Purchasing and flying private recreational drones

About a year ago my wife and I bought a couple of small drones to entertain our children. I think on some level my wife thought that they could be flown by a 5 and/or 3 year old. Seems kind of silly in retrospect. Although the kids do seem to enjoy watching me fly them.

We’ve bought the following:
Attop X-Pack 2 mini drone (around $29) - About the size of a baseball and small enough to fly in the apartment.
Sky Rider Thunderbird (around $40) - About the size of a Frisbee.
Holy Stone HS110D (around $50) - I bought this one after getting the Sky Rider stuck in a tree at my inlaws. I like it better because it feels more stable and has a 1080 camera. Ironically the Sky Rider fell out of the tree (and is still flyable) after I bought this one…but then I accidentally flew the new one into the Hudson River.

I didn’t really consider it before, since a) I mostly fly our drones in the apartment or my inlaws back yard and b) they are small enough that I view them more as a “toy” than an “aircraft”, but apparently there are a number of legal considerations one should be aware of. Fortunately as all these drones are under 0.55 pounds (250 grams), they don’t need to be registered with the FAA (although it’s only $5 and you can do it online). The where becomes a bit more problematic. Apparently all NJ state parks are out. Considering I got one drone stuck in a large tree and another one lost in the Hudson River, I guess I can see why.


My spouse and I used to fly things call “RC aircraft” before they were called “drones”.

The 250gm limit does make some sense - I still have an RC model 500 Edge with a 5 foot wingspan and a 1/4 horsepower motor that in the wrong hands could cause some significant damage. Among others.

If you want to go bigger increase in size/weight slowly. Getting registered with the FAA isn’t a big deal for the first weight class, although you do have to start putting your number on the drones that fall into that category.

Remember - any damage or injury your mini-aircraft does you are liable for. Your current insurance may or may not cover you. If you’re having a problem finding a place to fly you might look into local flying clubs. Or make friends with someone with some private land and get permission to fly there.

Yeah, for now I like the size and price range for the drones I’ve been playing with. They are largely “disposable”. Not like I want to toss $50 away, but mostly I was more annoyed about driving 20 minutes back and forth to Liberty State Park (where I’m not supposed to fly it anyway) when I could have just flown it into the river from my home.

They are also pretty safe in that the spinning blades won’t cut you and (short of dropping one from height) they don’t travel fast enough to really hurt anything they hit. Important when around small children whose natural instinct is to run after the drone to catch it.

The one downside with the smaller drones is the battery life. They only last around 10-15 minutes of constant flight time (if that). Although the HS110D does come with an extra battery (2 once I buy the replacement for the one I lost). So it’s kind of not worth it to drive very far.

As for the “where”, I have to look into that. For NJ, state parks are out, as are obvious places like near airports, helipads, prisons, etc. But I’m not clear on places like city parks and vacant lots.

Every now and then, I see someone flying a $100 - $200 drone along the river (legal or not). But I’m kind of like, you don’t seem to have so good of control over that thing that I’d feel comfortable flying it over the water.

I fly a 3.5 lb Autel X-Star. It’s registered and has an “N” number like a plane. I’ve studied for the UAS rating with the FAA and have someone ready to sign me off, but am leery of crowded testing facilities during the current plague, so still unlicensed.

I use mine primarily from the boat, so plenty of uncrowded water to fly over. It has about 20 minutes flight time per battery, and if I ignore its LO-BATT warnings it will return to land at the original takeoff point (whether I like it or not). So far I haven’t crashed, but I spent a long time practicing landing with smaller and smaller targets in the back yard. A $1000+ price tag tends to focus the mind on CFIT avoidance. I’ve applied for FAA flight waivers before and the process isn’t difficult, so I expect to use it in the future in some of the parks. Here’s a video, it’s nice to have a lot of room in west Texas to fly it.

Pretty cool.

I think I’d still manage to find something to fly the drone into out there.

Sorry, Chesley Sullenberger you ain’t, but almost.

Whereas, I know a guy who once landed his manned glider in a tree.