Drone F.A.Q.s

A drone is basically an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). Before the rise in consumer interest in UAVs, the word “drone” was primarily used to refer to the UAVs used by the military.

Before drones, it was widely accepted that everything above and below land was owned by those who lived on that stretch of land. However, modern aviation has changed that. In the early 20th century, Congress decided that the air was a public highway, but with limited land rights. This was to protect pilots so that they were not trespassing every time they flew. The public highway is considered 500 feet and above. Drones occupy the grey area between the ground and 500 feet. States vary in the specifics, but in general, it’s best to not fly drones on private property below 400 feet. If a drone is flying on your private property, you can report a drone, and base your argument on the following concerns: the drone is causing a disturbance, the drone is being flown recklessly, and the pilot is violating the state privacy laws.

Generally, any occasion that you are concerned whether or not it’s appropriate to fly is probably a no-go. For example, in busy and congested cities like New York, flying is prohibited. Flying over people is not permitted. This refers to flying over a group of people not associated with the flight crew. 

Despite the private property regulations, aviation authorities recommend flying your unmanned aircraft below 400 feet. This helps you avoid possible conflict with other aircrafts like airplanes or helicopters.

In general, do not fly after dark. Even if your aircraft has night lights, dark is considered before 30 minutes before sunrise and after 30 minutes after sunset. This is called civil twilight, and if you choose to fly during this time, be sure your drone is visible at all times and has appropriate lighting, make sure you don’t exceed the speed and height guidelines by the FAA, and do not fly past the civil twilight hours unless you have a waiver permitting you to do so.

Determining the best drone available will depend on a lot of different factors and it will really all come down to your own personal opinion. However, at the time of writing this, we believe the DJI’s Inspire 1 is the best consumer-level drone available on the market, followed closely by it’s cousin drones, the Phantom 3 series.

It really all depends on what drone you choose. Different drones range from being fairly easy to fly, to fairly difficult to fly. It really all depends on what kind of drone you get and how much you are willing to spend.

Recently the FAA ruled that if you own a drone that weighs between 0.55lbs and 55lbs, you must register it through them. Registering with the FAA entitles giving them your name, address, and phone number as well as paying a $5 fee. The registration will last for 3 years. This regulation was put in place in attempt to crack down on irresponsible flying.

The FAA has these basic rules in place for non-commerical users:

  • Don’t fly near manned aircraft
  • Fly below 400 feet
  • Don’t fly your drone out of your sight
  • You cannot fly a drone that weighs over 55lbs unless it is certified by an aeromodeling community-based organization
  • You cannot fly your drone for commerical purposes (unless you have an exemption)
  • Don’t fly within 5 miles of an airport
  • You cannot fly your drone over stadiums or events
  • Don’t fly your drone over people or crowds of people
  • Don’t fly recklessly or in anyway that endangers others

Currently, consumer level drones have limited flight times. Of the higher end drones on the market, the max flight time is between 25-30 minutes and even that is pushing it. In reality, the best drones can fly for about 20-25 minutes max.

Smaller and cheaper quadcopters can fly for about 10-15 minutes or less.

The time it takes to charge your drones batter varies from drone to drone and on the type of charger that comes with your drone. Higher end drones can take anywhere from one to two hours. And, that’s just for the drone… you also have to charge the controller as well.

And, even small drones like the UDI U818A and the Syma X5C can about 100 minutes to charge.

You must give the FAA your physical address information if you want to legally fly your drone. Furthermore, the FAA has stated that they are planning on making your information accessible to the public through a public database of registered UAV owners.

It’s always a good idea to purchase an extra battery (or batteries) and either an extra charger, or a charge that has the capacity to charge multiple batteries at once.

The reason for this is to give you the ability to fly longer than the 20-25 minutes that even the higher-end drones max out at. Having extra batteries allows you to swap out your dead battery for a fully charged one so that you can fly longer.

Many drone-enthusiasts love to fly over water. However, if you crash your drone into a body of water you may not be able to retrieve it and even if you do, the water may have damaged it permanently. 

The reason for this is to give you the ability to fly longer than the 20-25 minutes that even the higher-end drones max out at. Having extra batteries allows you to swap out your dead battery for a fully charged one so that you can fly longer.

Crashing your drone can result in consequences ranging from it being a little banged up, to it being completely destroyed, and everything in between. Crashes do happen. Most of the time crashes are due to user error… but sometimes the drone can crash on it’s own or even fly away.

Ultimately, what happens after a crash depends on a couple of things… namely, whether or not the crash was due to user error, or the machine, and what kind of warranty you have. If you crashed your drone and it was your fault, in most cases you will have to pay to have it fixed. If it wasn’t your fault and you are still under warranty the drone manufacturer should fix it. Note that should is in italics. In most cases the drone manufacturer will inspect the drone to determine the cause of the crash and if they determine that it was your fault, then you will be stuck with the repair costs.

FPV stands for First Person View. Basically, what this means is that there are certain drones that will allow you to pilot your drone via FPV.

So, essentially, instead of looking up in the sky and flying your drone based off of how you see it from the ground, you fly the drone based off of what you see through a live broadcast of what’s being filmed through the camera on the drone.

There are many benefits of flying in FPV mode as you can get a better orientation of your drone, including smoother flying, easier time finding good shots for your camera, and just the feeling of flying.

Unless you are planning on flying your drone for commercial purposes, you probably don’t need to get drone-specific insurance.

In fact, if you have home owner’s insurance you are probably already covered.

Depending on what drone you get, you can technically fly as far as a few miles and as high as a few thousand feet in perfect conditions.

However, the FAA requires that you keep your drone below 400 feet in order to not interfere with any manned aircraft, and as far as distance goes, it’s always best to maintain a clear line of sight. So, while the upper limits of range and altitude on consumer drones are quite high (assuming you have a high end drone), it is technically against the FAA’s regulations to push your drone to those limits.

Drones like the 3DR Solo are designed to carry a GoPro camera. So, if you have a GoPro camera already, then you’ll definitely want to look for a drone that can accommodate it.

The short answer is, no, you do not need to have a pilot’s license in order to fly a drone legally. All you need is an FAA registration. However, if you plan on flying drones for commercial purposes, then you do need to have a pilot’s license.

Typically, flying your drone in mild weather is ideal and you really shouldn’t fly a drone in the rain or when it’s snowing (snow on the ground, while typically advised against by most manufacturers, is usually fine.)

It’s also a good idea to fly when winds are calm and you have good visibility. However, some higher end drones using GPS can fly in moderate winds and be okay.

A lot of drones on the market have features where if it travels out of range, it will either automatically land, or automatically return to home (which means it will come back to the controller.) So, if you plan on pushing your drone to the limits, you may want one that has one of these features.

Consumer-level drones range in size from a few ounces to a bit under 10 lbs. Many of the sub $100 drones on the market come in well under 0.55lbs, which is the minimum weight needed in order to have to register your drone.

It is advisable to take the time to study the operating instructions and fully acquaint yourself with the model you have purchased. You should carry out your first flights on open ground where there is no risk of harming people or animals. Remember: drones are not toys – their improper use could result in harm to others!

But in residential zones in particular, it is essential to observe the rules governing protection of privacy. People do not appreciate drones hovering above their home! It is best to operate your multicopter where you won’t disturb anyone. You should also bear the fact in mind that some cantons or municipalities may impose further-reaching restrictions.

In principle, yes. You do not need a permit from the FOCA as long as you operate the drone in direct eye contact. Here, too, you must observe the principle of protection of privacy and take care of the environment, e.g. avoid bird sanctuaries, etc. Filming above military installations is prohibited.

No, a special permit has to be obtained from the FOCA for this purpose. Without this permit, it is an offence to operate a drone beyond direct eye contact. However, operating a drone with video goggles is permitted if the drone remains in direct eye contact and you are accompanied by a second “pilot” who is able to take control of it at any time. In the new category of First Person View (FPV) racing, contests take place at very low altitude, which means they do not represent a risk to other aircraft.

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