Starting today anyone who wants to fly a drone in the US can register it with the FAA. You can keep flying without registering until February 19th, 2016, after which you will face civil and criminal penalties ranging from a $27,500 fine to three years in prison. Like many federal tech projects, the website where you can register online is currently experiencing some difficulties. But you have another 30 days to get the registration done for free, after which it will start to cost $5.
What kind of aircraft must be registered? The FAA wants any remote controlled aircraft heavier than 0.55 pounds to be marked with the ID number of the registrant. Your registration is good for any RC aircraft up to 55 pounds, after which a whole bunch of different rules kick in.
How do you know the exact weight of your aircraft? The FAA has some handy tips for gauging this sort of thing!
Old school model aircraft users have bitterly denounced the new registration rules, noting that "the registration process an unnecessary burden for our more than 185,000 members who have been operating safely for decades." It's asking its member to boycott registration.
The issue, of course, is that the FAA projects hundreds of thousands of new drones will be purchased this holiday season alone. As the technology has improved and the barrier to entry has fallen, the number of casual pilots has expanded rapidly, along with the number of accidents and near misses, necessitating a far more formal and strict set of regulations from the FAA.