It is pretty much inevitable that you will draw attention when flying your quadcopter.  The propellers create a ton of noise, they aren’t exactly inconspicuous in the sky, and to really practice you are going to need a lot of space – likely in a public area.  Moreover, quads don’t have the greatest reputation right now.  From pilots that don’t think before they fly, to overzealous news agencies reporting on the terror of these flying cameras, many people not involved in the hobby have a negative attitude towards these ‘flying drones’.

So when you are out practicing, how should you deal with the public?  Let’s dive right into it!

 

Think / prepare before you fly

Many negative situations can be avoided with a little bit of preparation before getting in the air.  Put simply, use common sense.  Should you be flying in a crowded park with a ton of people?  Probably not.  Should you be flying near an airport or a location with a lot of power lines and other dangerous obstacles?  Nope.  Before just turning on the quadcopter and flying around, be aware of your surroundings and assess what could go wrong if you lose control and crash.  In a crowded park, if you are zipping over people’s heads, not only will you likely make people uncomfortable, you also risk hurting someone if you lose control and crash.  Try and look at it from the viewpoint of other people at the location you are at.  Need help selecting a location that is appropriate to fly at?  Check out our write-up on the subject by clicking here.  This article isn’t going to give you tips on how to recover a quad from someone’s backyard or deal with an argument with someone who takes your quad because you crashed into them – you shouldn’t be in that situation to begin with.

 

Check the legality of the location you are flying at

Los Angeles has an FPV ban.  You can’t fly within five miles of an airport.  There are tons of locations where you can get in legal trouble if you break the rules.  When flying around people, know if it is legal for you to fly in the first place.  You don’t want to anger someone and open yourself up to additional legal problems via them calling the cops.  Check your local laws before getting into the air and know what you can and cannot do.  Similarly, don’t go onto someone else’s private property and start flying around.  Repeatedly doing passes over someone’s backyard is a sure way to frustrate people and have them confront you or just call the police.  Don’t get yourself in that situation in the first place by being respectful of the local laws and property rights of others.

What to do when approached by someone

If you do get approached by someone, your first priority should be keeping them at ease.  Make it easy for people to identify that you are piloting your quad safely and are respectful of their space.  If someone does approach you, you should immediately land (or hover in a safe area as your quad allows) so that you can talk to them eye to eye.  Most people will approach with curiosity, so be a polite steward of the hobby.  Show them your gear, show them the view of the quadcopter from the FPV goggles, etc.  Look at yourself as someone that can shed light on questions that they have and educate them on the positive aspects of the hobby.   I have had countless people approach me – from those curious to those somewhat upset that their dogs chased my flying machine from the other side of the park.  I have had positive experiences by landing, taking off my goggles, addressing the person (and their problem if applicable), and showing them I have good intentions or am not causing any harm.

Here is an example of a time I was approached while flying:

Location: I am at a public sports field flying my ZMR250 near dusk.  I am setup on the far side of the field away from anyone else.  There are very few people at the park, mostly just couples out for a stroll or walking a dog.

Incident: When flying around, I attract the attention of a dog who starts following after my quad.  The dog has run away from its two owners and is now barking wildly at the flying object in the sky.  The owners are trying to call the dog, but are having no luck.

My response:  I immediately fly the quadcopter back to where I am positioned and land.  The dog is obviously bounding after it, so I quickly pick up my quad and put it somewhere safe.  I then try and be nice to the dog and calm it down while the owners run over.

How the interaction goes:

Me (as dog owners approach):  “Sorry about that!  It looks like your dog likes my quadcopter.  I tried to land as quickly as possible so you guys could get him back.”

Owners:  “Oh, thanks.  Yeah, we didn’t know what that was but saw [our dog] take off after it.  What is that by the way?  Is that one of those drone things?

Me: “Yeah, this is more of a racing quadcopter rather than a ‘drone’ built for photography.  In fact, the camera on it isn’t for recording, it’s for me to see from while I am flying.  I can actually get the video feed into these goggles here while flying.”

Owners: “Really?  That’s so cool!”

Me: “Yeah, it’s a lot of fun!  Want to see what it looks like?”

Owners: “Sure!”

Then I proceed to show them the goggles, let them try them on, and do a little line of site flying while they wear the goggles.  At this point, they have basically forgotten about their dog and instead are captivated about what they are seeing.  I answer a few questions and they go on their way.  I say I will try and stay in ‘x’ location, and they will take their dog to ‘y’ location.  Everyone is happy!

 

And truthfully, this is about how every experience goes.  I basically follow some form of the following steps

  • Immediately land, and address them before they get to me. Usually saying hello and/or apologizing right off the bat if I caused a problem – like herding dogs.
  • Show that I mean no harm and attempt to showcase the technology to them. Always, always, always show them the goggles and offer for them to see what I see.  This 99% of the time defuses any situation since it’s usually the first time they are seeing what piloting an FPV quadcopter looks like and think it’s pretty cool.
    • If I am not recording, I IMMEDIATELY stress that the camera is for flying FPV. This helps put people at ease
  • Try and answer any questions that they have. I usually try and explain at minimum that my quadcopter isn’t aiming to record them, but rather I am flying around practicing for races.
  • Try and find some way to fly without bothering one another. If they are unwilling to compromise, I offer to move to another location away from them.
  • Thank them for their interest, and apologize again if I caused a problem. Say goodbye and go back to flying

That’s about it.  Some variation of the above steps should work for most encounters with people.   Again, it is about showing respect and being courteous.  A little education for people goes a long way, and might make more people interested in the hobby!

Have you run into situations with the public while flying and have a story to share?  Let us know in the comments below!

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