They look so easy to fly, these drones we see zipping around everywhere, but then again, it must have taken hours and hours of practice for those pilots to make it look so easy, right? You want to get a drone, but you don’t want to make a fool of yourself, or worse hurt yourself or somebody else. Before you shell out the money, you want to know, how easy is it to fly a drone?
Actually, it’s easier than you think to fly a drone! Even for a complete beginner, you will be able to get a drone off the ground, and begin to learn how to use the controls, maybe even getting your drone to go exactly where you want it to your first time around.
That’s not to say that you’ll be ready to sign up for the next local drone racing event in a week, or that your aerial photos will be stunning on the first go. Drones are easy to fly, but they’re a challenge to master. It wouldn’t be all that much fun without the challenge factor, now would it? It’s easy to be intimidated before starting out on this new hobby, but whether you choose a midrange drone with all the bells and whistles, or a toy drone with almost no fancy features, you’re almost guaranteed to get addicted to the flying experience right from the start.
How Easy is it Really?
It’s important to talk about expectations. If you start out expecting to be the best pilot out there without having to put in the hours and hours of flight time and practice, you’re bound to be disappointed. Of course getting to that level where you might start to think about making a business out of aerial photography, or mapping services or what not, will be hard work. Even getting to the point of flying with the confidence that you can get the drone exactly where you want it every time, will take time.
That’s not to say though that actually flying a drone is hard. Almost anyone who knows how to use a video game controller, or even a smart phone, will be able to successfully fly a drone. A drone is controlled either by a separate controller with knobs or sticks, or a smart phone app with buttons on the touch screen. These knobs or buttons are used to control flight directions such as forward and backward motion, side to side motion (right or left), height (up or down), rotation (to turn the drone around to face a different direction), and throttle (speed). These directions of movement have technical names like yaw, pitch and roll, but we’ll get into that in another post.
The ability to utilize these functions with some degree of success is pretty straightforward, and you can haltingly and imperfectly figure out how to get your drone going where you want it even on your first flight, and even if you haven’t even had a go on a simulator. But going back to the expectations thing, on your first flight out there, you might get confused about which button to push, get flustered, lose track of which way your drone is facing, etc. There’s a lot to pay attention to. That’s the part that takes time and practice to get right, being able to keep track of all those things, and train your fingers to push the right button, to the right degree, every time.
Even with all the finger controls to learn, and different aspects of the drone’s movements to master, you’d be surprised how fast the learning curve is. Even within just a few practice sessions, your skill level and confidence will be greatly improved. And the more you practice, the easier it will be.
What Kind of Drone is Best to Start With?
It’s important to consider before jumping on to the drone flying bandwagon, exactly what your hopes and goals are. This will have a huge influence on what type of drone you should start out with.
If your goal is to get right to aerial photography, and you’re not so concerned with the ins and outs of top-level flight control, the best place to start for you might be a midrange camera drone. These are definitely the easiest to fly and are very beginner-friendly. They come with a lot of smart features such as smart hovering, obstacle avoidance, and return-to-home buttons that help to achieve safe and successful flights.
Almost all camera drones come ready to fly (RTF), and these are what you think of as the typical off the shelf drones. They come with a controller (or have a downloadable controller app), and many even come with preprogrammable flight modes to plan an automated flight. This means that you can set the flight course, launch the drone, sit back and watch as it does its thing.
When we say toy drones, we’re talking about the really tiny ones, definitely under $100, and may even be safe to fly indoors. These are often going to come with a separate controller, and almost no smart features or sophisticated flight aids. They usually aren’t going to come with a camera either.
If your goal for drones is to absolutely master the controls, maybe get into drone racing, or just become an expert flyer, a toy drone is probably the way to go. It may seem counter-intuitive to start with such a small, cheap drone, but the very fact that it doesn’t come with all the extras means that you won’t be able to rely on them at all and just focus on mastering your flight skills.
Before Your First Flight
It’s easy to want to tear open the box, grab the drone and head outside as soon as it arrives. Tempting as that is, do yourself a favor and do your homework before you launch your first flight. It really will make for an easier and less frustrating first flight. Aside from the obvious things like charging up your batteries and controller, and knowing how to put on the propellers, you need to understand a few things about your drone functions. Here are a few things you should definitely have done or figured out before starting your first flight:
- Read the manual! Seems obvious, but it will help you avoid obvious pitfalls.
- Calibrate the compass. This may not be necessary in many toy drones, but your manual will have this information.
- Set the Return to Home (RTH) altitude. Do this before your first flight to make sure you don’t hit any overhead obstacles on your way home. Also, make sure you understand how the RTH function works on your particular drone model.
- Check your surroundings. Plan where to fly in advance. Don’t just head to the backyard (unless your backyard is big and open!). Especially for a first flight, this should be in an area with few or no trees, no overhead wires, etc.
- Check weather conditions. Don’t plan to fly in windy or rainy weather. If that means waiting till the next day, so be it. Even experienced pilots can struggle to control a drone in windy conditions.
- Know safety procedures and regulations. If your drone needs to be registered (any drone over .55 lbs needs to be registered with the FAA), make sure that’s done and the registration sticker is visible before flying. Know where you’re allowed to fly and not allowed to fly.
When you’re prepped and ready to get out for your first flight, just a couple more tips to help you have a smoother flight experience.
- After first take-off, plan to hover for about 30 seconds or more to verify that everything is working as it should. After this, you can begin experimenting with the controls and getting on your way.
- Use beginner mode, if it’s available on your drone, to set reasonable and safe parameters. This will help prevent your drone from getting out of your sight, or beyond the range of the controller.
- For your first few flights with a camera drone, don’t focus on the pictures, but instead, work on getting familiar with the flight controls. You can get to the pictures after a bit.
So what are you waiting for? Stop reading and go get that drone!