The Northwest is the perfect place to fly drones. We have breathtaking scenery, excellent flying weather from late spring through mid-fall, and a sizable community of drone enthusiasts. But buying a drone can be a major investment in terms of both money and time. In this column, we give some suggestions for which drones to buy, and go over a few important safety rules.
Getting off the Ground
First, let’s define what drones are and why they are so popular. Drones are small robot aircraft that can be controlled by remote control or programmed to follow a set flight path. Some pilots love to capture panoramic images with their drones, while others enjoy pulling off acrobatic stunts. If you’re completely new to the hobby, a great model to start with is the Blade Nano QX Quadcopter ($60). While some might label the Nano as a toy, this scrappy little drone can reach heights of about 40 feet, but still safe to fly inside. The LaTrax Alias ($109) is another beginner drone that offers the perfect mix of speed and durability. While the Alias is relatively easy to keep in the air, it can also pull off some impressive stunts thanks to its six-axis flight system. Its modular design makes it a snap to replace damaged parts or add a small camera.
Taking it to the Next Level
Intermediate drones cost several hundred dollars, but come with advanced controls, improved batteries, and sturdier frames for outdoor flying. The DJI Phantom 3 ($500) is considered one of the best all-purpose drones on the market. The Phantom’s flight controller pairs with your smartphone or tablet, making it easy to set flight paths or take HD images. Advanced GPS positioning ensures that you never lose track of the Phantom during flight, and it can take off and land with the push of a button. High-end drones such as the Yuneec Q500 4K Typhoon Quadcopter ($1,300) and DJI Phantom 4 Pro ($1,500) may be worth the extra investment if you’re looking to capture stunning 4K photos and video. One of the nice features of the Typhoon’s gimbal camera is that it can capture shots from any angle.
Following the Rules of the Sky
If your new drone weighs more than a half pound, you will need to register it on the Federal Aviation Administration’s website. You must always keep your drone within sight and not fly above 400 feet. Drones cannot be flown near an airport or in a national park without permission, and you’ll also want to keep your drone grounded during concerts or sporting events. Also make sure to follow your local city and county rules around drones. Use common sense, and be sure to check out the Know Before You Fly website for more tips.