The 21 biggest drone stories of 2021

As the year comes to a close, it’s time to look back at the biggest stories of 2021 — the 21 biggest stories of course. Here are 21 huge stories chosen based on factors including their impact in the drone industry, how often you shared them, how many comments they generated, or how much interest they generated among those outside the core drone industry.

There are certainly many more big drone stories of 2021, but I contained it to 2021. But, you can leave your top drone stories of 2021 in the comments below!

These are listed in chronological order, starting with events that happened at the beginning of 2021.

21. FAA Drone Advisory Committee (DAC) adds 12 new members including Skydio, American Airlines

One of the FAA’s most important drone committee got 12 new members, many representing major American drone companies. Happily, many new members are core drone industry representatives including Vic Moss, who owns Moss Photography, and staff from drone maker Skydio.

20. Elaine Chao leaves top Department of Transportation post

In the wake of the violent, extremist attack on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao resigned from her position. In her resignation note, she said that the attack was “traumatic and entirely avoidable.”

19. Auterion nabs key DJI leader Romeo Durscher

On the heels of announcing at the end of 2020 that he was leaving DJI, former Director of Public Safety Integration Romeo Durscher announced his next move: Vice President of Public Safety at Auterion, which is the largest open-source drone software platform in the world. Durscher turned out to be one of many key figures who ultimately DJI in 2021. Another notable departure was DJI’s Vice President of Policy and Legal Affairs, Brendan Schulman. Schulman announced in September 2021 that he would move on to a new role as Vice President of Policy & Government Relations at Boston Dynamics. 

18. Skydio valuation tops $1 billion

The follow-me, crash-proof drone maker became a unicorn on March 1, 2021. That was all due to a $170 million Series D funding round, which brought the total Skydio valuation to more than $1 billion.

17. DJI launches DJI FPV drone

On March 3, Chinese drone maker DJI announced DJI FPV, a drone designed for racing that can fly at nearly 90 mph. That drone was revolutionary in balancing that cinematic, FPV look with a high quality camera, while also being ideal for people who want to get into racing, but didn’t necessarily want to build their own drone.

16. FAA’s recurrent training test goes live, online

Under the FAA’s Final Rule on Remote ID — which was among the biggest news stories of 2020 — a big announcement was that rather than commercial pilots completing an in-person, FAA recurrent test every 24 calendar months, they could instead complete a free, online recurrent training course.

That course went live in April 2021, making it easy for drone pilots to keep their FAA Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificates current. It’s available on the FAA Safety Team (FAASTeam) website for no cost.

15. FAA Final Rule for Remote ID goes into effect

Another big piece of drone policy happened in April 2021 as the FAA’s Final Rule for Remote ID went into effect — as did rules allowing operators of small drones to fly over people and at night under certain conditions. Those rules were largely seen as being an important first step in safely and securely managing the growing use of drones in American airspace.

14. Dollywood gets a drone light show

Dollywood, which is Dolly Parton’s theme park located in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, got its own drone show as part of its Summer Celebration, which kicked off in June 2021. The show used nearly 400 of Intel’s Shooting Star drones, which fly in shapes including a smiling face, a couple and a butterfly, all set to pop music.

That wasn’t the only epic drone light show debut of the year. Baby Yoda also appeared in drone form as part of a drone light show in Santa Monica, Calif. to celebrate National Streaming Day on May 20, 2021. And then in July 2021, the Tokyo Olympics featured drones in their opening ceremony.

13. Girl Scouts get drone delivery thanks to Google sibling, Wing

There was a ton of progress made on the drone delivery front, but here is a heartwarming example of drone delivery used in the real world: thanks to a partnership between a small, Virginia-based Girl Scout troop and Wing, residents in Christiansburg, Virgina could get popular cookie flavors including Thin Mints and Samoas delivered directly to their homes via drone for the 2021 cookie season.

12. BVLOS rule making committee forms

The FAA announced its new BVLOS Aviation Rulemaking Committee (ARC) in June 2021 as part of its 6th annual FAA Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) Symposium. ARC was formed with the intent of helping the FAA develop a regulatory path for routine Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations, including providing recommendations for performance-based regulatory requirements to normalize safe, scalable, economically viable, and environmentally friendly drone flights.

11. B4UFly gets a helpful update

In September 2021, the B4UFLY app got a helpful update with a feature called Notify & Fly, allowing you to let other drone pilots know that you’re flying in the area. You submit your flight plans anonymously into the app, and other drone pilots on the app will know that you’re in the area.

The app is intended to show pilots important information including where they can and cannot fly via live, interactive maps. 

10. Autel announces fresh competition to DJI’s consumer drones

Autel, which has headquarters in both Washington and China (and is seen as one of just a few competitors to DJI), announced two new drone series in September 2021. Dubbed the Autel EVO Nano and Autel EVO Lite drones, the lower-cost drones are priced starting at $649 and $1,149, respectively. The drones themselves are set to be made available in early 2022.

9. Flying drones at night gets easier

As of the end of September 2021, Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate holders gained the ability to use LAANC to quickly and easily apply for night authorization. That provided a significantly easier, permanent solution for legally flying drones at night.

8. Wing delivery expands to Dallas, Texas area

Wing in October announced plans to expand to Frisco, Texas, which is a suburb of Dallas. That makes Dallas the first major metro in the U.S. and the largest overall metro area to be participating in drone deliveries.

Throughout all of 2021, Wing says it made over 140,000 deliveries to people’s homes via drone, which is a 600% increase over 2020. Much of that was at the end of the year; in the last quarter of 2021 Wing made twice as many deliveries as in all of 2020.

7. DJI launches its Mavic 3 drone

DJI dropped its first new drone in a while, and it was a Mavic 3, no less. The new features blew many minds, including a dual-camera system featuring Hasselblad, an incredible 46-minute battery life, and improved sense and avoid tech that makes this drone nearly crash-proof. Alas, it also delivers a steep price tag starting at $2,199.

6. Zipline becomes operator of the largest-scale drone deliveries in the U.S.

Drone delivery giant had primarily been operating in a few countries in Africa. But in November 2021, Zipline announced plans to deliver prescriptions and other healthcare products to people’s homes in the Salt Lake City area. Zipline’s deliveries are possible anywhere in a 50-mile radius of its launch location, rather than the couple-mile radius seen in many other drone delivery efforts, and the company holds the title of operator of the largest-scale drone deliveries in the U.S.

5. Drone racing arrives for the masses

DRL in November dropped a free, mobile game called Drone Racing Arcade, which simulates being a racing drone pilot. The mobile game was created by DRL in partnership with mobile games platform Skillz, and can be downloaded via the iOS and Android app stores.

4. Walmart’s drone delivery ambitions grow via major partnerships

In November 2021, Walmart gave the world a glimpse inside its drone delivery ambitions, revealing that it has been successfully running tests at a Walmart Neighborhood Market in Farmington, Arkansas. The tests aren’t done by Walmart employees themselves, but rather through a partnership with DroneUp, a company that Walmart actually invested in back in June 2021. 

In addition to its partnership with DroneUp, separately Walmart is partnering with California-based Zipline to test drone deliveries with a small contingent of customers in Pea Ridge, Arkansas.

3. Sony’s drone becomes available for preorder

The highly anticipated Sony Airpeak S1 drone became available for pre-order, targeting professional photography and video production. The drone is capable of carrying the company’s Alpha mirrorless cameras and is seen as appealing among professional filmmakers who either prefer Sony’s existing equipment, or are looking to fly a drone made by a company other than DJI.

2. DRL gets an interesting title from the FAA

The Drone Racing League announced in December 2021 that it had been accredited by the FAA as the nation’s first unmanned aircraft systems event organizer. With its new powers, it is set to help to establish standardized safety protocols for future organizations that want to use drones for demonstrations, air shows, exhibitions and other live events.

1. Virginia Tech test site overcomes major hurdle in drone flights over people

To round at the year, we moved another major step in enabling widespread drone flights over people. The Virginia Tech test site announced that its own, in-house designed test methods were the first to be accepted by the FAA as a means of demonstrating compliance with new regulations around safely flying drones over people. That Means of Compliance (MOC) was accepted on Dec. 10, 2021. This means that companies now have a practical way to actually take advantage of news announced in 2020 that certain drone operations could occur over people.

What was your top drone news story of 2021? The most impactful, controversial, or meaningful — I want to hear it! Leave it in the comments below!

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