When it comes to learning to fly, and choosing the best cheap drone to learn on, it’s probably easier to just give you an idea of what to look for in the toy-class, inexpensive quadcopter market. Let’s call this a flight training document, but it’s also a cheap drones guide, a place to figure out what you need to know before you or your child take to the skies.
Please be aware, this is not a definitive guide, we just want to steer you in the right direction. Particularly with the ease of use and barrier to entry shrinking to the point that one can make an impulse purchase of unmanned aerial vehicles. Drones are easy to fly, but a few initial pointers can’t hurt.
Cheap drone guide
What do I need to fly a drone?
The first question I had when diving into the drone market was simply to find out what I needed to fly. I was thinking just of the hardware here, as I knew from previous RC car experience that remote controls do not always accompany remotely controlled vehicles. In short, the majority of cheap drones come with a dedicated remote control, and those that do not are designed to run using a connected app on your smartphone or tablet.
Do verify in the product listing of the product you are considering comes with a remote, or stay tuned in this article, we’ll share a few drones that we know have everything you need to fly straight out of the box.
We highly recommend you pick up at least one extra set of propellers for your chosen drone, plus the tools needed to change them up when one breaks. Selecting a drone with protectors is a smart move, limiting both damage to the craft and injury to persons or property damage for clumsy flights and landings.
An extra battery, or six, never hurts either. You are likely to get about 5 minutes of flight time from the average cheap drone. Times reduce quickly when using the blade protectors and even faster when operating an attached camera. Many cheap drones skip the camera though, so that may not be a concern. For our Syma X5C, a $30 quadcopter, we were able to pick up a six pack of batteries with charger for $18. Additional propellers cost about $5.
Parents, you may opt to skip the extra batteries, let’s be honest, if the drone only flies for 5 minutes then needs to charge for 90 minutes, that’s built-in quiet time. You may also consider taking a look at our list of best drones for kids, for some alternative drone style options.
As with any electronic device, there are those little things that help improve the experience. We’ve thought it through, from the basic cables to attached things, extra batteries and propellers all the way up to a safety vest and a launch pad. These are the accessories we think you need to get the most out of your drone.
Do I need a pilot’s license?
Legally speaking, a toy class drone, or quadcopter that weighs less than 0.55 lbs including any attachments or payload, can be flown in the US in open areas, away from airports and buildings without a license. You cannot fly over top of people. Drones that weigh more than 0.55 lbs technically require to be registered with the FAA and given an aircraft identification number, but you still do not need a license as long as you stick to some rules.
No matter the size of craft (under 55lbs in total, anything larger is not legal to fly for us hobbyists,) you cannot fly over 400 ft above ground level and you must maintain line-of-sight with the craft at all times. It is also your responsibility to inspect the drone before each flight to ensure airworthiness – there are no accidents, just careless decisions, actions and mitigated mechanical failures through regular inspection and maintenance.