New regulations begin for Drone pilots, plus a little UAS history

Posted 6/30/21

An editorial by Bruce Karnick [email protected] Flight has fascinated humans for centuries and in 2021, it is cheaper than ever to experience flight without leaving the ground thanks to a …

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New regulations begin for Drone pilots, plus a little UAS history


An editorial by Bruce Karnick

[email protected]

Flight has fascinated humans for centuries and in 2021, it is cheaper than ever to experience flight without leaving the ground thanks to a plethora of consumer targeted quadcopters with cameras. Quadcopters, also commonly referred to as drones, have advanced a long, long way since the first consumer drone was released by Parrot. Yep, the Parrot Quadcopter that we could buy from Brookestone at area malls. As an adult, I loved watching the pilots fly around Burnsville Mall or the Mall of America with a Parrot Drone.

Sadly, being the first innovator does not mean there is a guarantee of longevity. Parrot left the consumer drone market in 2019 to focus on professional level drones. DJI has quickly become the leader in consumer drones and a solid player in the professional drone side, too. DJI created the first foldable drone, the Mavic, that instantly earned the unofficial title as most copied drone design. The more recent models of the Mavic are the Air 2 and the Mini. The Mini can get new drone pilots in the air with a high-quality flight experience for around $400.

The advancement in technology has made drones lower cost, lighter, faster and with more capabilities. A problem the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has been working to control for years. The FAA is the single entity in the United States that controls air space. Which to many seems strange, but that is how it goes. There are very specific regulations for Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or UAS.

As UAS or drones increase in popularity, they also become far less popular with people that don’t understand how they operate. This is evident with the sheer number of people that complain on social media about drone users. The common thought process of ‘That drone is spying on me.’ Sorry, most likely, the drone pilot has zero interest in you specifically, and more of an interest in what is going on that looks cool from the air. I will say, the ‘spying’ thing is one of my favorite things to hear from people that do not know how drones work because that tells me exactly how little they know, and it becomes an opportunity to engage them and teach. The bottom line, A drone 50+ feet in the air is not spying on you, lord knows I am not that interesting that someone would want to spy on me, odds are, that assessment fits most people.

All UAS over 250g need to be registered with the FAA and the registration number needs to be displayed on the outside of the UAS. That means the toy you picked up for little Johnny or Suzie might need to be registered or you could be flying illegally. Some other rules that many people are not aware of are flying over groups of people as a hobbyist is a no-no. The UAS must be always in the pilots or spotters’ line of sight. Manned aircraft has the right of way in the skies, if one is near, the pilot must give way to the manned aircraft, and the UAS must be under 400 feet above ground level.

Some new regulations that are taking affect now. Flying at night requires a strobe light that can be seen from three nautical miles away. This is a change from requiring a waiver to fly at night.

Second, aside from registration, every UAS pilot must now take what the FAA is calling the TRUST test. The Recreational UAS Safety Test, (TRUST) is a simple to complete test that should take 15-30 minutes to complete, and you cannot fail it. The test I took was through the Academy of Model Aeronautics, or AMA. It was very easy, all things I already knew as a UAS pilot and it was impossible to fail. If I marked an answer wrong, I could not proceed until I checked the right answer. When I was done, I was given a printable PDF that I could also save to my phone for proof of completion, which is required for every pilot to carry along with their registration card.

By 2023, all UAS must have an always on Remote ID that allows nearby aircraft to identify the UAS and it’s pilot, plus their locations.

Some UAS regulations are on the goofy side, I can use my cell phone to take pictures and turn around and sell them if I want too. I don’t have to have a professional grade camera to make money with photography. Add some propellers, make my cell phone fly and all of a sudden, I have to take a $150 training course, pass a $150 test and spend $600+ on insurance to make money with my pictures from the flying cell phone. That’s why you do not currently see any pictures from my drone as part of this, or any articles. It is also why, hobbyists that have cool pictures that we ask to use for the paper do not have their name listed currently. As a hobbyist, it is perfectly legal to fly for fun and snap pictures that you do not intend to use in any way to profit from. ‘Profit’ means more than just make money, it could be to further your career, be compensated in ways other than monetarily and so on. But to profit, you need a 107 license.

UAS’ can be a lot of fun, but there is a lot of new responsibilities that come with piloting them, so they are not simply toys. If you pick one up for yourself or for your family, make sure you head on over to first to learn what the regulations are. Flying a UAS takes some education on your part. Also, be considerate of your neighbors. Show them what you have, let them see what you see on the screen, it will make them much less nervous about your drone. If you see a drone in your area, know that is an actual aircraft, and despite what you may think of it, you can’t just throw something at it because you don’t like it. Yes, that is against the law and can land you in jail with a not so nice charge on your record.

Anyone that is curious about drones, if you see me out and about flying, stop and say hi, ask questions, I’ll show you the screen and what that part of Hastings looks like from a couple hundred feet up. Here are the most common questions I get.

Yes, it is expensive, no, you probably cannot fly it, unless we are in a very open space. Yes, I registered it with the FAA. No, I am not spying on you, you are not so irresistible that I want to risk going to jail for that. It can go up to 400 feet legally, the software does allow me to change that to 500 meters, or about 1640 feet, but no I have not gone that high because that is not allowed. It can fly a few miles away from me by specs, but again, I cannot do that because I have to be able to see it with my naked eye. Yes, I have crashed one, it is not fun to do. Yes, I have lost signal, that is pretty scary until you hear the controller tell you it’s on its way to the take off point. Birds do not like it, especially larger, predatory birds, so I land when I see those. Yes, the blades can cut you if you are not careful. No, it is not waterproof and does not float. Yes, the one I own will stay perfectly still by itself most of the time. The battery lasts about 30 minutes depending on how hard I fly it and how many pictures and videos I take.

See you around town!

The DJI Mavic Air 2 has about the same folded footprint of The Hastings Journal logo on the front of this paper. The controller is about the same size as an iPhone 12 Pro Max. All three together are quite compact and easy to travel with. The black velcro on the top of the drone is for a night strobe. Photo by Bruce Karnick