Drones For Dummies — 9 Things You Should Know Before You Fly Your Drone
The only thing uncommon about common sense is that it is uncommon. This old adage holds true when you watch novice pilots take to the air and causing a commotion with the community or the people around them. In today’s world with more recreational and affordable drones becoming easily accessible to the general public it is important to understand some of the basics.
As a done enthusiast and hobbyist, I fly DJI, namely the Phantom 3 Advanced and the Mavic Pro. The beauty of DJI is that all flight training can be done on a simulator well before you actually fly. Your training and skills are easily honed and there is a record of every flight you make stored under your account. It allows you to progress to different levels as your flying hours increase and your proficiency improves. Put simply — it’s proof of your flight.
Furthermore, with regulation not fully developed around this space self-regulation and/or common sense plays a significant role in ensuring safety. Like all flying safety is a priority and comes first. A drone is a motorized projectile and the heavier the drone the more dangerous it is when you lose control or it loses power and falls out of the sky.
Once your drone leaves the ground you immediately fall under the regulation of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). Here are 9 common-sense rules and regulations you need to know when you take to the air.
1. Registration. Ensure that you are registered with the CAA in your country. This way you agree to abide by the rules and regulations of that authority and in some cases undergo some basic training on how to fly your drone as well as basic aviation theory and etiquette. In Zimbabwe there is draft legislation which requires you to do so. Therefor register you UAV (Unmanned Arial Vehicle aka Drone) for peace of mind once regulation is enforced.
2. Liability. You are legally responsible for your drone and for every flight you make with it. If you chose to lend it out to unqualified persons then do so with the knowledge that should it cause harm or crashes the name in the registration database gets the first call. So be aware that when you hand the controls over to junior who then unceremoniously brings it down causing harm, you will be accountable. You don’t need to be a scientist to know that a 2kg drone falling from 50m is going to make significant impact with whatever it hits on the ground.
3. Stay below 110m. Most DJI drones have and inbuilt warning system which asks you to override the height limit at 110m. Don’t override it’s not worth it. At 125m (400 ft) you run the risk of not being able to see your drone. You probably can hear it but it won’t be easily visible to the naked eye. At 155m (500 ft) you now enter the lower limits at which civil aviation flies. Needless to say, that pictures or videos filmed at such heights are not the best unless you have an excellent DSLR camera mount with some serious zoom lenses. So, keep it low.
4. Always have a visual. A line of sight (LOS) and visibility of your drone is paramount and for your own comfort and peace of mind. The maximum distance allowed is 500m (1,640 ft) and again DJI have a built-in geo fence which warns you when you are out of sight (OOS). More experienced drone pilots can rely on the screen monitor or FPV (First Person View) and basically fly at greater distances up to 3000m depending on weather conditions and battery life. Personally, I don’t recommend you do this as there are times when you will get a low transmission or lost transmission signal appearing on your screen. This can lead to panic and anxiety attacks leading to a crash and all the trouble that comes with it. It is good practice to fly with a spotter with a pair of binoculars to chip in every now and again giving you the necessary assurances and confidence when flying.
5. No Fly Zones. Do NOT fly near government or military buildings. Do NOT fly in regulated Civil Aviation spaces such as airports or airstrips. Simply KEEP AWAY from such buildings and infrastructure. It is a serious criminal offence to endanger the safety of an aircraft in flight. Do NOT fly near prisons, power stations, water works, busy roads, train or bus stations. These are sensitive areas and will attract the full wrath of the law. The golden rule is do NOT fly within 5km (3 miles) from these no-fly zones. Simply KEEP OUT and KEEP SAFE! DJI regularly update their drone firmware that prevents DJI drones from actually flying in no-fly zones.
6. Check your surroundings. When you take off ensure you are at least 50m (165 ft) from buildings structures, people or animals. Most National Parks do NOT allow you to fly your drone in their spaces. Ensure you get specific permission if you wish to fly in such areas. Do NOT fly in congested areas or crowds. Keep at least 150m (490 ft) away from these. This is specifically for concerts and sports events. Unless you are specifically contracted to do so and have the necessary experience and insurance, it is not worth your while misbehaving in these densely populated spaces.
7. Privacy and security. In a time where privacy is a very sensitive area you need to pay extra attention of where it could be deemed that you are violating a neighbors or individual rights to privacy. Images or videos taken of private property and posted on the internet could easily land you a lawsuit. Flying your recreational drone up and down the neighborhood streets may not be seen in a positive light. Drones have been known to be used by criminal elements to unlawfully scope out private residences for causing harm to the occupants therein. Do not be found wanting and have your drone brought down by irate neighbors. Recovery thereof will be literally impossible. The civil and criminal charges can and will be brought against you. It is better to seek permission and advise your neighbors or your community if you are going to be flying around the vicinity.
8. First Aid and Emergency. Always have a standard first aid kit with you when you fly your drone. Accidents can occur and you may need to administer basic first aid or be able to manage the emergency till the first responders get on the scene. A drone can fall to the ground and cause serious injury. A fire extinguisher is also key and needs to be readily available incase your drone crashes and causes a fire. Cut fingers from propellers to fires caused by overcharging batteries are but some of the potential hazards associated with drone flying.
9. One control stick at a time. The most common reason for drone crashes is stalling the rotor motors in mid-air. This happens when you attempt to maneuver your aircraft using both control sticks at the same time and mistakenly bring them together to the stall position therefore turning off the rotor motors. The golden rule is use one stick a time till you are extremely comfortable with executing a maneuver with both control sticks. Whilst it doesn’t look impressive to the by standers it is sound flying advice.
Let’s keep our airways safe and hobbies enjoyable by common sense flying and self-regulation. The last thing we want is a few inconsiderate people misbehaving and leading to draconian regulation. In Africa we say “This is tantamount to urinating in the village well and expecting everyone to draw water from it the next morning” Such is an abomination that should never be allowed.