What you need to know before you buy a drone.
So you are thinking of buying a drone for yourself, a friend or a family member this Christmas? Well, you are not alone. Recent numbers from the U.K. suggest that over one million drones may be sold in England this Holiday season, almost doubling the number of unmanned aerial vehicles in that country.
So, where to start? Right here. DroneDJ has put together a comprehensive list of things to keep in mind when buying a drone. This will help you make the right purchase so that the person receiving the drone will get the right drone for him or her and will get the most enjoyment out of it.
DJI Mavic Pro
Different types of drone
There are various types of drones available:
- Toy/kid drones which are small and affordable and best suited for kids or beginners – up to $200
- Photography or videography drones for capturing amazing photos and video footage – $200 – $2,000
- Racing drones that appeal to thrill seekers and offer a first-person-view (fpv). – $50 – $500
- Professional drones for business purposes such as film industry, agriculture, construction, etc. – $2,000 and up
Where do you buy a drone?
First, you decide if you want to buy from a brick and mortar store (BestBuy) or if you’d like to buy your drone online.
Some online retail stores where you will find drones are:
Buy directly from the manufacturer:
Not all drones are created equal and the same goes for the controls and the software. Some drones are easier to fly than others. The main brands all perform very well in this area. For instance, DJI offers a beginner mode as well as obstacle avoidance to make drone flying easier for newbies.
The DJI Spark is a great beginner drone that can be flown right from your smartphone from the remote controller.
Buy and fly?
Well, not so fast. Drones are considered aircraft and such fall under the rules and regulations of the Federal Aviation Administration (the FAA). They have a special section on their website that covers everything about drones included a guide to getting started with drone flying. Some manufacturers such as DJI also introduced their own Drone Knowledge Quiz to make sure that aspiring drone pilots know the basics before launching their new toy in the air. The goal is to have people enjoy their drones and fly them safely so that drone incidents (or worse) are prevented.
The FAA rules in short:
- Drone registration for amateurs or hobbyists is required. Updated as of 12/12/2017.
- No drone permit required for non-commercial drone pilots
- Do not fly higher than 400 feet
- Do not fly within a 5-mile radius of airports, airfields, heliports, correctional facilities, military installations
- Always yield to manned aircraft such as airplanes and helicopters
- Do not fly over crowds of people such as during NFL games
- Do not fly in Washington D.C.
- Do not fly your drone at night
- Only fly the drone so that you can see it (line-of-sight)
- Drone needs to weigh less than 55 Lbs
- Do not drink and fly your drone
Where and when will the drone be flown?
flying your drone indoors may be tempting but is not advisable especially for beginners. There are too many things that can go wrong and result in damage furniture, cut finger, and damaged drones. I tried it with my Mavic Pro a long time ago and it did not end well. So don’t do it.
Flying in adverse weather conditions? Not a good idea either. Water will damage your drone. Some people have flown their drone during hurricanes, which is a bad idea. It is too dangerous for yourself and others and you may get in the way of first aid responders and that is a no go as well.
Drone flying etiquette
Some things are not necessarily illegal but may just not be smart drone flying.
- For instance, do not fly your drone near power lines or power stations.
- Do not fly your drone near first aid responders, i.e. don’t film a burning house.
- Do not fly your drone to spy on people. Also don’t fly your drone too close to people. Drones can be noisey.
- Respect other people’s privacy.
- Do fly your drone in open, clear field on nice days with not a lot of wind and no rain.
- Check your Airmap.io (Android, iTunes) on your smartphone to see if you can fly there safely.
Charge the batteries
Maybe before surprising someone with a drone for the Holidays, charge the batteries of both the drone and the controller so that the drone is ready to go once received.
Need some accessories?
Some drones come with all accessories included, some others are only party complete. Depending which model you chose, some accessories may be needed.
Some popular accessories are:
- Remote controller. Do you need a remote controller or can you fly the drone from your smartphone?
- Additional batteries to increase flight-time (most drones only fly for 20-30 minutes).
- Memory cards, such microSD cards
- Propeller guards
- Carrying case or bag
- Additional battery charger
- Gloves for winter flying
- Landing pad
Most beginner or toy drones for kids may not need insurance. For the bigger more valuable drones, drone insurance may be worth considering. Not only does it protect you from the monetary loss of losing your drone but it also protects you up to a certain level of liability in case of damage to another person or property. All insurance policies are different so pick one that works for you. State Farm has a special drone insurance but changes are your current insurance company may be able to help you as well.
First time flying checklist
- Make sure that both the drone and the controller batteries are charged
- Pick a day with favorable weather conditions (low wind speed, no rain)
- Find an open place away from people and controlled airspace (use the Airmap.io app) where you are allowed to fly
- If your drone has a beginner mode, use it. It will make the drone slower to react, which gives you more time to think and respond with the appropriate control inputs.
- Maybe ask a parent of somebody who has drone flying experience to join you on you first flight.
- Fly safely and enjoy flying your drone. They are a lot of fun!
Lastly, join a drone community
Joining a drone flying club or community can make drone flying more fun, safer and you will improve faster. Check to see if there are any clubs in your area or go online and join groups on Facebook or Reddit. Here is a list to get you started.
- DJI Mavic – on Facebook
- Drones – Reddit
- The QuadFather RC Pilots – Facebook Group
- DIYDrones – Community for those who prefer to build their own drones
- FPVLab – A forum for FPV enthusiasts