by Roger Sollenberger
It’s getting easier and easier to fly drones—or, like with Solo, to have the drones fly themselves. This is good news for a number of reasons: More people can enjoy the incredible feeling of flight and the experience of creating great aerial video; drones are becoming more useful, with new applications discovered or invented every day; and of course, the drones themselves are getting safer as technology and ease of use advance.
But when it comes to safe flying, we can’t lean exclusively on technology.
3DR users are conscious and aware. They’re courteous and respectful of applicable laws and they listen to the needs of their neighbors. They don’t fly in ways that endanger people or property. When appropriate, they let people nearby know when and where they’re flying. They use their drones for recreation and constructive purposes. They’re informed about rules, regulations and the technology they’re using. And they advocate for safe and responsible flying by setting an example for others—and the industry—to follow.
Those guidelines above will help you fly safely, and here’s some more general advice from us on drone safety. For more information, visit Know Before You Fly. We hope you find this useful!
This should go without saying, but please use common sense when you fly. Fly with your eyes and ears open—not recklessly, or oblivious to congested and highly trafficked areas, or to sensitive areas such as airports or other “No-Fly Zones.” Don’t fly your drone in a reckless or aggressive manner that might cause you to lose control. Don’t fly too far away, where you might lose control or lose the connection between your controller and the drone. Don’t fly your dronewhere it’s illegal to do so. Don’t fly your drone in a way that might intimidate someone – not everyone is as comfortable with the drone as you are. While flying, don’t take your eyes off your drone for stretches of time. Don’t load your drone up with breadcrumbs and then drop them on the stomach of a sunbather at the beach and hover there recording the seagull feeding frenzy.
Unfortunately, there’s no agreed-upon definition of common sense, and the list of foolish uses (of any technology) is infinite. Bottom line: Please keep your wits about you. Drones have sharp, fast-spinning propellers that can hurt someoneor damage property. Please practice consciousness and use your common sense in choosing where, when and how to fly. Make sure you know the boundaries of your safe flying area, and bring your drone back if you exceed them. And if your drone starts behaving strangely in flight, bring it back home. Common sense flying will nip most safety concerns in the bud.
It’s good practice to perform a thorough pre-flight check every time you fly. Do the propellers, landing gear or other parts of your Solo show signs of wear? Are all the LEDs working? Has the compass been calibrated (the Solo app can walk you through this)? Is the battery charged and properly installed? Anything in the motors that might cause obstruction?
Spinning props can cause injury—make sure the propellers are disarmed before handling your drone. With Solo, turning those spinning props off is as easy as hitting the “power” button on your controller.
Before you take off, make sure you’re at a safe distance from your drone. And, unless you’re using the “Selfie” Smart Shot, avoid taking off with the drone facing towards you (“nose in”). This isn’t only for the obvious don’t-fly-at-your-face reasons, but also because when the drone is facing you the command sticks become inverted: “Forward” on the stick actually appears to send the drone backwards, towards you. It’s easy to get disoriented.
The best way to assure a successful flight is to keep your drone within visual line of sight at all times. Always watch your drone. Keeping visual track of your drone and its orientation at all times will go a long way towards preventing crashes and loss of control.
Fly under 400 ft (100 m). Not only is this an FAA regulation and ensures your flight doesn’t interfere with manned flights in your area, but it helps you maintain line of sight. To give you an idea of how high 400 feet is, the Statue of Liberty is 300 feet tall and the Washington Monument is 555 feet tall.
Maintain a safe distance from people, vehicles, buildings and other major structures or geographical features. Maintain a distance of 5 miles from airports (per FAA regulations) so as not to interfere with manned flights. It’s also a good idea to make sure no structures come between you and your drone that might interfere with the signal and cause loss of control.
It’s your job to ensure the safety of the people around you, and you should avoid flying over people and crowds at all times. Should you lose control or battery power, your drone may fall and strike someone. Though our drones are relatively low-weight and the chances of them doing serious harm are quite slim, the sharp spinning propellers can do damage, and the drone itself can cause a scare or a nasty bump on the head.
So please: Steer clear of crowds, and make sure your drone maintains a safe distance from spectators.
Regulations on when and where to fly might seem complex and subject to frequent changes. Thankfully the FAA plans to launch an app called B4UFLY, which will advise drone users of any flight restrictions in their area, based on their GPS location. It’s our expectation that the FAA, whose mission it is to ensure a safe national airspace, will keep this database accurate and up to date. If you’d rather go the private route, you can also check out Airmap, an app that serves much the same purpose. We highly recommend that all 3DR users reference a resource like these apps before they fly.
That said, here’s a cursory rundown on what’s off currently off-limits to drones in the US. This isn’t only for the safety of those around you, but for your own—violations of some of these spaces could get you thrown in jail.
- Airspace above 400 ft
- Airspace within 5 miles of an airport or airbase
- Certain sensitive metropolitan and government areas (e.g., Washington DC; Manhattan)
- National parks and recreation areas
- Sensitive infrastructure (e.g. dams)
- Many stadiums and arenas
- Major public events, as the FAA determines case-by-case (e.g., the Super Bowl, the Boston Marathon)
While we can’t ever rely entirely on technology to prevent accidents or bad behavior, as an innovative and conscientious company we do know there are some steps we can take to help ensure safe and successful flights. Here are the failsafes we’ve built into Solo—many are on all 3DR drones.
- Auto takeoff/land—Solo offers pushbutton takeoff and landing
- “Pause” button—an emergency airbrake that immediately stops Solo mid-flight and brings it to a hover
- “Return Home”—push this button (with the image of a house) on Solo’s controller and Solo will automatically fly to a height of 50 feet and return to its point of takeoff, where it will auto-land
- Loss of GPS signal—If this happens in a mode that requires GPS, Solo will switch to manual flight mode
- Loss of connection to controller—Solo returns home to land
- Low battery—Solo first alerts you to a low battery; if you don’t bring it home, it will then come home to land
- Common sense—duh
Roger Sollenberger is editorial director at 3D Robotics, where he runs the 3DR blog and curates the weekly Drone Download. Before joining 3DR in 2014 he taught writing and literature for several years at Georgia College, and worked for DJI North America. Every other Wednesday he and his little brother host the worst open mic night in Austin, Texas.