Although drones have many business and military applications, they have also found popularity in the hobby market. However, private users should beware — there are important rules and restrictions on their use.
To give people a basic primer on both piloting drones and staying within federal guidelines for using the gadgets, Johnson County Community College has been offering a one-day basic course, Introduction to UAV Drones. The next opportunity to take the $89 class featuring Syma X5C quadcopters is June 10.
Michael Laird, chief drone pilot for engineering and design firm Olsson Associates, teaches the class at a college-owned facility near Edgerton. He recommends that anyone wanting to pilot a drone start with a relatively inexpensive one, in the range of $20 to $30.
“We are a little bit surprised at how much (students in the class) crash the toy drones. I think they think it’s going to be easier than that,” he said. “People expect it to be like a video game, but you’re dealing with a real object in the air with wind currents.”
According to Laird, most people can get pretty comfortable with this kind of drone within a week, but a larger, more complicated drone might take a month of practice to master.
Both types of drones “have the same stick motions (on the controller). The toy ones are harder to fly than the GPS-stabilized ones,” he said. “Probably stabilizing the altitude is the hardest part, and not letting the drone turn around so it’s backward (and) your stick motions are backward.”
It’s definitely a case where the right and left-hand movements have to be in synch to coordinate both altitude and steering.
People who take the class are generally just curious about what drone flights entail, Laird said.
“They’ve heard a lot about drones, and they want to use them. Sometimes we have younger kids who want fly for a job or homeowners who want to check roofs and gutters and take pictures of their house,” he said.
His students have ranged in age from teenagers to retirees, although the classes tend to skew about two-thirds male. However, many of the younger people who want to fly drones tend to do it on their own, without taking a class.
Jeremy Monken, a drone hobbyist from Overland Park, taught himself how to fly his drone.
“When they start to tilt or wobble or bump into things, it’s easy to panic and over correct on the controls, which will just make them crash,” Monken said. “Once you spend enough time with them, it’s much easier to build the gentle touch you need to really control them.”
When it comes to government restrictions for drone flying, the rules are mainly about safety and privacy. The Federal Aviation Administration rules impose a maximum altitude of 400 feet for any drone flight. There are also restrictions on flying drones close to airfields.
“It’s really hard for people to realize how close they are to an airport,” Laird said. “Johnson County Executive Airport is in the middle of neighborhoods.”
If you want to stay on the right side of privacy laws, only fly your drone over your own property or over open space where people aren’t present.