Embarking on your drone-flying journey can be both exciting and daunting, as there’s a wealth of information to absorb before your first flight. Are you required to register your drone? Do you need a license to operate it? Is it even legal to fly a drone in your city? To ease your entry into the world of drones, we’ve put together this Part 1 guide, covering the seven key things you need to know before taking to the skies with your drone.
For more in-depth information, be sure to check out Part 2 at the end of this article, which delves deeper into drone-flying knowledge.
1. FAA Registration for Drones Over 0.55 lbs
If your drone weighs more than 0.55 lbs (approximately 250 grams), you must register it with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in the United States. Registering your drone is a straightforward process:
- Visit the FAA’s official drone registration website.
- Create an account by providing your address, phone number, and email.
- Pay the $5 registration fee.
- Receive a unique registration number, which you should affix to your drone. Using a piece of masking tape with the registration number written in Sharpie is a practical method, as it can be removed if you decide to sell or gift your drone (Note: The registration is tied to the pilot, not the drone).
2. Determining the Appropriate License or Certificate
The FAA categorizes drone flights into two primary groups: commercial and hobby. Your specific flight intentions will determine the type of certification you need:
- Commercial Drone Operation: If you plan to generate income with your drone, such as selling videos or offering drone-related services, you’ll need a Remote Pilot certificate under Part 107. Obtaining this certification involves passing an Aeronautical Knowledge Test. Think of it as similar to the written test you took before obtaining a driver’s license, but focused on aviation.
- Recreational Drone Flying: If you intend to fly drones purely for recreation, the process is simpler. You’ll need to complete an easy online course, taking approximately 30 minutes to an hour. Afterward, you’ll need to pass an online quiz, which mainly involves common-sense questions. This test is officially known as TRUST (The Recreational Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety Test) and can be taken online for free through FAA-approved partner organizations.
3. Checking for Legal Flying Areas
Understanding where you can legally fly your drone is crucial. You can typically fly in Class G airspace without specific approval. However, if you plan to fly in Class B or C airspace (common around airports and controlled airspace), you’ll need permission. To check if you’re clear to fly, an app like AirMap can help by inputting your flying location’s address.
For more details on flying in specific areas, refer to my guide on this topic.
4. Start with a Low-Cost Toy Drone If You’re a Novice
While modern camera drones like the DJI Mavic and Autel X-Star are more user-friendly than ever, they are not immune to accidents. Starting with a cheap toy drone is advisable, as it allows you to hone your piloting skills without risking expensive equipment. Crashing a $30 toy drone is far more forgiving than damaging a high-end DJI Mavic. Many drone enthusiasts have learned this lesson the hard way.
5. Opt for Open Spaces on Your First Flight
If you’re eager to test your new DJI Mavic right away (even before gaining experience with a toy drone), at least choose an open area for your first flight. Locations like a football field or a desert with minimal trees and water provide an excellent environment for beginners.
6. Adhere to FAA Operating Rules
Regardless of your drone flying experience, everyone must follow the FAA’s operating rules. These rules include yielding right of way to manned aircraft, maintaining visual line-of-sight with your drone, and notifying airports and air traffic control towers if you plan to fly within 5 miles of an airport.
7. Join a Drone Flying Community
One of the best ways to improve your piloting skills is to connect with other drone enthusiasts. Look for local meetup groups on platforms like Meetup.com or Facebook. Flying with experienced individuals can provide valuable insights and learning opportunities.
For a comprehensive list of online drone communities, some of which also have in-person gatherings, refer to my detailed guide.
Is there something important we’ve missed in this list? Feel free to share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below. Happy flying!