The beginner’s guide to drones

Hints and tips for the amateur drone pilot!

Are you thinking about taking to the skies with your camera? With a drone, you get the opportunity to capture some incredible views of the surrounding scenery, but how do you begin? Where do you start with learning how to fly your quadcopter? If you’re a beginner to the world of drones, then there’s no need to worry, we’ll break down what you need to know before you buy your first drone. So whether you’re an amateur photographer or a gadget-loving hobbyist, we’ll and provide you with the beginner’s guide to using your eye in the sky.

How many types of Drone are there?

First of all, you’re going to need to know which type of drone is right for you. What are you going to be using your quadcopter for? Aside from the thrill of getting airborne and gazing down on the world below with your camera, modern-day drones have a variety of uses and as such, there are now a number of specialist drones on the market. You could be a professional photographer, an aerial surveyor or even a vlogger looking to go viral; the drone you need is going to depend on how you’re looking to use it. Here, we take a look at some of the uses for one of the most popular gadgets around and how you can make the most out of your flying friend.     

· Selfie drones

Are you a youtube sensation in waiting? Have you got a horde of followers desperate for new and exciting content? For any existing or budding social media stars out there, the latest tool in the quest to go viral. Dedicated drones for personal use, or ‘selfie drones’ are available to help you broadcast your videos to the world. Selfie drones can be used to replace selfie sticks, to hover while you film your piece-to-camera, or zip around in the sky above you as you explore a new location. Either way, these toys can really give any vlog of yours a real wow factor. Selfie drones are available in 1080p to provide you with high-quality resolution and to help your views soar.

· Filmmaking drones

If you’re a professional photographer or even an amateur film fan, there are a range of filmmaking drones that can take incredible footage. Many of these specialist drones are capable of filming in 4k high-definition and can be great for making aerial films that can let you get creative and really capture the imagination.

· Collision avoidance drones

Taking to the skies with what can be expensive photography equipment can bring about a number of risks. To combat these potential dangers, a new variety of innovative ‘collision avoidance drones are on the market. These drones work by using sensors to detect nearby obstacles and divert the flightpath of the aircraft away.

How long does a Drone battery last?

But how long can you expect your drone to stay in the air for? How much fun can you have with your drone before it runs out of juice? The battery life of your quadcopter can differ depending on a number of factors and there’s no guarantee on how long your drone is going to be in-flight for at any one time. More information on the battery life of your drone will likely be provided by your brand, but the industry average is around 30 minutes flight time for a drone with a long-life battery.

How do you fly a drone?

So what’s the best set-up for using your drone? How are you planning to fly your eye in the sky? The innovation of quadcopters and multirotor aircraft into everyday life has influenced how many industries operate. Drones are now used by photographers as well as those in agriculture or construction. Depending on whether you’re buying a drone to assist you with your day-to-day work, or whether you just want to add some amazing panoramic views to your photo album, the best drone for you is going to be determined on how you’re going to use it, and this can depend on what set-up you’re using.  

 

Remote control

The most common configuration to send your drone soaring into the sky is to use a handheld remote control. These controllers tend to have joysticks to navigate your way through the air, but some controllers will have built-in monitors to see where you’re heading, and with others you may need to plug in your smartphone to act as your eyes. Of course, if you wanted to get REALLY complicated, the DJI Mavic Air range includes a feature which means your drone can be controlled with just a wave of your hand.

 

First person view

First person view drones - or FPV drones - wirelessly transmit a video feed from what the drone can see from the air straight back to you on the ground. You can access the feed via a smartphone or tablet, or even by wearing a headset or specialist drone goggles, which have become widely used in the increasingly popular sport of FPV drone racing.

 

Drone and a phone

Nowadays, with smartphones being so powerful it almost comes as no surprise that you can even use them to pilot your drone. Many controllers will need you to attach your iPhone or android to act as a monitor and there even ways to take flight through the power of your phone alone. Obviously, if you take your phone with you everywhere anyway then it might make sense to use it to control your drone as a matter of convenience, simply connect via Wi-Fi to your smartphone or tablet to begin take-off. Not all drones are able to be controlled by just your phone, but for the hobbyist drone pilot your mobile could prove very useful. There are a number of drone related apps available which are packed with helpful information, from weather forecasts, information on no-fly zones and GPS tracking. The UK government currently recommends that drone pilots download ‘Drone Assist, which presents a map of commercial airspace and any potential hazards to safeguard budding drone enthusiasts.     

How much do drones cost?

So how much is a decent drone going to cost you these days? What sort of price can you expect to pay for a quadcopter with built-in 4k high definition? Experts predict that the size of the drone market in the UK is set to soar. Consumer data is hard to come by, but the market size for commercial drones has grown exponentially in Britain over the last few years. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, in 2010 there were only five commercial operators using drones, but that number had grown to almost 5,000 as of February 2019. The popularity of drone use appears to be growing both as a hobby and as a profession and different uses may require different types of drone. As such, what you can expect to shell out for a drone can vary.

For beginners, there are a range of affordable drones on the market designed for amateur photographers and inexperienced pilots alike which you can find priced at less than £100. If you’re a fancy yourself as something of a drone enthusiast and you know your gimbal from your DJI goggles, then you might be looking for something more high-end. In that case, a drone fitted with a 4k camera may cost significantly more. The choice is yours of course, but remember to take care while you fly and have fun!

Drone flying in the UK – what are the laws and rules?

For the most-recent drone owners among us, or for those keen photographers who are thinking about taking to the sky to capture a unique perspective from up above, you might want to know about what rules you have to follow before you take-off for your maiden flight.  

 

What are the current drone laws in the UK?

As it stands, On the 20th February 2019, the UK government published an amendment relating to the legislation of ‘small unmanned aircraft’. These changes come into place on the 13th of March and are in part a reaction to the disruption at Gatwick airport back in December 2018. From mid-March it will be illegal to fly a drone within 5k of an airport.

To help you find out where and when you should be operating your quadcopter, there are currently a number of apps available for your smartphone designed to provide more information on the skies around you. Each app has its own unique uses, but for something that focusses solely on UK-based drone pilots, you could consider ‘Drone Assist. Developed by NATS, the primary air traffic controller in the UK, the app presents a map of commercial airspace as well as any potential hazards and areas that may cause a risk, in order to safeguard budding drone enthusiasts.

At the moment, drones are restricted from flying at a height above 400 feet and a 1 kilometre drone exclusion zone exists around the nation’s airports. As of March 2019, these exclusion zones will be extended further. Additionally, with anyone found to be misusing a drone could be issued with a fixed-penalty notice by the police of up to £100.

 

Do I need a drone licence?

Whether or not you need a drone licence will currently depend on how you’re planning to use it. Commercial drone pilots – meaning anyone using their drone to earn income, for example wedding photographers or property surveyors - must obtain a permission from the CAA. The Civil Aviation Authority, or CAA, will provide permissions on the condition that the drone owner shows sufficient knowledge of flying practice and completes a practical test. These permissions last for 12 months and will need to be renewed annually.

By the end of 2019 however, further legislation is due to come into place, as drones weighing more than 250g will have to be registered with the CAA and their owners made to complete an online safety test.

Are there different rules for drones with cameras?

If your drone is fitted with a camera, then that may mean that there are a few rules that you’ll need to consider before you show off your piloting skills in a public space. The CAA states that any drone pilots who wish to fly a camera-fitted drone within 150m of a congested area or a crowd that’s more than 1000 people strong, then you’re going to need a permission to legally do so. To gain approval, you’re going to need to know how your drone works, explain how you’re planning to use your drone safely and provide evidence that you are a competent drone pilot.  

For anyone thinking about becoming a drone owner and who may still be in some doubt about how to operate a drone safely and legally, then Dronesafe have created the Drone Code. This handy guide is designed to provide advice to novice and experienced drone pilots alike and could act as a decent point of reference.

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