When I first set out to fly some hobby drones, I had no idea where to go. I had to scour the web to figure out where I could fly without getting into trouble. Even then, I found precious little info. The FAA’s new iPhone app sounds exactly like what I was looking for.

Originally announced in May, the Federal Aviation Administration just released the new app in beta today to approximately 1,000 testers. It’s a pretty simple idea: you tell the app where you’d like to fly, and it’ll show you whether that’s legal. It pulls in the locations of nearby airports and helipads, as well as big no-fly zones like the one over Washington, DC. It’ll give you a thumbs-up if your flight plans are safe, or a stop sign if they’re prohibited.

(Note: we’re talking abour recreational drone flights. Commercial ones are still illegal unless you have an exemption.)

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It’ll even update in real-time with Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) that are posted to the FAA’s website, so you don’t accidentally wind up flying over a wildfire and keeping firefighters from saving property or people.

Mind you, the safe fly zones are a little more restrictive than you might expect. Here are a couple of tweets from early testers:

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Yep, that’s a lot of heliports. In the US, you can’t legally fly within five miles of an airport unless you notify their control tower first, and since there’s no good way to do that yet, it might be tough to fly in or around any urban area where heliports are so dense. But notifying local control towers is actually one of the features that the FAA intends to build right into a future version of the app.

The FAA says that it hopes to complete a full version of the iOS app by the end of the year, and for Android smartphones too. The beta’s full up, I’m afraid, but I’ll definitely be downloading this one as soon as it’s broadly available.

[FAA (press release), FAA (FAQ)]


Contact the author at sean.hollister@gizmodo.com.