So you don’t want to be a commercial pilot? Well if you want to fly your drone just about anywhere you still may want to get a remote pilot license. Let’s take a look at what the FAA says about hobbyist pilots. I found the following text in the Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.
“…the statute sets a requirement for model aircraft operating within 5 miles of an airport to notify the airport operator and control tower, where applicable, prior to operating…”
A picture says a thousand words, and shows a thousand airports. Let’s take a look at an example. I took this image from the Chicago area Terminal Area Chart (TAC) which shows every airport as well as the controlled B, C, D, and E airspace. Over the image I superimposed a red circle that is approximately 5 miles in radius over every identified airport.
Seeing a lot of red? Yes you are. If you want to fly under red then you need to contact one OR MORE airfields to get permission. And good luck getting in touch with Farmer Bob’s Grass Landing Strip and Chicken Farm. Farmer Bob is on vacation in the Quad Cities where he enjoys building 1/10 scale models of antique corn husking equipment. So what if Bob doesn’t answer the phone? Well, fly at your own risk I guess. You never know when FAA agents in black suits will come rappelling out of helicopters to confiscate your $30 mini drone that you are using to chase farmer Bob’s chickens.
Now let’s take a look at that same map but this time the only highlighted areas are controlled airspace that comes down to the surface (or within 400 feet of the surface).
Ah, I can breath again! I see a lot less red and a lot fewer people to call. Farmer Bob’s chickens are out of luck! A certified remote pilot can technically fly their registered 54.999999 pound 12-rotor drone in circles over Bob’s poorly kept landing strip all day long. (Note: We do not condone animal cruelty or flying drones over airstrips just for the sake of it, that’s not safe).
Let’s look at one more map. The FAA created this nice little app for hobbyist pilots called B4UFly. It is a slick app, but will make the hobbyist extremely depressed. This app finds little podunk helipads that the FAA official maps don’t even identify. Let’s check back with the first map. There is a nice little area where you can fly near a little town called Elburn.
But wait! B4UFly is here to dash your hopes! They found a little helipad called “Hammersmith” (maybe Farmer Bob’s blacksmith cousin). Well if Hammersmith doesn’t pick up the phone then I guess the poor drone owner in Elburn must go for a drive or resort to flying an X-wing on an X-Box.
Is there hope for the hobbyist? Well we don’t condone violating FAA rules or muttering nasty remarks under your breath about them(or do we?) That said, realistically the men in the black suits are probably not going to crack down on you flying your one pound drone in your backyard. If you are going to do a lot of flying of heavier drones (DJI Phantom weighs about 3 pounds) then we recommend you strongly consider making everyone safer by becoming a licensed pilot. Fly safe, fly smart. Oh yeah, and the FAA has no jurisdiction over what you do indoors.
Definitely don’t fly near busy airports, inside restricted areas, over stadiums or other large public gatherings. Check out this article from motherboard that details the 20-30 individuals that the FAA has fined as of June 2016. Basically, you need to be doing something pretty silly to get the attention of the FAA. Once again, we don’t condone violating FAA regulations. Check out the free online source for FAA maps that has both Sectional Charts (large areas) and more detailed Terminal Area Charts (TACs) that are free and available for download.
So maybe you want a commercial license. How do you pass the test?
Once you’ve passed the test…
You are going to need a drone. Maybe you want an aerial photography drone, or maybe you want a fun toy. Half Chrome Drones has you covered. We’ve developed an advanced system to match you to the right drone. We call it our Half Chrome Drone Cipher™. Check it out. We also are constantly updating our Best Drones Now page to help you stay current.
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