How NOT to Fly Drones

Permit me to stray off path here, this will not be about wireless networking.

Drones have become immensely popular among hobbyists and ever more useful in a range of business and emergency response situations. It’s fairly amazing to be able to mail order what amounts to a legitimate aircraft, take it out of the box, and put it up into the sky.

Which brings us to the problem. Actually several of them.

Lots of Use Cases

But first- some context. If you zoom out and consider the current “drone landscape”, you’ll find a fairly diverse ecosystem, There are hundreds of individuals out there flying drones professionally, making their full-time living at surveys, mapping, inspections, and a range of other applications. Then there are people like me… we have other day jobs, but also became FAA-certified as Part 107 Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) pilots like the full-timers so we can legally do occasional drone work for pay. Both groups have demonstrated understanding of the rules of drone flight, and how our aircraft fit into the larger picture of all aircraft peacefully co-existing as part of a controlled system.

Finally, we those other people. If you are interested in getting into drones, you don’t want to be one of those other people. Let’s talk about them, and the associated problems they create.

The Stupid Runs Thick

Back to the fact that you can spend some money and have a powerful drone delivered to your doorstep. I don’t mean powerful in the military sense, but more so in the capabilities of the everyday drones a newbie might get into. Offerings from Autel Robotics (my current fleet),  DJI, and others in the mainstream market can go real high, real far, real fast, and take amazing photos and video. Anyone can get one, and better models are introduced frequently. Those other people love them.

They love them in the stupidest ways.

I’m in several drone-related community forums. Some are for commercial pilots where the dialogue is about aircraft safety, regulations, business opportunities, and the future of the industry. Other forums are pure hobbyist, and where those other people weave tales of stupidity that make those of us who know better cringe. Here you’ll find several recurring themes:

  • I unboxed my new bird and immediately did a “range test” to see how high and far I could push it. (YouTube has no shortage of these.)
  • My new expensive drone just FELL OUT OF THE SKY and boy am I pissed at the manufacturer.
  • My new expensive drone JUST UP AND FLEW AWAY and boy am I pissed at the manufacturer.
  • I don’t know how to do some basic feature that the user manual covers very well.
  • Look at these awesome shots I took at this place, where I really shouldn’t have been flying.

You’re probably starting to get a feel for those other people. They do irresponsible drone things that give us all a bad reputation. They don’t learn how to use their own equipment after dropping sometimes a couple of grand, and when something goes wrong it is automatically the manufacturer’s fault. They fly WHERE they want, WHEN they want, and they damn sure don’t care that by regulation you are not supposed to recreationally fly above 400′ AGL (above ground level) and are also not supposed to let the drone get out of your sight lest the drone run into trouble that the operator can’t see coming (hence the problem with range tests). Nor do they understand that the control signals between the drone and the controller are usually in 2.4 GHz, fairly low power, and subject to interference if you fly around Wi-Fi networks and such.

Know Right From Wrong

You can be new to drones and not become one of those other people. It’s pretty easy to stay legal, and keep your craft from FLYING AWAY or FALLING OUT OF THE SKY. Here’s how:

  • Know that any drone you buy is likely going to be subject to FAA regulation, even if you aren’t a certified drone pilot. Start here. Register your drones and start off legal.
  • Know that collisions DO happen between drones and other aircraft. See this.
  • Read the manuals that come with your drone, before you fly. Highlight areas that maybe aren’t clear to you and research them until you get it. Watch the countless online tutorials for any drone.
  • Do all of the required software/firmware updates associated with the drone, the controller, your apps, and even the batteries on some models.
  • Do all of the initial calibrations required-  control sticks, camera gimbal, etc.
  • Practice in a safe area before you get it up there high and far.
  • Don’t fly where you are likely to compete with Wi-Fi signals.
  • Never fly over people.
  • Know that many parks are off-limits, because those people have done stupid things to warrant the restrictions.
  • Join the user forums for your drone, but know that they are populated by many of those people.
  • Don’t be a jerk with your drone. There are enough of them out there already.

Happy flying!



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