Lately, everyone seems to be hooked on drones. If you need an exciting hobby to give a try right now then you can definitely consider becoming a drone pilot. This is a fun hobby since it can be so challenging to operate one of these flying objects smoothly and without crashing. Drones are also helpful tools since you can use them to capture aerial footage of events, locations or adventure activities.
Drones have only been popular in stores and social groups for a few years but these fun flying machines have a much deeper history. Drones have been in existence for almost 170 years!
How is this possible when computers have only been available for about 140 years? Well, the answer is simple. The first drones weren’t electrically operated. A drone is simply an aerial object that is unmanned meaning that any man-made object that flies without a physical human inhabiting the vehicle is a drone.
The First Drones Ever Created
The very first drones were created in 1839 when Austrian soldiers used balloons filled with explosives to attack the city of Venice. These first concepts weren’t very successful since Austrians couldn’t steer the balloons. While some exploding balloons were successful for hitting their target in Venice, others drifted back and bombed the Austrian’s own lines.
These first inventions might not have been hugely successful but they did give birth to a concept that would one day be used effectively in military industries as well as to the delight of citizen children and adults across the globe.
The First Coordinated Drones
War was once again the inspiration behind the first coordinated drones. In 1982, Israeli Air Forces used drones to spy on enemy positioning or to jam communications. The US soon adopted their concepts and used drones during the Cold War but the specifics of their successes are classified. Military drones were thereafter used for surveillance purposes or to take pictures of specific areas. Commercial drones are however used for various applications such as home security, landscaping, photography, agriculture, for leisure and social purposes and much more.
Different Types of Drone Designs
Drones are developed by different manufacturers and designers from across the globe. This resulted in quite a lot of different concepts, designs, and functions. The most common types of drones used in modern society include the following;
These are the most common types of drones. They are used by both professionals and hobbyists for several purposes such as to take aerial photographs or videos, for surveillance purposes and more. Multirotor drones greatly vary in size, design, function, and price. Professional drones can vary from 500 - 3000 USD if not higher for military-grade drones where hobbyist drones range around 50 - 400 USD. The main reason this drone design is the most popular is that it is the easiest to manufacture and steer via remote control. The downside to these drones is that they usually don’t come with a long battery life and as such cannot be used for long-distance projects. Most multi-rotor drones will only give you about 20 - 30 minutes of flying time.
There are quite a few different designs to choose from and the number of rotors your drone has usually affects its flight, design, and performance. Here is a quick look at the main types;
These drones don’t have rotors. They function with a large wing that looks a lot like a paraglider wing. These drones use air to stay afloat and only move forward although the direction can often be controlled via a remote control that adjusts the angle of the wings.
Fixed-wing drones can be gas engine-powered and allow you to fly up to 16 hours if not more. They are highly fuel-efficient and perfect for long-distance operations such as military mapping or surveillance although these drones cannot be used for photography since they don’t have the steadiest flight pattern.
Fixed-wing drones tend to be more expensive and more skill is required to fly these aircraft. It is also quite challenging to get your drone up in the air since it needs to be launched into the air via catapult and the drone also requires a runway or parachute to land.
Single rotor drones
These drones look like tiny helicopters. The drone has a single large rotor fitted to the top of the drone. These drones can fly much longer since they have gas engines and aerodynamics reduces rotor spin to enhance fuel-efficiency even more.
These drones are quite challenging to operate and they usually cost more than quadcopters. They aren’t too great for photography or videography since a single rotor doesn’t offer the smoothest flight pattern.
These drones are a combination of fixed-wing and rotor drones. The concept has been developed since 1960 yet only recently yielded some success. The hybrid drone is designed to allow pilots to manually operate the drone for both flying and gliding. The drone needs to be able to fly up and use air channels to glide and stay adrift. There are a few of these drones available for the public but they are not hugely popular.
Different Types of Rotor Drones Based On Function
Since rotor drones are the most popular on the market we are mainly going to focus on this type. There are quite a few different types of quadcopters to choose from. Here are the top ones you can find right now;
These drones are very small and many designs are no bigger than the palm of your hand. Pocket drones are perfect for complete beginners since they are very affordable. They are very easy to operate and their small size allows you to operate the drone indoors without causing damages or injuries. These drones also usually have propeller guards to keep the drone from breaking as you learn to fly. Mini drones with cameras can also be used to take photographs, videos or to enjoy an aerial view via real-time streaming to your phone.
Hobby quadcopters are the most popular on the market. They are mid-sized with larger propellers and are mostly used for outdoor flying. Most of these drones have built-in cameras although the resolution can greatly vary based on the price of your drones. These drones are relatively affordable depending on their features. They can include operational features such as headless mode, altitude hold, one key takeoff, easy landing operation and more.
These long-range drones are used for professional or business applications such as military, landscaping, architecture, agriculture, conservation, surveillance and more. The drones are usually manufactured using the best technology and offer much longer flying times of 25 minutes and longer. These drones can be very expensive and require quite a lot of skill to handle, especially considering their price.
Selfie drones are small, compact and quite popular amongst bloggers, vloggers, adventure lovers, and fitness instructors. These drones are applied for professional and hobby purposes alike. They are relatively affordable and price greatly depends on the quality of the camera installed in the drone. These drones are usually ready to fly out of the box and allow you to capture videos and photographs of yourself or projects at any time.
Drones for kids
Kids, like adults, love to fly quadcopters and they can be considered as educational toys. Flying quadcopters is terrific for improving concentration, coordination, and fine motor skills. These activities are also beneficial since it distracts from unhealthy technology such as too much TV and encourages outdoor play.
These drones are a rare find for public use and they are quite expensive. Unlike aerial drones, they are designed to fly or sail underneath the water. The drones are fully waterproof to specific depts. And some function via WiFi to live stream content. Underwater drones are mostly just used for underwater inspections, discoveries, underwater operations and to view aquaculture. These drones are for professional use only since the price of these waterproof drones is too steep for your average consumer.
As hobbyists improved their drone flying skills, the desire to race naturally grew. Racing drones are typically quite small and agile. They can greatly vary in price and design and many of them do come with goggles that give you a cockpit view as you fly your drone. These drones can be used to get a hyper-real view of flying or to race against other drone lovers. Operating these drones can be quite challenging. If you are just starting in drone racing then it is recommended you start with a cheaper model such as hobbyist or mini drones.
DIY VS Ready to fly drones
Drones are sold in different ways. Some can be purchased as a drone kit and need to be assembled on your own while others are already assembled and ready to fly out of the box. Hobbyists often prefer DIY assemble drones because they can customize their drones as they please or add new features as time goes on. If something goes wrong, they can also debug the drone themselves or do minor fixes all on their own.
Building and fixing your drone is, however, quite time-consuming. These machines do contain a lot of small parts that need to be installed perfectly for your drone to function well and it can sometimes be hard to find the right components loose if you are trying to fix a crashed drone up.
Ready to fly drones are already put together and sold as a completed quadcopter. You can simply open the box, give your drone a charge and take off for instant fun. The downside of these drones is that they are usually standard and replacement parts usually aren’t available which means you might need to buy a new drone even if something small goes wrong on your quadcopter.
Drone Registration Is Required In Some Areas
In some countries, you need to register your drone as an Unmanned Aircraft System. If your drone weighs more than 0.55 pounds and less than 55 pounds, registration might be required and you need to be at least 13 years of age to register a drone. This, however, is quite simple since drone registration is quite easy and very affordable.
Flying Conditions Can Put Your Drone at Risk
Drones are manufactured from light materials and as such are not the strongest devices on earth. They can easily break if crashed. To minimize the risk of damaging your drone you need to consider environmental factors before you decide to fly. Here are a few conditions to be wary off when learning to fly;
Strong winds - Even light winds can cause you to lose control of your drone. It is best to fly a small drone in wind speeds less than 10 miles per hour and larger drones in wind speed less than 20 miles per hour.
Nighttime - Many drones do have lights but even these are not ideal for night-time flying. Camera footage is always bad at night time and it can be hard for you to spot objects such as trees when trying to fly at night.
Rain - Drones contain lots of electronic components such as a camera and more. It is best not to fly your drone in rainy weather.
FAA Flying Guidelines
The FAA enforces certain flying rules for operators of aircraft including drones. Here is a quick look at the main guidelines to follow when you fly;
1. You should be able to see your drone at all times
2. Steer clear of all aircraft operations
3. Don’t intentionally fly over unprotected people, vehicles and stay at least 25 feet away from vulnerable items and individuals.
4. Do not fly in strong weather conditions
5. Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs
6. Different laws can apply to different locations. For safe and legal drone flying it is probably best to find out what the FAA flying guidelines are for your region.
Hobbyists love to fly drones in residential areas and while this isn’t illegal you should be cautious about flying etiquette. People can easily feel that their privacy is affected when you fly near homes or businesses and drones can cause injuries if you lose control of your device. It is best to only fly in clear and open areas and to try to fly as safely as possible when you do fly in the presence of others. Don’t follow people around with your drone since they will think that you might be filming them and could damage your drone to protect themselves even if no pun was intended.
Understanding Drone Specs
When you are shopping for the right drone, the features and specs are very important. Here is a quick look at the top words or features that most drone sellers use to describe their products;
RTF - RTF stands for ready to fly. These drones are sometimes ready to fly out of the box and at other times require minimal assembly to function.
BNF - BNF or Bind-To-Fly drones are usually fully assembled but they don’t include controllers. An app needs to be installed on your phone to man the drone.
RPV - RPV or First Person Video drones allow you to stream footage to your phone, VR, headset or other devices. RPV functions are preferable for racing drones since it gives you a better view of the first-person perspective of the drone as you compete.
LiPo - LiPo or Lithium Polymer is a material used in battery manufacturing. Lithium batteries are usually rechargeable and lighter than cell batteries and as such are used in your drone.
Battery life - It is important to read up on battery life before you buy it. Drones consume quite a lot of energy and usually won’t remain aerial for longer than 30 minutes.
Charging time - This is the time it takes your quadcopter to fully recharge from empty. Charging time is important if you are impatient and don’t like waiting a long time before you can continue to fly your drone again.
GPS - Assisted flight or automatic return home allows you to locate your drone with ease or to fly it back home safely when the battery is low.
Camera - Cameras on drones greatly vary. They can range anything from poor quality to HD quality photography and videos. Drones with cameras usually contain micro SD card slots that store the content and allow you to transfer it to other devices such as computers with ease. Some of the cameras on drones are also adjustable to an angle and WiFi connectivity allows you to enjoy real-time viewing on a phone or other connected device.
Real-time viewing - This allows you to instantly see everything your drone streams via an advanced remote or smartphone.
Headless mode - allows you to see even when the drone is out of sight.
Altitude hold - Holds the altitude of your drone as you fly. This is a great feature for beginners.
FPV - FPV or First Person View is a function that streams the video footage captured by the drone directly to a smartphone or device. FPV is essential for racing drones.
RTH - Smart Return to Home is a function that you enable with the press of a button. The GPS mode kicks in and your drone flies back to you even if it is out of sight.
Follow me home - This is another GPS feature. The drone tracks your phone via GPS and follows you wherever you go. This mode is also great for freeing your hands so you can take excellent selfies.
Spare parts - Drones are often come with additional accessories that can be included in your kit or purchased separately if you want to custom build your quadcopter. Drone accessories can include anything such as a transmitter, USB charging cable, TF card, card reader, propellers, propeller guards, landing gears, blade caps, screws, gears, and some kits even come with tools such as screwdrivers and wrenches.
Weight - Drones are typically very light to help keep battery consumption as low as possible. Naturally, the bigger the drone is, the heavier it will be however with the size and weight increase, designers usually increase the size of rotors to help keep the device as aerodynamic as possible.
Motor - Drones are fitted with all sorts of motors. The motor drives the rotors and impacts the speed, control, and stability of flight. Brushless motors tend to be preferable for video and photography since the motor doesn’t create any friction and reduces the noise for ultimate smooth and inaudible flight.
Transmitter - The transmitter or remote control is the device you use to steer your drone with. Many transmitters have built-in phone holders that allow you to enjoy real-time viewing as you fly your drone. App installation is usually required for real-time viewing to function.
Drone flying is a very exciting hobby for everyone from children to adults. Mini drones are a perfect starter kit for those who have never flown these fun aircraft before. These small drones are affordable and easy to master so you can move over to something bigger like a hobbyist drone. Those who are serious about flying drones can also consider investing in professional drones that can be used for practical applications in the line of duty.