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10 Things You Need to Know Before Buying a Drone

So, you want to buy a drone – but do you know what you’re getting into? Drone shopping has gotten simpler and easier for consumers. The market now caters to pilots who want ready-to-fly drones that work right out of the box.

But there are still some things you need to know before you fork over your cash for a drone.

1. The Drone’s Purpose

What do you want to do with the drone? Do you plan on taking pictures and videos with it? Do you just want to fly it around for fun?

If you just want to fly for fun, you may not need a drone with a built-in camera, or if you may not need a high-quality camera. On the other hand, if your goal is to take photo and video, you want to make sure you choose a drone with a really great camera built-in.

Do you want to fly for extended periods of time? If so, you’ll need a model with a long battery life.

The purpose of your drone will also play a role in how you register your aircraft. If you want to use it for commercial purposes, you’ll need to register under the FAA’s Small UAS Rule (Part 107) and get a Remote Pilot Certificate. Registering under Part 107 will allow you to use your drone recreationally or commercially.

2. Registration Laws

I just touched briefly on registering your drone if you want to use it for commercial purposes. But you’ll probably have to register your drone with the FAA even if you only use it for recreational purposes.

If your drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds, you’ll need to register it with the FAA before you can legally fly it. The process is easy, and it only costs $5. Registrations are valid for three years, and you can own as many drones as you want.

3. The Features You Want

Buying a drone can be a dizzying experience. There are so many sizes, types and features to consider. Knowing what you want will help narrow down your choices and make it easier to find a model that suits your needs.

Here are just a few features that you might find on drone models:

GPS Home: A drone with a GPS home function will know where to start flying from and will then attempt to return to its base. Many new model drones will even start flying home before you call it if its battery is running low.

Advanced Controls: Drones may have different communication protocols, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. This allows you to connect your drone to a smartphone, computer or tablet. Some have simple remote controls, controls with built-in LCD screens to see what your drone is seeing, and others use a smartphone app to control flight.

  • Power: This will determine the length of the flight. The battery life, payload size and propeller speeds will determine how far you can fly before your aircraft runs out of juice.

  • Streaming Video: Some drones allow you to stream your video footage to your computer, tablet or phone. The higher the stream quality, the more expensive the drone.

  • GPS Navigation: Many drones have GPS navigation features that make it easy to track your drone during free-flight or programmed routes.

If you’re not sure which features you want, check out our drone reviews to get a better idea of what’s available to you.

4. Local Flying Guidelines

You already know that you have to register your drone. But that’s just one piece of the puzzle if you want to legally fly your aircraft. It’s important to also understand local flying guidelines, which include:

  • Don’t fly above 400 feet
  • Don’t fly in national parks
  • Don’t fly over people unless you have permission
  • Don’t fly over private property
  • Don’t fly over government facilities
  • Don’t fly over sports stadiums
  • Don’t fly over crime scenes or wildfires
  • Stay at least 5 miles from all airports

Your local community may also have “no-drone zones” or special requirements and restrictions for drone use. Make sure that you understand the rules in your area before you head out for your first flight.

5. The Appropriate Flying Conditions

Flying in bad weather conditions can put your drone at risk. Even if you’re an experienced pilot, you should avoid flying your aircraft in:

  • Rain
  • Snow
  • High-wind conditions

The ideal weather for drone-flying is clear and sunny with a light breeze.

6. BNF or RTF?

Most – but not all – drones come ready to fly out of the box. It’s important to know what type of drone you’re looking at before you buy it.

  • RTF means ready-to-fly. These drones don’t normally require any setup or assembly. The only thing you usually have to do is charge up the battery and/or install propellers.
  • BNF means bind-and-fly. These come almost fully assembled, but you’ll have to attach the controller. You can use one that you already have, or you can purchase a separate controller.

7. Your Drone Will Crash

Today’s drones are pretty easy to fly, but they’re also pretty easy to crash. I often recommend buying a cheaper drone to start with if you have no experience. Until you get the hang of it, you’ll crash your drone several times. And the last thing you want to do is wreck a drone that cost you hundreds of dollars.

8. Local Drone Communities

If you enjoy drone flying, I recommend joining a local group or community. You’ll make new friends, and you’ll pick up some tips from more experienced pilots. They may even be able to help you choose a drone that’s right for your needs.

If you don’t have a local drone club, you’ll find plenty of online communities that you can join.

9. Your Budget

Before you buy your drone, you have to know your budget. You can easily spend upwards of $1,000 or more on a high-end drone, and you may get carried away with accessories and add-ons if you don’t have some sort of budget in mind.

10. Outdoor or Indoor?

Finally, consider whether you want an indoor or outdoor drone. If you just want to terrorize the dog or your spouse, an indoor drone may be a good fit for you.
Indoor drones don’t have to be registered with the FAA, and they’re normally more affordable than larger drones.

January 15, 2019


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