There is a stunning level of underestimating the complexity and power of unmanned aerial systems (UAS). Often thought of as mere toys, these aircraft have a proper place in the skies and require a solid understanding of operations to fly safely and competently.
So, what is a UAS?
Drone has become a household word these days. To some, it rings of a sinister shiny metal disk, flying through the air in some dystopian sci-fi movie, zapping away with lasers and peering in wherever it pleases.
To others, it is just a toy, something for the kids to play with.
Well, the truth is, there is much more to today’s unmanned aircraft.
You will find UAS being used every day in businesses, such as real estate or event photography. Insurance, construction and roof inspections, as well as TV and film production, employ these incredible aircraft more and more and there is no end in sight.
But, it is not quite as simple to fly properly as it may appear from an offhand glance.
Do I need a drone license or certification?
There are rules and regulations for flying whether you are simply a recreational operator or flying for business purposes.
First of all, any UAS weighing more than .55 pounds and up to 55 pounds must be registered with the FAA.
Larger aircraft exceeding 55 pounds need to file a paper-based N-number registration.
As a recreational operator, you will register under Section 336. As a business operator you will follow the Part 107 process. You can find the details for each type of operator at FAA.gov/DroneZone.
If you are flying for your own relaxation and enjoyment, you are considered a recreational operator. But keep in mind, there are guidelines to follow even for this level of operation, so be sure to become familiar with these important points when registering your drone on the DroneZone website.
A 14 CFR Part 107 Remote Pilot certification is required whenever you fly for any business or profit generating purpose. You may be considering going into the aerial photo business — great! Be sure to get your Part 107 certificate.
You may already be a business person, such as a realtor, and want to use your own drone to get photos of houses you have listed on the market — great! Get your Part 107 certificate.
You may be asked by a friend to shoot some photos of a sporting event for the school newsletter — great! Get your Part 107 certificate. See the difference now?
There are many, many drone operators jumping the gun and and flying for purposes they did not realize require a Part 107 certificate. It is crucially important to understand these parameters to ensure the safety of the National Airspace System and manned aircraft, as well as people on the ground.
Think: You are multitasking
Once you have established your credentials, you must understand the details of your particular flight.
Like a manned aircraft, you simply do not just take off and then start figuring things out from there.
At first, you need to start slowly, practicing your flying skills in a wide, open area far away from people or property.
Don’t worry about the camera just yet, concentrate on learning the controls and dynamics of handling and controlling your UAS. Not too high, not too fast.
Practice your maneuvers to get smooth with flying. Some systems, such as DJI, even have built-in simulation modes so you can practice without actually putting your drone in the air. This is a great way to get more familiar with the sticks and controls.
Top of the list is safety. Before you lift off the first time, you should have an established “what if” plan. What if you need to make a sudden landing? What if your controller loses signal? What if you come in contact with an object such as a tree, building, or overhead wire? Are you prepared to handle a situation like this? You need to be.
Never make assumptions about your equipment. Batteries charged? Props secure? Takeoff area secured? You should have a good pre-flight checklist and go through it every single time you begin a flight.
While in the air you will need to constantly monitor your speed, direction, altitude, other aircraft in the area, battery consumption and a number of other elements. You will constantly scan the surrounding sky for approaching manned aircraft and take steps to yield to these other aircraft. Manned aircraft always takes priority over UAS.
Oh yeah, why were you up there in the first place? That’s right! To take some photos and video. Now you suddenly layer on the role of a photographer at the same time you are piloting a remote aircraft.
It doesn’t take long to see how this can become quite the juggling act in a hurry. This is why practice and consistently flying cannot be emphasized enough.
But wait, there’s more…
It does sound like there is a lot to learn, and there is. But fortunately there is an amazing level of technology rolled into the better quality UAS to help guide you along the way.
Ultimately however, you are the Remote Pilot in Command (RPIC) and responsible for the flight.
Keeping accurate logs of pre-flight, in-flight and post-flight ops will go a long way to keeping you in tune with the behavior and maintenance of your drone system.
Guidance from industry experts and other remote pilots will also help you explore new areas and sharpen your skills. The more polished your skills, the more your confidence will build, as well as the productivity and enjoyment of flying drones.