Whenever we hear the word drones, the things that most people will usually think is its military applications. We cannot blame the masses because drones have a gained a reputation for hunting terrorists and spying on foreigners and citizens alike.

This is specifically in the United States where the US government has deployed unmanned flying vehicles in their so called war on terrorism. And for most people drones, like most robots, are designed for jobs that are dangerous, dirty, repetitive or dull. Most of us know this in a military context. Everything

Parrot AR drone. Image courtesy of bit-tech.com

Parrot AR drone. Image courtesy of bit-tech.com

from hovering around combat zones in foreign countries to a remote controlled type of warfare where the pilots are safely controlling the unmanned flying vehicles in a trailer somewhere in the United States. Because of these reasons, it’s very easy to overlook that these hovering vehicles  have a great following among hobbyist around the world.

To people who purchase, build and fly their personal drones and fly them recreationally, unmanned aerial vehicles or AUV is just a jump in technology of the RC planes and helicopters that many hobbyists and amateurs have been flying for years. If you try to search for YouTube videos, you will be able to see hobbyist and builders build small helicopters and planes up to large scale  1:4 scale RC F-15, F-16 and Jumbo jets. In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration is still trying to work out the rules for having and operating these drones for commercial use, but for personal or private use, the FAA is lenient about it. No license is required as long as you fly the drone below 400 feet and don’t do anything stupid or anything dangerous over densely populated areas. For a couple of years now, quad copters were getting attention and many civilians have been flying  over parks, homes and on any open field where flying can be applicable.

A Bit of Drone History

800px-Teledyne-Ryan-Firebee-hatzerim-1

The Teledyne-Ryan-Firebee 1. Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

By definition, an unmanned aerial vehicle (AUV, drone or remotely piloted aircraft) is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard flying it. The flight is controlled by a remote control by a pilot on a vehicle or the ground or can fly autonomously by way of inboard computers. Initially AUVs are deployed for special operations and military applications and use in a small but growing number of civilian applications like firefighting, security work or police work. The concept of drones is not a new idea, but dates back to the mid-1800 when Austrians sent off unmanned, balloons filled with bombs to attack Venice. The modern drone that we have today started innovation during the 1900’s and was originally made as target practice to train military personnel and pilots. Development continued during the 1st World War, when the Dayton-Wright Airplane company came up with a pilot-less aerial torpedo that would drop and go off at a preset time. A number of remote-controlled planes followed during the 1st World War that includes the Hewitt-Sperry Automatic Airplane.

MQ-9 Reaper with Hellfire missiles. Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

MQ-9 Reaper with Hellfire missiles. Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

During the technology rush in the 2nd World War, more AUVs were made to be used as target for training antiaircraft gunners to fly attack missions. Nazi Germany also made various AUVs during the course of the 2nd World War. When jet engines were developed, it was applied to the Teledyne Ryan, the Freebie I in 1959 and Beechcraft with their Model 1001 for the US Navy in 1955. In the United States, AUVs have two prominent programs – the military, which is an overt program where the public recognize which governments using it and where US troops are stationed; and the Central Intelligence Agency clandestine operations.Some of the well known drones used by the military and the CIA are the remotely piloted Predator and Reaper, the autonomous Global Hawk and the Ravens used in urban areas.

Useful Tips On Buying Your Own Personal Drone

Just like many hobbyist toys and gadgets, personal drones have a so called sliding scale of cost and sophistication. The more you spend on a unit, the more it can do; the more a drone can do things, the harder it is to fly. Modern day personal drones come in two types – the fixed-wing aircraft that operates and fly like airplanes and the multi rotor copters that can take off vertically and hover like regular helicopters. There are many hobbyist shops that sell drum kits that you can build yourself or you can just pay a little extra money to have shop and manufacturers build it for you. These personal AUVs also use digitally controlled electric motors and high discharge, rechargeable, lithium-polymer batteries.

The Aibot X6 V2 with camera. Image courtesy of aibotix.com

The Aibot X6 V2 with camera. Image courtesy of aibotix.com

The drone market is fairly new and most potential buyers are not aware of what they need and what to look for for a recreational drone. Options can be complicated and the prices will vary from $300 to over $100,000 for personal drones for civilian use. There are cases that  a buyer will be expected to provide specific things on their own and may not be clear to anyone that is not technically knowledgeable with the equipment. If you’re itching to have some aerial fun and want to be like a G.I. Joe or a person who wants to have some aerial video footage or pictures, then follow these helpful tips when buying your own personal mechanical bird.

  1. Because it is new, unmanned vehicles are in varying states of legality anywhere around the world. It is best to check with the country’s airspace regulation. In the Unites Staes, drones are allowed for non-c0mmercial use in domestic or private airspace under 400 AGL, out of controlled airspace and within line of sight. Commercial use of drones on the other hand, are not allowed until 2015. Australia and the United Kingdom already have advanced regulations where an operator can be certified with specific restrictions.
  2. Know your price range. Drones will come in different price range. The gaps between the price ranges may be large because of a limited number of suppliers. Most hobbyists will look into $100 – $10,000 US price range. Below are the price of drone brands (estimated).

–          Parrot AR Drone  <$400

–          uDrones and DJI  <$1000

–          Event 38 Unmanned Systems between $1,000 – $2,000

–          ResearchDrones LLC between $3,000 – $4,000

–          Gatewing more or less $30,000

  1. Check the radio frequencies. Drones can use different radio frequencies and in most cases, many use 2 or 3 at the same time. You have to make sure that the frequencies used on the system are allowed in the country. Common frequencies used:

Video streaming

–          1.2 – 1.3 GHz

–          2.4 GHz

–          5.8 GHz

R/C

–          433MHZ

–          2.4MHz

Telemetry

–          433MHz

–          915MHz

–          2.4GHz

For power used, it is common to have 100mW and 1W assuming omnidirectional transmitting antennas.

  1. Take off and landing. For any fixed wing drones, take off and landing are very important.
    DJI Phantom GPS Drone. Image courtesy of gizmag.com

    DJI Phantom GPS Drone. Image courtesy of gizmag.com

    Most of the small UAS are launched by hand or using a small catapult or a slingshot. Recovery will fall into 3 types – automatic landing, manual landing and parachute. Manual landing is the hardest. If you have played Konami’s Top Gun on your Nintendo’s console back in 1986 or 1987, you know what we’re talking about. An operator will need to learn to fly the aircraft for the final approach and landing. Auto landing, can also be tricky at first  because most auto pilots today have limited accuracy so large landing area will help. Parachute recovery may be the best bet for now because it does not require a manual flight or a large area. You just have to make sure that there is no upwind when releasing the chute or no tall trees will catch the chute.

  2. What is included in the package. Make sure that you know what isincluded in any drone system you’re purchasing. Most systems will not provide batteries so you need to have your choice of batteries, battery charger, a camera or even an R/C controller to make it fly. It will be really frustrating when you open the box and the batteries are not included. It will surely pop your weekend fun bubble. Most manufacturers will allow you to use a laptop, tablet or Smartphone at the ground control station, although a Smartphone may be too small for for visual control.
  3. Tech support, service and repairs. Accept the fact that the drone during normal use will crash, and get damaged. Or if you’re a good flyer, will may not crash the unit, but will experience normal wear and tear. The fact that most hobbyists are not well trained pilots and the reliability is just not as high as compared to manned aircraft, means anything can happen. Know the availability and price of replacement parts and airframes. Turnaround time for orders can be a few days to weeks depending on the part’s availability. Some smaller frames can be repaired in the field either by glue or tape. Any units with wood or fiberglass would be difficult to repair, thus having spare parts will be very handy.

The popularity of personal drones will surely go up in the near future, especially since hobbyists have found many ways of using it in non-lethal & fun ways. From taking pictures to making aerial video shots to rescues, farm use  of wildlife conservation to saving human lives, drones will surely take flight wherever it is needed.

About Author

Jon specialises in research and content creation for content marketing campaigns. He’s worked on campaigns for some of Australia's largest brands including across Technology, Cloud Computing, Renewable energy and Corporate event management. He’s an avid scooterist and musician.