Oh, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) look simple. Like driving a toy car. Then it lifts off the ground. Exciting. A bit… unnerving. Adrenaline. It flips and turns. Now, backwards seems left and right is forwards, and everything gets out of hand, and you panic, and it crashes into a wall.
Drones are really popular right now and it doesn’t look like they’re going away anytime soon. But they’re surprisingly hard to pilot! Here’s where to go when you’re first learning to fly…
Let’s start with local legalities. Drones are excellent things, but people don’t trust them. In fact, the majority of MUO readers would shoot one down if it hovered over their house. Privacy is an issue, but that’s just because people think a UAS is there solely to spy on the neighbors. Indeed, attach a camera to a drone and you can get some truly stunning and unique photographs.
For one, Trey Ratcliff filmed Beijing from above. It’s an amazing video. And it was illegal.
Legality is an odd thing. The UK-based Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) says regulations are evolving, but they remain quite a gray area. Weight remains a factor for law throughout much of the world:
- In Germany, private drones of more than 5kg need to have a flying permit.
- In the UK, you can only use a drone outside of “danger areas” if they weigh less than 20kg – and if they’re not flown within 50 meters of a person or vehicle. Further limitations apply for altitude.
See? It’s complicated, wherever you are. So how do you keep track?
Drone Law is a useful Tumblr site built on frustration surrounding pinning down what’s lawful and what’s not. As author Clemens Kochinke stated in a recent post, “intent matters.” As Kochinke is based in Washington DC, much of this centers on what’s going on in the United States, and updates are naturally intermittent.
Drone Law Journal looks at US law, but has quite a definitive guide to the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) ruling interpretations. But it also notes:
“The FAA has not attempted to enforce its claimed new rules in the Interpretation. Nor has it ever attempted to enforce its long-claimed commercial use ban. Not once. Unless someone operates recklessly, at most they will receive an ‘educational letter’ sent by FAA non-attorneys, that are carefully worded to encourage, but never order the recipient to do or not to do anything.”
Know Before You Fly is indispensable for American readers. It is an educational program founded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA), and the Small UAV Coalition – and supported by the FAA. It’s all about being responsible, so the site pairs cautions with friendly-looking graphics and simple navigation. Regulations are separated into user sectors – Recreational, Business, and Public entities. This is a reader-friendly feature.
Okay, that’s the USA, but what about everywhere else?
The Missouri Drone Journalism Program is perfect for UAS users in Canada, Mexico, the UK, Brazil, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and across Europe.
The Centre for the Study of the Drone has a guide for anyone hoping to fly a drone in India.
Now we’ve dealt with all that legal mess, let’s get our hands on an actual UAS!
This stunning site is easy to use and an ideal guide for beginners. UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Coach focuses mainly on quadcopters, but that’s what the majority of current pilots are using. They’re the most commercial and the most recognizable model considered as a “drone.”
If you’ve yet to buy a UAS, or are looking for an upgrade, there’s a useful guide for that. Perhaps the most viewed page, however, is How to Fly a Quadcopter – The Ultimate Guide. It’s a fully comprehensive article, also downloadable as a PDF, and pleasingly gives you milestones to aim for. Start off small and then move onto the big stuff – including videography.
This is a largely undiscovered website, but it deserves serious attention from all drone enthusiasts.
Nic and Zsolt, the people behind this completely immersive site, really get drones. They understand what people want from a specialist site: it accommodates all levels of expertise. Right now, the tutorials are of interest; notably the Beginner’s Guide to Flying Drones. There is also a three-volume look at keeping your batteries in working order. That’s not something most sites cover and yet it’s such an important part of taking care of a UAS.
And once you’ve mastered initially piloting, Drone Enthusiast has plenty of articles to keep you coming back for more. I particularly like their news timeline.
Zsolt and Nic live in Budapest, so there’s an ample amount of gorgeous videos.
Dedicated to first-time users, MyFirstDrone is packed with tips for specific models, ruminations on which you should buy, and step-by-step tutorials.
With over 270,000 likes on Facebook, it should be easy to get personal advice via social media, but strangely, they don’t seem to interact that much. Aside from that, the site itself isn’t as user-friendly as UAV Coach. Nonetheless, the extensive free guides analyze drone models very well, and a main draw is their section concerning building your own drone – that’s something many sites ignore or at least gloss over. If you’re a DIY type, this is essential.
Drones have many appliances. Amazon wants to use them to deliver packages; Facebook wants to use them to give mass Wi-Fi coverage; and they’re even increasingly helpful in warfare. That’s without even going into how they can be applied in future to disaster relief, and research. It should come as no surprise that they offer a future career.
Drone Training HQ points readers across the USA to programs specifically designed to encourage wannabe pilots, technicians, and manufactures. Note that they’re not endorsing any of these schools, but if you live in America and want someone there to help you, this is a great resource.
This aims to be an immersive site for amateurs and experts, but it’s not there yet. “Tips and How To’s” in particular is suffering from neglect. But it was only started up last year, so why not get in on the ground floor? It’s sure to be a big site soon: it just needs time and some TLC.
The design is solid and the writing easy to understand. Right now, the reviews section is especially of note (trying to find the right make for you can be daunting), while the “Guides” shine a light on model sizes: the Small Quadcopter Guide is a really cool idea to spark interest in an inexpensive way of getting into the UAS/UAV world.
This is going to be mainly of interest to those using specific makes, as the site is made by Parrot, the US-based technology firm that makes a lot of smartphone accessories but has recently expanded to cover (largely quad-based) drones.
But this isn’t a fully-fledged site jam packed with insightful articles. That’s not what UASes are known for though. The reason they’re on the news all the time? Videos, of course – and Parrot’s design is a conglomerate of great photography. You can forgive the fact this is all an elaborate advertisement for its indulgence in user-made videos that remind you not to get bogged down in the detail: just enjoy flying about and yes, crashing!
Why Have You Got Into Drones?
Last Christmas, drones became one of the most popular presents; the FAA reckons that 30,000 drones could be in the USA by 2020; and the AUVSI predicts that the commercial drone industry will be worth $13.6 billion by 2018.
Why are they so popular?
Media exposure has played a huge part. The benefits for photographers and videographers are great, as are their potential in healthcare, law-enforcing, and agriculture.
But at the end of the day they’re just huge fun. Infuriating at times, granted, but on the whole, another enjoyable hobby to perfect.
What do you think? Why do you like drones? And do you have any tips for newbies?
Image Credits: Probando drones by guillermo varela.