So you got a drone for Christmas…

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Esther Willett
  • Air Force District of Washington Public Affairs
On Christmas morning, you tore open a new "Invader 700" drone, complete with a digital camera sending immediate videos to your iPad. Now that the holiday excitement has died down, you are anxious to get outside and fly your new machine! You can read up on the instructions and safety rules later. You don't even plan to leave your own backyard.

Hold on! The Federal Aviation Administration has stated that unmanned aircraft systems are aircraft, not toys. Flying irresponsibly can get you into trouble.

According to the FAA, the airspace around Washington, D.C. is more restricted than in any other part of the country. Federal rules prohibit any aircraft from operating in a 30-mile radius of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Before you fly, know the rules, your responsibility, and your liability.

The Rules

- Small unmanned aircraft must give way to all manned aviation activities: airplanes, gliders, parachutists, hang gliders, the Goodyear blimp, etc. If it flies or glides, it has the right of way.

- The operator must remain within visual line of sight of the small unmanned aircraft. You can't control or remain clear of other aircraft when you can't see your own small unmanned aircraft.

- Small unmanned aircraft may not operate over any persons not directly involved in the operation.

Your Responsibility

Know Where You Can Fly:  D.C is a No Drone Zone! Federal law prohibits flying a drone anywhere in Washington D.C., and violators may face federal civil and criminal penalties, according to the FAA.

For national security reasons, small unmanned aircraft flights are not authorized on or over military installations unless authorized by the installation commander.

Use these general FAA guidelines to choose your flight path:
- Avoid flying above 18,000 feet above sea level.
- Avoid flying within 5 nautical miles of any open airport/airfield/heliport.
- Avoid special use airspace including prohibited areas (like the White House), restricted areas (like military testing ranges), and military operating areas.
- Avoid military training routes. You can check with the local base operations or airfield manager for information on such activities.

To research the best locations to fly your small unmanned aircraft, visit your local Radio Control Club.


- Effective December 21, 2015, anyone who owns a small unmanned aircraft weighing more than 0.55 lbs. and less than 55 lbs. must register with FAA's Unmanned Aircraft System registry before they fly outdoors. People who previously operated their UAS must register by February 19, 2016. People who do not register could face civil and criminal penalties.
- Unmanned Aircraft weighing more than 55 lbs. must register using the Aircraft Registry process.

To register your drone, visit

Report Violations: Service members and family members are responsible to report commercial UASs observed near and above military installations. This is for your safety and the safety of those on the base.

Your Liability

If you become the latest close call, and you're not following the rules, you stand not only to lose your $1,000 aircraft, but you may be subject to an FAA fine of up to $27,500 for the most egregious violation.

Don't take a chance. Fly responsibly!

For more information on this topic, visit