Optics Mag is reader-supported. When you buy via links on our site, we may earn an affiliate commission at no cost to you. Read more.

What Is a Drone? Drone Basics Explained

Last Updated on

drone flying along the river

What exactly makes something a drone, and what do you need to know if you’re considering getting one yourself?

Here, we dive into everything that you need to know and give you realistic expectations as to what you can expect from a drone that you can buy!

shutter camera divider

What Is a Drone?

While most people think of a drone as an unmanned aircraft, it can also refer to a ship. Sometimes, a drone will have a remote pilot, but other times, drones simply run off of onboard computers.

There’s a wide array of different drones out there. From the $15 drones that you can pick up at Wal-Mart to the multi-million-dollar MQ-9 Reaper, drones come in both large and small sizes. The key part of this is that any aircraft or ship that is unmanned is considered a drone!

drone

Image Credit: Piqsels

Registering Drones

If you plan on getting an aviation drone, you need to know about the registration process and what you need to do to fly them legally. First, in the United States, you need to register any drones over 0.55 pounds with the Federal Aviation Administration.

Second, you only need to get a license to pilot a drone if you’re doing it for commercial purposes. If you’re solely flying your drone for recreational purposes as a hobby, you don’t need to get a license under the FAA Exception for Recreational Flyers.

Still, you do need to pass the TRUST test to fly drones recreationally. This test covers basic safety requirements and where you can and can’t fly recreational drones. This is a mandatory requirement, and you need to keep the certification with you when flying your drone.

How Far Can Drones Fly?

While military aviation drones like the MQ-9 Reaper have a range of 1,150 miles, you won’t get near that level of performance with recreational drones! Most of these drones have a range between 2.5 and 4 miles. That said, some higher-end recreational options, like the DJI Air 2S, have a range of up to 11.5 miles!

How Much Do Drones Cost?

It depends on what level of drone you want to go with. The DJI Tello, for instance, starts at $99, but if you want a super high-end drone, like the DJI Matrice 300 RTK (Enterprise), you can expect to spend closer to $13,200!

There are plenty of options out there between those two price points. It’s up to you what features you need and how much you want to spend. When it comes to drones, it seems like the sky’s the limit!

black and white drone camera

Image Credit: Mitch Nielsen, Unsplash

How Easy Is It to Fly a Drone?

While it can be tempting to think that you can easily fly a drone even without any experience, the truth is that it’s not that easy. Some drones make it easier than others with features like self-hovering, but even then, one wrong move can send your drone tumbling to the ground!

Due to the costs associated with different drones and complexities that you might not think of, we highly recommend first taking a few drone-flying courses or starting with lower-end equipment.

The last thing that you want to do is crash an expensive drone because you didn’t have the experience you needed just yet!

shutter camera divider 2

Final Thoughts

While everyone thinks of aviation drones, the truth is that they’re not the only type of drone out there! There are plenty of drones that float on the water, and they don’t come with near as many restrictions as aviation drones!

Now that you have a better understanding of what drones are and what they can do, perhaps you also want to join in the fun!


Featured Image Credit: Karl Greif, Unsplash

About the Author Robert Sparks

Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.

Robert Sparks Profile Picture