Hands on with the FAA’s new B4UFLY drone app
Last May, the FAA released a beta version of B4UFLY, a free app which promised drone pilots a fast and easy way to stay legal. After a lengthy testing period, the app was released today for all users. We tested it out and found a lot to like. If you got a new quadcopter for Christmas, B4UFLY needs to be on your phone or tablet.
When you first open the app, you get a simple, visual “go/no go” indicator, based on your current location. This is close to being dummy proof, and is a good place to start. There are four main statuses:
- Flight Prohibited: TFRs or other restrictions mean you simply aren’t flying
- Use Caution: this is the “all clear” indicator, but the app reminds you to double check visually before flying
- Warning – Action Required: there are no TFRs, but you may be within 5 miles of an airport, requiring notification of the airport operator and/or tower
- Data Unavailable: The app is unable to check
If you tap More Status Information, you’ll see a complete breakdown of the information being checked by the app. This includes: restricted airspace, airspace within 5 miles of airports, upcoming restrictions and national park areas.
From there, you can select the Map page to view your position relative to airspace and airports. This works well, and includes TFRs plus 5 mile rings around all airports (not just towered ones). Tap on an airport for its name, then tap the i symbol for details.
The first two pages are good for quick planning or for checking on the current conditions. The third page – Planner – allows you to check airspace at a different location and at a time in the future. Enter these and you’ll see a map view for that location and time. We tested the address search and found it to be pretty reliable.
The Map page and the Planning Mode also feature a basic ruler tool, so you can measure the distance between points on the map.
Finally, the More page includes links to online resources, tips for safer flying and a database of airports and TFRs. This is good information, although it’s not particularly well organized.
Overall, this is a good app that does what it seeks to do: is it OK to fly your drone or RC airplane? It’s stable, easy to use, and includes a visual indicator of whether you should fly. It’s a really good start from the FAA.
There are a few things, though, we would have liked to have seen. For one, model airplane fields are not listed, which would be helpful. Secondly, while the app includes a database of all airports, the list has no contact information so it’s not much help if you’re within 5 miles and need to notify the airport or tower. We’d like to see phone numbers in here. Finally, when tapping on a TFR, the text window is so small that it’s almost impossible to read.
Some other apps to consider for drone flying include: Hover, Drone Buddy and UAV Zones.
The B4UFLY app is available for iPhone and iPad in the iTunes App Store; a version for Android devices is expected soon.