Do’s and Don’ts of Drone Flying for Fun
Mota

Got your new drone all unboxed and set up? Ready to go flying? Here’s what you need to know from the people who brought you the popular Lily Next-Gen. Some of this applies to the United States, but most of it is good practice anywhere.

In general, the main point is: Know what to do before, during, and after your flight.

Your first move should be to the web, not the sky. The Federal Aviation Administration requires you register your done if it weighs more than 250 grams (8.8 oz.). All it takes $5 and five minutes. https://faadronezone.faa.gov/#/

The FAA allows two main types of drone use: model aircraft and commercial. If you’re flying just for fun, click “Fly Model Aircraft”. If you’re flying your drone for anything else, click “Fly sUAS under Part 107.” We’ll focus on model aircraft (hobby) use here.

Your next stop should be to B4UFLY, the FAA’s mobile app for Android and iPhones. It will show you if there are flight restrictions where you want to fly. If you’re near a PC, check out the no-fly zones from AirMap at: https://app.airmap.io/

This brings us to the FAA’s rules of the road for drone flight.

Never fly:

  • Higher than 400 feet. Any more, and you endanger helicopters.
  • Over groups of people.
  • Near birds, aircraft or near airports. If you plan to fly within five miles of an airport you must notify it.
  • If you can’t see your drone. At night, your drone’s lights must provide you with a clear view of its attitude (pitch) and orientation. It should go without saying not to fly in clouds.
  • Near emergencies. Seconds count in saving lives. Emergency personnel have lost valuable time in getting looky-loo pilots away from the scene.
  • If you’re tired or under the influence. But you already know that.

Those are the don’ts. Here are some do’s:

  • If requested in the owner’s manual, calibrate the drone’s compass for your first flight and each time the take-off (launch) point changes.
  • Fly in good weather. Most drones aren’t built for rain. Ditto gusts that could knock your aircraft over to the next county. Cold weather (less than 40° F / 5° C) can significantly reduce your flight time.
  • Respect people’s privacy. Just because you can fly somewhere doesn’t mean you should.
  • Keep your drone in sight at all times. Pros know the biggest mistake you can make is losing control by flying too far out or too high up.
  • Plan an escape route back to the launch point. Many drones have a return-to-launch point (RTL) mode that activates automatically if your aircraft loses its link the controller, gets critically low on battery, or encounters some other condition that jeopardizes flight. In RTL mode, most drones will gain altitude and then fly straight back. So you need to be sure that’s a safe route – free of obstructions like trees above and obstacles ahead.

And, check your drone before each flight. Ensure:

  • Batteries in the drone, controller, and your phone are fully charged.
  • Propellers are tightly mounted.
  • Replace propellers that are bent, scratched, nicked, etc. even if it looks minor.  Quadcopter propellers come in matched pairs, so be sure to replace them in proper order.
  • Propeller arms, if extendible, are latched securely in place.
  • Camera and sensor lenses are clean.
  • Drone status indicators display systems normal.

Something every manned aviation pilot knows: trust your instincts. If something feels wrong it probably is. Land safely ASAP so your drone can live to fly again.

Pro tip: Maximize the Life of Your Batteries

Lithium-ion batteries in drones are thicker than the ones in phones and laptops. Their thicker design makes their internal chemistry more active, meaning they could have less life if continually stored fully charged.

Discharge your battery after your flight, unless you’re going back in the air that same day. Store it depleted (empty) or close to depleted, in a dry place at about 68° F / 20° C. Do not place it near heating sources or expose it to direct sunlight for long periods. Don’t recharge the battery until the day of the next flight.

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