Often referred as Drones, Quadrotors or Quadrocopters—the flying machines are set to astonish your howling senses when you spot one, hovering around your neighbourhood! Although the ‘Rise of the Drones’ might sound like the next Terminator movie, the reality is that, in the next few years our skies will be filled with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or UAVs. They can be bought in high street electrical retailers priced at as less as £40. For a £1000 you can get a Quadcopter that can carry a 4K Ultra High Definition camera and has built-in GPS.
Yes, it is possible to visit your nearest Maplin Electronics and get the amazing drones that look no less than something from a sci-fi movie; but they certainly are no toys! The users do need to be aware of certain rules (and laws) set out by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).
There are basically two sets of rules and I’ll cover the ones that apply to recreational drone use in this blog post. The other set of rules govern the use of UAS (Unmanned Aerial Surveillance) equipment for commercial purposes.
Rules for flying drones for recreational use
You are responsible for each flight.
This might seem obvious but with great power, comes great responsibility. Even with a governing set of laws and guidelines, ultimately each flight has to be planned, controlled and executed by the pilot. This means that you need to use your knowledge of the CAA rules combined with good old common sense to ensure your drone flies safely, each and every time you get it out of the box. Every flight will be different because of the weather, location and the ever unpredictable public. You need to be aware at all times of any variable that could affect your take off, flight and landing.
Keep your drone in clear sight.
Some drones come with FPV or First Person View capabilities. This means that you can wirelessly connect a monitor which allows you to see in real-time; the images being taken by the on board camera. This is essential for us when we carry out aerial photography or videography work as it allows us to perfectly compose each shot, rather than flying blind.
You can even get FPV Goggles that gives you the impression that you are actually flying the drone when you wear them. When using an FPV setup, it’s very easy for the pilot to concentrate solely on the monitor and forget to watch the drone itself. It takes a matter of seconds for the aircraft to cover hundreds of yards. In case you lose signal to the monitor while you aren’t watching the drone, you can be in big trouble. It is essential for each flight to have a ‘spotter’ that will be watching the aircraft while the FPV operator is watching the monitor. For our bigger drones; we use a two person setup with two monitors. One camera/monitor shows the FPV view of the Hexacopter or Octocopter while the other shows the view through the camera. They are controlled independently. Even with the two operators it is essential that line of sight is maintained to the aircraft at all times.
Keep your distance
UK aerial photography law states that you must stay 50 meters away from any person, building, vehicle or structure at all times. These aircraft can travel at 30mph and in wind, cover the ground with astonishing speed. 50 meters can be covered in a matter of seconds and when you’re learning to fly it is probably better to keep a bigger safety cushion than this. For large crowds that distance must increase to at least 150 meters.
Do not fly over congested areas
GPS enabled drones with their incredible safety features very rarely have problems and fall from the sky. Sometimes they do fall though! It only takes a quick search on YouTube to find a plethora of videos showing drones falling to the ground. This means that you should NEVER fly over any congested area like towns, streets and sporting events. Our bigger drones can carry DSLRs and it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to understand the damage that they can cause if they happen to be in free-fall.
A lot of drone pilots, enthusiasts and professionals modify their aircraft to suit their specific needs. They add cameras, transmitters, GPS trackers, OSDs (used to display flight information on FPV setups) and rotor protectors. Each of these can be glued, cable-tied or soldered to the drone. This means that if they are not attached correctly due to incorrect installation or if they have loosened over time, they can fall off the aircraft during flight. It is therefore essential to carry out pre-flight checks before taking off. These include checking all rotor blades for damage, checking if all equipments are attached correctly and that all batteries have adequate charge. All aircrafts carry out pre-flight checks and a drone is no exception.
You are responsible for each flight!
No, you haven’t just experienced Deja-vu, this heading was at the top of the page. I thought I’d state it again due to its obvious importance. Common sense plays a huge part in each and every flight. Ignorance of the law isn’t a defense if you damage something or cause an injury. Before each flight, take a survey of your surroundings.
You need to question a few things like—Are there power lines nearby? Will this park suddenly become congested? Is the wind gusting? What happens if I need to take emergency action? It is up to us to ensure we make this sport/hobby/profession as safe as possible. It seems that each week we see a negative story in the press involving the use of drones. That usually happens due to someone not following the rules. Let’s all keep to the guidelines and make ‘The Rise of the Drones’ a less frightening future.
If you’re interested in knowing more about it: http://aerialphotographywales.com/