What Are the Laws Regarding RC Helicopters and Drones


First of all, don’t rely only on the information here, regarding remote control helicopter laws.  Read our Disclaimer page and check your local laws.

This page mainly refers to a remote control helicopter flown outside.  Usually these are larger, more stable RC helicopters, or Quadcopters – which are also called “Drones”.

In the united States, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) doesn’t even use the word “Quadcopters”, but does refer to “commercial drones”, “model aircraft”, and Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS).

The FAA says not to fly higher than 400 feet above ground level.  You should also fly away from populated areas, full size aircraft, and 3 miles from an airport.  You also shouldn’t use RC helicopters, or quadcopters (or “drones”) for business purposes.

Also use enough common sense to stay away from people, cars, power lines, buildings, etc.

The laws regarding drones may vary from state to state, and even from country to country.

Many overseas countries may have fewer restrictions than the US, especially regarding aerial photography. Australia is said to have very liberal laws.

Drones in the Media

There have been news stories about police departments in the US buying drones and testing them.

draganflyer The drones they are buying are similar to some of the quadcopters sold on this site, only they are much more expensive – in the $30,000 to $50,000 price range.

It’s been reported that some law enforcement agencies have been issued temporary licenses by the FAA.  The agencies want to use drones for things like looking for missing children or adults, or surveying an area that has hazardous (or nuclear) materials.

It was reported that the FBI used drones to monitor a hostage standoff in Alabama.

These law enforcement drones can also by equipped with infrared cameras, to see suspects in the dark.

Commercial Drone Use

The FAA was supposed to formulate laws for commercial drone use by 2015. On December 30, 2013 they issued a press release naming six public entities that will develop unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) research and test sites around the country:

  • University of Alaska
  • State of Nevada
  • New York’s Griffiss International Airport
  • North Dakota Department of Commerce
  • Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech)

Sites such as the one in North Dakota are supposed to help test soil quality and crop status, for managing agriculture. Tests were scheduled to begin at that site on May 5, 2014.

Drones could be used to apply seed, fertilizer, and pesticide. Drones are already used in Japan for this purpose.

On March 19, 2015 Amazon (Amazon Logistics, Inc.) received an “experimental airworthiness certificate” from the FAA.  According to media reports, it appears Amazon wants to deliver packages to customers with drones/quadcopters.

However, the certificate the FAA issued them says the drones must be operated by someone with at least a private pilot’s certificate and current medical certification. Also, the pilot can only fly the aircraft using visual flight rules, and has to stay lower than 400 feet.

We don’t think package delivery with drones or quadcopters will ever be feasible, due to the enormous logistics, and a multitude of problems that are sure to come up.

Some of the people and industries wanting to use drones could include the news media, movie producers, and real estate firms (wanting to take aerial footage of large estates).

It’s also been reported that land surveyors have technology using GPS and laser scanning, that will allow them to use drones to map areas that are difficult to get to, or too dangerous to travel.

Other uses include sports photography, wildlife research and photography, search and rescue after storms and disasters, and utility companies searching for downed power lines.

More About Drones

Unlike the Quadcopter drones described above, the US military and other countries have used drones that are much larger, and look like airplanes. drone in sky

An example is the MQ-1 Predator, which is used by the US Air Force and CIA.  It’s about half as long as an F-16 jet.

After the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks the US increased the number of drones from 50, to about 8,000 today.

Drones are remotely controlled, just like RC helicopters and quadcopters.

They’ve been used in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Libya, and Bosnia, for surveillance, and also for missile strikes against al Qaeda and other terrorist targets.

A Lockheed Martin RQ-170 drone monitored Osama bin Laden’s compound, which helped in the raid that resulted in his death.

Over 70 countries use drones now, including China, Israel, and Iran.

Helpful links:

US Government (FAA) – Unmanned Aircraft Systems
Do’s and Don’ts for flying model aircraft
FAA Model Aircraft Operating Standards
Rules in Canada for flying unmanned aircraft
Australia – rules for flying unmanned aircraft

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