But, with few exceptions, they are more tool than toy. As such, they should be treated with respect and pilots should exercise caution when flying. Crashing a drone is much easier than flying one.
A certain Dronelife employee, who shall remain nameless (it wasn't me), learned this lesson the hard way when he took his DJI Phantom Vision 2+ out for its maiden voyage.
So you don't make the same mistakes he and so many other first time flyers made, we asked a bunch of experts for some wisdom to impart on the drone virgins of the world. Here is what they said:
Have an intimate knowledge of your system.
"One of the most important things for a beginning droner to learn is the value of understanding the physical limitations of your gear.
Of all the things that threaten a successful flight and constrain drone work, the biggest one at the moment is battery life. It’s limited. It can change depending on how it’s charged, how the drone is used and in what conditions it’s flown. Not building in a safety cushion on your projected flight time will end up with disappointing results, damaged craft, and depleted funds!
Learn your battery’s current capabilities and factor in a 20% cushion for your own good.” - Terry Holland, professional aerial photographer, Operations Advisory Group Inc.
Along with understanding the physical capabilities and limitations of your drone, it is also crucial to learn its technological capabilities and limitations, especially when you are trying to capture images or record data.
"Let the UAV do what it does best. One things I have seen first hand is that a lot of UAV users are afraid of the automated intelligence and so they want to be hands on. The more human input there is in the process the less accurate the data is going to be." - PrecisoinHawk Senior Operations Engineer, Brandon Eickhoff.
"It is most important to make sure your UAV marks its home point (with GPS) before flying far away. This will save a lot of people money and frustration." - Taylor Chien, CEO of Dronefly.com.
Respect Thy Neighbor.
"I wish I had been completely aware of every single regulation out there and how exactly it could affect me, the public, full-sized aircraft flying in the area, and how it all related to local laws. I had an idea of all of the regs but have to admit I was a little bit fuzzy on some of them. It is essential to know these things as it helps you to operate in a safe manner which is the single most important thing.
Also, be aware of all the airports in your operation area - especially the small ones. We must operate defensively in the sky and respect those who came before us who are now forced to share (in most cases, whether they like it or not) it with very tiny aircraft that can be difficult to see from the cockpit." - Ian Smith, UAV Manager at Delair-Tech.
Location, location, location.
"I always recommend people go into a very large field...you want to minimize the chances of hitting something. Most people are so excited they just want to go fly it right away. Don't cut corners!" - Eric Cheng, Director of Aerial Imaging at DJI.
"Start in a safe location like an empty park or AMA club field and get a lot of experience with your drone equipment before doing anything more challenging." - Brendan Schulman, head of the civilian drone practice group at Kramer Levin.
"Take it slow and make sure your surroundings are tailored to be crash-proof. The more vast and open the field you practice in the better. Lots of trees and buildings? Not so good.
Oh, and don't fly anywhere remotely close to water. Not near a lake, not near the ocean and DEFINITELY not your backyard pool." - Sally French, Market Watch editor and creator of thedronegirl.com.
Dronelife's own Alan Phillips could not stress this point enough:
"Don't do your first flight in your backyard. That's what everyone told me and, if I had listened, I would be flying right now instead of waiting for a backordered piece to fix my Phantom."