New to flight and the distinctive hum from a propeller? Even if you have zero experience flying or using a remote controller, anyone can learn to fly a drone. With determination and practice, taking flight can become a fun hobby you never knew you could love.
What is a Drone?
In aviation, a drone is an Unmanned Aircraft or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). For the recreational or commercial pilots, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) also refers to drones as small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS). These terms are interchangeable and can mean the same thing. One key factor – as the title states, a drone does not have a crew and is directly piloted from a human on the ground.
Types of Drones
There are many types of drones available to the general consumer. The industry has come to terms with the growing technology, and now many drones are becoming available to the general consumer more than ever. For those just starting in the field, you will typically find two types; multi rotor (most popular) and fixed wing. For this discussion, we will focus the most popular choice among first time flyers under ‘components of a drone.’
General Components of a Drone
Although a drone may appear intimidating and complicated in-person, do not let this steer you away. For the average consumer, drones today are incredibly intelligent machines that do not require a lot of expertise to fly successfully or maintain safely. Some key components you should become familiar with before attempting flight are below.
- Landing Gear
- Battery and compartment
- Flight Controller
- Camera or lens (if equipped)
From the list above, propellers and battery are the two biggest component safety concerns for flight. Failure to maintain battery life and keeping accurate records of charge or discharge cycles is one way to set yourself up for flight emergencies. Also, the life cycle and routine inspection of propellers are just as important. After all, these are key to a controlled and safe flight. Propellers do not and will not last forever. The propellers are susceptible to nicks and cracks with normal use. Visual inspection before every flight is important. Know when to replace the propellers and do it when the time calls.
Registration to Fly
If a drone weighs over 0.55 lbs (250 grams), it must be registered before flying for the first time. Even if you are strictly flying for fun, this rule regulated by the FAA applies. To gain a better understanding of the regulations in place for all drone pilots, there are many resources available through the FAA’s website. Although keeping up with all the regulations can seem daunting for many, the FAA has made this process as smooth as possible for recreational flyers. The FAA maintains a dedicated site specifically to drone pilots. If you are going to start anywhere, head on over to FAADroneZone first for details and requirements.
The FAADroneZone and FAA website outline rules for flight, restrictions that all recreation pilots must follow, and a quick way to register your drone. Currently, recreational registration is $5 per drone and is valid for (3) three years. Once registered, mark your drone with the assigned registration number and carry your certificate with you every time you fly.
Finding the right Drone
With so many available options on the market, finding the right drone can seem overwhelming. First, ask yourself the overall purpose for flying. Do you want to take pictures and video? Do you want to add other payload capabilities down the road? Or do you simply want to gain altitude? With this is mind, you can make a better choice of investment. Some top companies on the market today include DJI, Yuneec, Parrot, and Skydio. These companies offer options to suit any type of pilot, and the cost depends on the capability. For a decent drone meant for the true recreation or hobbyist, the cost can range from $100 to thousands.
To make choosing easier, start with one brand and begin comparing capabilities. No matter which you choose, just like many hobbies, drone flying can become expensive quick. Take into consideration the risk of crashing or destroying the investment and cost of replacement parts (battery and propellers). If the risk of destroying your drone is too daunting, consider looking into drone insurance. DJI offers wonderful packages that don’t hurt financially to help give someone new a comfortable peace of mind.
Safety is a top priority for every pilot. Take care in ensuring you follow the rules and fly responsibly. Every pilot should know his or her own limitations and have basic safety practices in place. Although many drones available to the general consumer are small, they are capable of injury. Below are general rules for safe flight.
- Maintain visual sight of your drone at all times
- Keep your drone below 400 feet
- Follow all FAA airspace restrictions
- Flying under the influence of drugs or alcohol is prohibited
- Keep your drone at a safe distance from people or animals
Make it a priority to follow safety rules at all times. Flying unsafe can have enormous effects on the developing industry for all future and current flyers. Safe flight is fun flight!
The quickest way to become familiar with flying is to practice flying the actual drone. You can use flight simulators and other online training, but choosing to use the real drone and controller will build your confidence much quicker. If you’re concerned with damaging the drone before you even learn to fly it, there are a few practical ways to lessen the risk, all while gaining confidence.
- Purchase a less expensive drone and practice indoors first
- Upgrade the drone with propeller guards to limit the amount of damage when you crash (not if, you will crash)
- Ensure the weather is most favorable – wind is the enemy
- Find an outdoor space with plenty of room – limit obstacles such as trees
Flying a drone is both fun and exciting! If you’ve been juggling to try flying for the first time, give it a shot. After all, you’re reading this probably because you have some type of interest in flight. Sure, there are rules and regulations, safety standards, and risks associated. However, once you give it a chance, you may discover something new that you can’t stop thinking about. You may surprise yourself by catching onto the controls sooner than you expected. Who knows, this industry offers growth even for recreational flyers. There is tremendous potential to turn your new favorite hobby into a booming business.
Bring a little altitude to your life!
Thanks for reading.