Safety tips to observe when flying drones

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Ife Ogunfuwa

With Amazon developing drone delivery and more research being conducted on unmanned aerial systems by groups such as National Aeronautics and Space Administration, it is only a matter of time before drones become more commonplace. The arrival of cheap drones also puts them within reach for folks who previously weren’t able to afford light quadcopters such as the Blade 350QX series or the DJI Phantom.

According to, as more people enter the commercial and hobby drone scene, however, the prospects for drone crashes and accidents also multiply.

Follow nine essential safety tips to help you have a better and safer flying experience—not just for yourself but for the people around you.

Things to do

Fly in good weather. Minimise a lot of problems by only operating your drone during ideal conditions. Good weather lets you not only fly your drone better but also keep track of it in the air. “Good” weather for drones is not limited to clear skies and the absence of rain. Sunny days with strong winds, for example, make flying a drone a more hair-raising experience.

Observe line of sight. You always want to be within visual range of your drone so that you know where it is at all times and you don’t accidentally ram it into something.

Steer clear of airports. Drones and airports typically don’t mix well. In fact, some drone apps include airports in their no-fly zones. Bird collisions are unavoidable but accidents involving drones really should not happen. In early 2016, for example, an Air France pilot had to switch from autopilot to manual flight controls to avoid a drone at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.

Watch out for interference. While flying under a bridge in Taiwan, one drone pilot’s connection dropped and triggered the “return to home” function for his drone. Unfortunately, this feature made it fly straight up and smack into the underside of the bridge then crash spectacularly into the waters below. Remain alert for both physical and electromagnetic sources of interference that could affect your ability to control your drone.

Things to not do

Don’t fly over people. This tip is best illustrated by the experience of skier Marcel Hirscher, who nearly got hit by a drone that was loaded with gear and fell out of the sky. If it happened just two seconds earlier, he would have been seriously injured and possibly even killed. There have been incidents of drones being shot out of the sky by people who are out hunting. Remember, not everyone is a fan of drones.

Don’t fly over someone else’s house. Unless you’ve got permission and a really good reason to do so, you shouldn’t fly over other people’s homes. If someone spies your drone, especially if it has a camera, conflict can escalate quickly. Some folks have been known to throw rocks at drones while others have even used shotguns to shoot them down. And if your drone just happens to crash by itself and in the process, injures a child or pet, you could be liable for civil or criminal penalties.

Don’t fly above 400 feet. The higher you go, the higher the chance that you will start running into things like airplanes and hang gliders. If you do notice any flying vehicles in the vicinity, make sure you defer to them, especially since they won’t always be able to see your drone.

Don’t fly over roads. This guidance especially applies to busy thoroughfares such as freeways and major roads. The last thing you want is a drone dropping from the sky onto a busy expressway and causing a major accident.

Don’t fly above military bases. Military authorities do not like unplanned incursions by non-military surveillance assets. In 2017, the Department of Defense authorised military leaders to shoot down drones flying over more than 150 different defense bases and related installations.


Things to consider when buying drones

Things aren’t so simple when it comes to buying a brand spanking new drone, which requires more forethought than deciding whether you want cheese on your burger or have your onions fresh or grilled.

If you’re one of those new drone aficionados now interested in buying your own slice of hovering heaven, well, there’s no need to fret. To help out, we’ve put together a quick list of pointers from David Newton, a photographer based in the United Kingdom. He is also a videographer and drone user with the Sandisk Extreme Team, reports Lifewire.

Now here’s a list of things to think about when buying a new drone.

Why do you want a drone?

As with any other item you buy, the first question you should ponder is the purpose of your purchase. The same is true when picking a drone.

“Do you want to have a hobby drone to fly around and have fun with or do you want something for filming or photographing?” Newton asked. “Depending on your choice, it leads down to a particular path.”

Hobbyists, for example, may want to start out with something more affordable such as the Swann QuadForce or Xtreem Gravity Pursuit to work out the initial kinks of drone flying and figure out if it’s for them. More thrill-seeking hobbyists could also go for something like a racing drone, which are typically very small, very fast and also very durable, which allows them to withstand more abuse.

For folks interested in shooting pictures or video, things to think about include the size of the gear you want to use and the advanced control options you would like to have. This will determine the type and size of the drone as well as the number of rotors, which can range from the basic quadcopter to hexacopters and even octocopters. For the majority of folks, though, a quadcopter should fulfill their needs.

Size matters

Once you’ve figured out your purpose in life as a drone user, you can start thinking about the big stuff. Or the little stuff. How big of a drone you’re going to need will be determined by a few factors, including the kind of flying experience you want and the kind of equipment you plan to use.

“As you go up in size, drones tend to be more stable and able to fly better in stronger winds,” Newton said. “Drones are small, aerial vehicles so they’re susceptible to wind and the bigger you go, the more wind you can fly in and the more equipment you can carry.”

On the small end of the scale, you’ve got drones such as the DJI Phantom, which can be paired with a selection of small cameras, and 3D Robotics Solo, which can accommodate a GoPro. One step up in size is the DJI Inspire line, which allows folks to use camera options such as the 4K-capable X3 or the even more powerful X5R or Raw cam.

For folks who want to strap some more serious gear, you can go big with drones such as the DJI Spreading Wings. This serious-looking drone features eight rotors and enough flight muscle to carry a Canon 5D Mark III or a Panasonic GH4. Want something even bigger? There’s the Alta Freefly, a honking drone system than can carry a serious camera such as the Epic-X Red Dragon. Then again, that capability will literally cost you, which we’ll get to a little bit later.

Bells and whistles

Carrying prowess is good and all but it’s not the only feature you should think about when picking a drone. This is especially true if you plan to take video with your little flying wonder.

Many drone makers provide software for iOS and Android but not all drone software is created equal. The 3D Robotics software, for example, offer “smart drone” options designed for shooting. These include an orbit function that lets your drone automatically fly around a target, follow an object such as a phone or even combine both.

“If you’re manually controlling a drone yourself, it can be difficult to do maneuvers like orbiting smoothly and repeat them,” Newton said. “To that as a pilot, it’s really quite complex.”

Some drone makers such as Yuneec have a tablet built into a controller so you don’t have to buy it separately. Other features include a stabilized gimbal for more stable video and photography and rising legs that hide them from the camera’s view so you don’t have them intruding in your shots.

Battery life typically ranges between 10 minutes to 20 minutes so fast charging is another option worth thinking about. Combined with spare batteries, this should give you more operation time when you’re out and about. New and developing technologies such as hydrogen and high-stream fuel cells also hold promise.

Then again, there’s one key factor that limits everyone’s drone buying options.

How much will it cost me?

For the most part, drone flying isn’t for penny pinchers. Having certain features and capabilities are certainly nice but you’re ultimately limited by your finances as well.

Yes, you’ve got budget options that retail under $100 such as the Swann Quadforce but for the most part, a drone with a solid selection of features such as the Phantom starts out around $500 to $700. A Robotic Solo, meanwhile, starts out just under $1,000 and will cost you extra for capturing media as you’ll need to buy a GoPro separately.

For folks who like to drink their liquids with their pinky raised, DJI’s Spreading Wings line starts around a couple of grand and can go up to $5,000. Then you’ve got drones in the Daddy Warbucks territory such as the Alta Freefly, which costs as much as a small car, retailing for nearly $18,000.

Then again, such high-end drones are more the exception than the rule.

“That’s just a totally different marketplace,” Newton said. “Not many hobbyists will spend $18,000 on a drone; you need to have a good commercial reason to do so.”

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