Thinking about buying a drone over the holidays? Read this first

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Rachel Allison
  • 28th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Earlier this week, the U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Aviation Administration announced a new rule requiring the registration of all small unmanned aircraft systems which will go into effect Dec. 21. These systems are also commonly known as "UAS" or "drones."

The regulation will apply to an increasing number of Americans, as the Consumer Electronics Association expects 2015 to be a defining year for the tiny aircraft with research projecting U.S. market sales to approach 700,000, bolstered by end of year holiday purchases.

Before your kids run outside and launch their newest gadgets into the wild blue yonder, you owe it to yourself and them to understand the rules for UAS flights. If not, you could be putting yourself, your children, as well as the crew and passengers of manned aircraft, at risk. 

The FAA defines a small UAS as any unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250 grams) and less than 55 pounds (about 25 kilograms). This includes most model aircraft and "quadcopters" finding their way into homes this holiday season.

Department of Defense guidance states that personal-use drones are not authorized to be flown on or over military installations (including Ellsworth) unless authorized by the installation commander, for safety and security reasons. The 28th Bomb Wing Safety Office is developing a base-specific UAS usage document, but Ellsworth currently follows the above policy which prohibits UAS flights.

Starting Dec. 21, small UASs must be registered with the FAA through its web-based aircraft registration process that can be found at If you complete this process before Jan. 20, 2016, the $5 registration fee will be waived. Be aware, federal statute outlines you are subject to civil and criminal penalties if you do not register.

Lastly, before flying the aircraft outside, review the FAA's established rules. Not only is it important to avoid fines or penalties, but drones also pose a safety risk to manned aircraft if operated improperly. Recent FAA statistics show a sharp rise in "close call" reports by pilots. Key guidelines to follow include:
- FAA safety guidelines dictate that recreational small UASs cannot be flown above 400 feet above ground level, or 400 feet AGL.
- Small unmanned aircraft must give way to all manned aviation activities: airplanes, gliders, parachutists, hang gliders, the Goodyear blimp, etc. If it flies or glides, it has the right of way.
- Remain within visual line of sight of the small unmanned aircraft. You can't control or remain clear of other aircraft when you can't see your own small unmanned aircraft.
- Small UAs may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation.
- Do not fly within 5 nautical miles of an open airport, airfield or heliport, whether military or civilian (such as Ellsworth's flightline or Rapid City Regional Airport).
- And again, small unmanned aircraft flights are not authorized on or over military installations unless authorized by the installation commander.
These rules, and others, should be researched before flying a drone, especially around airports or near a military base. Operating drones in these spaces, in addition to getting you noticed quickly, can pose a serious safety hazard to manned aircraft. Check with local base operations or the airfield manager for information on such activities.

The FAA has several helpful documents with additional information on their publications page at You can also check out, an educational campaign founded by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International and the Academy of Model Aeronautics in partnership with the FAA.

Another good source of information is your local remote controlled model, or R/C, club. A list of South Dakota clubs can be found at

As a UAS owner, you are responsible for knowing and following the FAA's regulations. If you become the latest close call and you're not following the rules, you stand not only to lose your new aircraft, but you may be subject to an FAA fine of up to $27,500.

Call the 28th BW Flight Safety Office at (605) 385-4419 with any questions or to determine safe base operating areas and other limitations. Remember when flying your new drone, have fun, but do it safely.

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