I have 22 grandkids and I have taken most of them out on drone missions with me. Some of them are old enough to act as observers and some just like to watch and jump up and down when I fly near them. To my delight, however, some have shown an interest in learning how to fly a drone, and so begins the adventure. But before you can teach them how to fly, they need to get a drone.
The best drones for younger kids (1st – 3rd grade) are toy drones such as a Holy Stone HS210 that are safe to fly indoors. For elementary or middle school kids who want to begin learning drone photography, you might consider a drone such as a higher-end Holy Stone drone, or even a DJI Mini 2.
Even though there are several drone manufacturing companies and each one makes several models of drones, selecting the model of drone for your kid should probably not be the first step in getting children into drone flying. The first step is actually to make sure kids know how to fly a drone safely and legally.
The United States FAA has written several guidelines as to who can fly a drone and the air space they are allowed to use. The age and comprehension level of the individual child involved is a huge factor. Probably the hardest task, though, is teaching a kid how to fly their drone without injury to people, equipment, or property.
What the FAA says
A thorough exploration of the FAA rules will be necessary before getting kids involved in drone operations, but the most important thing is teaching the rules and making sure the kids understand what they can do and what they can’t do.
So to begin with, in order to fly a drone, every pilot needs to have one of two certificates.
Part 107 Certificate
14 CFR Part 107 is the FAA rule that enumerates all the regulations on flying a drone for commercial purposes. If you are intending to earn money with your drone you must have the Part 107 certificate.
Now, the FAA has been very specific in what “commercial” purposes are. If you earn cash, trade for anything of value, gain financially, or profit in any way at all, you need a 107 certificate.
The easiest example is getting paid to fly over and take pictures of a house and accepting a payment from the real estate agent or owner for your pictures or videos. But let’s say that you were flying over a desert area looking for artifacts or lost property and when you found and retrieved that item, you sold it to someone. That is also a commercial use of the drone and you need the 107.
The pilot must be 16 or older and pass the initial knowledge test to get the Part 107 certificate. Usually, several hours of study are very helpful and necessary, unless your kid happens to already have extensive aeronautical knowledge.
There are free online courses provided by the FAA and several online schools that offer extremely fine online classes. For your initial test, a paid course is usually the best option. Some of them offer money-back guarantees that promise if you don’t pass the test on your first attempt they will refund your fee.
Recreational Users Certificate
The second certificate is the “Recreational Flying Certificate”. The steps to get this certificate are a lot easier. You can go online and take a free course that will provide you with the Recreational Certificate.
If the kids are going to fly for fun only, they will still need the Recreational Certificate. This process helps verify that they are mature enough to understand the rules of recreational flying, the safety procedures needed to keep people and property safe from injury, and provides a hard copy of the successful completion of the test to give them a sense of pride and accomplishment.
One of the many businesses that offer a free recreational flier’s course is Pilot Institute. Others are listed in our article over here.
Maturity vs Age
Each child is different in how they learn and process information and so there is no hard and fast rule on how to teach anything at all. Drone flying is no different. One first-grader may understand how flight happens and be able to read well enough to get a recreational certificate but a brother or sister may have great difficulty.
So these age brackets I have listed are not rules to follow, just generalities. The adult teaching the child needs to make that determination on their own.
Elementary School Ages (1st-3rd)
The children who are most excited about flying a drone are usually the younger kids who are thinking more about the drone as a toy and not as an aircraft with needed safety protocols and rules of flight. I’m not saying that a child cannot learn to fly a drone, but if they are more interested in the toy type of drone, supervision should be available most of the time.
Until you are certain of their flying skill and their ability to handle an emergency situation, it is best to let them fly under very controlled circumstances. Although we will be going over the sizes and types of drones later, the best way to learn for the younger set is the miniature drones that are very light and can’t cause damage.
With one of these drones, flying in the playroom or unoccupied living room will be a good fit. Make sure all other small kids are out of the room and that small movable objects are placed on the floor or down on the furniture.
Elementary through Middle School
These are the kids that will require more attention from you because their interests will be more inclined to take photos and make videos. They will be more excited to use FPV (First Person View) and learn intricate flying skills. They will want to get past the indoor flying and learning how to control their mini drones and get outside to fly bigger, more advanced and technical drones.
These kids (and even adults) will need to get the Section 44809 or “Recreational Flying Certificate.”
Teaching kids how to fly a drone
There are two segments that kids need to learn.
The first segment is the actual flight skills to control the drone. The child’s skill level and the ability to control small, precise movements are of great importance so you will need to demonstrate and allow them to practice what they have learned.
All drone controls are pretty close to the same platforms. The two control sticks on the RC (Radio Controller) are standard and, although the specific control actions can be changed in advanced models, learning the basics will be vital.
In general, the left stick controls the ascend/descend and the rotate left/right. The right stick controls forward/backward and moving left/right. I do not intend to make this article a complete guide on aircraft control, but when we train our kids, the skill portion takes a lot of time and practice.
The second segment is knowledge-based and will be required in order to get the certificate. The child should be able to read and navigate the lessons online, follow the instructions and take the quizzes with little supervision.
This is where the maturity level comes into play. If the kid is unable to maintain interest and focus and get this portion finished, then they will not be able to legally fly outside at all.
Again, I don’t want to get into an entire course on what is needed but I will list the nine essential areas that must be understood to get the certificate.
- Flying for recreational purposes only. Fly for fun, but if there are any flights that are for personal gain, you must go to Part 107.
- Must not interfere with manned aircraft. Any manned aircraft have the “right of way”. Planes, jets, and helicopters are the obvious examples, but even hot air balloons fall into the manned category and must be given space.
- Have the authorization to use the airspace you are in. Uncontrolled airspace needs no authorization but controlled airspace needs authorization in advance. You can check if you need prior authorization by going online with the FAA’s Drone Zone or LAANC programs.
- Fly no more than 400 feet AGL (Above Ground Level). This is a very hard-line rule. Manned aircraft are required to maintain an altitude of 500 feet AGL so this allows a safety margin, but any miscalculation by either pilot can cause death or severe injury.
- Follow CBO (Community Based Organization) guidelines. These are an additional set of safety guides that are not enumerated in the FAA rules but should be adhered to at all times. A full and complete list can be found in any Recreational Flyer course but here are some of the included subjects: Novice Pilot instructions; Distance Offset guidelines; Overflight of People; Autonomous Flight Mode usage; Outdoor FPV Operations; Night Operations.
- VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) only. The pilot must be able to see his aircraft at all times. Looking at your screen and glances around your flight area are always permitted, but you need to be able to see your aircraft at all times. Visual Observers can be used as assistants, but they cannot be used as a substitute for the pilot having VLOS.
- Take the TRUST test. The Recreational UAS Safety Test (TRUST) is easy to pass and is free for anyone and you must have the certificate to fly anywhere outdoors if you do not have the Part 107.
- Registration and display of registration numbers. If any of your aircraft weighs more than 0.55 pounds it must have a registration number on the outside, so that anyone finding it can easily see the registration number. As a recreational flyer, you can go to the FAA website and for $5 get your registration number. This number will be used for any and all the aircraft used by a recreational flyer where the aircraft is over 0.55 pounds.
- No dangerous operations. This, of course, is obvious. Don’t endanger people or property by hazardous flying.
This is just a fast list of the nine requirements and not in-depth at all. You should remember that when flying for recreation you must carry your certificate and the CBO guidelines with you whenever you are flying.
If asked by FAA or law enforcement officials, you need to be able to show them that you have the knowledge and that you fly by the guidelines.
Best drones available for kids
Now we are getting down to the nitty-gritty of our choices. There are many companies that make drones and each company has several models. Each model has its advantages and disadvantages and the prices range from in the neighborhood of $25 to $1,500.
Holy Stone HS170
The HS170 is a quadcopter design that has no camera on board and is a great choice for learning. The propeller guards protect surrounding persons and property from injury while the child is training. It comes with 2 batteries and is ready to fly out of the box.
Holy Stone HS190
The HS190 is a drone with props that fold in and fit nicely inside the radio controller. The entire outfit can fit into a pocket and is easy for beginners to fly. They boast 3-speed modes, altitude hold, and headless mode.
Holy Stone HS210
This sleek mini drone HS210 features “Key Start/Land” with auto hovering. It can do 3D flips and has a headless mode that, when activated, makes the control of the aircraft easier for learning purposes. No matter what direction the drone is facing, when you pull back on the right stick, the drone will come directly toward you and if you push forward on the right stick, it will fly away from you.
Sanrock U61W has a camera installed with 720p resolution. With the shielded props it is perfect for indoor flying and the controller can connect to an iPhone or Android phone to monitor the flights.
Tactical X Drone
Tactical X produces one drone that fits the needs of most children learning how to fly and take videos from the air. This foldable drone features 4K photos and video, a gravity sensor, and slo-mo mode.
The company states that they have increased flying time of up to 15 minutes before needing to recharge and a panorama mode with a view up to 3000 feet. Found on their website at $99.99, but they offer large discounts for purchasing multiple units.
Founded in 2006 by Frank Wang out of China, he built the first prototypes of DJI’s projects in his dorm room. He used the money from sales to move to the industrial hub of Shenzhen and hired staff in 2006. In 2009, DJI’s components allowed a team to successfully pilot a drone around the peak of Mt. Everest.
In 2010 DJI began to cater more to drone hobbyists in markets outside of China. In 2011, Wang met Colin Guinn at a trade show, and the two of them founded DJI North America, a subsidiary company focusing on mass-market drone sales.
In 2013, DJI released the first model of the Phantom drone, an entry-level drone that was more user-friendly than other drones on the market at the time.
The Phantom has gone through many changes since then including the Phantom 2, Phantom 3, and Phantom 4. Each of these models went through upgrades and variations that included versions like the Advanced, Pro, and Standard. The last one off the factory line was the Phantom 4 Pro v2. The Phantom line has not been produced for several years now, but any of the models can be found on the “used” market running anywhere from $49.95 to $1800.
When considering a Phantom it is important to decide on the model you want and then be very meticulous when going through the ads to be sure what you are buying is the model you want.
It is not unusual for a seller to not know the model or version of the aircraft they are selling, so, buyer beware.
Like the Phantom, DJI has produced several models of the Mavic. Generally, the Mavic is a much smaller version drone, featuring foldable arms and a compact design. The Mavic Mini Fly More package can start for $399 but with the many design changes, you can choose up to the current release of the Air 2S for $999.
Choosing the right drone for your kid
So, many examples of brands, models, and versions have been presented to you. All of them are great choices, depending on the intended usage. Young children who are trying to discover if flying a drone is worth their time and energy might not need one of the expensive, high-tech models.
Starting at a low-end mini drone is a wise choice for kids who are beginning with no prior knowledge of drones, but for a kid who has been around drones for some time and has learned and experimented with the many variations and purposes, you might start a bit higher on the large scale of drones available.
Frank Wang – Wikipedia