1) Set a budget: Like any consumer market, the drone industry offers a wide variety of unmanned aircrafts –from toys to industrial-grade aircraft. As with any new purchase, it’s important to establish a budget and stick with it – bells and whistles may look cool but they sure can add up quickly.
2) Recognize your purpose: Determining which drone is best for you will depend on many factors. What do you hope to accomplish? Will your drone be used for an occasional backyard spin or drone selfie? Tracking tornados? Farming? Live streaming video from inside a burning building? The possibilities are endless, however you really need to have a purpose.
3) Educate yourself: Like any new hobby or vocation, learning to fly drones requires skill which in turn requires education. Whether it’s deep conversation with an experienced hobbyist, a cram session of online manuals or (for serious future pilots) enrollment in a formal drone-flight “school” like the Unmanned Vehicle University in Arizona (where students can earn a Drone Pilot Training Certificate), some form of training is a MUST. Fortunately, the rise in popularity of drones has spawned tons of meetup groups and informal learning sessions so it isn’t that difficult to connect with someone who can help you.
4) Know the regulations: There’s no greater buzzkill for a fresh UAV pilot then the long arm of the Law nipping the excitement bud of a new drone love affair before it can blossom. Whether it’s the FAA, National Park Service or state legislatures (Michigan, North Carolina, Massachusetts and California to name a few), government agencies at all levels are clamoring for new ways to regulate a technology that’s outpacing their ability to define it. And, while some commentators point out that federal drone regulations are largely unenforceable, it’s at least a good idea to know the legal landscape in your particular neck of the woods.
5) Have a maintenance plan: Let’s be clear – drones are aircraft, flying in all kinds of weather and through all kinds of wind shears. Eventually, an accident will happen – a “mayday!” moment when your drone is going to kiss the ground hard. It will be at that moment when you will learn how skilled (or unskilled) you may be at drone repair. So, before that happens, have a plan in place – will you send your drone off for repair or take it upon yourself to learn some DIY techniques? How many spare parts will you need in your inventory and do you know how to find them? My informal recommendation: buy a propeller guard and extra propellers before you start flying. At least you will have the basics covered.