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Intro to dronesIntro to drones

DJI will update software and firmware for models like the Phantom quadcopter seen here to limit where and when they can fly. AOPA file photo.

So you’ve taken the leap and decided to purchase your first drone. You go to your local hobby shop or electronics store, purchase the perfect quadcopter, and start on your drive home. If you’re like most people, the first question you ask is, “Where should I go fly this thing?”

You may want to visit your local Academy of Model Aeronautics chapter’s flying field, where experienced enthusiasts are typically happy to help newcomers get started. You also could attend a class taught by a local hobby shop, your drone’s manufacturer, or even a local meetup group.

Most quadcopters sold today are easy-to-fly and maintain position and altitude when the controls are released, so it’s relatively simple to get out of a sticky situation—just let go of the controls! Your first few flights should be made at a large field, free from obstacles and people. When people crash their drone on the first few flights, it’s usually because they run it into a tree or lamppost, so start in an open area, and as you get more comfortable maneuvering the drone, you can move into more confined spaces. Never operate a drone in a place that poses danger to any person or another person’s property.

So, what does the FAA say about flying drones for fun? In the 2012 FAA Modernization and Reform Act, Congress created a law that requires recreational drone operators to abide by community-based guidelines when flying recreationally. These community-based guidelines are available by visiting the Know Before You Fly website. Follow these tips to safely operate your drone for recreational purposes.

  • You always stay below 400 feet agl.
  • When operating within five miles of an airport, you give notice to the airport operator or the air traffic control tower, if the airport has a control tower.
  • Always fly your drone within line of sight.
  • Stay out of the way of manned aircraft and obstacles at all times.
  • Don’t fly over people.
  • Fly during the day.

Ben Marcus is cofounder and CEO of AirMap. He is an airline transport pilot and flight instructor with more than 4,000 hours of flying time in more than 100 aircraft types.

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