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Drones Aren’t Just Quads

Source: FAA Safety Briefing, Nov/Dec 2018
By Marilyn Pearson


Flying an unmanned aircraft system (UAS), commonly referred to as a drone, is a hobby for thousands of aviation enthusiasts. There are a wide variety of drones on the market today, and it’s important to educate yourself on the different types that are available so that you can choose the one that’s right for you.

The newest and most popular entrants into the world of drones are the quadcopters, or quads. A quad is a type of drone that is controlled by four rotors. Unlike its closely related, engine-controlled UAS cousins, a quad is always operated by a remote pilot instead of a pre-programmed onboard computer.

Since quads are relatively easy to learn to fly, mechanically robust, and provide a very stable platform, they are a popular choice for those who want to venture into aviation, or embark upon aerial photography or videography.

But unless you’re convinced that a quad flying camera is the ultimate drone and a must, before you buy that quad, think about a UAS without an on-board camera. Do you want to enjoy the flying as much as the photography? A kit Cessna aircraft flies just like the real thing, with a much smaller investment. Or maybe a helicopter is the perfect challenge. With any of these aircraft, the investment may be less than that quad, and much less for you to lose if your fledgling quad skills result in a broken aircraft!

It’s also a good idea to consider the many model aircraft types and the community of modelers available to join and share with others in the fun. Try the self-launch models and see how far you can fly, or test your catapult-launched aircraft around the “airfield.” Modelers can purchase kit aircraft that are scale models of many single and multiengine aircraft, while others use their creativity to design and build more elaborate aircraft. I’ve even seen the B-29 Superfortress model!

Aeromodeling, the official term for the flying of model airplanes, features competitions and championships that are held locally, nationally, and internationally for racing and precision flying. Aerobatic pilots test their skills with maneuvers similar to those that national champion, manned aerobatic pilots are performing.

Small-scale “airports” and flying sites located throughout the country support every conceivable type of model aircraft. Enthusiasts gather to fly everything from “foamie” trainers, flying wings, biplanes, rotorcraft, aerobatic aircraft, single/multi-engine, turbine and jet-powered aircraft, scale model vintage military aircraft, seaplanes, and much more.

Still wondering what to buy? Take a trip to a local field and find a mentor who will teach you the intricacies of assembling the aircraft, manipulating the remote controller, and maneuvering in flight.

Explore membership in a community-based organization and leverage the many benefits they offer like training, safety, insurance, competitions, etc. Spend some time exploring the many types of UAS available and find the best platform for your enjoyment. Many fields have reserved areas for quads only! Aviators love to show off their aircraft and recruit new flyers, so consider a test flight before you decide what your perfect aircraft might be.

Flying drones can be a fun, family activity too. While the minimum age is 16 to become a certificated remote pilot under part 107, enthusiasts of all ages may participate in aeromodeling and engage with a community of unmanned pilots sharing their love of flying. The FAA recognizes model operations under 14 CFR part 101 so be sure to familiarize yourself with it and follow the regulations. Whatever you choose to fly, be safe and enjoy the experience!

Marilyn Pearson is an aviation safety inspector with the FAA's General Aviation and Commercial Division.

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