7 Things You Should Know Before Buying a Drone

Drones are red-hot gadgets right now, but you should consider a few things before getting caught up in the hype. Here’s what you really need to know before becoming America’s latest drone owner.

1. You Can’t Just Buy and Fly


Image via Flickr by Richard Unten

When you start shopping for a drone, you’ll notice a number of acronyms. Understanding these will make sure you buy the right drone for your needs.

RTF stands for ready-to-fly. The name’s a little misleading, as you’ll often need to install the propeller or bind the controller to the drone before flying. You’ll also need to charge your drone’s battery.

BNF or bind-to-fly drones are usually completely assembled but they don’t have controllers, so you’ll need to buy one or install software on your mobile device.
ARF stands for almost-ready-to-fly.

If you buy an ARF drone, you’re buying a drone kit. Usually these kits don’t come with transmitters or receivers. Many also don’t have motors, flight controllers, electronic speed controls, or batteries. Read the description of an ARF drone carefully so you know which components you must provide.

2. All Drones Must Be Registered

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) classifies drones as Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) and requires registration of all UAS weighing more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds.

You must be at least 13 years old to register a drone. After registering, you will receive a unique identification number which must be displayed on your drone. Registration lasts for three years.

3. You’ll Need the Right Mobile Device to Control Your Drone

Many drones are controlled by mobile devices rather than drone-specific controllers. This is really convenient unless you own an outdated mobile device. Typically you’ll find that drone software only works with newer smartphones running modern operating systems.

The Samsung Galaxy S7’s large display, fast processor, and long battery life make it a perfect choice as a drone controller. Check your desired drone’s specifications before making a purchase to determine whether you’ll need to upgrade your phone.

4. Not All Drones Are Easy to Fly

Drone manufacturers typically say their drones are easy to fly, but that’s not always true. Whether you’ll find flying a drone easy depends largely on its internal computer, known as a flight controller.

Some are designed for agile flying while others are set up for stability. Additionally, low-priced drones are typically harder to control because they don’t have the added sensors and flight controller functionality of more expensive models.

5. Flying in Certain Conditions Could Put Your Drone at Risk

Even if you’re feeling confident when flying your drone, make sure you don’t get too cocky. If you take flight in poor conditions, you could easily damage your drone or risk losing it. Clear days with little to no breeze are ideal for flying drones.

Drones are so lightweight that even a small wind can cause you to lose control.

While many drones have lights, you shouldn’t fly them once night falls. Your drone’s lights will only show you its position, not the position of potential hazards like trees or buildings.

6. You Must Heed Flying Guidelines

In 1981, the FAA issued guidelines for operating model aircraft. While this advice was issued decades ago, the rules may still be enforced by the FAA. These guidelines state that people should not fly model aircraft more than 400 feet above the ground or out of their line of sight.

There are also area-specific laws to consider. For example, the FAA declared a five-mile no-fly zone around all U.S. airports, except for Reagan National Airport, which has a larger 15-mile no-fly zone.

7. You Should Use Good Flying Etiquette

While not strictly against the rules, flying in residential and urban areas should be done with a great deal of caution. Many people are concerned about the privacy implications of drones, and may cause a fuss if they spot one.

Stick to wide open fields and avoid houses, schools, stadiums, churches, power stations, prisons, and busy roads. If you do encounter people, make sure you don’t fly recklessly around them or you could face a fine.

Flying with a drone club is a good way to enjoy your drone without raising suspicion.

Do your homework before spending the considerable money for a drone. Make sure you know what you’re getting into and that you avoid trouble with one of these hot new gadgets.

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