Can You Fly a Drone in Chicago? (And Best Places to Fly)


Are you planning a trip to Chicago? Or maybe you’re moving there and are wondering if you’ll be able to fly your drone? 

While there are federal drone laws that apply in all fifty states, each state as well as local cities and towns have the ability to formulate their own drone laws. So, can you fly a drone in Chicago?

You are legally allowed to fly a drone in Chicago, as long as you follow all FAA regulations for drone use, as well as a few Chicago-specific drone rules such as not flying over private property without authorization, and not flying over schools, places of worship, police stations, etc. 

Keep reading to learn more about Federal laws, State laws, and the local laws that govern flying drones in Chicago. I will also share some tips on the best places to fly your drone in Chicago.

Chicago Local Drone Laws

Chicago has more than 1 million residents, so they are allowed to set their own laws regulating drone usage. In addition to most of the standard federal guidelines, you’ll see that some are specific to Chicago. (If you need a refresher on the general FAA guidelines, see the next heading). 

Below are the current Chicago drone laws:

  • You can only fly within city airspace without a permit if it is for recreational or hobby purposes.
  • Don’t fly directly above people unless they are part of your drone flying activities.
  • Don’t fly a drone over any property that doesn’t belong to you without the owner’s consent.
  • Always maintain a 400 ft or lower altitude.
  • Always fly within the visual line of sight. That means visible to the naked eye or standard eyeglasses. Avoid FPV, binoculars, or any other enhanced vision devices.
  • Don’t fly a drone within 5 miles of any airport without authorization.
  • Don’t fly your drone at night (dusk to dawn).
  • Don’t fly in a way that interferes with manned aircraft operations.
  • Don’t fly a drone in adverse weather.
  • Avoid flying over schools, schoolyards, assembly unit spaces, places of worship, police stations, and prisons unless you have authorization from the property owner.
  • Avoid flying within 500 feet of water intake facilities or electricity generating facilities, 100 feet of electric transmission facilities, and 25 feet of electricity distribution facilities without authorization. Other transmission and distribution facilities to avoid include those distributing sound, heat, signals, data, or light. Also, if you have been given authorization, make sure you follow the property owner’s stipulated limits.
  • Do not fly to spy or surveil unless you have a warrant or authorization.
  • Do not fly under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
  • Do not fly drones equipped with explosives, firearms, or weapons of any kind.
  • Avoid flying recklessly in a way that endangers you, other people, or property.
  • Always follow the Federal State Laws.

There’s only one exception to this set of guidelines from the city of Chicago, and that is if you are able to get authorization from the FAA or a waiver for a specific situation. 

Illinois State Drone Laws

As mentioned earlier, states can also come up with their own regulations regarding drone usage. Below are some laws you need to be aware of when planning to fly a drone in Illinois.

  • SB 2937 // 2014 (link) – This law eases drone usage restrictions for law enforcement officers during counter-terrorism activities, rescue missions, crime scene photography, and other law enforcement activities. Law enforcement agencies must have a warrant or report drone usage to the local State’s attorney and always use the drone within the stipulated limits. For instance, any information gathered should be deleted after 30 days, unless they need to keep some crucial information, and only authorized personnel should have the right to access the data.
  • HB 1652 // 2013 (link) – Under this regulation, drone pilots should not fly their drones in a way that interferes with fishermen and hunters. The only exception is law enforcement agencies, as they carry out the activities mentioned above.
  • SB 3291 // 2018 (link) – This law stipulates that all cities, villages, and municipalities with a population of fewer than 1,000,000 residents should not formulate their own drone laws and should follow the Illinois State drone laws.

Below are some regulations that apply to specific regions in Illinois.

  • The city of Schaumberg – This law stipulates that flying within 100 feet of the Village-owned property is prohibited during special events such as parades, baseball games, concerts, etc.
  • Evanston – In the city of Evanston, drone usage is prohibited until they are able to formulate official regulations.
  • McHenry County Conservation District – You need written authorization from the Executive director to operate your drone within the district’s property.
  • Crystal Lake Park District – Operating your drone within this park’s property is also prohibited unless specially authorized or if they’ve provided designated areas for flying drones.

Federal Drone Laws

Anyone flying a drone in the United States is automatically subject to the laws for drone usage put in place by the FAA (Federal Aviation Authority). This obviously includes those flying a drone in the state of Illinois, although Illinois also has a few laws of its own, which we’ll get to in the next section.

The FAA categorizes drone usage into two categories;

  • Recreational Use – This is for those using drones for fun or as a hobby. As of June 2021, Recreational drone flyers must take The Recreational UAS Safety Test (link), a short training and online test, and pass. Whenever you’re flying a drone, you should always have proof that you passed the test in case you’re asked to produce it. Also, you need to register your drone with the FAA on the DroneZone (link) site as long as it weighs between 0.55 pounds (250g) and 55 pounds. The registration costs $5, and it’s renewable every 3 years.
  • Commercial Use – This is for those who are using drones for professional services or paid services. To use a drone for commercial use, you need the Part 107 License, which you get after studying the educational materials provided by the FAA and taking a test. The Part 107 license costs $175 and it’s renewable every 2 years.

Regulations

Below are the general FAA regulations that you need to follow (recreational and commercial):

  • Avoid flying higher than 400 ft.
  • Always fly within your visual line of sight.
  • Avoid flying at a speed higher than 100 mph.
  • Avoid flying close to other aircraft.
  • Only fly in the Class G air space. Whether you’re a commercial or recreational pilot and need to fly in controlled airspaces, such as in Classes B, C, D, and E, you can request approval while on the field through the LAANC system (link) or the FAADroneZone site (link). Other sites that give you info about No-Fly Zones or temporary restrictions include KittyHawk, Airmap, and B4UFly.
  • Avoid flying over people, vehicles, and crowded areas.
  • Avoid flying a drone from a moving vehicle.
  • Avoid flying close to emergency response activities such as fires and rescue missions unless you’re authorized.
  • Avoid flying close to airports, prisons, and other restricted areas.

Rules specific to Commercial drone pilots:

  • As a licensed drone pilot, you MUST report any accidents that cause damage amounting to more than $500.
  • As a licensed pilot, you must conduct a preflight check to ensure the drone is okay to fly.
  • As a licensed pilot, your drone must have anti-collision lights if you’re planning to fly at night.

Waivers

Once you get the Part 107 License, you can apply for a waiver when you need to fly in a situation that falls outside of the normal rules. Below are some of the regulations you can get a waiver for;

  • Flying in crowded areas.
  • Flying a drone from a vehicle or from an aircraft.
  • Flying a drone at twilight without anti-collision lights.
  • Flying past the visual line of sight.
  • Flying at speeds higher than 100 mph.
  • Flying above the 400 ft limit.
  • Flying over vehicle traffic.

» MORE: Drone Part 107 vs. Recreational Rules (commercial and recreational drone rules)

The 5 Best Places to Fly Your Drone in Chicago

Now that you know the Federal, State, and local laws governing the use of drones in Chicago, I thought you might like to know some of the best places to fly. These places are within the unregulated class G airspace, and they also have iconic Chicago landmarks and cool features for some of the best shots. 

If you’re only in Chicago for a few days, make sure to make it to one or two of these spots with your drone. 

1. Grant Park

Address: 337 E Randolph St, Chicago, IL, 60601
Airspace Class: G
Coordinates: 41°52’18.2″N 87°37’06.8″W
AirMap

Named after US President Ulysses S. Grant, Grant Park is one of the best modern parks in the state. Located in downtown Chicago, Grant Park is along the shores of Lake Michigan, one of the largest lakes and home to some great nature trails. 

Once the drone is a few feet high, you can view the lake, the vegetation, and the buildings close at hand to the park. Besides the lake, Grant Park is also home to Buckingham Fountain, another feature just begging to be included in your drone footage. 

2. Montrose Avenue Beach

Address: 4400 E N Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60640
Airspace Class: G
Coordinates: 41.9663° N, 87.6372° W
AirMap

Montrose Avenue Beach is another landmark along Lake Michigan where you can take some fantastic drone photos and videos. Located in uptown Chicago, Montrose Avenue Beach provides wide-open spaces for spending time with friends and family, kayaking, cycling, and any other activities you want to engage in. 

And for those looking for more diversified scenery, Montrose Harbor is a good option. However, be careful since Montrose Avenue Beach is on the path of bird migratory routes. You wouldn’t want to fly against them and cause any collisions with migrating birds.

3. Chicago Riverwalk

Address: Chicago Riverwalk, Chicago, IL 60601
Airspace Class: G
Coordinates: 41°53’17.9″N 87°37’15.8″W
AirMap

Located along the Chicago River, the Chicago Riverwalk is another place with cool and iconic scenery for drone filming. Built between 2001 and 2017, the Chicago Riverwalk is home to restaurants, boat rides, skyscrapers, bridges, and benches for people to sit and chill as they enjoy the scenery. This is a Chicago landmark that you don’t want to miss, and some skillful drone footage will make it even more memorable.

4. Ned Brown Model Airplane Flying Field

Address: Golf Rd, Rolling Meadows, IL 60008
Airspace Class: G/B – Uncontrolled/Controlled
Coordinates: 42°02’45.0″N 88°01’08.5″W
AirMap

The State of Illinois has several areas designating for flying drones and other model planes. Located close to the Ned Brown Reserve, some of the views you get include the Busse Woods and the Busse Lake. Visit this page for more designated areas.

5. Promontory Point

Address: 5491 S Shore Dr, Chicago, IL 60615
Airspace Class: G – Uncontrolled
Coordinates: 42°02’45.0″N 88°01’08.5″W
AirMap

Promontory Point offers some of the most serene vistas of Lake Michigan and downtown Chicago. It’s an artificial peninsula that protrudes into the lake. One notable feature of Promontory Point is that it was made of Limestones, which are visible as they form the steps along the edges. Other fascinating features are the raised meadow in the middle and a field house towards the end constructed using Lannon stones. Another Chicago landmark not to miss.

Conclusion

Now you know everything there is to know about legally flying a drone in Chicago and within the state of Illinois. As long as you fly according to the Federal laws, State laws, and local laws, you can be confident that you will avoid any run-ins with law enforcement agencies. 

Make sure to always check the regulations before flying since they can be amended periodically, and check for any local airspace notices or restrictions before flying. 

Peter Karanja

Peter Karanja is a freelance writer and drone enthusiast. He enjoys writing about how to fly drones safely, how drone pilots can advance their skills, and the latest news in the drone industry. Peter also enjoys reading, movies, and working out.

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