Flying a drone for the first time can be both exhilarating and overwhelming.
You’ve seen others drone pilots fly with ease and you want to do the same, but when it comes to buying your first drone and getting ready to fly, this is where it gets overwhelming.
There’s a ton of factors to consider and a slight error may result in severe consequences.
In this article, we teach you everything you need to know to get started and get you in the air as fast as possible!
Let’s get started!
Things to do BEFORE Flying a Drone
In a perfect world, we could order a drone on Amazon , receive it the next day and immediately run to our nearest park and fly it out.
Unfortunately, not all drones can be flown like toys and can be catastrophic if flown improperly. As such, there are certain procedures put in place that must be taken before flying. We’ll run through the basics here and we’ve also linked articles that will help you in detail.
1. Register your drone
In some countries, it’s a requirement to register your drone with government’s aviation agency before taking flight. In the US, you have to register your drone with the Federal Aviation Agency (FAA) and it costs $5 for a two-year license.
If you’re not sure how to register your drone in your country, leave a comment on which country and we’ll be happy to answer them!
2. Knowing where to fly
States and countries have restrictions on where you can fly your drone. This is done for public safety as drones flown by beginners can potentially be dangerous (crash into power lines, air traffic, etc.).
You can check where you can fly your drone through the B4UFly App, but it’s also important to learn about the drone laws of the specified area as well.
3. Update your drone
Most likely your drone will have a day one firmware update that you’ll need to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to install.
As you continue to use your drone, keeping your drone up to date is the best way to prevent any problems while flying. Therefore, it’s recommended to check for updates every 3 months or so.
As they say, prevention is the best medicine.
4. Charge Batteries (drone, controller, phone)
The typical battery life for high quality drones is 20 minutes, so it’s important to charge your batteries to max capacity every time.
We’ve definitely heard our fair share of stories where overexcited beginners only get a couple minutes of fly time with their new drones because they forgot to charge the night before.
Don’t let that be you!
5. Learn the Rules
Luckily, you don’t need a license if you’re flying drones recreationally (at least in the United States). However there are some basic rules you’ll have to abide by every time you fly. Here’s a quick rundown of the basic drone laws in the US:
- Only fly at an altitude below 400 feet (~122 meters),
- Fly your drone at least five miles away from an airport
- Don’t fly over crowds of people
- Keep your drone in sight at all times.
Check our article on drone laws in the US for the full list of rules.
6. Check Weather Forecast
Beginners should never fly their drones in bad weather conditions and with wind less than 10 mph (~16kmh).
Wind speeds in excess of 10 mph will make it difficult to control your drone and the chances of getting your drone stuck on a tree or crashing are higher.
7. Learn your drone
Make sure you read the included instruction manual that came with your drone. Familiarize yourself with all the features your drone has. Often newer drones will come with a slew of safety features. Some common features to check for are automatic obstacle avoidance, return to home, and preset controls.
It’s easy to forget that drones are technically a form of aircraft (albeit much cooler in our humble opinions), and share many of the same terminologies. The most basic of which are roll, pitch, yaw, and throttle. Familiarizing yourself with these terms and how they’re applied while flying is essential to advance your skills.
Roll of your drone refers to the left and right movement of your drone. Think of a steering wheel, how much the wheel is turned is considered the “roll” of the drone. This helps you maneuver your drone left and right to avoid obstacles. By pushing left and right on the right joystick of your controller is how you control the roll.
Pitch is referring to the tilt of your drone either forwards or backwards. For pitch, if you hold a folder flat in front of you tilting it up and down would be considered its’ “pitch”. Pitch will probably be the hardest thing for beginners to visualize as it will move your drone forward or backwards, but is entirely dependent on the direction your drone is currently facing. Since we imagine walking forward and backward from our own frame of reference it is difficult to think about moving “forward” from a different frame of reference.
Here is another way to imagine it; if your head is facing the West, but your body is facing North and you were told to “walk forward”, which direction would you consider “forward”? In the case of drone flying, it would consider West as “forward”. So while flying, you’ll always have to keep in mind which direction your drone is facing before going “forward”. Pushing up and down on the left joystick on your controller will be how you control pitch.
Yaw refers to the clockwise or counterclockwise rotation of the drone. In this case, think of a steering wheel that is lying flat on a table, the yaw would be how much the steering wheel is turned either left or right. This corresponds to the left joystick on your controller. Pushing the left joystick left and right controls the yaw, or direction, the drone will be facing.
Throttle is probably the term you’ll be most familiar with and like any sort of vehicle, throttle simply refers to how much gas you’re giving the craft. In this case it is how much power you’re giving to the motors. However in the case of drone flying, controlling the throttle is much more of an art form than simply gunning your car down an empty straightaway. Controlling how much juice you’re giving your drone at any time is crucial so that you don’t immediately wreck your new partner. Pushing up and down on the left controller will be how you control your throttle.
Joysticks (Left and Right)
Most drones come with a standard drone controller that looks similar to the photo above. It functions similar to a game controller but the joysticks handle slightly different from your average FPS game.
The left joystick controls the altitude(up and down) of your drone and the yaw, which direction your drone is facing.
The right joystick controls which way the drone moves. Remember, the direction your drone will be flying is from the point of view of your drone. If your drone is facing directly towards you, pushing forward on the right joystick will make it fly towards you.
How to fly a drone Step by Step Basic Movements
In this section we’ll cover some of the basic maneuvers that you should be familiar with. If it’s your first time flying, we recommend practicing these maneuvers until you’re fully comfortable performing them in any situation.
1. Takeoff and Landing
The most basic of any aircraft is the takeoff and landing. First place your drone on your landing pad and do your final checks. If you don’t have a landing pad, make sure you have a nice and even landing surface. Make sure that your landing pad is as flat as possible.
Turn on your drone and begin to slowly push up on your left joystick. Get used to how fast the acceleration of your drone is and how hard you’re pushing on the joystick. Now slowly keep ascending the drone until it’s slightly above your head. Now slowly return the left joystick back to neutral.
Pay close attention to how fast the drone decelerates. If your drone is slightly off center from the landing pad, try to slowly nudge it back to center by using the right joystick. Again, pay close attention to how fast the drone moves as you push on the right joystick.
Now slowly push down on the left joystick until you’re back on the ground. If everything went well, pat yourself on the back, you’re well on your way to the more advanced techniques!
If you struggled with takeoff and landing, no need to worry, drone piloting is quite different from any other vehicle you’ve probably piloted before. Keep practicing smooth takeoff and landing until you’re comfortable with how fast your drone moves.
Once you’re comfortable with takeoff and landing, the next skill to master is hovering.
Drones with GPS capabilities are able to hover on their own but those without it tend to slowly drift off if left alone.
Although it may seem tedious, hovering should eventually become second nature. It’ll be like staying in the lane while driving. After takeoff, fly to about chest level and try to keep the drone in place.
Use slight adjustments on both the left and right joysticks to keep the drone at the same altitude and position. This is actually harder than it sounds and if you begin to drift, don’t panic and slowly try to bring it back to its original position. Once you’re comfortable with the minute adjustments it takes to hover your drone, go ahead and land; you’re ready for the next step.
3. Flying Forward & Slowing Down
Now we’re getting into the real meat of drone flying. After takeoff, make sure you’re flying above your head, you don’t want to accidentally fly into your face after all!
Now begin to slowly push up on the right joystick until you’re slowly moving forward. Then slowly return the joystick to the neutral position. Take a mental note of how responsive your drone is when you return back to neutral.
It’s essential to not do any movements that are too quick as it may throw your drone off balance (unless you have auto-stabilization). Now try the same with going left, right and backwards. Once you’re comfortable with these basic movements, you can move onto more advanced maneuvers.
Advanced Quadcopter Movements
Now onto the fun stuff! We’ll attempt some of the most common advanced techniques, these include flying diagonally, flying in a circle and flying figure eights. The trick to mastering these advanced techniques is to ease into them. Practice small, then slowly work your way up to larger and more exaggerated movements.
Diagonals are the most common movement pattern you’ll be doing when piloting your drone. Start by taking off and making sure you’re in a stable hover.
Afterwards tilt your right stick into a diagonal (either top left, top right, bottom left, or bottom right) while maintaining the same altitude. Now try to return to your original hovering position.
After becoming comfortable with how the drone moves in one plane, we’ll be moving into the third dimension.
Now from your hover position, tilt your right stick into a diagonal while simultaneously tilting your left stick into either the top left or top right diagonal. Your drone should now be ascending while moving diagonally.
Remember to be gentle with the left joystick as ascending too fast may catch you off guard. Now try to return to your hovering position by reversing these instructions. After getting familiar with flying in all four diagonal directions, you’re ready to move onto drawing some shapes!
Flying in a circle
We’ll now be starting our shape drawing lessons!
From a hover position slowly move into a diagonal while maintaining your altitude. Now while you’re still moving diagonally, begin to slowly rotate the right joystick in a slow clockwise direction.
You should now start to move in a circular movement. If you’re not, try to push a bit harder on the joystick as you’re rotating. Now try to do the same in a counterclockwise direction.
Once you’re comfortable moving in a circle, try to move in a larger circular motion. Once you master this, you can try ascending and descending while moving in a circular motion.
Flying in a figure 8
Now that you can draw some circles, we can create the next shape: two circles stacked on top of one another! The trick to flying in a figure 8 is making sure your movements are smooth and controlled.
Start by flying in a clockwise motion, then about three quarters of the way through your rotation, maintain that direction for an extra two seconds or so, then slowly drag your joystick back in a counterclockwise rotation.
Repeat once you get three quarters of the way back to your starting position. This is a bit tricky as you’ll want to directly draw a figure 8 using your right joystick.
Resist the urge and remember that it’s drawing two circles.
With this guide, you should be prepared to set off on your flying adventures with your new partner. We’ve done our best to ensure that you have a good foundation to build off of. Now it’s just a matter of getting some experience under your belt!
Feel free to refer back to this guide anytime you need a refresher. Before we go we’ll leave you with some final reminders.
Remember to never fly over people, never fly near airports, never fly above 400 meters, and never drink and fly. Just keeping these four golden rules in mind will help you stay out of trouble most of the time.
Every time you use a new drone, we recommend running through the basic movements we covered in this guide so that you can get accustomed to how this new drone flies. Think of it as stretching before you run.
With that, we’ll be signing off, but before we go, we just want to remind you to check back here often as we’ll be continually adding more articles about drone tips and tricks as well as reviews and teardowns. We’re glad that you’ve decided to join this community that we love and hope that you’ll stick around. Happy flying!