Skyward Bound: What You Need to Know Before Buying a Drone


It’s a bird.  It’s a plane.  No, it’s your new drone.  Drones are the rage in tech gifts, and since the holiday season quickly approaches, you may want to treat yourself or someone else to a high-flying, stealth-defying gadget.  However, there are several things you need to consider before taking to the sky.  Before you’re skyward bound, stay grounded by minding the following information.

Is Flying a Drone Easy?

Like anything, manning a drone is associated to a learning curve.  Each drone is different, depending on how the controller module is setup inside.  While some are engineered for agile flying, others are more stable in flight.  If you want a drone that is easy to fly straight out of the box, then you’ll have to pay for it.  An analysis of several drones found that products in the $750 range were easy to fly.  Pricier drones fly better because of the associated technology.

Get Ready to Take Flight

An RTF or ready-to-fly product does not require any assembly aside from charging the battery or installing the propellers.  A BNF or bind-and-fly comes assembled but does not have a controller.  You’ll have to find a controller from another model or buy one separately.  Do more research or talk with an in-store specialist if you’re unsure about the compatibility of your controller and in-drone receiver.

An ARF or almost-ready-to-fly model, are akin to quadcopter kits.  They don’t come equipped with a transmitter or receiver and may require partial assembly.  Some kits may omit motors, ESCs, or a flight-controller battery.  Manufacturers differ regarding their versions of ARF kits, so make sure you carefully read the box or online description before buying.

What You Need to Invest

There is a wide range of choices, so you can spend as little as $50 or decide to invest as much as several thousand.  If you choose a larger investment, you have to do it wisely.  Those who have invested large sums of money suggest a few things:

Get a quality controller.  Controllers don’t get outdated and usually last more than a few years.  It’s a sound investment, especially for those who want to continue on with the hobby of flying drones.  The in-controller transmitter can be upgraded, so you can keep the same controller while improving it along the way.

Buy a topgrade charger.  Like a quality controller, a good charger will last a long time.  Cheaper chargers are slow to charge, unreliable, and are limited in the size of batteries they can address.  The better chargers work with pretty much any battery and are quick.  Some even charge multiple batteries at the same time.

Finally, the buying cycle of a quality kit is a bit long.  You’ll want to do research and ask in-store employees while perusing online resources.  Consult a list of the best drones to get an idea of price, accessories, and potential for upgrades.

Where to Buy Your Drone

Where to buy a drone is the least of your worries since there are many choices.  Look for drones online, in retail stores, and consider purchasing from other owners.  While larger chains, such as Walmart and Amazon, have drones for sale, you may find them at hobby stores in your area.  If you’re searching for parts, you may be able to find them in the Classified section of your local newspaper.  Of course, when buying from other hobbyists, make sure you have done your research.  You don’t want to get ripped off or buy a shoddy component since it’s likely you won’t get your money back or be able to return.

Fly With Others

Buying a drone gains entryway into a hobby filled with other enthusiasts who can make recommendations, tell you where to go for upgrades, or be able to help you troubleshoot while flying.  Tons of forums dedicated to drone flyers exist online and many clubs and get-togethers are accessible for those who live in large cities or small rural areas.  If you’re a beginner, there is a lot you’ll want to learn about flying and different manufacturers.  Once you start to know a bit more, consider sharing your knowledge with those who are just beginning.

There Are Rules

Of course, flying a drone is unlike throwing a frisbee.  A number of rules apply to drone flyers that are formed by the FAA.   For example, you must yield to the right of way to other aircraft, whether it’s manned or unmanned.  Also, you must fly your drone to a maximum of 500 feet from ground level while maintaining a speed of under 100 mph.  A bit subjective,  any careless or reckless flying is subject to penalty, which may be defined by a police officer in the area of flying.  Read more about drone rules at the federal website.

Eric is a drone enthusiast that specializes in building quadcopters for surveying and racing. He enjoys sharing his research and ideas online.

Featured image: ShutterStock

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