Also referred to as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), drones have gained considerable popularity over the past few years among hobbyists and professionals alike. In fact, ESPN recently signed a multi-year contract with the International Drone Racing Association to air the U.S. National Drone Racing Championships on ESPN3. Check it this amazing footage for a glimpse of things to come:
If you’re looking to get into the sport, keep in mind that drones are quite different than R/C vehicles and aircraft—both in how they are operated as well as how they are treated by local laws.
Quality drones can run upwards of $1000, so learning how to safely fly your vehicle is key to avoiding expensive damage and/or confiscation. The following are 9 tips and best practices for safely and legally operating your drone.
9. Make sure to abide by both local/provincial and federal laws when operating your drone.
Countries are implementing stringent regulations around the use of drones, so it’s important to familiarize yourself with any relevant laws. Incidents around airports and other public areas are a common occurrence—subsequently, many countries and cities like London require a permit to fly a drone.
8. Always keep the drone in your line-of-site while operating/flying.
It’s easy to get overly ambitious and fly your drone beyond the reach of your visual senses. Some high-end drones are designed to fly distances up to 5km, but when manning most drones—it’s always best to focus your attention on the exact location of your drone to avoid bumping into objects like high buildings and other structures.
7. Don’t fly above 400 feet.
As part of its efforts to ensure air safety, the FAA forbids the flying of drones above 400 feet, as they may obstruct aircraft in the prescribed airspace
6. Make sure your batteries are fully charged prior to flying.
Checking your battery levels is a crucial pre-flight activity. Keep in mind that factors like wind greatly affect how much time you can get out of one charge. Flying on a windy day will result in far less flight time than in clear, windless conditions.
5. Inspect the blades and compass to ensure that you have optimum control over your device.
Check to make sure that parts crucial to the controlling the drone have not been damaged in transit. Even minimal damage to the blades can result in a dangerously uncontrollable airborne vehicle.
4. Map out a rudimentary flight plan—at least inside your head
Instead of R/C-controlled vehicles, it’s better to treat drones as small-scale aircraft (read: they aren’t toys). That being the case, it’s important to draw or think of a flight plan prior to launching your drone into the skies. And though it’s mostly legal to fly at night, remember that limited visibility and unpredictable conditions can cause you to easily lose control of your drone.
3. Check weather conditions in the intended airspace prior to flying.
Strong winds are not just a nuisance to fly in—they also result in reduced flight time, as the motors must work at near-maximum capacity to keep a steady hover.
2. Drain batteries before traveling on commercial flights.
Lower quality batteries tend to expand and go bad when left in confined areas at high altitudes/high pressures. Draining them before boarding commercial flights can prevent this from happening.
1. Secure your drone with a couple of protective add-ons.
Sometimes the best of safety measures are not enough to protect your drone. Various companies specialize in drone safety equipment, offering everything from parachutes and radar surveillance equipment to blade pads and other types of physical protection for your drone.
Bonus: Read the FAA’s rules and requirements for safe drone operations.
In addition to the above tips, keep the following FAA regulations in mind when operating your drone:
- Follow community-based safety guidelines, like those of the Academy of Model Aeronautics.
- Don’t fly your drone above 400 feet.
- Keep your drone in eyesight at all times.
- Don’t fly in bad weather conditions like high winds or reduced visibility.
- Stay clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft, especially low-flying airplanes and helicopters.
- Remain at least 25 feet away from other people and vulnerable property. Don’t fly over moving vehicles.
- Contact the airport or control tower before flying within five miles of an airport.
- Don’t fly near or over power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
- Make sure other nearby drone operators are competent and proficient in flying drones.
- Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
- Don’t conduct surveillance or photograph people in areas where there is an expectation of privacy without the individual’s permission.
Though still in its infancy, drone racing is fast becoming a serious contender in the world of extreme sports. This will no doubt lead to a dramatic rise in the general popularity of drones, so expect more legislation to emerge in the coming months and years around the safe drone operations.