Decode the code: Flying a drone for recreational use

There are several steps to take in order to become a responsible hobbyist pilot.

An aerial drone shot shows the Oregon Convention Center in the foreground as the sun sinks low over Portland's West Hills.

Portland looks pretty good from the air.

So, you got a drone.

Perhaps it’s still in the packaging, or you flew it once… straight into a tree in your backyard and now you’re nervous to take it out again. Maybe you are just curious about the relevant rules for operating an unmanned aircraft system, or UAS?

Piloting a remote quadcopter with a camera can be a fascinating way to see the world from a different perspective, but it’s important to go through the correct steps to keep yourself and others safe. Let’s take a look at those before taking to the air.

Pre-flight checklist

Commercial drone operators — think real estate or cinematography — have more strict licensing qualifications, but as a hobbyist, your first step is to take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST). It’s free and offered online by a variety of Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved administrators; always carry proof of certification when flying.

Does your drone weigh 0.55 lbs or more? Then you are required to register it and ensure that it’s Remote ID compliant. It’s also highly recommended that you download the B4UFLY mobile app, which provides key information like interactive maps, airspace designations, and more.

A drone shot shows the Vista House at Crown Point wreathed in clouds with a cold Columbia River Gorge stretching into the background in the left of the frame.

The Columbia River Gorge can be a great place for drone pilots to stretch their wings — just watch out for wind gusts.

Photo by @datguy_eddy

Local regulations

Speaking of where you can/can’t fly a drone in Portland — the city has two codes which prohibit operating any remote controlled vehicles in, on, or over parks and pedestrian plazas. There are also restrictions extending 5 miles from the airport and other Port of Portland properties. Various other guidelines, like maintaining line-of-sight and not flying more than 400 ft above the ground should be followed.

Here are some great local places to fly.

Becoming an ace pilot

We asked local Part 107-certified drone operator Edwin Nunez for tips on how to turn your drone piloting skills into muscle memory.

“Practice at first in a very open field. Keep the drone close. Don’t fly in the wind. And always land the drone facing away from you,” he explained. “If you turn it around then land it facing you, all of the controls are backwards. And if you have to take an emergency action, there is a good chance you’ll send the drone the wrong way.”