So you got a drone for Christmas

John A. Pavoncello
York Dispatch

Drones are hugely popular holiday gifts. Shoppers bought nearly 1.6 million drones this holiday season, up 31 percent from last year, according to the Consumer Technology Association.

So it's no surprise that on Christmas Day, Twitter and other social-media platforms were filled with tales of drones that crashed into trees, windows and people or were lost minutes after takeoff into rivers, lakes or the wild blue yonder.

There were so many tweets, the hashtag #dronecrashmas was created. 

If you were one of the lucky ones who received a new drone this holiday season, there are a few things that will help you fly without crashing and will help with being a safe and responsible pilot.

First off, read the instruction manual. Drones are complicated electronic devices. Even the most high-tech, GPS-enabled drones have operations that must be completed correctly to ensure a safe flight. Some require firmware updates before flight, others might require the latest operating system for the phone or tablet you are using to control the flight.

The DJI Phantom 3 is one of the more popular consumer drones that uses GPS technology and sensors for safe flight. John A. Pavoncello photo

Fully charge the flight battery and controller before use. Most popular consumer drones use a lithium polymer battery that in and of itself can be dangerous. Never leave your batteries sitting on a flammable surface when they are charging, and do not leave batteries unattended while they're charging. Even brand new Li-Po batteries run the risk of catching fire while charging and while in use. 

One of the biggest mistakes new drone users make is not properly calibrating the compass on their new Phantom or other drone. The compass must be calibrated on most higher-end consumer drones before the first flight. If that's not done, the drone literally doesn't know which end is up. 

After calibrating the compass, be sure to set the Home Point if possible. All DJI products have the ability to record where they take off from, and making sure that home point is updated before every flight can make sure you don't lose your drone if your controller loses connection during the flight. If you don't set the home point, there is a good possibility that your new Phantom will try to fly back to China if it loses connection!

Be sure to know your local rules. Drone use is restricted in most Pennsylvania State Parks and no remote controlled vehicles can be used without permission in York County Parks like the Heritage Rail Trail.

Be aware of your surroundings. Don't fly where there are lots of obstacles such as trees and power lines. And realize that even though you are just flying for fun, you must fly in a responsible manner. Know if you are flying in a controlled or restricted airspace and avoid all manned aircraft. 

Also be aware that any drone that weighs more than .55 pounds must be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. All drones fall under the FAA's oversight, and even as a hobbyist, there are rules and recommendations for safe flight that are available on the FAA's website.  

There are a few rules that deserve to be pointed out: Never fly over people, don't fly over 400 feet, and never interfere with manned aircraft.

For more information on the rules and recommendations for safe flight visit or the FAA's drone page at