Did you recently get a drone or it's on your Christmas wishlist and you are looking to get some aerial footage of Lake Tahoe? Here are 10 things you must know before you even attempt to fly your drone in Tahoe.
#1 You must first register your drone with the FAA.
Any drone weighing 0.55 pounds to 55 pounds must be registered with the FAA. If you don't register your drone and get caught flying you will be subject to civil and criminal penalties. I know
sounds pretty scary right. You just get a drone for Christmas and soon after find yourself with a hefty fine or even worse jail time? Don't stress it's a $5 charge and here is the link to register your drone with the FAA https://registermyuas.faa.gov/
There are 2 different options when registering your drone. 1st option is hobby which applies to anyone looking to fly for fun and capture photos and footage that you don't plan on selling. 2nd option is commercial. If you want to fly your drone as a business and make money from getting aerial footage or aerial photography or inspections etc you will need to take and pass the Part 107 Small UAV Remote Pilot airman test at a FAA knowledge testing facility.
If you are looking for a great course that takes you step by step and teaches you everything you need to know in order to pass the test and be a safe pilot I highly recommend the Remote Pilot 101 course . Honestly there are a lot of trick questions in the Remote Pilot knowledge test and if you don't study up you are very likely to fail. This test fully prepared me for the test and I passed with an 87/100 which isn't too shabby.
#2 Don't fly within 5 miles of any airport without calling ahead for Hobby flyers and know your airspace if you are Part 107 Certified Remote Pilot.
As you can see from this VFR chart of the Lake Tahoe area pretty much the whole of South Lake Tahoe is under a Class E Surface level airspace. This just means that before you fly in South Lake Tahoe you will have to call the airport manager and let them know what you plan to do with your drone. The faded purple line means a class E veil that starts at 700 feet AGL(Above Ground Level) which leads to my next point.
#3 Don't fly above 400 feet AGL
Unless you are within 400 feet of a building or structure that you have permission to fly over, then you can fly no more than 400 feet above the highest point of that structure. So like I said in number 2 places like Emerald Bay as will as most of Lake Tahoe from just past Kingsbury Grade all the way around the lake to Emerald Bay are either class G or a Class E veil that starts at 700 feet AGL so you are fine to fly your drone in those areas as long as you are not flying over people and as long as you stay under 400 feet AGL. Pretty much the whole point of drones is to be able to get low altitude shots like this one I captured of beautiful Bonsai Rock.
#4 Always fly within line of sight
You must always be able to have a clear view of your drone. If you are filming or taking photos with your drone I highly recommend having an ipad or other monitor as you really aren't supposed to fly with FPV goggles if you are a commercial pilot. Having a monitor allows to you frame your shots while still being able to quickly look up to keep an eye on your drone. If you need help scanning the area for other aircraft or obstacles you can use a Visual Observer to help you scan the skys. Tahoe has a lot of trees so try to pick a location where you can always see your drone.
#5 Can you fly your drone from a boat on the lake?
Tahoe is one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and one of the best ways to explore it is from a boat. But is that legal? The FAA states that you can fly from a boat or car as long as you are not transporting any packages for delivery and as long as you are not flying over any people or populated areas. And of course always keep the drone in your line of sight. A quick tip is to make sure you have your return home point set as your remote control(radio) so that when you are moving in a boat the drone doesn't all of a sudden try to fly home to the spot you launched from. That way you won't have to go fishing for your drone!
#6 Do not get in the flight path of any other manned aircraft such as airplanes, seaplanes and helicopters.
Manned aircrafts always have the right of way and it is your responsibility as a Remote Pilot to make sure you are not interfering with any manned aircraft flight. It is our responsibility to keep everyone around us safe when flying our drones.
#7 Be aware of the difference of a high altitude environment
Most of the Tahoe area is at least 6,000 feet above sea level. You will notice a big difference in performance on your drone when flying at higher altitude. The air is thinner at high altitude and the battery life as well as the lift goes down so keep that in mind when planning your flights. The higher the altitude the less performance your aircraft will have.
#8 Take off from a level and dust free platform
Tahoe is surrounded by trees and forest areas. When selecting a takeoff platform keep your drone cameras sensor in mind as well as the lens. During takeoff there is a lot of wind turbulence generated from the propellers and if you are taking off from the dirst or sand the dust is going to get all over your lens and possibly in your camera sensor rendering the shot unusable. If you plan on filming something like mountain biking be sure to bring a landing pad with you to prevent this from happening.
#9 Don't fly at night
You are not allowed to fly your drone at night. But what exactly counts as night time. The FAA states you are not allowed to fly between the hours 30 minutes after civil twilight and 30 mins before sunrise. Also if you plan on flying during the 30 minutes after sunset and 30 minutes before sunrise you must have anti collusion lighting installed on your drone. I recommend something like the Lume Cubes for this. They have mounts for popular drones like the DJI Phantom and DJI Inspire
#10 Respect peoples privacy
Last but not least is respect peoples privacy. This is a huge one. Try not to be annoying with your drone. People come to Tahoe to relax and get away from the noise and craziness of city life. If there is a drone buzzing around them it's not very relaxing and it gives drone pilots a bad name. Try to choose locations to fly that are sparsely populated. There are plenty of locations in Tahoe that are nice and open and absolutely beautiful to look at from above.
I wrote this blog post not only to give readers some great tips on drone safety but to always make people aware of the rules that just have no clue. All it takes is a bad accident or someone being disrespectful, to ruin it for the rest of us.
Drones are an amazing tool for Photography and Cinematography and I as a Faa Part 107 Certified Commercial drone pilot would like to keep others informed so we can all fly safe and continue to use drones to capture angles that would otherwise be almost impossible to get.
Below are some more Images and Videos I have created using my DJI Inspire 1 drone for inspiration. I have traveled to some incredible locations with my drone and have been able to capture some really beautiful video and photos.
If you are a company or photographer/videographer looking for a qualified Drone pilot be sure to contact me with your project ideas. I would love to be a part of it.
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