Whether it’s amateur racing or professional photography, drones can now do plenty of stuff. They can even move things from place to place.
If you’ve got one and you don’t know how to fly it yet, don’t despair – flying a drone isn’t rocket science.
It’s not exactly a walk in the park, either.
The thing is, with a little bit of determination and practice, you’ll soon get the hang of flying your drone.
We’re here to help you with that.
But first – what exactly is a drone?
What is a drone
Drones are basically unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs.
Like much of the mass technology today – not that drones are mass technology yet, but they’ll probably get there soon enough – drones have started out in the military.
Military drones are really similar to typical airplanes. They’re a tad smaller than typical fighter jets, and they can be extremely precise. They have the obvious advantage of not endangering the pilot’s life in extremely risky operations.
Now, you probably don’t have a military drone at home – and the one you do have probably doesn’t look much like a fighter jet.
That’s because you probably have a quadcopter.
Quadcopters are drones that resemble a helicopter in the main flight process – only that a helicopter with four rotors instead of one. Since more rotors equal more stability, a quadcopter is more stable than a helicopter, and a multicopter – a drone with more than four rotors – is more stable than a quadcopter.
Don’t expect quadcopters to be extremely stable, though – in windy conditions they’re know to wobble and shake a bit. Professional photographers use drones with six or even eight engines.
Your quadcopter will be stable enough if used in decent weather, so stability shouldn’t be an issue for the average user. Modern quadcopters use a technology called 6-axis gyroscope stabilization, which takes into account the drone’s direction and acceleration in pitch (vertical, nose-to-tail tilt), roll (lateral lean), or yaw (turning left or right). The incorporated computer considers changes in any of these directions and accelerations and increases or decreases rotor speed accordingly, to stabilize the quadcopter.
So basically what we mean by drones are quadcopters of some sort – and the thing is, regardless of brand of functions, the main flying mechanism is the same.
Of course, you have to know the basic terminology in order to understand everything – but that’s pretty straightforward, too.
The first two things you should know are the two pilot visibility modes: line of sight versus first person view.
Line of sight flying refers to that situation where you can see your drone while flying it. This implies relatively little distance between you and the drone, and, of course, not too many obstacles getting in your way.
The second visibility mode is FPS, or first person view. In this mode, you’ll see through the incorporated drone camera, rather than by direct contact. This is mostly applicable to larger-distance flights.
A quadcopter has different parts, each known by a specific name.
The main engines that keep the drone going are known as propellers or rotors. Depending on how fast they spin, the drone changes its elevation and direction. The speed of each propeller is controlled by the internal computer, so that the drone can be as stable and responsive as possible.
Most drones also have a camera – and if they don’t, they’ll at least have a camera holder. Aerial photography and videography are pretty popular among drone enthusiasts.
Finally, all drones come with a remote control or a transmitter – the device that helps you control the quadcopter.
Now that you know the main parts of the drone, it’s time to talk about the different control and movement terminology out there.
If you want to increase or decrease the height of your drone, you’ll use something called throttle. To do this, you’ll simply have to push the left stick (or the elevator) – the drone will gain elevation if you push the stick forwards, and lose it if you push it backwards.
To roll the drone, you’ll have to push the right stick (also known as the aileron). A left push will roll the drone to the left, and a right push, to the right.
Yawing refers to steering the drone much like you would a car. Unlike the roll, yawing does not alter the drone’s location if the drone is stationary. To yaw left, you’ll have to push the left stick left. To yaw right, push it right.
The pitch of the drone refers to its moving forward or backward. This is basically done by altering its inclination. To move the drone forwards, you’ll have to push the right stick forward. Do the opposite to get the drone moving backward.
Most remote controls also have trim buttons, allowing you to manually adjust the yaw, roll, pitch and throttle, if they’re not balanced.
Some of the most common drone maneuvers also go by different names. A bank turn, for instance, refers to a clockwise or counter-clockwise turn – either left or right. A flying 8 figure is pretty self-explaining, and hovering refers to a stationary, mid-air drone.
Finally, there are three flight modes, depending on how responsive the sticks are, after you’ve altered your drone’s initial position.
The first flight mode is the manual. If you’re using this, any change in position will not be reverted if you simply let go of the stick. For instance, a drone will still roll left after you’ve let go of the right stick.
The second mode is the stabilize. This basically re-adjusts the roll and pitch input, so that your drone won’t keep on rolling or going forward, after you’ve let go of the sticks.
You’ve then got the altitude hold mode. This is similar to stabilize, only that your drone will be programmed to hold altitude after you’ve let go of the sticks.
Loiter mode functions much like stabilize, too, only that the drone will come to a standstill once the sticks are released.
Some drones also have lots of other flight modes, such as sport, drift, throw, or follow me, which can be used by the more experienced pilot for different purposes. For instance, the follow me mode uses your GPS location to have your drone follow you – which means you can record great videos simply by biking through the park!
What is a drone made of
Now that you know some of the basic terminology, it wouldn’t hurt knowing what a drone is made of. After all, drones might break – and when they do, you need to know what’s wrong.
The main component of a quadcopter drone is the frame. This is basically what supports all other parts.
The four propellers are what keep the drone going. A quadcopter has 4 but, as we’ve already mentioned, other drones have 6 or 8 propellers. Each propeller spins in the same direction as the one directly across it.
Each of the four propellers is powered by an individual motor. Depending on the direction you want your drone to go, each motor is powered to different extents – the components that dictate the rotation speed of each engine are called Electronic Speed Controls, and they make the connection between motors and the battery.
The battery is the power source of your drone. Depending on the model, the battery can power your drone from several minutes to about an hour. You’ll also need a charger to charge your batteries.
Your remote control is called the radio transmitter, and it is in direct connection to the antenna on the drone, which is called the receiver. A non-responsive drone usually means a defection in one of these two components – or it might simply be that your transmitter battery is discharged.
Finally, the Flight Control Board is the built-in computer that controls the gyroscopes and accelerometer, essentially giving the direction of your drone. They are in direct connection to the electronic speed controls.
Getting ready for your flight
Ok, so you’re about ready for your first flight – you know the basic drone lingo, and you know what a drone is made of.
All you need to do now is make sure everything’s in place – skipping this step means risking your drone’s safety, and spending extra cash on getting things repaired.
The first thing you need to do is make sure your batteries are charged and secured. Without that, you won’t get anywhere with your beautiful drone.
Check each propeller for any wobbling. If they’re not fitting securely, you might want to tighten them up – they’re really important for the stability and general flight behavior of your drone, so neglecting that will likely ruin your flight.
If the propellers are in place, you’ll then have to check your drone for any missing or loose screws. Secure everything, as the vibrations during the flight might cause the loose screws to fall out.
Finally, remember a few basic safety precautions: never touch a moving propeller, turn the throttle down if you see your drone moving out of control, and remove the battery before doing any work on the drone – you don’t want it turning on by accident.
Where should you fly?
There’s no one single type of area that you should fly in – drone enthusiasts have been known to enjoy even indoor flights quite often, and forest racing isn’t unheard of.
However, if you’re just learning to fly a drone, you should absolutely not fly indoors – the risks you’re taking are simply too big. You could damage your room, your drone, even yourself.
The best area you could be flying your drone if you’re just learning to fly is a large, open space, with great all-around visibility. Things like sparsely-forested parks or football fields are great – or, if you’re in the countryside, just take to the hills.
Another thing you want to take into consideration is how crowded the area is. Though drone specialists handle flying their drone around people easily, you don’t want to take the risk of hurting anyone. Avoid busy places – if you’re in the city, the best way to do so is to get up early in the morning.
Weather is another important factor when it comes to flying your drone. Though most quadcopters have pretty powerful flight stabilizers, strong winds will negatively impact your flight experience. Again, practicing in the morning will increase your chances to enjoy a pleasant weather. You really need to check the weather forecast before scheduling your training sessions.
Flying basics 1: Getting airborne
Now that your drone is ready and you’re in a good position to start learning how to fly a drone, you can begin getting your drone off the ground.
Take good note – the only thing you need to do right now is get it off the ground. You don’t want to roll it or yaw it – you just want to get it airborne, and practice this until you’re comfortable with it.
The only control you need during this stage is the left stick.
The first thing you need to do is to get an idea of the stick’s sensitivity – to do so, just slightly push the left stick up, until the propellers start spinning. Slowly inch it forward until the drone begins to get off the ground, then push it down again. Repeat a few times, until you’ve got an idea of how much pushing the stick will affect the propellers.
Once you’ve familiarized yourself with your drone’s throttle, you can begin working on lifting the drone off the ground.
To do so, push the left stick up a bit more than before, until you see the drone lifting off. As soon as it’s gone up about a foot, push the stick down, to land it as smoothly as possible.
While lifting it off, your drone might start yawing drifting sideways – it’s important that you don’t attempt any direction controls just yet, as you might crash it. If you notice any unwanted movements, just slowly push the left stick down, and land your drone as safely as possible.
Repeat getting your drone off the ground as much as you need to, getting a bit higher each time.
Flying basics 2: The controls
We’ve already briefly touched on the main directions and how to get them: the yaw, the roll, and the pitch.
To yaw your drone is basically to turn it clockwise or counterclockwise (again, much like turning your car). To do so, you just need to turn your left stick left or right.
To roll your drone is to tilt it sideways. To do so, you’ll need to turn your right stick left or right.
To pitch your drone is to tilt it forwards or backwards, effectively causing it to move ahead or back. To do so, simply push the right stick up or down.
Finally, the left stick is used to get your drone off the ground – push it up, and it goes up, push it down, and down it goes.
Now, once you’ve gotten used to getting it off the ground and back down safely, you can start practicing on the basic roll, pitch and yaw motions.
Flying basics 3: Hovering
After getting your drone airborne and having a general idea of what each stick does, it’s time to practice hovering.
What this means is basically just keeping your drone in a single spot – an important skill to master as soon as you start learning, as it might mean the difference between operating your drone safely, or crashing into people or nearby objects.
To hover, lift your drone slowly off the ground for about a foot and a half. Once there, start making small adjustments with your right stick – rolling and pitching, basically, but we’re talking inches here – until your drone is hovering in a single place.
Depending on your drone, you might need to do very small adjustments, or none at all – always pay attention to the way your drone moves. However, with most drones, you’ll need to keep making small right stick adjustments to keep the drone hovering.
Once you’ve kept your drone in place for a few seconds, slowly get it back on the ground by pushing the left stick back. Again, practice keeping it up for an increasing amount of time each time you lift it off, until you can keep it hovering for about 30 seconds.
Flying basics 4: Changing orientation
After you’ve mastered hovering your drone, you can now begin working on yawing. This is probably the easiest thing to learn, as it involves only minor changes in your drone’s direction.
Once your drone is hovering, slowly push your left stick towards the left, until your drone has made a complete rotation. Yaw it all the way back, then do the same towards the right.
Notice that, as you yaw your drone, it’ll only slightly alter its position. If you think it’s moving too much, you can simply adjust its direction by using the right stick controls.
Flying basics 5: Changing direction
Rolling and pitching your drone will cause it to change its direction.
To begin with, get your drone off the ground and keep it hovering in place.
Next, slowly push the right stick up, until you notice your drone beginning to move forward. It’s important you don’t push it too hard, or you risk losing control of your drone.
Once you’ve gone forward a couple of feet, push the right stick down, and get your drone back to its initial position.
If you notice your drone beginning to lose altitude, push your left stick up – this will increase the throttle and get your drone back to where it was.
Practice pitching your drone back and forth a few times, until you’re comfortable with the controls. Don’t go more than a few feet in any direction – for now, you only need to get accustomed to the basic controls. You’ll have plenty of time to explore later. Once you’re comfortable pitching, you can start practicing rolling your drone.
To do so, you first need to keep the drone hovering in place. Next, push your right stick slightly to the left, until your drone has moved about a foot.
Then, push the right stick to the right, and bring your drone to its initial position.
Repeat the movements in the opposite direction, the repeat the whole routine. Try to increase the length of the flight to a few feet, but don’t go too much in any directions. Once you’re done, hover the drone in place, then land it slowly.
Just like with pitching, rolling your drone will cause it to lose some altitude. It’s important to give it enough power to keep it airborne. Adjust your left stick as needed.
Flying patterns 1: The square
Once you know how to roll, pitch and yaw your drone, you can now learn a few basic flying patterns. These are great for getting some great videos with your drone, or simply for having fun while becoming more familiar with your lovely quadcopter.
Before practicing the square, remember that you should always practice with slow, small control movements – never yank the sticks too hard, as this will cause your drone to change direction abruptly.
The square is basically an alternation of pitches and rolls – remember this as you do it, and you won’t get lost halfway through.
The first thing you need to do is to get your drone off the ground and keep it hovering. This should be pretty easy by now, if you’ve given it enough practice.
Now make sure your drone is facing away from you. To do so, yaw it accordingly by moving the left stick in the proper direction.
Slowly push the right stick forward and move your drone a few feet ahead. Then return the right stick to its initial position, and keep the drone hovering in place.
Now slowly move the right stick to the right, so that your drone will roll a few feet to the right. Remember to adjust the throttle so that your drone doesn’t lose too much altitude.
Now return the right stick to its initial position, and hover the drone.
Slowly move the right stick backwards, so that your drone will pitch towards you. Simultaneously, adjust the throttle using the left stick. Bring your drone a few feet back and return the right stick to its initial position.
All you have to do now is roll the drone to its starting position. To do so, simply push the right stick to the left, until your drone reaches the initial position. Move the right stick back, and keep the drone hovering. Again, remember to keep adjusting the left stick as necessary.
If you’ve done everything right, you’ve just completed your first square – congratulations!
Flying patterns 2: The circle
The second flight patterns will move your drone in a circle while facing you. Of course, there are some more advanced circular patterns in which the drone will change its orientation while circling, but those are pretty advanced.
The first thing you’ll need to do is get airborne and start hovering.
Once you’re in a stable position, decide whether you want to start circling to the right or to the left.
If you want to start circling to the right, slowly move the right stick in a north-east position – diagonally up and to the right. You’ll notice your drone beginning to circle to the right, by rolling to the right and pitching forwards simultaneously.
Once your drone has moved a couple of feet, you’ll want to start turning the right stick down towards the right. This will roll the quadcopter further to the right.
Finally, start turning the right stick towards the south-east, and then towards the initial position, until the quadcopter is right at the starting point. All the while, keep on adjusting the left stick to give your drone enough power to keep a stable altitude.
You can now practice circling to the left, by repeating the above procedures in the opposite direction.
Practice circling in both directions, until you’re comfortable doing it. Remember – slow and easy does it.
Flying at an angle
Before deciding you’re ready to fly a quadcopter continuously, you need to make sure you can do the basic direction and patterns we’ve just covered. If, at any time, you’re unable to hover, roll, and pitch while maintaining altitude, then you’re not ready for continuous flight yet. You might want to give the basics a bit more practice.
Another thing you need to know is the range of your remote controller. You don’t want to allow your drone to leave that range, as it will just keep on flying in the last set direction, and you’ll just lose your copter.
It’s also important not to go more than 400 feet in altitude. Manned aircrafts typically fly at 500 feet or more, and you don’t want to interfere with them.
A basic rule of thumb is that you should always stay within direct line of sight of your drone. This way, you can avoid any crashes, and be in complete control of where your drone is headed.
Now that you know the basics, you’re ready to experiment with different frontal angles.
The first thing you need to do is get off the ground. Keep your done hovering at about five to ten feet above the ground, and slowly yaw it to an angle.
Now, you should know that all the directions we’ve discussed above are applicable to a drone that’s facing opposite you (you’re completely behind it). While yawing the drone, you’ll want to adjust them to control the drone as though you were behind it at all times. This is where you’ll need most practice, as controlling a quadcopter while it’s facing at different angles takes a lot of mental gymnastics, especially in the earlier stages.
However, you’ll slowly begin to adjust to it. As a general guideline, know that a drone facing you will have the roll and pitch controls completely switched – yanking the right stick to the right with roll it to your left, and vice versa. Of course, the throttle and yaw stay the same.
After you’ve got your drone to hover, yaw it to a slight angle, and then slowly pitch it forwards and backwards a couple of times, just to get adjusted to the main controls. Remember to always adjust the throttle, to keep a safe altitude.
Once you’ve practiced pitching at an angle, it’s time to get started on the rolling. With the drone hovering at an angle, roll it a couple of times, and return it to the initial position. Repeat until you’re comfortable.
Practice square and circle flight patterns, and always return to the starting position.
Finally, adjust the angle a bit more, and practice the above routine again. Keep adjusting the angles until the drone is now facing you – make sure you don’t bump right into it!
You should now be ready for your first continuous flight.
Flying your drone continuously is your first serious goal as a drone enthusiast – if you can do it, you’ll be able to capture great videos, track different objects, and even take part in drone racing!
Before flying your drone continuously, make sure you know its range. Also, stay away from other people and objects, as you’re likely to crush into stuff, if you’re not completely familiarized with the controls.
It’s important to master flying at certain angles, since continuous drone flight means changes of direction, in order to stay within the remote control range. If you’re still not comfortable with adjusting your drone’s direction at different angles, you might want to practice that a bit more before attempting your first continuous flight.
Once you think you’re ready, the first step is to get the drone off the ground, and keep it hovering at the desired altitude. In the early stages, it’s best not to go too high – somewhere around 10 feet should be enough. You don’t want to crash your drone from too high up.
Slowly push the right control stick forward, and then to the right or left. Your drone will move in that direction. Adjust the yaw at will – this is especially important if you want to capture videos in different directions – and remember to keep your drone at a steady altitude by constantly controlling the left stick.
Once you’re comfortable flying your drone around, you can start changing its altitude. To fly it higher, simply push the left control stick further up, and lower it to bring the drone down.
Remember not to go more than 400 feet up, if your drone allows that range – that’s where manned aircrafts fly, and you don’t want any unwanted collisions.
Once you’ve experimented with flying your drone in different directions, you’re pretty much ready for free practice. Always pay attention to your battery, and make sure you don’t go out of the recommended range.
If you’re looking for a good drone to start practicing as soon as possible, there are some pretty nice choices on Amazon.com
The Holy Stone HS170 Predator is a great drone to begin training on. At only 40$, it’s one of the most affordable models on the market, and the specs aren’t that bad, either – the range is about 45 meters, and the flying time is about 7 minutes.
For about 80$, you can get the DBPOWER MJX X400W` FPV Drone. It’s a headless model, just like the previous one, which means you don’t have to worry about all the angle adjusting we’ve discussed above, and it’s got a nice range of about 100 meters. The flying time is also a bit longer, peaking in at about 9 minutes.
If you’ve got more than a few tens of dollars to spend on a drone, you could go for a professional model such as the DJI Phantom 3 Professional Quadcopter. This beauty not only has a headless system and other stability features, it’s also got a powerful 4D video camera, more than 20 minutes of flying time, and generous range of up to 5 km, in open outdoors. This is really a great model – and it also comes equipped with a learning guide for beginners.
If you want to test your drone flying skills even further, you can try drone racing – the flying machines may be small, but the thrill sure isn’t.
The first thing you’ll need is a racing drone. While typical drones usually reach a top speed of about 35 miles per hour, racing drones can go as fast as 50 – getting a specialized drone is essential in being competitive on the racing court (well, more like park – or desert).
You’ll then need a solid camera. Unlike typical drone flight, you won’t be in the direct line of sight of your drone at all times, so you’ll need to practice control your drone through the camera. The FPV (first person view) camera is extremely important, as it will need to be able to tilt up while your drone is flying forward.
Once you’ve got everything ready, you’ll need plenty of practice – flying at different speed, getting through, under, and over different types of obstacles, and getting accustomed to some of the more advanced flying techniques like nose dives and flips.
If you can’t afford air gates, you can use trees, lamp posts, and even park benches as practice obstacles. While doing so, make sure you keep everybody safe – it’s not a good idea to start your race practice on a Sunday afternoon, obviously!
Racing drones are typically a bit more expensive than usual quadcopters, but they’re well worth the money, if you’re into this sport.
The Eachine Racer 250 FPV Quadcopter Drone is a great choice for amateur drone racers. It’s got a decent flying time of about 12 minutes, the camera is fully adjustable, and it’s even got a nice HD night time function, to enjoy some great night-time flying.
The Babrit Dtrainer 2.4Ghz 4CH RC Quadcopter is a more affordable high-speed drone, ideal for getting used to the mechanics of drone racing. It’s got a nice range of about 150 meters, and a flying time of about 8 minutes, which should be plenty for some serious practice.
Drone flying is a great hobby to take up – not only is it great fun in itself, it’s also a good way to take some great photos, record stunning videos, and explore places around you like you’ve never done before.
We’ve put together an ultimate guide to drone flying, and you can now learn the basic pretty much all by yourself. Follow the instructions above and you should be flying your drone in no time.
While practicing drone flying can be lots of fun, remember that safety is very important – whether we’re talking about your safety, the physical integrity of those around you, or the safety of your drone. Taking the necessary safety measures means enjoying your drone more, cheaper, and happier.
If you want to get a decent drone to start learning, go for one of the models we’ve recommended – they’re pretty popular on Amazon, and they’ve been tried by many satisfied customers.
Drone racing enthusiasts are in for a bit more practice – but they might just have a bit more fun, too. Racing drones might not be suitable for complete beginners, though, as they’re not as stable as traditional models.
With the growing drone community, you can find drone enthusiasts around you easier than ever – get in touch with your local UVA group, take part in races, join events, compare and trade models – there’s plenty of great fun to be had if you’re into drone flying.
Guest Contribution by JenReviews.com