A new perspective on yourself and the world around you is always a good thing — and now it's easier than ever, thanks to the explosive popularity of consumer remote-piloted drones.
But it's not just photographers and people with bird envy who are flying drones. Many hobbyists love the challenge of flying quadcopters — drones with four propellers — which take a significant amount of skill to fly. An overwhelming majority of today's drones are quadcopters, due to their relative mechanical simplicity compared with the more stable helicopter design.
As drone ownership has grown in popularity, so has the number of rules and restrictions involving drone flight. The FAA has a set of guidelines for recreational flying, which include staying away from manned aircraft, keeping the drone in sight and not charging people money for your flights. You’ll also want to keep your flying under about 500 feet, since any higher than that can bring you into airspace shared with manned helicopters and other aircraft.
The National Park Service (NPS) has also banned drones in all national parks in the United States, citing concerns about the negative impact that flying unmanned aircraft is having in parks.
But there are still plenty of spaces to fly your drone — anywhere from your own backyard to nearly any city and state park. Drone owners can also seek out their nearest RC (radio control) club, locally organized drone user associations, where they can share reserved flight areas and meet other flying enthusiasts.
If you’re ready to dive into the world of unmanned aircraft, here are the best drones you can buy.
What to Look For
Most modern drones have an average battery life of between 10 to 12 minutes That’s plenty of time for short-flight missions, but operators may soon find themselves longing for more in-flight time. One way to circumvent this limit is to purchase a drone with a removable battery, then stock up on fully charged batteries.
Higher-end drones boast up to 25 minutes of flight time, which should be more than enough for the average flier. Many of these drones also have a special feature that overrides your controller and flies the drone back to you once the battery reaches critical levels. With multiple fully charged batteries, these drones can easily run for hours, requiring only a few stops home for new batteries.
Getting a drone in the air is only the first step for most fliers — it’s the view from those great heights that really puts the world in perspective. A large number of today’s drones feature either built-in or attachable cameras, beaming down images of all the in-flight action.
Some drones work directly with a separately purchased GoPro camera, which captures some of the highest-quality footage currently available. High-end drones also include image stabilization, eliminating choppy segments that can sometimes overpower peaceful flight footage.
Other drones have built-in cameras, which often record directly to an SD Card. While this footage isn’t nearly as nice as any captured by a GoPro, it's a great way to dip your toes into aerial photography.
If you want to view the flight footage in real time, some drones offer first-person-view transmitting, sending live video directly to the aircraft’s controller or to a linked iPhone or Android device. This works great when you want to quickly turn on the live feed, but it will drain your battery fast if you use it for the entire flight.
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