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Getting a drone? Read this first

Consumer drones are becoming more and more popular due to how easy they are to fly. It's not all fun and games though. Even small drones can pose a safety risk to people and other aircraft. Know how to operate your drone safely before you take off for the first time. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

Consumer drones are becoming more and more popular due to how easy they are to fly. It's not all fun and games though. Even small drones can pose a safety risk to people and other aircraft. Know how to operate your drone safely before you take off for the first time. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Tech. Sgt. Samuel Morse)

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- Ask a dozen children what superpower they'd want most, and flying would likely top the list. Humankind's fascination with flight started long before Orville and Wilbur Wright first flew in Kittyhawk, and is certainly alive and well within today's Air Force.

So, it should be no surprise that the Federal Aviation Administration is expecting the sale and operation of 700,000 new drones across the U.S. this holiday season. Even the Mountain Home AFB Base Exchange has a rack dedicated to the electric flying marvels.

There's a catch though, these are still aircraft, and as such, come with a laundry list of things to know before you take off for the first time. Here's the down-and-dirty version for flying around Mountain Home and the base.
  1. The FAA now requires registration of all recreational drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 lbs. Go to http://registermyuas.faa.gov to register. The FAA is refunding the two-year, $5 registration fee at first, but flying an unregistered drone after February could land you with up to a $250,000 fine!
  2. Respect the propellers. The two-inch propellers of a micro-quad can sting pretty bad if they catch your finger. The nine-inch propellers on DJI Phantom can send you to the emergency room. Take care when flying so this doesn't happen. Know your controls before you take off. Some smart-device-enabled drones even have simulators you can use.
  3. Respect the crazy. When things go wrong with drones, they go wrong rapidly. The same thrust that holds the drone aloft can also drive it into the ground if the drone flips over. Don't fly over people, cars, emergency responders or any other situation where the equivalent of a rapidly descending weed whacker would cause you to end up on the evening news, or landed with an expensive lawsuit. Don't risk it.
  4. Watch the weather. Most drones don't do well in high winds (we live in Idaho after all), or precipitation. If the drone isn't behaving well, land it, or better yet, learn to recognize bad weather before you take off.
  5. Learn as much as you can before you fly. Find a mentor, an R/C club or just look up everything you can before you start flying. There are more rules like not flying higher than 400 feet above the ground, not flying at night and more. Many drones have GPS units that can be programmed to limit altitude or respect certain no-fly zones, but only if you set them correctly. KnowBeforeYouFly.org is a great resource sponsored by the FAA for getting all the pertinent details on regulations concerning hobby flight.
  6. Know where you can and can't fly. Some of these are laws, while others are common sense. Respect personal property and stay away from full size aircraft. Other no-fly zones include national parks and the greater Washington D.C. metropolitan area. Flying near airports and military installations have additional limitations and approval requirements, so do your research, especially since these rules are still being developed. If you're not sure, err on the safe side and don't fly there. Specific rules regarding personal drone use at Mountain Home AFB are forthcoming. There are several resources like https://www.mapbox.com/drone/no-fly/?embed=true#5/33.174/-83.364 that can give you an interactive map to show where no-fly or restricted flight zones are.
Ultimately, have fun and stay safe! There's a remote control aircraft park at the edge of Mountain Home on East 12th South Street (43°6'52.35"N 115°39'28.95"W).

Related Links:
Tommy got a toy drone for Christmas, what's next?
FAA Link:  http://www.faa.gov/uas/
Information on UAS registration:  http://www.faa.gov/uas/registration/
No Drone Zone Campaign: http://www.faa.gov/uas/no_drone_zone/