A Cartoon illustration of teacher teaching kids.

Understand and Learn How to Fly a Drone

With the eased regulation, affordability, and availability of drones, it’s no surprise that the number of people who want to learn how to fly a drone is rising. If you too want to get a taste of this thrilling experience, I’ve got you covered.

I will cover all the basics that will take you from a beginner to a knowledgeable drone pilot. Whether you want to fly a drone for fun or professional purposes, the process of flying a drone is pretty similar.

NOTE: If you’re still figuring out which drone to buy, I have also reviewed some of the best drones in the market. These include budget drones, drones for professionals, and even drones for kids.

Are you ready? Let’s get started.

Definitions:

Let’s start by defining some of the general terms. When you decide to get your license, you will need to know most of these terms since they’ll help you understand how to fly your drone.

General Terms:

Line of sight:

This is where the drone pilot flies so that they can see the drone at all times. Therefore, you should avoid areas with obstacles or flying too far from the controller.

FPV (First-person View):

This is where the drone pilot can view the drone’s footage like they’re in the drone’s cockpit using FPV goggles.

Here is the ultimate beginners guide to FPV Goggles

Parts of the drone and their functions:

Remote controller/transmitter –

A handheld device that looks like a gaming pad. It has two small right and left joysticks and various buttons that help control the drone. The transmitter and the drone are connected through Wi-Fi, OcuSync in DJI drones, or even Bluetooth.

DJI Mini 2 controller
The DJI Mini 2 Controller

Frame:

This is the compartment/structure that houses and holds all the components of a drone. If you want to build a drone from scratch, you need to consider how much weight the frame will add to the drone and how it affects how the drone flies.

Motors:

These are the devices that generate power to rotate the propellers. The more powerful a motor is, the faster it will spin, and the faster the drone will fly. Each propeller has a motor.

Propellers:

These are small blade-like features that are rotated by motors. They rotate to help the drone take off and maintain an altitude in flight. A drone can’t fly without them.

Cameras:

Nowadays, even the cheapest drones have a camera, allowing hobbyists to try aerial photography. Professional drones may also allow you to attach a better camera and other photography-related equipment.

Battery:

This is the drone’s source of power. They last anywhere between 5 minutes and 1 hour, depending on the battery’s size, drone size, type, power, and accessories onboard.

The battery may be removable or inbuilt, and most of the drones will come with a charger for the battery. You can purchase extra batteries to fly for longer.

Drone Batteries getting connected to the chargers.
Image Source: sensefly.com

Flight Control Board:

This is the drone’s “motherboard” that facilitates the communication between various drone’s components.

Electronic Speed Control Circuits (ESCs):

Between the motor and the battery and the motors there’s the ESCs that control how fast the motor spins, the direction it spins, allowing you maneuver the drone.

Illustrations of drone and its parts.
Here you can see part of drones

What About Drone Controls?

Even though most controllers look different, some of the parts have similar functions. Below are the main drone controls you’ll accomplish with the controller.

  • Right stick – Roll and Pitch
  • Left stick – Yaw and throttle

Roll:

The movement where the drone “rolls” to the left or the right. You accomplish this control with the right-hand-side stick by pushing it to the left or the right. A good example is when you want to evade an obstacle.

Once you push the stick to the left, the drone will tilt to the left, and the same thing happens when you push the stick to the right.

Pitch:

Thanks to this movement, the drone can fly forwards or in reverse along a y-axis. To fly the drone forward, push the right stick forward, also known as a positive pitch. In reverse, to fly the drone, push the right stick backward, also known as a negative pitch.

In the real sense, the drone tilts (pitches) forward to move forward and backward to move in reverse. If the drone is facing you, it may be more challenging so take some time to practice these movements.

Yaw:

You accomplish this movement with the left stick by pushing it to the right and the left. It rotates the drone allowing you to change the drone’s direction when in flight.

CREDIT: DRONA AVIATION

Throttle:

This movement allows you to alter the drone’s altitude. To increase the altitude, push the left stick upwards.

And to reduce it or bring the drone closer to the ground, push the left stick downwards. Be careful not to bring it too close to the ground since you may crash the drone.

Trim:

Trimming helps you align the throttle, yaw, pitch, and roll to make sure they’re working as expected.

Aileron:

Aileron is the same as rolling the drone left to right.

The Rudder:

Rudder refers to turning the drone left to right as you do in the yaw movement.

The Elevator:

The Elevator refers to flying the drone forwards and in reverse (Pitching).

Illustration of Drone Controller
Image Source: UAV Coach

What Are the Different Flight Modes for Drones?

Drones come with different flight modes, and below are some of the most common.

Hover:

Also known as altitude hold, this is where the drone is stationary in one position for some time. You adjust and maintain the position with the roll feature.

Manual:

This is where you control every aspect of the drone, like you would a helicopter. When the drone rolls, you will have to take it back to a level position manually.

Auto-Level:

Unlike in manual mode, when the drone is appropriately calibrated, it will always readjust to a level position after tilting when rolling.

Preflight Checklist:

Even though some manufacturers claim you can fly the drones right out of the box, below are some things you must check before flying.

Weather:

You can get weather details from apps or your local weather forecasting service. Below are the ideal conditions for flying a drone.

  • Precipitation – less than 10%
  • Wind speed – Less than 15 knots (20mph).
  • Cloud base (the lowest altitude of the visible section of the cloud) – 500 feet.
  • Visibility – 3 statute miles
  • Check the twilight hours in your area if you want to fly at dusk or dawn.

Below are some apps that give relevant information about the weather;

  • UAV Forecast – Provides real-time information about the weather for UAVs.
  • Hover – Real-time weather info, no-fly zones, and a flight log.
  • Tesla Field recorder – This app can help detect magnetic interferences that may make flying impossible.
Preflight Checklist before using your drone
Preflight Checklist

Safety Check:

  • Check for possible electromagnetic interference from power lines.
  • Find a suitable area for flying and landing.
  • Make sure there aren’t kids playing, animals, or pedestrians close to the flying area.
  • Ensure there are no obstacles such as buildings, trees, towers, or power lines in the area.
  • Use a landing pad, especially if you’re flying from uneven areas, areas with too much dust, or areas that are wet after a rain.

Check the Drone:

  • Make sure the firmware is updated to the latest version.
  • Check for cracks, propeller damage, or battery damage.
  • If your drone came with gimbal protectors, remove them.
  • Make sure the battery is fully charged.
  • Install the propellers, micro SD (if necessary), and the battery.

Test the Drone

  • Power up the quadcopter and the transmitter.
  • Make sure they are connected- Different drones have different ways of connecting to the transmitter, so follow the instructions.
  • The throttle should be at the lowest point when switching on the transmitter. When it’s on, connect the drone’s battery and switch it on.
  • The antennas should be facing the sky.
  • If the drone has a camera, you should see some footage from the camera.
  • Calibrate the compass and IMU.
  • Press the takeoff button.
  • Give the drone some time to lock in the GPS.
  • Check for abnormalities – unstable flight, strange sounds, etc.
  • Try the Yaw, roll, pitch, throttle modes.
  • If everything is okay, you can proceed with the flight.
  • When landing, make sure you remove the drone’s battery first before switching off the transmitter.

What Are the Drone Regulations?

As far as regulations are concerned, below are some of the things you should do before flying.

Get a Pilot’s License

If you plan to fly the drone commercially, such as real estate photography or filmmaking, you need to obtain an FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. You have to be 16 years to be eligible for this license.

It also costs $150 and comprises of some training and a series of tests. If you don’t pass on the first try, you have a chance to retake the test after two weeks.

But if you’re only flying the drone for recreational purposes, you don’t need a license. Just get some basic flying training, and you’ll be good to go.

How to Become a Drone Pilot? Read More

Drone Registration

While not everyone is required by law to have a license, it’s mandatory to register a drone that weighs 0.55 and 55 pounds. Upon registration, you’ll get a registration number that you can stick to the drone. If you lose it, it will be easier for a Good Samaritan to trace it back to you.

Below are more regulations;

  • Drones shouldn’t fly higher than 400 feet.
  • Maximum top speed – 100mph.
  • The UAV shouldn’t weigh more than 55 pounds.
  • Avoid flying at night.
  • Fly in the line of sight
  • Avoid firefighting, agricultural, or areas where aircraft fly at low altitudes.
  • If you will be flying at least 5 miles within an airport, make sure you contact the administrator or control tower.
  • Avoid flying in public areas or areas with sensitive property.
  • Avoid flying in restricted “No-Fly Zones.” Some drones indicate these zones on their apps.
  • Others have an inbuilt Geofencing feature.
  • And you can download apps such as the B4UFly to help you identify these areas.
DJI Phantom drone with its registration number
DJI Phantom drone with its registration number

Now the most important part i.e-

Flying the Drone:

So now you know what you need to do before flying, it’s time to learn how to fly it.

How to Take Off Your Drone?

Before taking off, place the drone on a level surface. It should be at a safe distance away from you, and it should be facing the direction you’re facing, not facing you.

Most drones will have the takeoff button on the app, but it’s also good to learn how to do it from the controller.

Remember the throttle we mentioned earlier (left stick)? Push it upwards slowly. Doing this starts the drone, and the propellers will start spinning.

Play with the stick a few times to get used to getting the propellers running. Once you’re comfortable, push it further until the quadcopter lifts of the ground.

Once the drone is in the air, observe it for some time. If it starts making the roll, pitch, or yaw movements without you doing anything, you can readjust them with the Trim function.

CREDIT: Gazza9919

Hovering:

After the drone takes off, try maintaining it in one position by steadily balancing it with the right-hand stick. It may seem challenging at first, but it gets easier with practice, and it will make flying easier for you.

Once you’ve mastered hovering, lower the drone with the throttle. Once it’s a few inches close to the ground, lower the throttle to the lowest position to land. Keep doing these series of activities until you get the hang of it.

Try to Picture Yourself in the Drone:

To make it easier, “picture” yourself in the drone’s cockpit. Doing this will help you decide which way to go, how to fix an orientation problem, and how to maintain a stable course.

Understanding the controls will help you “insert yourself” into the drone’s view.

Try the Controls:

Once you’ve mastered keeping the drone steadily in one position (hovering), it’s time to try moving around.

Use the right stick to fly the drone forward for some distance by pushing it up. And then bring it back to the same position by pushing the same stick down.

Use the right stick to “roll” to the left and back to the original position. Repeat the process to the right.

If it starts losing altitude every time you move in a particular direction, use the throttle to keep at the desired altitude.

Make a Square:

It’s time to make some basic maneuvers to practice what you did in the previous step.

Once the drone is hovering, pitch forwards a few feet with the right stick. Then stop and hover for a few seconds.

Roll to the right with the right stick by pushing it to the right.

Make a negative pitch by pushing the right stick down.

Then roll to the left to bring the drone back to where you started.

Trying to control drone in different flying positions
Try to control your drone and make a square

Make a Circle:

In this pattern, you’ll be using throttle, roll, and pitch simultaneously. Use the throttle to give the drone some power and some power. Instead of pushing the right stick up, push it in a diagonal direction to roll and pitch simultaneously.

After moving for some feet, push the right stick towards the right to make the drone roll.

After a few feet, engage the pitch and roll movement by pushing it diagonally downwards.

And finally, rotate the stick until the drone returns to the original position. You can make an irregular circle by changing the direction midflight to get a feel of the controls.

If the drone loses its orientation, use the Yaw (left stick) to rotate it at a 360 degrees angle until you face the right direction.

Drone flying circularly.
Try to fly your drone circularly

Now You Can Fly

Once you’ve managed to fly in different directions, now it’s time to fly actively. Take off, fly forward and keep changing the direction as you fly in all directions possible. If you want to challenge yourself, try flying the “Figure of 8”.

CREDIT: Blade Helis

Understand Your Drone:

Now, these are general tips that apply to any drone. But drones are built differently, and what may work for one drone may not work for another one.

One of the features you need to be careful with is the safety features, especially the obstacle-avoidance sensors and the Return-to-Home feature.

Understand how the sensors work, how they avoid obstacles, and the best way to use them. The return-to-home feature allows the drone to fly back to where it took off in case of an emergency.

The GPS lock I mentioned earlier is crucial since it gets the exact coordinates. When flying in areas with obstacles, set an RTH altitude higher than them to make sure the quadcopter doesn’t crash.

An emergency power cut-off button can also come in handy in case of a flyaway. So, check if your drone has one and how exactly it works.

Some drones, such as the DJI drones, have a simulator app that helps you learn before going outdoors.

Nothing beats learning outdoors, but the app can help learn some basics about flying the specific drone.

Conclusion:

And that’s it. Flying a quadcopter isn’t that complicated. You can set milestones and learn each process as you progress. And within a few weeks, you’ll be flying like a pro.

Since you’re learning, you don’t have to go for high-end drones. Learn with a basic beginner quadcopter and progress to the more advanced ones later.

Do you want a summarized version of mistakes to avoid when flying a drone? Here are 11 common mistakes.

Here Are the Best Drones Under $100: Have a Look

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Understand and Learn How to Fly Your Drone
Article Name
Understand and Learn How to Fly Your Drone
Description
Some of us are fascinated by drones and want to fly them, but it is really important to know and understand your drone before flying it. This guide is all you need
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Remoteflyer
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