Aerial drone pilots have on occasion set up for a flight only to find that their drone won’t start up. This can happen, for example, in Northern Virginia where your intended flying site is within the 15-mile “inner ring” of the Flight Restricted Zone (FRZ) that surrounds Washington, DC. This ring covers a lot of area and has caught more than a few drone pilots off guard.
The problem is in the drone’s software, which prevents the propellers from starting whenever its GPS tells the drone that it’s within one of these zones. Manufacturers of these sophisticated drones are required to include the FRZ’s in their software. If you start up outside, but then try to fly into it, the drone will stop at the invisible barrier and skirt the boundary.
Although intended to protect the air space around our nation’s capital, this zone extends well into Northern Virginia and Central Maryland. For example, if you’re in Lorton, Fairfax, Oakton, or Vienna you’re either within or very near the edge of the DC Flight Restricted Zone.
Recently, FRZ’s have been added for local airports, such as those run by municipalities. Their radius varies, with 1.5 miles typical, but the same symptoms apply: Your drone won’t operate in these zones. Find out if you’re in an FRZ at this web site: http://www.dji.com/flysafe/no-fly
In General, Where Will I Find No-Fly Zones?
Are there other No-Fly Zones that drone pilots are required to avoid? There are many, notably airports and heliports where drone operations are not allowed within 5 miles without permission from the Air Traffic Controller. Others include most U.S. National Parks, special events, and political events.
How about government buildings, nuclear power plants, and prisons? The FAA and other regulatory agencies are working on flight rules and the wise drone pilot will avoid flying around these sites without specific permission.
Where Can I Safely Fly My Aerial Drone?
That brings us to the safe areas where drone pilots CAN fly. FAA-certified drone pilots are trained to read aeronautical charts and to understand the air space in which they can operate. Air space classified as A through E includes airports and the air space in which most aircraft operate. Without specific ATC permission, they’re off limits. Everything else is Class G – uncontrolled air space, which is where most small drones will operate.
Fortunately, Class G air space extends from the surface to the overlying aircraft air space, which includes just about any terrain the drone pilot typically needs to fly. Here, the FAA allows drone operations at altitudes up to 400 feet above ground level. In the vicinity of tall structures, drones can operate higher than 400 feet (your drone may be firmware-limited to 1640 ft) but must stay within 400 feet of the structure.