Flying drones in the USA – is it lawful?

Drones have many names – quadcopters, UAs (Unmanned Aircraft), UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), RPVs (Remotely Piloted Vehicles) and so on. However, for the sake of uniformity, in this article I’ll use the word drone.

And, nowadays, drones are ubiquitous and available for easy purchase, both off and online. But can anyone just buy one and fly it where and when he wants?

Drone laws USA

 

Let’s consider the USA, for example. What is the legal position of a drone owner in this country?

In the USA, the flying of drones is controlled by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and, to a lesser degree, the various state authorities. The FAA classifies drones in three main categories,

Drones for public use, Drones for commercial use and Drones for recreational use.

 

Public use
This means the use of drones by government organizations for such tasks as firefighting, border control, police operations, rescue, etc. Drones must have a COA (Certificate of Authorisation) from the FAA before they can be flown and this certificate will restrict the flying of the drone to a defined area and include various stipulations regarding safety. These COAs can usually be obtained from the FAA within 60 days, are valid for up to two years and are issued through the COA Online system.

 

Commercial use (civil/non-government use)
Drones that do not fall into the above public or recreational classifications become commercial-use drones and must obtain authority to fly according to the purpose for which they will be used. For use in environments considered to be low-risk, a Section 333 Exemption and a COA (Certificate of Authority) must be obtained.

Alternatively, a SAC (Special Airworthiness Certificate) must be applied for, with the applicant specifying the drone’s design, construction, and software and providing details of flight management and how and when the flights will be made. At the same time, SACs may also be issued for experimental drones or for drones used for research, but such certificates do not allow the use of drones for hire.

 

Recreational use (model/hobby aircraft)
The operation of drones or model aircraft for recreation and hobby use comes under the FAA Modernisation and Reform Act of 2012. Providing that the limitations in this Act are followed, any person may fly his drone for non-commercial use. The FAA has issued guidelines through various model aircraft groups that owners of hobby drones should follow. Some of these guidelines are given below:

 

  1. The drone should be flown at an altitude of not more than 400 feet.
  2. It must be kept in sight of the operator.
  3. It must be flown at least 5 miles away from any airport.
  4. It must not be flown near crowded areas, stadiums, etc.
  5. It must weigh less than 55 lbs.
  6. It must be flown without endangering people, property or aircraft.

 

Drone Laws

 

FAA regulation of December 2015
In December 2015, the FAA announced that all drones with a weight in excess of 250 grams and flown for any purpose must be registered with the FAA. This regulation included recreational drones weighing between 250 grams and 55 lbs.

Among the many new conditions set out in this ruling were:

1. Registered owners must be at least 13 years of age.
2. Upon receipt of a registration certificate and number, this number must be marked on the drone.
3. The registration fee is $5.
4. Registration is valid for 3 years and can be renewed for a further 3 years.
5. One registration certificate can cover more than one drone.

 

Federal versus State regulations
Although the government, through the FAA, controls all US airspace, citizens still have the right to use it. Authority to control traffic, flights and safety resides with the FAA notwithstanding the fact that many states have introduced their own regulations governing the flying of drones.

Although the FAA considers that its regulations preempt those of the states, there have often been conflicts between the two parties, many of which have been settled or are being settled by the courts. However, state regulations that the FAA would likely find acceptable include the use of drones for police surveillance, the prohibition of the use of drones for voyeurism, hunting and fishing, and the carrying of explosives and weapons.

Usually, under state law, a warrant must be obtained before a drone can be employed in law enforcement. States that have introduced laws to control drones include California, Virginia, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin. At the same time, several towns have passed laws restricting or banning the flying of drones in the areas under their jurisdiction.

The above are only general outlines of the regulations governing the use of drones and would-be drone-owners should obtain detailed information from the FAA and the relevant state authorities. Happy and useful flying!

AirDog – For the Action Man, Or Woman.

Whether you enjoy running, skateboarding, hiking, biking, motor cross, climbing, skiing, surfing, or any other outdoor activity, you may have wished you had a faithful old friend with you that would follow to heel without question. Well, that loyal companion is now available. Released on open sale towards the end of 2015 is Airdog, a faithful, unquestioning companion that will follow you on command regardless of terrain / danger.

 


First Impressions

Meeting your Airdog for the first time you will notice how colorful your new companion is. Sporting a yellow body and purple legs your Airdog is certainly a unique looker. You will also see that Airdog is a compact little creature with its legs and propellers folded away ready to be tucked away into a small backpack, and at 1.85 Kilos, with its battery and a GpPro camera, your new pet is no effort to carry around to the venue of your chosen activity. Your Airdog has a rugged plastic form and simplistic design which enables it to shrug off rough handling, bumps, and scrapes without flinching, or a visit to the vet! Nothing about Airdog’s appearance gives you any inkling of fragility. Airdog has a single forward facing camera which will lock onto your wrist mounted leash and will not let go until ordered to do so by you. Your leash is light, compact, uncluttered and easy to operate with simple one-touch commands which Airdog obeys immediately.

Out to Play With Airdog

At the site of your chosen activity, you simply unfold your Airdog and it’s ready to go. Airdog will follow you at a range of up to 250 meters, which is above average, and at a maximum speed of 42MPH, depending on wind conditions, and is happy to operate in temperatures ranging from -10 to + 40 degrees C. Fitted with a Go Pro camera Airdog is unrelenting in its pursuit of you. Regardless of twists, turns, ups and the downs your activity may require of you, Airdog keeps you centrally framed and focused for perfect imaging. Your faithful companion will be able to follow you for around 18 minutes, which is above average for devices of a similar price. At the touch of a button on the leash, your faithful friend will return to its starting point, landing to within .25 of a meter. In flight you will need to be aware of the route you are following as Airdog only has a single forward facing camera facility, meaning it is not fully aware of its peripheral surroundings. You Airdog may be just a tree branch away from a nasty stumble.

Airdog Drone for action sports

Is There a Downside to Airdog?

Airdog is not about to win any beauty contest. It’s yellow and purple appearance may not be everyone’s first choice of livery, and as yet there are no plans to offer any alternative choice. Of course, this doesn’t affect performance, and at least your new pup will stand out in a crowd. After initially choosing Airdog as your new companion, you will need to bear in mind the cost of a camera as Airdog doesn’t come equipped with one. Its camera mounting will take the excellent GoPro camera which gives excellent imagery. Airdog’s camera gimbal is restricted to an up and down movement. With no side to side option, this can be limiting. Airdog has no collision avoidance system, this can be a worry. Airdog follows you from above by locking onto the signal emitted from the leash on your wrist. If you are using Airdog for outdoor, sporting activities, for which it was primarily designed, you will have little or no time to be looking out anything that could present a potential hazard to your new friend.

Giving orders to Airdog from the leash on your wrist is simple, but there’s no facility to take a still shot from the camera. Although designed primarily for the active outdoors, some owners may want to use Airdog for more simple aerial photography, in which case the camera restrictions will be an issue. At 1599 Dollars, plus the cost of a camera, some may think that the price is excessive for a cycloptic canine flyer. With more complete drone packages available on the market, for just a little more money, potentially new, loving homes for Airdog may be hard to find.

JJRC X1 – Warning, Not a Toy Really!

The JJRC X1 is one of the first toy grade drones priced around $120 to use the more efficient and powerful brushless motors, this drone is very fast and agile which makes it more suitable for experienced drone pilots or as a second or third drone. This drone has three different modes, with the first speed for beginners, the second speed works well in windy conditions and the third and top speed for advanced drone pilots as the JJRC X1 can reach speeds of up to about 40 kilometres per hour. I find this drone to be a stable enough flyer but does not handle windy condition too good.


JJRC X1

 

The JJRC X1 has an excellent flying time of about 15 minute and a control distance of 300 – 400 meter but I wouldbe hesitant to fly this drone further than the eye can see, as visibility of this drone is limited with its black frame and LED lights that you can only really see when are flying this drone straight up above you, there is a mod instructions for the LED light’s on Youtube to lower them so they are visible from all angles.


Brush-less motors

The JJRC X1 doesn’t come with a Camera but is compatible with the SYMA X5C-1 FPV System for flying First Person View for racing this drone, also this drone is powerful so you could attach a sport camera or a RunCam but you will need to figure out the best way to attached this camera, again Youtube has lots of instructions you could research.

This drone is suitable for drone pilots that are interested in trying FPV racing before they splash out on an Eachine Racer 250 etc, also, this drone is very durable as I have crashed it and it seems to bounce and roll on impact with no visible damage but make sure you have the propeller guards attached.


JJRC x1 transmitter

 

 

The transmitter is the usually toy grade quality with extra features like Headless mode and Return home buttons, but no flip / roll feature which would enhance the flying experience. The D1806-2280KV brushless motors do have a protection feature which shuts off the motors when the propellers touch anything, plus there is a spare set of propellers with the JJRC X1 just in case.


What you get with the JJRC X1 Quadcopter

 

 

The battery is a 7.4V 1300mah which is the same as the battery of the Tarantula X6 quadcopter which was handy as I have an extra 2 batteries which gave me a total flying time of about 45 minutes in the park which I enjoyed!

Shop for the JJRC X1

 

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Hubsan X4 Pro Review

Hubsan X4 Pro 

According to the manufacturer’s specification, the unit has a Precise Control System, allowing it to be controlled up to a distance of 1,000 meters using the 2.4GHz frequency range, and can also transmit video over the same distance in the 5.8GHz frequency range.

The video camera is a high definition at 1080P. Hubsan refers to this drone as the H109S

 

Hubsan X4 Pro Review

 

With the quadcopter and camera is also supplied a parachute in case of loss of control. It can be deployed automatically in an emergency. Hubsan state the maximum flight time is approximately forty minutes.

 

Hubsan Quadcopter review

 

 

The unit comes nearly ready assembled, the only parts that need assembling are the antenna and the propellers, to be fitted by the end user. The compass needs to be calibrated before first use, they’re comprehensive instructions on how to do this, which do look reasonably straightforward.
There are two remote controllers available: A low edition controller and a high edition controller. This review concerns the high edition controller, for which there is an option to connect the quadcopter to an Android device. Hubsan recommends that the user downloads a map (via wi-fi) to use as a navigational aid.
The intelligent controller large LCD will display the position of the quadcopter on the map you choose to download. A neat part of the display is that it allows you to see a live video feed from the quadcopter in a window on top of the map. The video window can be re-sized to suit your own requirements. Within this window, you can start or stop video recording, as well as, change to camera mode thereby take photos the same way.

 

 

Hubsan X4 Pro remote control

 

 

There is what is described as “adjustable FOV shooting” (Field Of View). What this means, in reality, is that the gimbal has three axis rotation, giving the camera very stable positioning, allowing you to shoot great airborne videos.
The user can plan a flight path for the quad copter. Not only can way-points be pre-programmed, but you can set specific points to take photos or video at a height you choose, including specifying the static hover time and even set the angle of the gimbal. Once you’ve added a flight plan and uploaded it to the quadcopter, it will follow the details precisely.

Shop for the Hubsan X4 Pro

What is a Drone?

A Few Words about Drones
You see the word constantly in the media – but what is a drone? Well, I’m sure that most of us will recall that a drone is a kind of bee found in a beehive, but comparatively recently the word has become the name for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), possibly because these flying machines have some of the same attributes as drone bees.

 

What is a drone
What is a drone?

Work on drones, or UAVs, started in the early 1900s and their development continued through WW1, WW2, and the cold war, until their capability, effectiveness and usefulness reached the stage they currently have. Now never a day passes without a mention of drones, perhaps in a military capacity in Yemen or nearly colliding with an airliner in the UK.

In general, there are two types of drone, fixed-wing and propeller-driven. The fixed-wing type is used largely for reconnaissance, combat or for various commercial purposes and can be classified depending on its capability as to flying duration, distance, and height, and sometimes by weight, which might be as low as two and a half pounds.

In fact, the well-known and much-appreciated eBee, made in Switzerland, weighs only one and a half pounds (700 gm), has a wingspan of 38 inches (96 cm) and is driven by an electric-power pusher-propeller fitted at the rear. Getting airborne is easy – just shake the eBee a few times to start the engine, then throw it into the air and it’s on its way. It can then fly for up to 50 minutes, cover up to 4.6 square miles (12 square km’s) of territory and is used for aerial photography by thousands worldwide. It comes complete with WX camera, batteries, radio modem and ground station software and the images recorded can be processed with software such as Pix4DMapper pro.

Propeller-driven, or rotor-driven, drones or Quadcopters as they are usually called, are also widely popular today. As the name implies, a quadcopter is propelled by four rotors, two of which rotate clockwise, and two anti-clockwise. The speed of each rotor can be varied and this allows control of the machine.

A good example is the Chinese-made Phantom 4, which at 1,380 gm or nearly 4 lbs. is a sturdy, magnesium-framed drone that can fly for up to 28 minutes and cover up to 3.1 miles or 5 km. It has various flight modes that can be changed according to requirements and provides a 720p view of everything its camera sees. Control is easy, for with just a couple of taps, the drone is on its way and its Obstacle Sensing System ensures that it will avoid any hazard. And with just one more tap, it returns safely to base.

Drones can be controlled from the ground by radio signals and the use of a camera and a video link or autonomously guided by software systems. Power is supplied by lithium-polymer batteries, or for larger machines, by fuel or occasionally by the sun.

With countless drones in operation all over the world, and their purchase easily available both off and online, are there any restrictions or regulations on their use? As far as the USA is concerned, from December 2015, all hobby-type drones with a weight from 8.8 oz (250 gm) to 55 lbs (25 kgs) must be registered with the FAA and similar regulations have been introduced in several other countries. At the same time, many countries restrict the export of certain types of drone and their accessories.

There are also moral concerns to be considered when using drones. For example, is it right to kill or bomb someone by remote control? What if there is a deadly malfunction or a mistaken target? What if the software controls are hacked? It is likely that both national and international laws will be promulgated to cover these aspects of drone use in the not too distant future.

DJI Phantom 4

The Phantom 4 Goes That Bit Further

Now on worldwide release is the China-based drone manufacturer DJI’s new leap forward, designed to further enhance their range of quadcopters, with the exciting, new look Phantom 4.

 

Dji Phantom 4
The World’s Smartest Drone

First Impressions

Right from the off, things have improved. Your phantom 4 comes to you in a grey, ridged Polystyrene carry case. Remembering the Phantom 3 which came to you with nothing more than a cardboard box with a carrying handle, which was as durable and long lasting as a chocolate teapot, you have the impression that DJI has given more thought to the real world of, not only owning and flying a drone but to its care and ease of transport.

Phantom 4 sports a more slender aerodynamic design with a glossy livery of white with a contrasting grey underside. Phantom 4s controller is similar to that of the Phantom 3 except DJI have ditched the dull matt surfaces and gone with a high gloss finish to match the drone. The motors now have a shiny metal outer casing which, overall, creates a very attractive “sky Maiden”, by comparison, the phantom 3 now resembles an aging “plain Jane” of the DJI family.

 

What you get with The DJI Phantom 4

 

 

Phantom 4 is a much more stable drone than its predecessor, which could sometimes seem like it had been drinking on the job! This new found stability comes from the addition of another IMU and a doubling of the downward looking cameras. Phantom 4 operates with a good range of speed, in normal flight mode topping out at around 35 MPH. Click in the obstacle Avoidance mode and Phantom 4 returns a very respectable 22 MPH.

For those who enjoy an adrenaline rush, switch to sports mode and Phantom 4 will have you under the control of a 45 MPH drone racer. Phantom 4 is equipped with all that you would expect with its Intelligent Flight Mode, which relies on GPS, waypoint navigation, orbit, follow and track. The Auto Track facility can lock on to a person, vehicle or any other moving object by building its own 3D image of the target and its surroundings allowing it to orbit and track whilst streaming crisp images back to your mobile device.

Phantom 4’s capabilities and new found stability makes for an excellent drone for newbie pilots whilst also being an exciting, and challenging enough platform for more experienced flyers. Phantom 4 has also banished any semblance of amnesia, its improved “return home” function is remarkably accurate, better than that of some of its more absent minded forebears, Phantom 4 becomes a homing pigeon, bringing itself back to within a few inches of its take off point.

Phantom 4 can be used for aerial photography.

Phantom 4’s Obstacle Avoidance system could be accused of having tunnel vision, seeing only in a forward direction with a field of vision spanning 60 degrees, thus giving a turning arc of around 30 degrees. To execute a tighter turn you will need to resort to the control sticks, or tap on the “return home” feature. Auto Track can have a tendency to be slightly myopic, to operate efficiently it wants to be at a fairly close range, around 12 feet or so. At times, it can also lose its target. If a target person moves into a crowd for example, then Phantom 4’s short-sightedness can be a drawback.

Phantom 4 is supplied to you with just a single battery, unlike some other market competitors. With a price tag of around 1,230 pounds (1,400 dollars US), this may seem rather less than benevolent on behalf of the China-based company. As with all technology-based industries, and quadcopter development is no exception, the advances are rapid.

DJI are perhaps pushing the boundaries at a greater rate than any comparable manufacturer at this present time. So you may wonder whether, given the price tag of Phantom 4, whether or not in a years’ time, or perhaps less, DJI may well have a better offering. A new Phantom which doesn’t suffer from tunnel vision and myopia, which will also come better equipped and accessorised, thus making you more reluctant to trade in your sky maiden for a new, more attractive model. But then, maybe DJI would see that as counterproductive to their bottom line and their desire for an ever increasing market share.

Shop for the DJI Phantom 4