skills to use for you.