Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned aircraft systems (UASs), are classified as an aircraft that does not have a human pilot aboard. While they were originally designed for military use, they are becoming more and more popular among civilians in the United States. In fact, the Consumer Technology Association predicts that about 2.8 million consumer drones will be sold in the U.S. in 2016.
Drones are basically more sophisticated versions of the model airplanes that people have flown for years. The two most popular versions of civilian drones are:
• Quadcopter—these are controlled by four fixed-pitch fan blades that spin at various speeds and angles to control flight. They are much more stable than helicopter drones and that makes them the favorite for capturing photos and video.
• Hexacopter and Octocopter- these are the same types of fan blades except they have six and eight rotors instead of four, like a Quadcopter.
• Helicopter—controlled by two rotor blades and are therefore less stable. Some people, however believe that helicopter drones are easier/quicker to maneuver since you don’t have to wait for four separate rotors to adjust.
While some people fly them just for the joy of piloting, the majority of drone owners use them to capture amazing aerial video or photography that would otherwise be impossible to capture without riding in a plane or helicopter—two much more expensive options.
While most drones are controlled from the ground by radio controllers, some more advanced versions can perform autonomous flight via pre-programmed coordinates.
There are several different types of drones. As mentioned above, drones are used frequently by the U.S. military, but, as you can probably guess, those models are very different than the ones available to civilians for purchase. Drones are generally categorized according to their main purpose, with those categories being:
Target and decoy – these drones provide a target that simulates enemy aircraft for target practice
Reconnaissance – these provide battlefield intelligence
Combat – also known as Unmanned Combat Air Vehicles. These carry weapons and can strike enemy targets
Logistics – for delivering cargo
Research and development – these are used to improve UAV technologies
Civilian drones fall into the category of “Civil and Commercial UAVs,” and, as mentioned above, are usually used for aerial photography and data collection, along with recreational flying.
How does the government regulate drones?
As you can probably guess, the increase in popularity of civilian drone usage also comes with an increase in governmental regulations. In June of 2015, several new rules were announced in regards to civilian drones, stating that:
• Civilians can only fly drones that weigh under 55 pounds
• Drone pilots must pass a written test
• Drone pilots must be at least 16 years old
• Drones cannot be flown above 400 ft., at night, or within five miles of an airport
In late 2015, the U.S. Government announced several more regulations on drone ownership, the most noteworthy being a new law on registering your drone which states that:
• Drone owners must pay $5 to register their drones with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)
• They must provide their name, home address, and email address to be stored in a national database
• The drone’s registration number must be visible on the drone at all times
• The pilot must carry the drone’s registration card at all times when operating the drone
These rules were passed in response to increased worries about some of the safety issues that come along with the spike in drone ownership in the U.S., such as drone and airplane collisions and the possibility of drones crashing into crowded public spaces like sports arenas or plazas. Lawmakers believed that tightening the laws surrounding this new technology would likely make drone pilots more responsible and careful while operating the machines. They also attached a stiff penalty to the violation of these laws, which results in criminal penalties of up to three years’ imprisonment or $27,000 in fines.