Do you know that one of the definitions of a drone is a stingless male bee, as of the honeybee? Another definition of a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) guided by remote control or onboard computers. Technically, the term drone should be applied only to the semi-autonomous Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. But, most people would also consider a radio-controlled (RC) aerial vehicle as a drone. Most RC quadcopters are owned and operated by hobbyists.
We define a drone as an aerial vehicle with two or more rotors, i.e. a drone is a multicopter. A drone with four rotors is a quadcopter. Quadcopters are the most popular drones with hobbyists due to their flexibility in design. Engineers can quickly re-design the size of the quadcopter and so quadcopters are available in many sizes. We find many quadcopters that are stable, agile and relatively inexpensive nowadays. (Unlike our first drone experience three years ago when we experienced issues with stability and control ability with our low budget quadcopters. The electronic stabilization systems are much improved).
How do drones fly?
We often get this question “How do drones fly?” from kids who want to understand the basic mechanics of how drones fly. A simple way is to identify the three basic components that make a drone fly: rotors, power source and a controller. People often use the term propellers instead of rotor. The term “rotor” is a more general term and usually includes the blade, motor and other parts. The term “propeller” applies to the blades only.
- Rotors create lift. So in general, more rotors, more lift. More lift means you can carry a heavier load, for example, attaching a camera to a drone. More rotors also means the size of each rotor can be smaller; smaller rotors means the UAV is more manageable and safer to use. If one rotor fails on a multirotor craft, the UAV may be landed safely. For the child who wants to understand more about flying orientation, ask your physics teacher about lift and propellers.
- Power source. Typically drones come with a rechargeable battery. Many drones also come with removable batteries. The heavier the battery, the more load to tie the drone to the ground. One of the reasons that most hobby drones’ flight time is minutes not hour is due to the constraint of battery size.
- Controller to launch, to land and to navigate. There are many forms of controllers, for example, smartphones using Wi-Fi. If there is a GPS chip inside the drone, the drone can communicate its location to the controller.
The use of drones
Many of us first heard about drones when we were still in high school: news about our government using drones as a surveillance tool in the war in the Middle East. Some of us know about drones used on the farm for agricultural operations, and, drones to count cattle for ranchers. We may have seen real estate agents use drones to get a bird’s-eye view and videos of properties. Filmmakers have used drones to shoot scenes which might otherwise be difficult to record. Some local law enforcement agencies have used the drones to follow fleeing suspects and spot illegal drug sites. There are a multitude of usages for drones in businesses, agriculture, military, law enforcements, education, art, hobby, and many other categories. How about (likely in the near future) delivery drones for goods we purchase from Amazon, and drones as transportation vehicle (like Uber)?
The drones featured on this site are primarily hobby drones, i.e. drones for fun, drones for learning, drones for aerial photography and videography, and, drones for racing and obstacle course competitions. We will also feature drones for business, for example, drones to inspect your roof, drones to photograph a golf course, drones to film a yacht race, etc.
Things to consider before you buy your first drone
Before you buy your first drone, you want to think about why you are buying a drone – is it just for fun (to zip around your backyard) or do you have a special purpose (say, to do aerial filming of yourself and your family on vacation)? Do you have a budget constraint or is the sky the limit for you? Because, most beginners will crash several times before they learn how to fly. Check out our buying guide to choose a beginner’s drone that meets your needs. We also have a blog on tips to fly your first drone, including things not to do when flying a drone and drone etiquette. You may want to learn about flying responsibly, and what constitutes recreational vs. non-recreational by visiting the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) website.
We frequently get this question – do I need to register my drone with the FAA? The Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) rule mainly depends on why you want to fly and the weight of the UAS: if you are flying for fun, and your drone is over 0.55 lbs., you have to register with the FAA. As of January 2016, 300,000 Unmanned Aircraft Owners have registered with FAA.
For those of you who are new to personal drones, we hope you have found this quick 101 on drones informative. Have fun flying!
Check out our review series on drones for kids.