Saturday, January 9, 2016

Not Many Places in the County to fly Drones - January 8, 2016

Apparently my wife read my column about gifts that geeks would want and I found a drone was under the tree.

It was not really something I would ask for, which I guess makes it the best kind of gift.

I have been intrigued by them, and sold remote-control airplanes and helicopters back in high school at Loreski’s Hobby Shop in the Pittsburgh area. I’ve had buying a remote-flying toy on my bucket list.

These new quadcopters are easier to fly and, when coupled with a camera, would jibe nicely with my photography interests.

And I’m not alone. The Federal Aviation Administration reportedly expected a million drones to be gifts this Christmas.

Yet, it is not easy being a drone owner in Prince William County. I previously wrote about a five-mile no-fly zone around the Manassas Airport.

Fairfax County residents had to worry about a no-fly zone in a 15-mile radius around Reagan Airport. What I didn’t realize is that in September, pretty much unheralded, the FAA increased that radius to 30 miles around Reagan.

That eliminates flying a drone outside in most of Prince William County.

If you go to this week’s link post at, I have maps showing the drone no-fly zone. You have to go south of Quantico and west to Gainesville to legally fly your drone outside.

The new radius received more publicity this week, when WTOP reported that the Academy of Model Aircraft received an email from the FAA asking for its help to stop member clubs from flying in the restricted area. Many of the 30-plus regional clubs affected have sponsored outdoor flying in safe areas.

One media outlet indicates the club has said it is working with the FAA to lift the restriction and hopes to have news by mid-January.

Meanwhile, DJI, maker of far more serious drones than my little 0.22 pound toy, pushed out a software update preventing its aircraft from flying in no-fly zones.

DJI models are more likely to be used outside and they sport high-definition video cameras. They cost at least $700.

Its drones have snazzy features such as automatic landing, auto return to landing point if they lose contact with the pilot and other auto-flying capabilities.

Its software upgrade forbids them to fly in an FAA-designated no-fly zone. This will keep it from flying in this area, in D.C., around airports and also around temporary no-fly zones such as near sports arenas during games and near forest fires.

There is an override so you can disable it for many no-fly zones, but not in the D.C. area. However, the disable action is coordinated through the drone owner’s online account with DJI, making it easy to determine who the owner of a drone flying in a no-fly zone is.

OK, so that’s the bad news.

The drone I received cost about $60, weighs less than a quarter of a pound and can fly for only eight minutes at a time. If it flies out of range, it keeps flying, and does not return like the more expensive models. If it runs out of battery, it crashes. The more expensive ones realize they are about to die and land themselves.

Since it is under half a pound, I don’t have to register it with the FAA.

The more expensive DJI’s have a sort of panic button. If your drone gets out of control, press it, and the drone flies itself back to you and lands. Mine just crashes.

For all those reasons, I don’t see myself wanting to fly my little drone outside much. The gentlest wind would wreak havoc. And it is hard enough to fly smoothly inside.

It does have a tiny camera that records to a memory card, but does not send the image back to the controller like the more expensive models.

And I’m thankful for all that. I will one day crash this so that it requires replacement parts, if it is repairable at all. I might crash the more expensive model too, if I owned it.

The economic damage would be greater of course, and the weight of it could do serious damage to any car it dropped on, or injure or kill a person or someone’s pet.

I am content with my indoor toy.

If you received a drone for Christmas, you’ll need to fly it inside unless you want to take a drive or the FAA relaxes its radius somewhat around Reagan.

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  1. Flying a drone has become one of the most sought after hobbies off later. More and more people are taking to drones and experimenting with their flying skills. It is no more just about enthusiasts who are finding their interest in how to fly a drone. See more

  2. You're misinformed about DCA airspace...


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