Flying quadcopters, also called drones, is a fun hobby that allows you to explore new places, meet new people, and learn new skills. With a drone, you can do everything from practicing flips and other tricks, racing other drone pilots, and taking beautiful pictures of the surrounding area where you’re flying. In fact, if photography is your passion, you can fly drones commercially by taking pictures and client videos.
But first, you need to learn to fly your drone. While new technology has made quadcopters very easy to fly, there is still a learning curve you must master if you want to fly safely and not ruin your investment by crashing your drone during your first flight. The key to successfully fly your drone is to take small steps, improving your skills and confidence with each step.
What Kind Of Drone?
This is really a personal preference and how much you’re willing to spend. For less than $100 you can buy a decent beginner drone that will help you learn the hobby without a huge investment. Because of improved technology, even the cheaper drones will fly well and have the ability to take pictures, video, and do stunts. Many even have automatic hoover and landing abilities, making it even easier for you to learn to fly. If you have deeper pockets, you can easily spend upwards of $1,000 on a state-of-the-art quadcopter that has all the bells and whistles, including autopilot and even the ability to fly a pre-determined flight path.
For a beginner, however, it’s best to stick with a quality, inexpensive drone that will give you a chance to learn without breaking the bank. Also, if you crash your new $500 quadcopter on the first flight, you’re out all that money.
Where To Fly
Finding a suitable location to fly is the very first thing you must do to before you begin flying your drone. Keep in mind that laws in much of the United States strictly regulate where drones can and cannot be flown. For example, you cannot just go to any open area around your house and start flying. You’ll need to do your research to find a location where it is both legal and safe to fly a drone. Also, keep in mind there might be altitude restrictions on where you can fly without a permit. In most places in the United States, drones are limited to about 400 feet. If you’re near an airport, you’ll want to stay much, much lower.
The best areas are generally parks and open fields. There should be no nearby power lines or building structures. While trees don’t pose a big safety hazard, they are obstacles that you’ll need to avoid. Further, you’ll want to fly your drone in an area without a lot of people, especially on your first flight. Nothing will put a damper on your new hobby faster than your drone falling out of the sky and knocking someone unconscious. And since you’re just a beginner, give yourself ample room to make mistakes in.
Before You Fly
Airline and private pilots go through a checklist before they fly, and as a drone pilot, so should you. Going through the same checklist will ensure that your drone is safe to fly and will help to minimize the risk of something going wrong at 1,000 feet and having your drone fall out of the sky.
The first item on your checklist should be your drone’s battery life. Make sure it’s fully charged and ready to go. If you have a spare set of batteries, make sure they are charged and bring them with you. Then, do a visual inspection of your drone. Are all the rotor blades on correctly? Are there any loose or missing parts? Turn your drone and controller on and check the moving parts. For example, when you move the control joystick to the left, do the rotor blades tilt accordingly?
You should also check the controller to make sure it has plenty of battery power. Check the controls to see if they’re sticky, loose, or not functioning properly. If your drone has an FPV camera, it’s a good time to make sure it works as well.
While all these checks might seem redundant and mundane, they will keep your drone safe, it will last longer, and make flying a more enjoyable experience. You want to be able to catch any problems with the drone or controller while on the ground before it’s a couple hundred feet in the air. If you get in the habit of doing this inspection early on, then it will become second-nature as you fly more and more.
While you might think of a quadcopter as just another toy, it can actually be pretty dangerous if used carelessly. The quadcopter has four rotors, spinning at very high speeds. The rotors on the larger quadcopters can easily take a finger off. Always stay back a few feet whenever your drone is turned on and the blades are spinning. If there are others with you when flying, keep them back from the quadcopter as well. Remember, you are liable for any injuries or damage caused by flying.
If you’re one who likes to tinker and make repairs to your quadcopter yourself, always remove the battery before working on it. You don’t want the blades to start spinning by accident when your fingers are directly in their path. Flying a drone without fingers is much more difficult.
Finally, use common sense. For example, if you’re in a park that normally allows flying drones, but you get there and see there’s a soccer game, party, or any other event with a large number of people, is it really a good idea to fly? Probably not. Always err on the side of caution when flying, it will keep you out of a lot of trouble.
Your First Flight
You have fresh batteries in your quadcopter and controller, you’ve found the perfect place to fly, and it’s a bright sunny day with no wind. In other words, you’re ready for your first flight.
Once your quadcopter is turned on and you’re standing several feet back, all you need to do is slowly push the throttle (left stick) up. Push the throttle forward, but not enough to make the quadcopter leave the ground, then pull the throttle back to neutral. Do this a few times until you’re comfortable with the throttle’s sensitivity.
Now comes the fun part. Push the throttle forward a little more until the quadcopter lifts off the ground. Let it hover for a few seconds, then bring it back down. Also, repeat this a few times until you’re comfortable. If the quadcopter is tilting in any direction without you purposefully doing so, then you’ll need to adjust the trim in the corresponding direction.
Once you’re comfortable hovering a few feet off the ground, it’s time to start moving. Hover your drone a few feet off the ground again. Hold the throttle steady in that position. At the same time, slowly push the right stick forward. Your drone should move forward. Likewise, if you push the right stick to the right, it will move to the right.
Make small movements until you can make the drone go exactly where you want it to go. Keep practicing at low altitudes until you’re comfortable.
Keep It Simple
Your first few flights should be practicing basic maneuvers, like hovering, turning right/left, going forwards and backward. Remember, you’re still a beginner so play it safe by keeping your flying simple. As your skills improve you can start flying your drone higher and doing more advanced techniques, maybe even racing other drone pilots.
Most importantly, have fun. Flying drones is a highly enjoyable activity that will get you outside in the fresh air. If your drone is equipped with a camera, you’ll be able to take amazing pictures from hundreds of feet off the ground. But whatever your goal is, have fun and stay safe.