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Will I Get In Trouble For Flying A Drone?

One of the biggest questions that I’ve gotten lately is whether its legal to fly a drone without a license or special permits if its just for recreation, so I would like to address the issue directly on the blog.

Over the past couple years, hobby drone technology has really come a long way. Hobby drones can reach distances of up to a mile and a half that I’ve seen personally, and with the right camera, you can actually zoom in to see what someone dials on their iPhone screen from roughly 200-400 yards.

The concerns surrounding privacy and drone use have come under fire in congress and in the news media. Add to this heated debate, the current FCC regulations which are extremely confusing at best, and local law enforcement’s interpretation of the delicate subject. Finally you have the public’s general distrust of any unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

On more than one occasion recreational drone fliers have been stopped by police and drones confiscated. In other cases, legitimate photography studios have been given cease and desist warnings against drone photography.

So the real question is what can you do that you don’t get bothered by law enforcement or other concerned people?

Please note – the information here is meant to be used for informational purposes only, and not to be misconstrued as advice in law. These are just suggestions on how to help you stay safe and not raise any alarms when flying your drone. Seek professional legal advice for questions concerning drone laws in your city and state.

Assuming that the pilot of the drone is a kid, and the drone is a Toys-R-Us toy, no one is going to give you grief… but if you’re a grown adult that loves flying drones as a hobby, and you have something more serious like a Parrot AR. Drone or DJI Phantom, people will take notice.

Fly Under The Radar, So To Speak

Flying your drone at high altitudes attracts a lot of attention. Especially if you’re doing it in an urban area. This will almost always get you in trouble. Keep your drone flying to under 100 feet above the ground in such areas so that the people on the next block don’t even see the drone as it hovers.

Let your neighbors know you fly drones

Good communication is key, and letting those around you know you have a hobby is important because they willl feel more at ease your not spying on them.

Ask local law enforcement about city specific regulations before you fly in public airspace, like a park. Laws may vary from state to state.

Remove the camera when flying a drone.

To avoid being accused of being a peeping tom or spying on people, remove the camera when not absolutely necessary.

Don’t fly too far away from your location.

You need to keep a line of sight to the drone in order to fly legally from what I understand. FPV flying is illegal, but if you have a clear view to your drone, the law cant prove that you actually were flying via FPV — unless you were using heads up display glasses.

Flying with kids flying with kids is less suspicious.

If you’re a dad or mom, flying drones with your kids appears much less questionable than flying alone. You appear to just be having fun with your kids, which is the case for many hobbyists. Even law enforcement may overlook a couple bent rules when they see its just for fun.

Safety in numbers – meetup groups & regulated events.

Flying at regulated events and meetups is the safest way to fly. You’re flying with like minded people, having fun, and generally speaking, everyone in the area is interested, not suspicious of your activity.

Out in the country where no one’s around

When no one is around to see you fly, you can’t get in trouble if you stay within FAA regulations and local laws.

Inside in enclosed building.

Inside your house, you can do pretty much whatever you want. If you are a high school student, some schools might allow you to fly your drone in the gym when no one else is there.

Keep the drone moving – hovering makes people REALLY nervous

A drone thats swooping, doing loops and buzzing around looks a lot less suspicious than one that is moving very slow and hovering in place for long periods of time. Try to make the flight look playful, not foreboding and sinister

Fly in the same locations so people get used to seeing you fly there

If you fly in public, use the same spots so people get used to seeing you. They’ll learn that you’re there to have fun, not for unscrupulous activities.

Make it obvious that you’re piloting the drone

Stand out where people can easily see who is flying the drone. Its a lot less scary when people can see the pilot, and its not some atonamous craft from Skynet (ref: Terminator movies).

Don’t fly with the lights out at night.

Make you look suspicious and that your hiding your activities.

Don’t boost your radio or wifi signal

FAA will make it really clear that they don’t like it if you happen to get caught. You might end up paying them thousands of dollars in fines.

Don’t modify the drone to do things it wasnt designed to do

A no brainer… don’t make a flying bomb. Don’t create a flying radio station with a Raspberry Pi onboard, don’t fly over old folks nudist colonies… duh.

Don’t paint your drone flat black.

Reminds people of stealth bombers. Will scare the people faster than the boogieman.

Don’t put the words “Police”, PD, Government or any other misrepresentation of authority. Cartman would kill you.

For God’s sakes, don’t stalk your EX via FPV… the rest of us like flying, and you’ll ruin it for the rest of us.

So to wrap things up, please be sensible, follow the law and fly for fun, not to find out if your spouse is cheating on you (sadly, a true story).