As the RC hobby continues to grow with off the shelf ready to fly equipment and the Champaign County R/C Club's effort to safely incorporate new forms of the hobby while educating anyone with an interest in the hobby I felt having some guidelines as I see them on our website.
Let's start with saying what a drone really is, a drone is any unmanned remotely controlled aircraft, be it an airplane, helicopter, quadcopter, etc... being used for civilian or military service. However when the word drone is publicly used people and the media tends to either think of the quadcopters or military Predator drones. Making this comparison is like comparing a car to a tank and I believe this is where education begins, by properly labeling our flight equipment.
Regardless of what you fly, each can be equally fun depending on what your taste is, I personally prefer giant scale airplanes, and find quadcopters fun, my wife and kids prefer quads over airplanes while none of us have an interest in helicopters.
On the same token each can be equally dangerous if operated in an unsafe manner, a giant scale airplane can be quite destructive or deadly if it were to "go down" in the wrong area, most folks who have thrown down some serious cash for these big birds are aware of this and have a fair amount of experience to avoid dangerous situations, but even the smallest quadcopter can be just as dangerous if it were for example to be flown over a highway or a crowd and crash into a moving car or the top of someones head. Situational awareness and knowing as much as possible of what can go wrong might save a life, save property and save your equipment.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) governs all the airspace in the United States, and at this time the situation regarding the National Airspace System (NAS) and "Drones"oe small unmanned aerial system (sUAS) is a quite fluid, meaning there is alot if back and forth decision making and how to regulate our hobby. Our relationship with the FAA can either be good or bad, if we as the hobbyists act responsibly we can have a good relationship, but if someone were to say fly their quad into the engine of a 747 and force that plane down then how long do you think it'll take the FAA to put a halt to our hobby, the public outcry for action will be quite loud. People only remember the few bad things that happen.
Up until recently we were required to register as unmanned aircraft pilots, that has been shot down by an appeals court, but is still subject to change. That said, during the registration process the FAA also has/had on that website a set of guidelines for safe operation of a quad, and it is my belief that this should be followed, the guide and other info can be found knowbeforeyoufly.org and is listed below.
- Follow community-based safety guidelines, as developed by organizations such as the Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA).
- Fly no higher than 400 feet and remain below any surrounding obstacles when possible.
- Keep your sUAS in eyesight at all times, and use an observer to assist if needed.
- Remain well clear of and do not interfere with manned aircraft operations, and you must see and avoid other aircraft and obstacles at all times.
- Do not intentionally fly over unprotected persons or moving vehicles, and remain at least 25 feet away from individuals and vulnerable property.
- Contact the airport and control tower before flying within five miles of an airport or heliport. (Read about best practices here)
- Do not fly in adverse weather conditions such as in high winds or reduced visibility.
- Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
- Ensure the operating environment is safe and that the operator is competent and proficient in the operation of the sUAS.
- Do not fly near or over sensitive infrastructure or property such as power stations, water treatment facilities, correctional facilities, heavily traveled roadways, government facilities, etc.
- Check and follow all local laws and ordinances before flying over private property.
The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) is a community based organization, one of their goals is to educate the safe operation of hobby aircraft, the AMA has a few hundred thousand members that fly at hundreds of R/C clubs, most of the clubs are more than willing to help anyone learn to fly safely and provide a place to fly. You should consider checking out a local club as flying at one of these facilities is safer than flying in town where you might have a serious incident or tick off a neighbor or two.
The AMA works with the FAA on Congress to ensure we maintain our rights, this is easier for the AMA to do if we as the user follow the FAA guidelines and the AMA Safety Code.
Is it required to join the AMA? No, it is not, however even if you do not join if you learn and follow the safety code then you are on the right track for safe operation.
I've pretty well typed out the same information you can find just about anywhere with a quick Google search, but what you won't find is good examples of situational awareness. I'm going to list a few examples and this is all stuff I have heard of or as much as I hate to say have done myself while learning the do's and do not's
Let's say you have a Golden Retriever, and this dog just loves to catch frisbees, and one day you are out flying our racing quad a few feet off the ground, zipping across the yard and suddenly your dog has a cut up mouth from catching it mid air.
Perhaps you live in town, you decide to fly up about 300 feet to take some pics of the neighborhood, you keep your quad over you property taking pictures and one of the motors on the quad fail, they don't fly on 3 and it is a bit windy out that day, so while it is falling be to the earth the wind pushes it into the roof of the neighbors Corvette.
Selfies are the trend now, you line up the family for a selfie from your quad, you carefully fly it in for a good closeup and a wind gust finishes bringing it in close, close enough one of the props hit grandma in the eye.
SO those are 3 extreme examples, but if it can happen it will happen to somebody, don't let it be you. Be aware of whats possible, and the conditions in which that can happen.
Maintaining good equipment helps alot, checking props, wiring, batteries etc.. Here is a general Preflight Checklist for an airplane, each different model has its own needs so coming up with a good preflight routine is up to you.
- Physical check of all moving parts, joints, connectors, antenna, etc.
- Ensure prop is tight and correctly mounted.
- Switch on transmitter, ensure correct model is selected.
- Move throttle to zero, press LOCK on transmitter (locks throttle at zero).
- Ensure plane battery is secure.
- Plug in plane battery.
- Double-check throttle is zero and LOCKed.
- Switch on plane (if plane has no power switch, ignore this and previous step).
- Check correct motion of all control surfaces.
- Hold onto plane, test full throttle for a few seconds to check that battery is good.
- LOCK throttle again.
- Perform radio range check by walking 30 paces checking functions, watching for any glitches. If possible have someone help with this, and have them hold onto the plane for safety.
- Re-do control surface motion check. Sometimes people do this check and still don't notice that a channel is reversed.
Fly safe my friends