Daniel & I, Droning On... by Local Lad, Kevin Rendall

I'm a former Felixstowe resident who moved away. I still have a great affinity with my old home town and return as often as I can. 

Drones, or to give them their official title - Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems – RPAS - have come quite a way since their early days as purely military hardware, nowadays they are also used for commercial or recreational motives, and it's the increasingly popular latter I'll focus on here. Whether we, as drone enthusiasts, like it or not a degree of mistrust and fear exists around our passion, which is such a shame because before I invested in mine about eighteen months ago I had no idea such wariness even existed. The purpose of these thousand or so words, therefore, is to try to remove a little of that 'stigma' and allay, if I can, a few of those understandable suspicions. 

As you'd expect, commercial operators have to obey stringent rules and obtain detailed and specific paperwork in order to carry out their airborne missions. Similar is true of private owners, all of whom have to obtain Civil Aviation Authority permissions which vary according to the weight and capability of their unmanned aircraft system. As a bare minimum the CAA insist in most cases that pilots obtain an operator ID which must be affixed to the drone, so if you don't see that then there's a fair chance the pilot is a cowboy. These regulations are designed to safeguard people and property and are subject to variations, all of which are set out in The Drone and Model Aircraft Code. As a rule of thumb, above or below 250g and the rules differ, becoming stricter depending on whether or not the drone is equipped with a camera. The majority are! Further to this, the drone itself must always be within visual line of sight of the operator – VLOS – and not exceed the legally permitted altitude of 120m (400 feet). 

Personally, I have PDF copies of the CAA Drone Code and owner’s manual for my drone model saved on my telephone, because responsible flyers are expected to be fully acquainted with both. Sadly, not everyone is that diligent. Occasionally, and not too often thankfully, you can come across bad eggs who undermine the earnest efforts of law abiding drone users to take to the air responsibly. Most newbie drone pilots have bent the rules at some point, albeit inadvertently at the beginning while they're finding their feet. As time passes, with more airborne hours and experience acquired, you come to realise the rules and regulations are actually eminently sensible and are in place for a reason. In all likelihood these will be prohibitions placed on the airspace above aerodromes, heliports, sensitive installations and for the preservation or protection of local flora and fauna. More on that presently. 

In the United Kingdom generally, and Felixstowe in particular, we're quite lucky in that there aren't too many onerous restrictions on where we can and cannot fly. It just so happens that some of the best bits of our local area are off-limits. Landguard Common, for example, is subject to a Public Space Protection Order which prevents, among a long list of other things, drones, kites and hang-gliders being flown. Large parts of the Deben and Orwell estuaries are designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest, too, so care is needed when taking-off from and landing in and around these areas. Plentiful web resources exist in case of any doubts and almost always polite email enquiries to bodies, such as Natural England (for those SSSIs), are invariably answered in timely and informative fashion. 

Similarly, and for obvious reasons, the Port of Felixstowe shouldn't be overflown. Nobody will open up with anti-aircraft guns but they're bound to be a little bit cross if you try and fly without asking first. Pilots have done so, but only after seeking and receiving permission from the port authorities. Typically, these are professional dronists contracted for the purpose of publicity or maybe a news item, resulting in footage and stills that are invariably brilliant and produced to a very high standard by equipment that wouldn't look out of place on the set of Mad Max. This is distinct from recreational types like me and others who fly in what is known as an Open A1/A3 Category for basic and low-risk activities, this is the starting point for anyone with a lightweight drone equipped with a camera but not considered a toy. 


One hugely vexatious element of 'amateur dronatics', and very likely the one thing which aggravates the general public more than any other, is privacy. Pilots, by law, are obligated to respect other people and their privacy. Overflying of gardens and homes, for example, is frowned upon due to the fact home-owners have the reasonable expectation of privacy in their dwelling. Anyone fearful of those partial to a little voyeuristic peeping should be categorically assured that drone piloting really isn't a very cost effective way to indulge in that particular pastime. The hardware itself isn't cheap and once drone cover and public liability insurance have been factored in, a reasonably tidy sum will have been invested. Personally, I have zero interest in anyone's private property and any houses that appear in my photos or footage are purely incidental, it will always be the scene I wanted. This is true for the vast majority of hobbyist drone pilots, many of whom, like me, originally began as photographers searching for interesting landscapes and new perspectives. For us that's as titillating as it gets. 

It's very much this and nothing nefarious which attracts folk to the activity because the camera set up in a lightweight drone really isn't good enough for the paparazzi. I'd been thinking about it for some time and having watched hours of YouTube review videos and just as many tutorials, I eventually bit the bullet. For the price of my DJI Mini-3 Pro, I could have bought a new Nikon lens which would have been nowhere near as much fun. A year and a bit into my ownership experience, I'm absolutely delighted that I took the plunge and I sincerely hope that my much-loved drone, I've even given it a name (Daniel), doesn't follow suit. Into The Orwell!

Thank you Kevin for your article! Folks... Kevin is a sensational photographer (some more photos below). To check out his work, follow him on social media here: