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Got a new drone? Read this first

Got a new drone? Read this first

A few simple rules to help you stay out of trouble

Got a new drone? You're not alone. Some estimates say hundreds of thousands of the craft will be sold before the end of 2015. But drones aren't like other gadgets that you figure out without reading the instruction manual.

You'll get most out of your drone if you take it easy and conduct a few low test flights as you practice the possible controls and maneuvers. You should consider flying lessons and joining a local flying club, where you can learn more about flight and model aircraft.

But you probably can't wait to get it into the air, so remember there are a few important safety, privacy and legal guidelines you need to follow to keep you and your drone out of trouble.

Maximum altitude

Drones are limited to no higher than 400 feet. That provides a small buffer between your drone and controlled airspace, which begins at 500 feet.

Drones aren't cleared to enter that part of the sky and doing so would put them in danger of colliding with aircraft and helicopters, potentially causing a deadly crash. And if for some reason an aircraft or helicopter comes close to your drone, you're obligated to move out of the way.

In general, it's good practice to fly below the top of any surrounding obstacles like trees or buildings.

Know your area

Fly in an open area away from people and obstacles that could block your view of your drone. You're obligated to keep in it sight at all times.

Exercise caution flying near airports and helipads. As a general rule, you shouldn't fly within five miles of an airport, but you may be able to get permission from the control tower if you won't be causing problems to general aviation. Flying clubs have usually negotiated test flight areas that are known to local pilots.

Drones are also banned from flying in all national parks.

Check flying conditions

Avoid flying during bad weather and strong winds. You're drone is small and lightweight and can't stand up to bad weather the same way a regular aircraft can.

And watch your own conditions too. Don't fly when you've been drinking.

Drone registration

The FAA is fast moving toward a drone registration program but it's not there yet. Details are expected in December and will probably entail filling out a simple online form with your name and address. So keep watching for the start of the program but for now there's nothing you need to do. In particular, don't get conned by bogus drone registration programs that are apparently already being offered.

No Business

Don't use your drone for business. You might have a great idea for a lucrative new drone photography business, but commercial use of drones requires a special permit from the FAA and brings a whole new level of restrictions and requirements. Hobbyists have much more freedom to fly, so embrace it.

Other Resources

The drone industry has a comprehensive website with all the rules and recommendations called "Know Before You Fly" and the Academy of Model Aeronautics will point you to your local flying club and help you find the local model aircraft enthusiast community. The full rules and regulations can be found on the FAA's drone website.


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