** Update **
Almost daily now I see the media reporting on another incident involving a civilian “drone.” This one is getting some traction:
It’s somewhat understandable how the woman in this video might have felt threatened. I don’t doubt that she truly believed her rights had been infringed on and that this young man was in the wrong for “spying” on her from his quadcopter. I’m sure she was surprised to learn that it’s not illegal to shoot video on a public beach, even if it’s from a hobby “drone” 100 feet in the air. Of course, she went too far the moment she got physical with the owner of the quadcopter. Props to this young man for staying calm and recording the incident. Had he not had proof, it very well may have been him that was sent to jail.
Until the FAA decides to provide more regulation on the topic, I’m afraid that confusion will increase as quadcopters with cameras attached become more common. The truth is, if you want to get into flying quadcopters for aerial video or just for fun, there are simple rules you can follow that will greatly reduce the chance that you’ll find yourself in a tangle with the public or the police.
Rules for Flying the Phantom 2 Quadcopter – Or any “Drone”
1. Don’t be obnoxious – Seriously. The majority of the public you will run into when you are out flying your quadcopter have about as much knowledge about the subject as the lady in that video. It’s new and novel. It’s common when I’m out flying that I will attract a crowd. The vast majority of the time people are polite, interested, and even look upon what I’m doing with approval. They want to know how high and far it will go. They want to look through my Fatshark FPV Goggles. That said, don’t be annoying. Don’t fly low (or at all) over large crowds of people. Multirotors are noisy. Be sensitive to the environment and situation. If you think you might be disturbing someone by flying your quadcopter, find a different place to fly.
2. Safety! – Smaller quadcopters like the Phantom are really very safe. They are light weight and the stock propellers are not as sharp as other larger multirotors. Yes it could do some damage if it fell out of the sky and hit someone or something. It’s your responsibility to minimize that risk. Don’t fly in high wind. Don’t fly if you are not comfortable with the situation and the amount of risk. Hitting someone is just not worth the risk.
3. Privacy – You may have every right to shoot video with your quadcopter in a public space, but be mindful and respectful of other people’s feelings. I was recently shooting video at the Four Season’s Resort in the Maldives. Each bungalow has a private outdoor shower. You can imagine the complaints we may have gotten had we not been mindful of this and flown the Phantom 2 low over the shower part of these bungalows. We talked with the resort management and expressed our desire to be respectful of their visitors and we had no problems. Just be mindful and respectful of other people and avoid the drama.
These next rules apply specifically to flying the Phantom 2 with FPV
4. Always follow a Preflight Checklist. Your setup may vary so your checklist may differ. Develop a set of steps you take every time you fly to ensure a safe and controlled flight.
1. Turn on Phantom Controller.
2. Turn on GoPro
3. Plugin Fatshark goggles.
4. Make sure both switches on Phantom controller are all the way up.
5. Power on Phantom 2 while it is on level surface.
6. Calibrate the Compass
7. Wait for GPS lock.
8. Pull sticks down and in to start motors.
9. Push throttle up slowly to take off.
5. Make sure you do not fly near power lines or metal objects. I tried to fly near power lines the other day and immediately lost control. Power lines generate large magnetic fields which mess with the compass on the Phantom. The compass is surprisingly sensitive. I’m convinced that most reports of the Phantom flying away on it’s users are because the user either failed to get a good compass calibration or they are flying near power lines or other objects that interfere with the compass.
6. Always double check that your GoPro is recording. If it is not recording and you start flying, the GoPro WILL turn off after a few min. If you are flying FPV with the goggles, you will suddenly go blind. Obviously this is not ideal.
7. Use GPS lock correctly. This may be obvious, but if you launch the phantom with a GPS lock from boat, note that if the boat is moving and you initiate a return to home fail safe, the phantom will return to where your boat was, not where it has moved to.
8. Watch the battery level. Phantom 2 battery lasts about 25 min. Don’t push it. If you record with your GoPro, your Fatshark goggles will display the record time. Use this as a timer and don’t push the flight time past 20 min or so. If you are over water and the Phantom battery gets too low, it will automatically try to return to where you took off and land, but if it doesn’t have enough power to get all the way back, you may end up in the water.