With just over two weeks before Christmas, parents are rushing around to buy their kids the must-have toys of the year, and one thing that's high on that list is the remote-controlled drone. But before you buy a drone, consider the idea that maybe it's not such a smart purchase.
If you're thinking buying a drone for someone, especially someone young, you should consider some important things like price, airspace and even legislation. Yes there are drones out there that can be had for less than fifty bucks. But do you ever really want to buy the cheapest of anything that you want to last a long time? The cheap drones are tiny, fragile, and have lousy battery life. In the hands of your average 10 year-old, I bet it doesn't last three days before it breaks.
Think about where you'll be flying it. Do you live in a typical suburban neighborhood? Consider your airspace. How many houses and trees are around where this new toy will be played with? Will the neighbors appreciate it when they have to retrieve the drone from their backyard? Will you appreciate it when Junior dents the side of your car with it?
$680 Phantom drone with a GoPro camera by Don McCullough (Flickr / CC Commercial License)
Then there are the idiots who are still flying their drones too close to airports and airborne aircraft. This is a major safety hazard, as they could potentially cause catastrophic damage if one were to be ingested into an engine. From June through November of this year, the FAA reported 25 incidents where personal drones nearly collided with piloted aircraft — both general aviation and commercial airliners.
The regulations around drones are still very much up in the air. They've already been banned from all of the National Parks, as the National Parks Service worried that the noise and proximity to wildlife would disturb their their nesting, reproductive and migratory habits. Regulations for using drones as a commercial business are under discussion, but the FAA has said they may not be complete until after 2015. The FAA has published a list of guidelines for drone and r/c aircraft operators:
Drones are pretty amazing devices, and when used by people who know what they're doing, they can bring back some cinema-quality video. We've seen drones used to terrorize a college campus, fly through a fireworks display, and even film some aerial pornography. GoPro is reportedly developing their own drone, after people have strapped GoPro cams to drones for several years now.
I'm not saying all drones are bad. I think it would be fun to have one, but it's really not practical for me to have. The real problem with drones is their operators.
Top image by Mauricio Lima (Flickr / CC Commercial License)
Paul Thompson is a aviation journalist with over 13 years of experience working in the airline industry, who maintains the website Flight Club for Jalopnik.com. You can contact Paul to submit story ideas, your own "Plane Porn" photos, and comments regarding this or any other aviation topic via email at Paul@Jalopnik.com