Learning how to fly a drone safely can be fun and easy if you approach the job professionally. That includes kids who have a vested interest in outperforming adults when it comes to any kind of technology. The first step is choosing a relatively inexpensive basic model on which to learn. It makes little sense to risk flying a drone with lots of bells and whistles that can be damaged when you’re learning the basics of how to fly a drone and land it successfully.
- Get To Know Your Drone
- Basic Controller Functions
- Safety Precautions Before Taking Off
- Learn and Follow the FAA Regulations for Drones
- Your First Take Off
- Practice Flying Exercises
- Mistakes To Avoid
You should consider getting an extra set of propellers and the tools needed to install them. Propellers often need replacing because they turn continuously and often come into high-speed contact with obstructions. Extra batteries are tremendously useful because even the best systems only provide about 30 minutes of flying time.
Get To Know Your Drone
Getting to know the parts and functions of a drone is critical for safe and successful flying. Drone technology is one of the most successful inventions of the past 30 years, and the technology for flying is similar among all drone models.
General Drone Terminology
The terminology used to describe a drone can be a bit intimidating, but the major components are easily understood. The main parts of a drone include the following:
The frame of a drone is the body of the vehicle, just like a car. The frame can include motor mount and landing struts as part of the overall package. When you first get a drone, it’s useful to check the screws on the frame. They’re often tightened excessively around the motor mount, which can crack the frame.
The frame holds the drone together, regardless of whether it’s made of carbon, wood, fiberglass, metal or polycarbonate. The design might be aerodynamic for racing or designed to support extensive features like cameras.
The drone motors for most drones today are of the brushless variety, which are considered to be more efficient. Motor design is very important to performance, and the better the design, the more efficient the battery. Companies work hard to extend battery life, and ideally, you should get one or more backup batteries.
Motor design includes the critical propellers that provide lift and horizontal motion. It’s important to choose propeller size — and motor size — based on total drone weight and the size of the frame.The general thrust-to-weight ratio rule states that you should have twice as much thrust as weight.
For example, a quadcopter that weighs 1 kilogram should have 2 KG of thrust, which breaks down to 500 grams for each of four motors used in a quadcopter.
The standard propellers of a drone are located in the front of the copter, and they are responsible for lift, direction and motion. Propellers are made of plastic, carbon and other materials that are still being researched to find the best options for flight.
Pusher propellers, usually located in the back, push or propel the drone forward or backward. These work by cancelling motor torque during stationary flying.
Drone antennas — or antennae — work as both sending and receiving antenna that translate signals into action. The antenna is actually a transducer that converts electricity into electromagnetic waves and vice versa. Transmitting antennas convert signals into electromagnetic waves, and receivers convert the waves into electrical signals that can trigger many drone functions.
The flight controller is essentially the drone’s motherboard It handles all the commands issued to the drone, whether automated or issued by the pilot. This includes instructions issued to the GPS module, receiver and battery monitor. Many drones have fail safes that return the drone or land it when the drone reaches the limits of the various monitors.
The flight controller handles commands, such as triggering the camera, automatically, and you generally can’t make any changes to the flight controller.
The receiver receives and interprets radio signals from the flight controller to the drone. The minimum number of channels needed to control a drone is four. However, getting a drone with five channels is useful because there are many types of receivers and functions available in today’s drone market.
The receiver is the unit responsible for the reception of the radio signals sent to the drone through the controller. The minimum number of channels that are needed to control a drone are usually 4. However, it is recommended that a provision of 5 channels be made available. There are very many different types of receivers in the market and all of them can be used when making a drone.
Electronic Speed Controller
The electronic speed controller, or ESC, is basically a simple electric circuit that monitors and controls the speed of your drone. The ESC also handles variations in flight direction and converts DC battery power into AC power to run the motors.
Drones rely heavily on the electronic speed controller for multiple flight-related functions. Drone manufacturers are actively researching controllers for extended performance capabilities. The ESC is located in the drone’s mainframe.
The camera is often considered the most important part of the drone because it takes pictures and videos for commercial and personal use. Drones often have built-in cameras, but some feature detachable cameras.
Basic Controller Functions
The controller functions for flying a drone include left and right sticks and trim controls. These operate with a remote controller or transmitter.
The right stick controls pitch and roll along the x axis. Moving the stick along the x axis, or left to right, makes the drone roll along the left or right side. Pushing the right stick up and down on the y axis moves the drone forward or backward in pitch.
The left stick controls yaw, or rotation, and throttle, or altitude. Pushing the left stick along the x axis triggers rotation of the drone clockwise or counterclockwise. Pushing the left stick up and down along the y axis changes the altitude accordingly.
The trim buttons on your drone’s remote control can compensate when the unit “leans” in a specific direction, usually because of a weight imbalance or uneven power supply.
Remotes with an LCD screen feature two horizontal and two vertical bars.These supply critical information about thrust generated by each motor. Adjusting the trim buttons will increase or decrease the power output to the motors.
Safety Precautions Before Taking Off
It’s especially important for beginners to understand the safety precautions of flying drones. Some are common sense, and others are required by FAA regulations. The FAA takes errors more seriously due to a series of drone mishaps.
Choosing a Safety Place to Fly Your Drone
Flying your drone in a crowded neighborhood as a beginner is not recommended because flying drones near people and buildings generates risks. If you must fly in crowded areas, consider getting liability insurance. This step could save you some extreme out-of-pocket expenses. If you own a DJI drone, get DJI Care of DJI Care Refresh.
Choosing a roomy outdoor area without a lot of nearby distractions is the best policy. You’ll have more room to fly your drone without worrying about buildings, clotheslines and vehicular traffic.
Drones crash for any number of reasons, but you can prevent crashes and injuries by taking safety precautions. The best tips for drone safety include:
- Check propellers to make sure they’re in good condition and not twisted out of shape.
- GPS signals can be disrupted by proximity to magnets and RF sources.
- Make sure that all cables are properly installed to prevent accidents caused by compass failure, etc.
- If you lose control of the drone, don’t panic and blindly press the return-to-home button because traveling along a straight line might not be safe.
- Don’t fly with a low battery because of the risk of losing power.
- When you reach 30% power, it’s best to recall your drone.
- Making a mistake in the drone’s direction is easy to do, especially when the drone is far away.
- Exert extra caution when any other drones are flying in the vicinity.
Crashes are an inevitable part of drone flying, but you can minimize the damage by taking common sense steps, such as keeping the drone clean, checking cables and battery for damage and retrieving your downed drone as quickly as possible.
Learn and Follow the FAA Regulations for Drones
You could face a hefty fine or even jail time by flouting FAA drone regulations. The rules include:
- Keep the drone under 400 feet.
- Don’t fly at night, but this rule is soon to be scrapped.
- Don’t fly drones near airports or other aircraft.
- Avoid natural disasters, such as hurricanes, wildfires, etc.
- Don’t fly in restricted airspace
- Always maintain sight of your drone.
There is also a rule not to fly over large crowds, but this rule is also scheduled to be scrapped soon.
Knowing The Rules
There are a number of rules and regulations that affect drone pilots, and you need to know those rules before flying. You’re required to register your drone and get an FAA pilot’s license for any type of commercial drone work.
Do You Need a Drone License?
All drone pilots must obtain a remote pilot certificate from the FAA, except for kids drones having fun in non-commercial use. In the latter case, pilots participate in community-based organizational guidelines and supervision. If you must obtain a remote pilot certificate, you can apply through IACRA, the Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application online or filling out a paper application. The online application process is much faster.
You can apply for the remote pilot certificate through the FAA’s Integrated Airman Certification and Rating Application (IACRA) or in writing using the paper application. AOPA recommends applying online because of the significantly shorter processing time.
Remote pilot certification gives you the right to use and operate small unmanned aircraft systems or UAS. These certificates are good for unmanned aircraft that weigh less than 55 pounds. Eligibility includes being 16 years of age or older, being able to read, speak and write English fluently and being free of health disorders that could interfere with operating an unmanned aircraft. Other steps to obtaining your license include:
- Take the online FAA safety course, and obtain a certificate of completion.
- Register in the IACRA system as an applicant.
- Meet with a designated pilot examiner, certified flight instructor or flight instructor from a flight school.
- Provide safety certificate, documentation of current fight review, IACRA application number and FAA tracking number.
- Obtain a temporary certificate.
You can bypass many requirements by taking and passing a knowledge test for remote pilots at an accredited Computer Assisted Testing Service or a PSI/LaserGrade Computer Testing.
Your Local Drone Laws, Rules and Regulations
Drone flights are regulated by states, localities and the federal government, so it’s critical to investigate your local guidelines and regulations for flying your drone. You can check your state regulations at https://jrupprechtlaw.com/drone-laws-state/.
It’s important to understand that federal laws generally preempt state and local regulations. The FAA is the legal authority for federal regulations, and it can preempt local laws. Unfortunately, UAS pose real danger to infrastructure and public safety. Prisons face drone deliveries of contraband, and security specialists warn that drones can be used to carry out terrorist attacks.
That’s why there are regulations that limit drone flight paths near airports, aircraft, prisons, sports stadiums, concert venues and critical security facilities.
There are other potential restrictions than airspace classification. These include the following:
• Stadiums: Stadiums and sporting events restrict drone flight within 3 nautical miles and one hour before and one hour after a scheduled sports event.
• Airports: You must report to the control tower of any airport before operating a drone within 5 miles of the facility.
• Itś always prohibited to fly over sites of emergency rescue operations.
• Security-Sensitive Areas: These include military bases, national landmarks, prisons, nuclear power plants and critical infrastructure.
• Security Sensitive Airspace Restrictions — Drones are prohibited from flying over designated national security sensitive facilities such as military bases, prisons, national landmarks, nuclear power plants, and other types of critical infrastructure.
State and Local Laws Generally Exempt from Federal Preemption
The federal government generally allows local and state police to set drone laws that involve zoning, law enforcement, privacy, trespass and land use. Police departments are required to get a warrant before using drones for surveillance. Local laws can prohibit the use of drones for voyeurism, hunting, fishing and attaching firearms.
Federal laws notoriously omit regulations ensuring privacy, leaving those regulations to state and local governing bodies. States and localities have passed considerable drone privacy laws, and it’s important to review those regulations so that you don’t inadvertently violate the law. Examples of these types of privacy laws include
- Prohibitions of flying over private property
- Anti-voyeurism laws
- Prohibitions of anti-privacy activities
- Photography prohibitions
- Flying drones in security areas
- Filming in areas where people might expect reasonable privacy
Registering Your Drone, If Needed
All drones must be registered with the FAA, with one exception: Drones under 55 pounds that are used exclusively for recreation qualify for the Exception for Recreational Flyers. Other drones must be registered under Part 107. Drones registered under Part 107 can also be used for recreational purposes.
What You Need to Register Your Drone
You will need the following information to register your drone
- Email address
- Physical address and mailing address if different than physical address
- Made and model of your drone
- Credit or debit card to pay registration fees
The registration fee is $5 for each drone for three years. The registration requirements include
- 13 years of age or older
- U.S. citizenship or legal permanent resident
- Foreign registration as “recognition of ownership” rather than a certificate of U.S. UAS registration
Where to Register, If Needed
You can register online at https://faadronezone.faa.gov/#/, the FAA Drone Zone. However, you have to register on paper in any of the following circumstances:
- Your drone weighs more than 55 pounds.
- You wish to qualify an unmanned aircraft for operation outside of the United States
- The title to the drone is held in trust.
- The owner uses a voting trust to meet citizenship requirements.
Failure to register a drone properly when required may result in regulatory penalties up to $27,500. Criminal penalties might also be assessed. These include fines up to $250,000 and imprisonment up to three years.
“No Fly” Mobile Apps to Use
Using predesigned apps is an excellent way to keep track of local “No Fly” zones. You can use “No Fly” apps to avoid prisons, airports, stadiums, military bases and key “events” that might temporarily transform a local park into a “No Fly” zone. Some of the top apps for drone flyers include
- UAV Forecast – This app is great for commercial drone pilots and amateurs. In addition to warning you about prohibited flying zones, the app also provides information on the weather, including wind speed, precipitation, etc. UV Forecast provides real-time information about no-fly zones and local flight restrictions.
- Hover – Hover helps you navigate the skies without running afoul of no-fly zones. The app provides current weather and forecasts, with detailed information on temperature, wind speed and direction and precipitation outlook wind speed and direction, rain or shine, and temperature. The app also features International no-fly maps as provided by AirMap. You can check in to find out whether the flight status is green, depending on restrictions and conditions.
- FAA B4UFLY App – The FAA has its own app called B4UFLY. The app is specifically designed to keep drone pilots legal. Although the app isn’t user-friendly, it compiles all the relevant flying restrictions. A “clear” status indicator informs you whether your flight plan is available.
Flying a quadcopter can be fun even when you’re working to take commercial photos and videos. Following the FAA’s rules and registration process makes good sense and defuses potential conflicts with other pilots.
Your First Take Off
You’re probably excited to get your drone off the ground and into the sky, but whether it’s your first or hundredth takeoff, there’s a procedure to follow to fly safely. Unfortunately, everybody crashes occasionally, usually after taking off impatiently. It’s easy to make mistakes, but you can prevent many common drone-flying errors by using good judgment and common sense.
One of the most common errors is failing to post your drone registration number on your unmanned vehicle. New FAA regulations make posting your number mandatory — by adding a sticker, marking or engraving. You will also need permission from the LLANC for both commercial and hobbyist flights in controlled airspace.
Checklist Before Each Flight
Each flight might be different, but you can reduce the risks of crashing by following a standard checklist. The following items made a good checklist, and you can add any additional items as needed:
Wind, rain, snow and sleet can be very difficult to cope with when flying your drone. Sunny days with temperatures in the low-to-middle 70s are ideal for drone flight. Flying into wind drains the battery faster, and high heat puts unnecessary wear on batteries and computer electronics.
That said, it’s likely that you will choose to fly under suboptimal conditions on occasion. It’s important to be aware that cold weather and wind drain the battery and complicate navigation. Flying on cloudy days isn’t much of a problem, but freezing weather, wind and precipitation can complicate your flight plans.
Flying in rain or snow is a good way to ruin your drone. Water and delicate electronics don’t mix. Even a little bit of water can irreparably damage your drone, so keep it bundled in misty weather to prevent damage. Snow might not be as bad, but snow melts when it hits hot electronics. If your drone lands in a pile of snow, you should carry compressed air to blow away lingering snowflakes.
Safety of the Site
It’s critical that you choose a safe, legal area in which to fly your drone. Many pilots become disappointed when they discover that local park regulations prohibit drone flying or they need to obtain special permission to fly in restricted areas. Determining where it’s legal to fly your drone doesn’t have to be overly complex.
Many drone pilots wind up disappointed when they find out local regulations prohibit drones in the park where they had planned to practice flying, or frustrated when they find out that the airspace nearby requires special permission before flying.
Make sure that you understand federal drone regulations and local restrictions, and check local regulations that restrict flight in parks and open areas. Doing a little advance research can save you from disappointment and the temptation to fly your drone despite restrictions.
Many apps allow you to check airspace classifications by inputting a name and address. These include B4UFLY, Hover and UAV Forecast. Airspace classifications in Classes B, C, D, E have controlled airspace, but Class G is uncontrolled. Class G airspace is unrestricted by federal regulations, and no permission is required for flying drones.
You should check for Temporary Flight Restrictions, TFRs, and Notices to Airmen, or NOTAMs, which are security-related events, such as VIP movements.
It might seem like a lot of work to inspect a drone comprehensively before flying it, but the tasks become quick and automatic as you gain experience. Visual inspection of cables, propellers and antennae for damage is critical for successful flight.
Some routine maintenance between sessions is also recommended. That includes cleaning the drone, blowing dust and debris particles away with compressed air and inspecting the chassis for damage. Screws that are tightened too tightly are the primary causes of a cracked chassis.
Powering Up the Drone
Powering up your drone depends on its fuel source. Most are simply powered by lithium-polymer batteries, but you might have a drone thatś powered up by other methods. These include solar power, hydro fuel cells, combustion engines, tethering a power source and laser transmitters.
Batteries last only about 20 minutes on average, so you don’t want to waste a lot of time powering up. However, itś important to power up as part of the preflight checklist. During the process, you can check that the camera cover and clip are removed, and don’t forget to press record.
During the process, the system might deliver notifications of necessary system updates. It’s never a good idea to fly without the latest software updates, and you can power down and update your system somewhere there’s a strong WiFi signal. The updates will only set you back 30 minutes or so.
Most drone systems arrive fully calibrated, but you might want to calibrate the fight systems before takeoff. Areas of concern include the internal compass, controller and gimbal. Calibrating these will help to ensure that your first flight goes smoothly.
You can take off in several ways, defending on your drone model. Some models feature automatic take off, and some models fly by GPS and pre-recorded flight plans. However, you’ll probably want to take off manually for your first flight.
It’s important to make sure there are no obstacles around the drone, such as long grass or nearby tree branches. Getting tangled with debris is a common takeoff mistake, but remember the golden rule of drone flight: Throttle off immediately if there’s a problem because you don’t want those propellers to keep spinning.
Concentrate on the left-hand stick, and throttle up until you reach the desired height. Use the throttle to maintain a steady height.You might want to hover and practice landing to get a feel for it. You’re now ready to begin flying exercises to develop drone flying skills.
Practice Flying Exercises
Most new drone pilots read most of the instruction manual while chomping at the bit for daylight and the opportunity to fly their drones. Drone flight is an extraordinary experience, and most new pilots rush to master basic skills of getting the drone off the ground.
However, many pilots never progress beyond the basics. They focus on taking dramatic video footage without ever learning flight skills. However, practicing and mastering the fundamentals of drone flight generate exceptional benefits for personal and commercial flight recording.
Practicing your flying exercises helps to give you confidence and experience in manipulating the left and right sticks. The following exercises are perfect for developing flight skills and learning to manipulate the controls like an expert.
1. Hovering Your Drone in One Place
This exercise not only teaches you to hover in place but also includes orientation and precision exercises so you can get that perfect video shot while hovering. Controlled flying is how you can improve your skill set, and nothing is as important to demonstrate control than the ability to hover in place.
The first step is hovering in place while pointing the drone in different directions. Practice holding a tail-in hover over a marked spot to get familiar with hovering controls. You must compensate for any breeze to maintain a steady hover.
When you’re ready to change orientation, use the left stick yaw control to turn 90 degrees to the 3 o’clock position. It’s important to always be aware of which direction the drone is facing, so you can quickly compensate for a gust of wind. Simple practice sessions will have you hovering around the clock.
Precision control is strengthened by flying in precise circles around a marker whale keeping the drone facing forward. This exercise uses all the controls, such as using a little yaw on the left stick with just a touch of the right stick roll function to bring your drone around. You’ll also need to throttle to keep your drone level.
2. Flying Left and Right, Backwards and Forwards
This basic exercise is designed to familiarize you with the controls, and you can practice flying left and right and backwards and forwards to gain skill with the transmitter. Getting the hang of the transmitter is essential for seamless flight. Almost all models have two joysticks. The right stick lets you control roll and pitch
The first step towards learning the art of flying a drone is getting the hang of a transmitter. The functions and controls of the transmitter are essential for achieving a good flight. This is the handheld device that will help you control the aircraft in the air. Almost all transmitters have a predefined structure and this includes a set of two joysticks.
Pitch controls backwards and forwards motion, and roll controls left and right motion. When you roll the controls of the right-hand stick, you are adjusting the propellers to move left and right. Similarly, adjusting the pitch moves the drone back and forth. Mastering pitch is one of the most important steps in learning to control a drone.
3. Flying in a Circle Pattern
Flying your drone in a circle uses all four controls, which is a great way to develop drone flying skills. You first need to develop skills in basic operations because you’ll need to operate pitch, roll, throttle and yaw at the same time.
You begin the process by hovering in place and using the throttle control to get the drone up in the air. You can fly in a small circle by positioning the front of the drone facing away. Push the left stick up and to the right. Simultaneously, apply gentle pressure to the right stick in the forward direction. You’re going forward and turning continuously to the right. These actions lock the drone into a pattern of flying in a clockwise circle.
You can experiment in switching directions while slowly rotating the right stick. If the machine starts rotating, don’t panic. You can increase the yaw on the left-hand stick by pushing it left or right, which will usually stabilize the drone.
You can practice yaw control to explore different directions and flying options. You can rotate the machine using yaw and pushing the stick to the left or right. It’s important to keep the stick steady because you’re also controlling the throttle, which makes the drone rise or fall.
4. Flying in a Square Pattern
Flying in a square pattern is very useful for grid searches, and it’s easy to master the steps once you know how to fly in each direction. The exercise is especially useful for learning how to operate multiple controls simultaneously.
Keep the drone facing away from you the entire time you’re flying in a square pattern. Push the right stick forward to fly several feet, return the stick to the middle position and hover in place. The next step involves pushing the right stick to the right using the roll function to fly several feet, return the stick to the middle position and over in place.
The next step involves moving the right stick stick backwards to fly backwards several feet, returning the stick to the middle and hovering. The remaining part of the square is covered by pushing the right stick to the left to fly several feet to complete the square.
You can practice these moves several times while concentrating on reducing the hover time to make the pattern more visible. You can practice making squares and different-size rectangles. This pattern is useful when conducting grid searches, perimeter searches and videotaping all sides of a facility.
5. Rotating the Drone Using the Yaw Controls
You can use the yaw control function to rotate your drone to change your viewpoint and rotate the drone up to 360 degrees. Use the throttle function to get airborne and settle in at a comfortable hover. Push the left stick to the left or right to rotate the drone in place. You can rotate the drone 360 degrees, and then rotate it 360 degrees in the other direction.
Practice makes perfect and helps you learn how to maintain altitude and position while rotating your camera. Keep doing the function until it becomes second nature. Practice helps you learn how to rotate and maintain position simultaneously or rotate the drone while changing directions. These are powerful piloting skills to develop.
Mistakes To Avoid
When flying a drone, there are certain common mistakes that can lead to drone damage and legally enforceable liabilities. Flying can be an eye-opening experience, but ensuring public safety and protecting the drone from damage are important considerations. Common operating and flying mistakes include:
- Check regularly to see that screws are properly tightened. Loose screws often cause drone pilots to crash, but the problem can be avoided by checking the screws. Avoid over-tightening, which can crack the chassis and motor mount.
- In some drone models, bringing down the left and right sticks simultaneously will cause the motors to stall, and your drone will crash.
- Track the remaining battery charge throughout your flying time, and change batteries when appropriate. If you don’t have backup batteries, you should return and land your drone when you reach 30% power.
- Set the height for return-home functions higher than the highest obstacles between the drone and the return area. Your drone might fail to return due to an obstacle on the return flight path.
- Flying your drone indoors can be challenging, so it’s best to experiment with short indoor trips. Unfortunately, many pilots destroy their drones by crashing them indoors.
- Never fly your drone beyond where you can see it. Out of visual range means flying blind, and anything can happen. You could easily crash into barely visible power lines and other obstructions that don’t appear in your camera’s range.
- Keep track of where you’re flying, and take note of walls, trees and other obstructions. It’s easy to relax your throttle and forget about an obstruction when recalling your drone.
- The return-home function often causes pilots to panic when they allow the battery to get low. You can turn off the return-home function and try to land the drone yourself, which is a relatively easy task. Pressing return-home on questionable battery power returns the drone, but it rises again to the height you set for the home button. It’s still easy to land the drone, but pilots tend to panic in fear of crashing the drone. Allow the drone to rise to the set height and land on its own initiative.
- Take note of obstacles in your flight path, and control your speed so that you don’t risk crashing into an obstruction. If you accelerate too fast to capture an image of a rare bird, you might end up with a rare accident where the drone is totaled.
- Watch where you fly to avoid possible signal interruptions caused by WiFi towers, radio antennas, power lines and string magnetic fields.
Flying a drone can be fun and profitable when you learn how to fly for the best vantage points for videography and aerial photography. Learning the rules about local, state and federal regulations helps to ensure that you have great experiences flying a drone, taking photos and filming short videos.
Using common sense is the best way to avoid running afoul of regulations. If there is a big event or sports match, you probably won’t be allowed to fly your drone. Flying near a prison or military base is an obvious no-no, You can use apps to get clearance to fly your drone in acceptable areas and never worry about temporary restrictions and real-time bans of drone flight.