With unmanned aircraft, or drones, a popular gift item this holiday season and beyond, the unmanned aircraft systems program on Kansas State University’s Polytechnic Campus has five essential tips to help hobbyists fly safely.
Started almost 10 years ago, the Kansas State Polytechnic UAS program has made safe operations the cornerstone of its classroom curriculum, research and flight instruction.
And with the FAA estimating the number of small unmanned aircraft purchased by hobbyists in 2016 to reach 1.9 million, Kansas State Polytechnic wants to provide beginner pilots with the important basics of proper use and safety.
Spencer Schrader, a student in the UAS program and a flight instructor, says safe operations are a necessary focus for every unmanned pilot, from hobbyist to student to professional, because the industry is still developing, which means untested technology and ever-evolving guidelines.
“The world of unmanned aircraft, or drones, is still relatively new and some standards in technology either haven’t been set yet or continue to mature,” Schrader said. “Following fundamental safety precautions can help mitigate deficiencies that could be encountered with the aircraft itself or during flight operations. Safety is a top priority in the UAS courses offered at Kansas State Polytechnic and we’re proud to be able to share this insight with hobbyists to make a positive impact on their flying experience.”
The first rule for hobbyists to remember is the FAA requires them to register their aircraft.
All drones that weigh between .55 pounds to 55 pounds — even those purchased for recreational use only — must be catalogued on RegisterMyUAS.faa.gov. It costs $5 and takes about 10 minutes, which could save hundreds of dollars in fines.
Next, the aircraft’s batteries should be fully charged before flying. This will not only give hobbyists the longest flights possible with their drone, but it will also prevent the battery’s charge from dropping below 20%.
Unmanned aircraft carry lithium polymer batteries, which are a hazardous material, and flying below 20% could increase the volatility of the battery. If your aircraft has poor battery health, it could result in the termination of the flight mid-air, endangering your drone and anyone on the ground.
The third tip is centered on avoiding an air-to-air collision. Hobbyists should never fly within five miles of an airport unless prior authorization has been obtained from both the control tower and the airport manager. Control towers are unable to spot a drone on their radar, so it is imperative that you notify them of the time, location and altitude of your flight.
Hobbyists also should always maintain visual contact with the aircraft. The FAA requires drone pilots to always have their drone in their sights when flying it. An object or manned aircraft could be in the flight path, and if you’re flying beyond your visual line of sight, it could put those in the air and on the ground in harm’s way.
The final safety tip is to remove the propellers when powering the aircraft on indoors. For example, if you are working on the aircraft or conducting software updates while inside, it may require you to apply power to the aircraft. If you accidentally bump the throttle on the controller or transmitter, it may cause the propellers to begin spinning, putting yourself and anyone else in the room at risk of serious injury.