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Getting Started with Drones on Your Worksite

Getting Started with Drones on Your Worksite

Increasingly, drones are becoming an important piece of equipment on many worksites, from construction drones to ag drones. Not only do they provide visual data that wouldn’t be available otherwise, but they can also improve the efficiency and safety of your team and lead to cost savings for your project. While drones can be a useful tool, there are some things you need to know before sending one over your worksite for the first time. Equipment Trader has put together some rotary drone basics to help get you started, from legal regulations to tips for flying.

Drone Regulations to Know 

As a relatively new form of technology, the laws around drones are continuing to evolve. The first regulations were released in 2016, but there are often changes on local, state, and federal levels, so you need to frequently check that you’re in compliance. For instance, in 2023, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will be implementing what is, in effect, a digital license plate for drones. When that happens, your drone will need the operator’s location and a unique ID number associated with it in order to fly. With that said, here are four things you need to know right now in terms of regulations: 

1. You and the drone must be registered. 

To fly a drone commercially, any operator needs a Remote Pilot Certificate, issued by the FAA. You’ll need to take the FAA Safety Team’s online course to get certified and submit to a security screening by the ​​Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). The drone itself will also need to be registered with the FAA. This can be done on the FAADroneZone website. Keep in mind that to qualify as an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), your drone will need to be less than 55 pounds, including everything that’s on board or attached to the unit.

2. You can only fly in certain airspace.

When you take your drone up, keep in mind that you have to stay in Class G airspace and under 400 feet off the ground. Class G airspace is the completely uncontrolled airspace up to 14,500 feet. You don’t need any type of clearance to enter Class G airspace, and there’s no radio communication requirement – but it’s important to watch out for manned aircraft, as they have the right of way. Along those same lines, you have to keep your drone out of controlled airspace unless you have direct clearance from Air Traffic Control. 

3. You’re obligated to protect people’s privacy. 

If you plan to fly your drone while there are people on your worksite, it’s possible that you will need an additional certification. Even if that’s not the case, it’s still prudent to get releases from workers, neighbors, and site visitors informing them that you’re capturing aerial footage. You may also consider posting signage on the worksite with similar messaging. Additionally, you might want to have the property owners sign a release. Entering the airspace over another person’s property without permission is considered trespassing and you, as the operator, would be held liable if something were to happen.

4. There are rules of the skies.

Just like when you drive a car, there are rules when you’re flying. Here are a few to keep in mind: 

  • You can only fly your drone during the day, unless it has anti-collision lights. 
  • You must always have your drone within line-of-site and there must be three miles of visibility from where you’re standing when you take off. 
  • It’s required that you fly at a speed under 100 miles per hour. 

Flying Tips to Know

Now that you know the rules around operating your drone, let’s talk about some specifics for flying. The more you take your unit up, the more comfortable you’ll be, so you want to spend some time practicing in order to feel confident when you head to the worksite. Here are some rotary drone basics to get you started.

1. Controls

There are four different controls to help operate your rotary drone. They each have individual functions, but can work together to move your drone front to back and side to side.

  • Roll: The roll moves your drone from left to right. It’s called a roll because as the unit moves side to side, it drops one side down as though the unit’s going to roll over. 
  • Pitch: Similarly, the pitch will move your drone forward and backwards. This control gets its name because of the way it literally causes your unit to pitch. 
  • Yaw: Drones are capable of rotating 360 degrees during a flight. The yaw controls this ability to turn clockwise and counterclockwise. 
  • Throttle: The throttle gives your unit power and allows you to remain in flight. You will need to engage the throttle the entire time you’re flying. 

2. Taking Off

As you get ready to take off for the first time, you want to set your unit on a level surface and press the throttle straight up so the drone hovers at eye-level for about 10-15 seconds. While it’s hovering, make sure to test all your controls so you’re confident that everything is working as it should. A crash from a few feet is far less damaging than if you have the drone in full flight over your worksite. From there, you can slowly ease the drone up higher and higher. As you do so, make sure to monitor any changes in weather and look out for obstacles that might be in your way. For example, the wind may be more intense at a higher elevation, or you might encounter a flock of birds.  The key here is to stay in control the entire time and build your confidence.

3. Practicing Your Technique 

It’s always a good idea to practice because the feeling of controlling a drone over a worksite from a remote on the ground can take some getting used to. You want to be confident that when you ask your unit to roll, that it will do so and that you’ll know in advance how far it will go. Different drones have different sensitivity levels, so spend time getting accustomed to how your specific unit flies. Some good practice exercises include learning to fly in a circle or a square, rotating your unit 360 degrees, flying in a straight line, and other simple maneuvers.

4. Landing

Getting your unit to come back to the ground can feel tricky, but the best piece of advice here is to take it slow and steady. Start by bringing your unit back to you at altitude and then lowering it down. Once it’s about a foot and a half off the ground, use the throttle to slowly lower the unit to hover one to two inches above the ground and then cut your throttle completely. Your unit will drop slowly to the ground from there. This can take some practice, so start by taking your unit up just a few inches off the ground and cut the throttle. Increase your height from there.

Conclusion: Drones can be an incredibly useful tool on a worksite and offer operators a number of quantifiable benefits. The more you fly, the more confident you’ll become, so start slow and build from there. And if you’re looking for any other construction or ag equipment, be sure to check out the inventory available nationwide for-sale and for-rent on EquipmentTrader.com.

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Ethan Smith
Ethan Smith
is the Content Manager at Trader Interactive, managing marketing content development for ATV Trader, Commercial Truck Trader, Cycle Trader, Equipment Trader, RV Trader, and more. Ethan believes in using accessible language to elevate conversations about industry topics relevant to marketplace buyers and sellers.

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