I found a lost drone with a registration number. How do I find the owner?

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Next up in our “Ask Drone Girl” series is about getting started with drones. If you have a question for Drone Girl, contact her here.

I found a lost drone with a FAA registration number taped on it. Can I locate its owner via that number?

What a good Samaritan you are for trying to track down the pilot! While I appreciate your good deed, it won’t exactly be an easy mission on your end if you’ve found a lost drone and want to return it to its owner.

While it’s easy to find your own registration number through the FAA’s website, you can’t run a “reverse search” and input a drone registration number and find that pilot’s name.

Of course, the FAA does have a database of drone registration numbers and the corresponding contact info for their pilots. Your best bet would be to contact them, so they can lookup the number internally.

The FAA’s drone registration contact info is:

  • Email: UASregistration@faa.gov
  • Phone: Live phone support is available at (877) 396-4636 or international (703) 574-6777 from 10 a.m. – 6 p.m. ET Monday through Friday

It’s unclear if that tactic will actually be fruitful (I haven’t tried it myself), but here are some other tips for trying to hunt down the original owner:

How to find the owner of a lost drone:

  • Check the drone’s camera to see if you can review the footage and provide clues of the takeoff point (perhaps the owner’s home) or include shots of the owner.
  • Take it to local police. They might better be able to contact the FAA (or at least take the burden off you).
  • Contact the drone’s manufacturer. They might have information on-hand based on the drone’s serial number and be able to contact the owner.

Of course, it’s better to set yourself up to ensure you never put someone in a tricky situation in the event your drone crashes and gets lost. Putting the drone registration number on your aircraft is the law, but it’s not necessarily the best way to ensure it gets returned to you.

How to ensure your drone never gets lost:

  • Include contact info, such as a cell phone number, below where you’ve written your drone’s registration number.
  • Use a GPS tracker like Trackimo. Trackimo’s 3G GPS Drone Tracker is about 1 ounce and sticks anywhere on your drone (typically the top is a good place to put it). Once activated, you can see on your smartphone app exactly where the drone has been. 

That is to say, the drone registration numbers aren’t super helpful in relocating lost drones, if you’re a normal person. They’re only helpful if you’re the FAA and are looking to track down who is behind that crashed drone.

Drone registration numbers are legally required to be marked somewhere on the outside of the aircraft on all drones that weigh more than 0.55 pounds.

Some drone users suspect that the drone registration requirement was in reaction to events such as a drone crash near the White House in January 2015, though the drone operator in that crash voluntarily came forward.

“They want to be able to identify the drone operator if there’s an accident or bad use of the drone,” said Colin Snow, founder of drone research firm Skylogic Research in a former article on The Drone Girl. Of course, the logic there doesn’t entirely make sense, as Snow outpointed.

“Who is going to register their drone and then commit a nefarious act?”

There are more than 1 million drones registered in the U.S.





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