I think of my drone as a flying tripod because I use it to get a camera up high and see things from a new perspective. I’ve had my drone, a DJI Phantom 2, for more than a year and while it is technically outdated now, it still yields decent still images with a little Photoshop work. The built-in camera can shoot video or still images and it is operated by a smartphone attached to the flight controller. I can see what the camera sees on the face of my iPhone, and a take a photo by touching the screen.
Drones fit loosely into three categories: camera drones, toy drones and racing drones. Toy drones are generally priced less than $50. Racing drones are usually less than $500 and camera drones generally range from $400 to $1,500.
Consumer drones use input from GPS satellites to maintain their stability and make them easy for a novice to fly. Many have features such as the ability to return “home” to where it took off or the ability to follow a set course mapped out by the pilot on his phone or tablet. Some of the newest drones can be programmed to follow the user or fly a circle around a given point. Flight times vary by model but many camera drones can fly for 15-20 minutes on a battery charge. Most people buy more than one battery.
DJI, a Chinese company, is the big daddy of consumer drones. The Phantom series has been extremely popular because it is relatively affordable and easy to fly. DJI has two versions of the Phantom, each with an improved camera, longer flight time and more sophisticated controls. The standard Phantom 3, now reduced to $499, is excellent. The professional Phantom 3 is $999. The Phantom 4 is $1,399 and has a camera that can shoot 4K video or 12-megapixel still images. It can fly for about 28 minutes and has a maximum control range of 3.1 miles.
Yuneec is another brand of camera drone that offers interesting features such as retractable landing gear and six rotors instead of four.
Drones are a trendy toy and U.S. officials estimate that nearly one million consumer drones were sold last holiday season. That’s a staggering number and one of the reasons why the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) now requires all drones between 0.55 pounds and 55 pounds to be registered.
Online registration is a snap and the fee is $5. I printed my permit and taped it to the top of the aircraft.
The FAA regulations state that an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS), more commonly known as a drone, shall fly below 400 feet, shall not be flown near people or stadiums, must be kept within visual line of sight and can’t be flown within five miles of an airport without notifying the airport or control tower before flying. National Parks have banned the use of drones within their confines. A smartphone app, B4UFLY, is available so drone operators will know of restrictions in the area in which you want to fly.
Unfortunately, some drone owners ignore the regulations and have flown over crowds or near airports, endangering aircraft. Irresponsible piloting may well result in tighter restrictions.
The city of Mission Hills was the first in northeast Johnson County to pass an ordinance that restricts the use of a drone to the space over the owner’s private property or the private property of someone who has given consent to the drone pilot. The ordinance does not allow use of drones over public property and limits flights to a height of 400 feet.
The website MyFirstDrone.com is full of information, buying guides and how-to videos.