First steps

How easy is it, really, to get started using drones? We’ve provided a list of quick and simple ‘waypoints’ to consider when thinking about getting into this technology. More in-depth information on the legal aspects, safe flying, and challenges and pitfalls of working with drones can be found in our CREATIVE PRODUCTION area, and we strongly encourage anyone interested in working with drones to familiarize themselves with all legal and best practice safety guidance before attempting to fly.

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Most people can learn the basics of piloting fairly quickly. Contrary to what many people might think, drone flying is not the preserve of technological wizards. What’s more, advances in autonomy and intuitive control remove some of the manual skill requirement, leaving you freer to concentrate on the creative direction of your project.

There’s a drone for every project. From tiny drones that follow you on a tether to large drones that can carry expensive camera, lighting, and really anything else you can think of – the possibilities are limitless. With prices, too, ranging from £30-£2k, you’re likely to find a drone in your budget.

The most basic small-drone flying requires no license in the UK – at the moment – provided you follow CAA guidance. You can buy a small drone online or even in a toy store, take it outside and fly it legally as long as the drone weighs less than 20kg and you are not using it for commercial reasons. However, you must avoid flying it within 150 metres of a congested area and 50 metres of a person, vehicle or structure not under the control of the pilot.

You will also need to fly the aircraft “within line of sight”,  which prescribes a distance of 400 feet in altitude. If you want to exceed that, you need to seek explicit permission from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). ). Alternatively, you can appoint ‘spotters’ along the flight path, who can assume the responsibility for line of sight on your behalf, but as the pilot, you always bear ultimate legal responsibility for any damage or injury caused.  The CAA may also step in and has been known to prosecute civilian drone users deemed to be flying in unsafe ways.

There is no pilot’s license for drones in the UK, but the CAA has recognized some training centres who can provide a nationally recognized qualification, which allows you then to fly commercially. It remains a live debate as to whether there should be a pilot’s license, but for now, these centres are sufficient for the number of applicants around the UK.

Drones can be dangerous. The propellers of a drone can spin anywhere from 5000-15000 rpm and the edges of these propellers are extremely dangerous, especially when their radius is just length of an adult finger. Flying where children or animals can run up to the drone during landing or takeoff is not advised. You should never fly a drone near or over a group of people.

Drones can make people (and animals) nervous. Many people are still uneasy around drones, while others may feel that drones compromise their privacy. Drones are wonderful for capturing and recording still and moving image – but not everyone wants to be part of that, and any creative project using drones must ensure that every audience member is a fully informed and willing participant. In fact, the CAA state explicitly that it is not sufficient for you to just let your audience know when they arrive that a drone is in use. They must have a proper opportunity to consent to their involvement in a performance that involves drones. Furthermore, they must be offered the chance to participate in your event, even if they do not consent to being put at risk as a result of the drone’s involvement. The entire audience must also be within your control, which means being capable of responding to any instructions, should it be necessary.

Used correctly, and to the extent of their creative potential, drones can be an amazing tool to enthrall and immerse audiences in new kinds of narrative and sensory experiences.

Next page in toolkit: Glossary of terms and acronyms