“Where can you fly?” is a typical question that most beginners have. I thought it might be helpful to go over all the rules, before you get slapped with a $10,000 fine for flying recklessly or in restricted airspace.
The most obvious and safest place to fly is in a designated area such as an RC airfield. A great place to find one is checkthesock.com’s google map that has a list of all the airfields around the world.
Beyond an airfield, the laws governing where you can fly get a little tricky. The NTSB recently granted the FAA the right to govern all unmanned aerial vehicles regardless of size. So according to the FAA:
For Model Aircraft and Hobbyists:
– Flight cannot be for commercial purposes
– All flight must be below 400 ft.
– Away from airports and air traffic (a 5 mile radius around the airport)
– Within line of sight of the operator
– Flown with an aircraft that is less than 55 lbs
– Flight must not pose a hazard to people or property or other aircraft in the sky
In addition to those rules, there are several other rules that hobbyists must follow. There are “No Fly Zones” that are setup where drones are not permitted to fly. They include national parks, the Washington DC area, sensitive government buildings (CIA, NSA), 1hr before and after an event at a sports stadium that can hold up to 30,000 or more people, US military bases and temporary flight restricted (TFR) areas. For a map of these locations, checkout https://www.mapbox.com/drone/no-fly/.
You should be aware of the existence of “safety zones” setup by the Coast Guard to prevent any “objects” from entering an area. A perfect example of this is a fireworks display that is deployed from a harbour. A safety zone is usually established for the perimeter of the boats launching the fireworks, and include the airspace above the safety zone. Violating the safety zone could get you slapped with a $40,000 fine (for willful violation), and at least 5 to 10 years in prison. While video of a quadcopter through the fireworks is amazing, spending 5 years in jail for it is not.
There are still even more laws that govern the use of drones in other circumstances. For instance, flying a quadcopter at low altitudes over a crowd of people could constitute reckless endangerment in jurisdictions that have such a statute. If you lose control of your quadcopter and it injures someone, in these circumstances state assault laws could be used for punishment. Some of these charges carry a large fine and could leave you in prison for up to 7 years. Given these laws, i’d recommend not flying a drone over crowds of people.
And finally, if you’re just flying your quadcopter around you neighborhood, it’s probably ok as long as you aren’t flying recklessly (and your neighborhood isn’t busy like New York City or Downtown Chicago). What constitutes reckless flying? This is really the tricky part. Reckless (as defined by CFR 91.13) is “endanger[ing] the life or property of another.” We all may have different opinions on what this means, but it’s ultimately up to the Judge whether the flight was in fact “reckless” under the federal definition. So use your best sense when judging this.
Some people may question whether or not a drone could even cause bodily harm and should be allowed to fly anywhere. Look no further than this YouTube video, where an owner’s arm is shredded by his own DJI Phantom. Yes, they can cause quite a bit of harm, and that should be taken into consideration when flying your quadcopter around others.
Hopefully this will help you in making a decision about where to fly your quadcopter. Please balance your need to get a beautiful video, with the safety of your and those around you. Make sure to also check out those other links provide by the FAA: