Getting Started with Drones Part 1: 8 quick and easy questions to consider before your first drone flight

There’s a ton you need to know before your first drone flight! Do you have to register it? Do you need a license? Can you even legally fly in this city? Getting started with drones can be overwhelming!

If there’s just one thing you read before your first drone flight, it’s this piece right here: Part 1 of your drone getting started guide, which outlines the 7 most important things you need to know before getting started drones.

If you’re hungry for more, scroll to the end of this post for Part 2, which goes into greater detail on things you should know before flying drones.

1. If your drone weighs more than half a pound: Register with the FAA

Is your drone more than 0.55 lbs and less than 55 lbs? If so, you need to register yourself as a drone operator with the FAA. The process is easy; here’s how:

Simply visit the FAA’s drone registration website and create an account. You’ll have to enter your address, phone number and email. You’ll also have to pay the $5 registration fee. From there, you’ll receive a Registration number, which you need to simply need to affix somewhere on your drone. I recommend writing it with Sharpie on a piece of masking tape, so you can easily remove it should you decide to sell or give away your drone. (The registration number is tied to the pilot, not the drone).

2. Figure out what sort of license or certificate you need:

The FAA divides drone flights into two categories: commercial (you’re operating for a business or organization) or hobby (you’re flying recreationally for fun). Depending on the flight dictates which of the two certifications you’ll need:

If you’re flying commercially (ie. you’ll be making money via your drone): Get a Remote Pilot certificate under Part 107

Do you intend to make money off your drone? Will you sell the videos you take from it or use it for some other sort of paid service? You need a commercial license, which you can get by passing a written test called the  Aeronautical Knowledge Test. It’s similar to the permit test you took when you were 15 before getting a driver’s license, but aviation focused. Here’s my guide to everything you need to know about the Part 107 test.

If you’re looking to take a Part 107 online study course, I personally used (and highly recommend!) Drone Pilot Ground School. But, here’s a list of other training courses if you’re interested.

If you’re flying recreationally: Pass the FAA recreational drone test (referred to as TRUST)

To fly drones recreationally, it’s a much simpler process. You must go through an easy online course, which takes about 30 minutes to an hour to complete. At the end though, you must pass an online quiz (again though, it’s pretty much common sense). The test is officially referred to as TRUST (short for The Recreational Unmanned Aircraft Systems Safety Test), and it can be taken online for free via one of the FAA-approved partner organizations (there are 16 to start). Those include existing online Part 107 course providers, as well as organizations like The Boy Scouts of America. See the full list of TRUST administrators here.

3. If you’re flying, well, anywhere…make sure you can legally fly there

You can legally fly in Class G airspace without needing any type of approval. However, if you are flying in Class B or C airspace — which will happen if you’re near an airport, or other controlled airspace, you’re going to need permission.

Yes, you can fly in controlled airspace (Class B, C, D, and surface Class E designated for an airport). But, you’ll have to get permission. For example, you must notify airport and air traffic control tower before flying within 5 miles of an airport. LAANC offers an easy way to do this. Learn whether you can fly in a specific area here.

Still need to fly in a restricted area? Here’s my guide on how to do it.

Learn to fly on something you can afford to crash, like this $25 TDR Spider drone.

4. If you’re new to drones, start with a cheap, toy drone

Good-quality camera drones like the DJI Mavic or the Autel X-Star are easier to fly than ever. But that does NOT make them idiot-proof. Once in your lifetime you will crash into something. Make it a cheap, toy drone, and not your expensive one. The harder to fly, the better! That way, you’ll be a master by the time you get to your fancy drone.  You would way rather fly the $30 toy drone into the pool than your new DJI Mavic, right? Trust me, I’ve heard way too many stories of this happening.

Your first drone flight should be in a place where the odds of crashing (into a human, building, tree, or anything else!) are low.

5. If this is your first flight, start in an open space

If you MUST fly your brand new DJI Mavic now and skip step 4, at least start in open space. When you’re getting started with drones, head to your local football field or large park.

Basically anywhere with minimal trees or water is excellent. Meanwhile, avoid spots with major obstacles at the beginning, which can even include tall buildings that might create obstacle interference.

It can be tempting to want to start flying your new drone inside your house as soon as the box has arrived in the mail. But even with drones designed to be flown indoors, say the DJI Avata 2, it’s best to even start learning in a big outdoor field. Yes, I practice what I preach, too!

6. Follow the FAA’s operating rules

No matter who you are, you need to follow the FAA’s operating rules. Besides the steps named above, other FAA operating rules include:

  1. Yield right of way to manned aircraft
  2. Keep the aircraft in sight (visual line-of-sight)
  3. Fly only in spots where you’re allowed to, which is generally at or below 400 feet in Class G airspace.

7. Join a flying community

The best way to learn how to be a better pilot is to fly with others! Look for local meetup groups. I started with a group I found on Meetup.com. I’ve also seen local groups on Facebook. Search for a local group near you!

I’ve outlined in greater detail some of my favorite online drone communities (and some have in-person offshoots too!) right here.

8. Enroll in formal drone training

Still stressed and confused? Are you seeking confidence to be the best possible pilot? Drone flight training is accessible and affordable. Taking an in-person drone course is an excellent way to get hands-on experience, while also meeting other new pilots in your same boat.

There are also online versions of drone flying classes, which can be a lot more convenient, and far cheaper. For example, the Drones 101 course from Drone Launch Academy costs just $49 for lifetime access.

Is there something I should add to this list of steps for getting started with drones? Leave it in the comments below! Happy flying!

Read next: Part 2 of Getting Started with Drones: How do I know if I can legally fly my drone in a specific area?