Just Got a Drone as a Present?

Did you just get your first drone for Christmas? Or maybe Hanukkah? Then this post is for you.

Over the last few years drone prices have gone down while their quality has continued going up, making them a popular present for people who are curious about aerial photography, into flying, or just love technology in general.

So first, we want to say welcome! We write regularly about drone technology and regulations here, and we’re glad you found us as you begin your drone journey.

To get started, there are a few important things you need to know—let’s dive in.

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The first thing to think about when you get a new drone is how you plan to use it—will you be flying for fun or for work?

Federal drone regulations in the U.S. are created by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration). If you’re going to fly for fun then you’ll be viewed as a recreational flyer by the FAA, and you’ll follow the rules for recreational flyers.

On the other hand, if you’re going to fly for work then you’ll be viewed as a commercial drone pilot, and there will be a different set of rules you’ll have to follow.

But what does the FAA mean by work?

For the FAA, work means any kind of operation that involves you making money with your drone, or exchanging goods or services for what you do with your drone. The FAA also views free contributions, like taking aerial photos for a high school’s website, as work, noting, “Goodwill can also be considered non-recreational.”

If you’re not sure how you’re going to fly, we suggest getting started as a recreational flyer.

Why? Because becoming a commercial drone pilot is a lot more involved than becoming a recreational flyer, and you can always go through that process later if you decide that you’d like to start flying your drone for work.

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If you plan to fly your drone for fun there are actions you’ll need to take and rules you’ll need to follow.

We’ve broken out each category to make the information easy to digest.

Actions to Take as a Recreational Flyer

Here are the two actions you need to take if you plan to fly for fun.

1. Take the TRUST (The Recreational UAS Safety Test)

The test is free, takes about 30 minutes to complete, and you have as many chances as you need to pass. No studying or prior drone knowledge is required to start the TRUST—it’s more of a step-by-step guide to drone rules than an actual test.

After you pass the TRUST you need to carry proof that you have passed it whenever you’re flying your drone.

Take the TRUST now with UAV Coach.

2. Register Your Drone(s)

Each of your drones needs to be registered. Registration must be attached to each drone and you need to carry proof of registration whenever you’re flying.

Register your drone now with the FAA.

Rules to Follow as a Recreational Flyer

Here are all the rules to follow if you plan to fly your drone for fun.

  • You have to fly only for recreational purposes.
  • You have to follow the safety guidelines of a Community Based Organization (CBO). Learn more about CBOs and safety guidelines.
  • Keep your drone within your visual line of sight or use a visual observer who is standing near you and in direct communication with you.
  • Give way to and do not interfere with other aircraft.
  • Do not operate your drone in a manner that endangers the safety of the national airspace system.
  • Fly at or below 400 feet in Class G (uncontrolled) airspace.*
  • Fly at or below FAA-authorized altitudes in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and surface Class E designated for an airport) only with prior FAA authorization by using LAANC or DroneZone.*

*Note: Flying drones in restricted airspace is not allowed. Drone pilots should always check for airspace restrictions prior to flight on the FAA’s B4UFLY app or the FAA’s UAS Facility Maps webpage.

Where to Fly and How to Comply with Drone Laws

In addition to the above actions and rules, there is one more thing you should think about as a new drone pilot—where you plan to fly.

When thinking about the location where you want to fly, it’s important to know if you’re allowed to fly there. Being allowed to fly means 1) that the airspace is Class G (uncontrolled) or 2) that you have obtained permission to fly there.

Here are a few resources to help you with determining whether you can fly in a given area:

  • The FAA’s B4UFLY app, which lets you check the airspace where you’d like to fly to learn more about it.
  • The FAA’s Where Can I Fly? page.
  • UAV Coach’s Drone Laws directory, which contains state, county, tribal, and local drone laws for all the states in the U.S.

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Think you want to fly your drone for work?

To become a commercial drone pilot and fly your drone for work the FAA requires you to:

  • Learn the Part 107 rules (i.e., the rules pertaining to commercial drone operations)
  • Pass the Part 107 test
  • Register your drone with the FAA

You also need to be at least 16 years old; be able to read, write, speak, and understand English; and be in a physical and mental condition to safely fly a drone.

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The biggest hurdle by far of all these requirements is preparing for the Part 107 test.

The test is dense and involved, covering topics like how to read sectional charts, radio communications, and knowledge about weather and micrometeorology.

To help pilots prepare for the test, we created Drone Pilot Ground School, an online test prep and training course. Over 99% of our students pass the Part 107 test on their first try—learn more about Drone Pilot Ground School here.

Not ready to take the test just yet? Check out our free resources for commercial drone pilots to help you get started.

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