Recreational DRONES and what you need to know about the legal stuff

Video Source: Epic Drones

On Saturday, September 5, 2015, at the US Open, a man was arrested for flying a drone into a small seating area. The man, a 26 year old New York City teacher, was arrested for reckless endangerment, reckless operating of a drone, and operating a drone in a New York city public park outside of prescribed areas. This took place just after Senator Chuck Schumer called New York City the wild, wild, west for commercial and hobby drones–a bit of foreshadowing.

This past July, a man took a shotgun and shot down a drone after his kids alerted him of the aerial vehicle. The man was charged with first degree criminal mischief and first degree wanton endangerment. The man said “Everyone I have spoken to, including police, have said they would do the same thing, yet he still got arrested.

In November, a Drexel University student, was charged when he flew a drone over a group of protesters in center city, Philadelphia. Police didn’t take notice until the drone almost crashed into a Police helicopter that was monitoring a group of protesters.

These are just a few of the hundreds of drone incidents and arrests happening around the country. As drones become more and more popular, more incidents are becoming the “norm” and have prompted the FAA to review its rules and regulations governing the pilot less crafts.

With the busy holiday season that has arrived, many are looking for a drone to fulfill a recreational hobby. Others are looking for a drone to fulfill a business gap, such as Photographers and Videographers for aerial footage to add to their existing portfolio or line of service. Some media outlets have began using drones to bring breaking news footage to their audiences.

Whatever the reason, there are rules and regulations governing drones. Regardless of the intended purpose, this article is designed to help you understand what drones are, how they operate, who can fly them, and what rules must be followed. Keep in mind that this article should not replace the actual FAA guidelines found on their site.

So what is a drone? A drone is an unmanned Aerial vehicle or (UAV).

To the military, they are UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) or RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems). However, they are more commonly known as drones. Drones are used in situations where manned flight is considered too risky or difficult. They provide troops with a 24-hour “eye in the sky”, seven days a week.

The FAA recognizes a drone as a UAS. A UAS is a Unmanned Aircraft System. An unmanned aircraft system is an unmanned aircraft and the equipment necessary for the safe and efficient operation of that aircraft. An unmanned aircraft is a component of a UAS. It is defined by statute as an aircraft that is operated without the possibility of direct human intervention from within or on the aircraft (Public Law 112-95, Section 331(8)).

To civilians, their use is expanding in commercial, scientific, recreational, agricultural, and other applications such as policing and surveillance, aerial photography, agriculture and drone racing. Civilian drones now vastly outnumber military drones, with estimates of over a million sold by 2015.

Drones are controlled with an app on your tablet or touchscreen computer while others are controlled by a remote control similar to one designed for a video game console. Used in both commercial and military applications, these drones are often similar to a helicopter and can come with more than one rotor blade.

While the cheaper model drones can reach 1000 feet or so from the person controlling the device, some more robust and more expensive models use cell phone towers or satellite signals and have a lot larger range of freedom.

Originally, drones were designed with an internal combustion engine inside, but due to power output requirements and distance limitations (not to mention lots of extra weight and noise), drones have adapted to lithium ion battery powered electric motors.


One of the most popular drones on the market is the Phantom 2 Vision+. While slightly old now, it uses plenty of advanced technology and it is very popular with professional cinematographers. This UAV is ideal to explain drone technology because it has everything in one package. It includes the UAV, gimbal and camera and uses some of the top drone technology on the market today.

The time a drone can stay aloft is mostly determined by its battery size, power output, and price range; some only lasting minutes while others can stay in the air for more than an hour.

Chances are, as a consumer, you are looking for a photography drone or toy drone for just the joy of flying the device, but if you plan on using your drone for a practical application (like to help with farm work), be aware that there are several different types of drones to choose from and make your choice based on the practicality of your needs.

In order to increase flight safety and prevent accidental flights in restricted areas, the new firmware for the Phantom UAV series includes a “No Fly Zone feature”. These no fly zones have been divided into two categories: A and B.

The FAA is leading a public outreach campaign to promote safe and responsible use of unmanned aircraft systems. One of the organizations that is helping to lead the campaign is, “Know Before you Fly.” They have lots of useful information as well as FAA resources.

You can also find valuable information at Airmap, which focuses more on recreational drone flights and the rules associated with them.

The existing regulations for recreational drone operations in the US are actually quite simple and common sense. They are, however, generally completely misunderstood. The basic rules are:

 Never fly above 400 feet.
 Keep your drone within visual line of sight.
 Don’t fly over people.
 Fly in accordance with a set of community based guidelines.
 If you’re flying within 5 miles of an airport, give notice to the airport.

Click here to view a more detailed description of the FAA rules and regulations.


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