Do you want to learn how to fly a drone? Droneblog is the perfect place to start your journey!
In its brief existence, the drone business has grown at an incredible rate. These aircraft are currently used in a variety of industries to perform activities such as aerial mapping, surveillance, photogrammetry, and audiovisual productions, among others.
It doesn’t matter if your goal is to become a professional drone pilot or a flying enthusiast. This guide will teach you all you need to know about flying one of these cutting-edge birds safely.
Basic, intermediate and advanced maneuvers, setting up your drone, logbooks, and operations, understanding the major physics forces, and tips on safety are just a few of the topics you will find covered here.
So, let’s get started.
Chapter 1: Before you start
You’ve come here because you want to learn how to fly a drone, no doubt. But why is it that you want to fly a drone? Is it because some of your friends already have one or because you have always wanted to learn how to fly this amazing tool since it first appeared?
Why learn to fly a drone? 3 Reasons
There are some things you should know before flying but don’t worry, we are here to talk about them. Let’s start with the basics, which are the reasons to fly a drone (we will give you three).
- To create lasting memories
Have you ever been on vacation and thought: What if I could see this amazing place from a bird’s perspective? Now, thanks to drones, getting that breathtaking view is a reality.
With easy-to-carry drones such as the Mini 2, you can create stunning 4K videos and HDR images in just a few seconds, literally. Is your husband or wife on a shopping spree and you are bored to death in a heavenly location?
Now is your chance to record a video of the landscape or shoot that incredible 360° image that you dreamed of last night.
Thanks to the possibilities that drones provide, creating lasting memories has never been easier.
- To gain a work skill
As new technologies emerge, the working environment is constantly evolving. Having the necessary skills can make the difference between getting a job and not getting it.
Certain job candidates will greatly benefit from being certified drone operators. For example, if you work as a camera operator for an audiovisual company. Drone video footage is used today in almost every TV and cinema production, from sports to Hollywood blockbusters or documentaries. In this line of work, learning how to operate a drone is virtually a prerequisite.
Other jobs that have been around for decades, such as real estate photography, have started using drones to increase their chances of selling properties. The possibility of showcasing real estate from the sky is very useful not only to display the selling building but also the surrounding area. All in one.
Furthermore, these aircraft have created new job opportunities, such as acquiring 3D models from aerial photogrammetry or inspecting solar plants, jobs to keep in mind if you are considering becoming a professional drone pilot.
- Because it’s fun!
The fact that it is so much fun is perhaps the most important factor behind wanting to learn how to operate a drone.
Make no mistake, it will take you quite a few hours to become a master of the skies, but once you get to a level where you feel comfortable flying the drone in different scenarios, you will not be able to stop!
There is something inherently addictive about blasting through the air. Just be careful and take your time learning, as many people speed through the process and end up crashing their drones.
What to expect: Required Time, Learning curve, Costs, etc.
If you are a gamer, you will have an advantage over those who have never used a game controller in their lives. Flying a drone is very similar to flying some aircraft in a video game, especially if we compare it to simulators that allow us to use console / PC gamepads, such as DJI Flight Simulator.
How long will it take to learn to fly a drone?
Depending on your reasons for flying, the answer to this question will vary. Maybe you want to become a drone instructor and need 50 hours of flight time for that, or maybe you do not require any flight time and just want to learn slowly but surely.
Whatever your circumstances, you should schedule a flight at least once a week. Let’s assume you bought a DJI Mini 2, which is an excellent drone to start with, and the Fly More Combo, which comes with three batteries.
That implies that you will get around an hour of flight time every time you fly. If you go once a week, that means 4 hours per month or 48 hours per year.
Therefore, if you need 50 hours of flight time, and you go only once a week with that drone, you will need a whole year to achieve your goal. So, as I said, create a schedule according to your needs.
In my experience as an instructor, this will vary greatly depending on your natural ability to fly the drone. Some people are naturals and can do the basic maneuvers in just 10 minutes. Some others require more time to even feel comfortable with the idea of trying the maneuvers.
As a general rule, with 50 hours of flight time, you should feel pretty confident flying drones, especially if you usually fly one that you own and know well. However, be careful as being overconfident can result in crashes.
You can click or tap on this link to view buying guides, but keep in mind that there is a drone for any budget, so if you want to learn, money shouldn’t be an issue.
Learning to fly as an adult
Isn’t it true that being an adult is all about taking on responsibilities? Finding time to fly will be difficult at times; there is no way around it. But you also have some advantages.
Similarly, you may find yourself with some spare time on occasion, and you should take advantage of those opportunities to fly.
As an adult, you are:
- Highly motivated: You will be in charge of learning how to fly, but there is nothing to worry about, as adults have a higher sense of self-direction and motivation.
- Focused on achieving goals: Because you have been alive for long enough, you are aware that a learning process must have a goal. So, what’s yours? It can be spending time with your kid, acquiring a new work skill, etc. Set yours as soon as possible.
- Know how to get information: Learning to operate a drone is more than simply picking up the controller and flying the aircraft. Other considerations, such as determining if it is legal to fly where you plan to spend your next vacation, are also critical. Luckily, you already know this!
- Not afraid of asking for help: In this field, as a pro or enthusiast, you will need to ask for help more than once. Adults are less afraid to request help than kids or teens, so if you see yourself needing the help of another pilot, do not hesitate to ask. Having a copilot is always a great idea!
- Open to new ways of learning: Did you finish your drone pilot certificate and think that was it? You are wrong! The trip has just started, so buckle up, there will be turbulence! In flying a drone, you will need to learn many aspects related to aviation, so it won’t happen just in the classroom.
Chapter 2: Getting Ready
There it is, your shiny new drone waiting for you to fly it. That feeling is awesome! I have been flying for almost two years and every time I look at any of my drones, I get a similar sensation.
You are almost ready for take-off, but first, there are a few aspects that need preparation, such as getting your device ready and installing the aircraft firmware, among others.
Before you start learning about drones and taking control of your aircraft, there are certain terms of this industry that you should know. Let’s have a look at them.
- BVLOS: Beyond Visual Line of Sight. This term is used when you are flying your drone without having visual contact with the aircraft.
A clear example of flying BVLOS is when your drone is behind a building and you can’t see it, or when racing pilots fly their drones with FPV goggles.
This term is crucial since flying beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS) is commonly forbidden across the world and requires specific clearance.
- CTA: Controlled area. This refers to a region that is controlled airspace. Taking an international airport as a reference, the CTA is usually above the CTR (Controlled Traffic Region). The latter often surrounds the airport.
- EVLOS: Extended Visual Line of Sight. This is when your drone is beyond your visual line of sight, but you are using a spotter to maintain eye contact with the aircraft.
For this, you will need to have constant communication with the spotter, which is usually done by radio.
- Ground effect (drones): This is the distortion of the airflow circulating underneath the propellers due to their proximity to the ground. It can make you crash your drone when flying too close to the ground.
- GPS: The Global Positioning System (GPS) allows our drone to situate itself at a particular point of the planet with great accuracy.
It does so by capturing the signals sent by multiple satellites. This way, the aircraft can tell its speed, position, and altitude with precision.
- NOTAM: Notice to Airmen or Notice to Air Missions (US wording) is a notice that contains information important to those that intend to use a specific area of the National Airspace System (NAS).
It can, for example, prohibit pilots from flying in a specific zone on a particular day and/or time.
- Quadcopter: This is the most commonly used drone. It has four engines, each producing both lift and torque about its center of rotation, together with a drag force opposite to the vehicle’s flight direction.
- RePL: Remote pilot license. It’s the certification that you must have on you at all times when flying your drone.
- Return to Home (RTH): This feature allows the drone to safely return to a pre-established home point in case it loses signal with the controller, or if the pilot chooses to do so.
- RPAS: The Remotely Piloted Aircraft System is another name for a UAS.
- UAS: This term is widely used when talking about drones, although UAS (Unmanned Aircraft System) refers to the combination of the UAV and the systems that control it, including a ground-based controller, data links, and a system of communication with the aircraft.
- UAV: UAV (Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle) is by definition an aircraft without a human pilot. Therefore, our drone is a UAV. Not to be confused with UAS.
- VLOS: Visual line of sight. Flying VLOS means that you are seeing the drone visually. This is the safest method to fly since you can see any objects or birds that can cause it to crash.
Installing the fly application
You should download the fly app for your drone from the Play or Apple stores, depending on your device’s operating system. Some companies, such as DJI, have stopped distributing their applications on the Google Play Store, so you’ll have to download them through their official website.
Here is a list of some of the most popular fly apps:
- DJI Fly: For Android devices / For Apple devices
- DJI Go: For Android / For Apple
- Autel Sky: For Android / For Apple
- Autel Explorer: For Android / For Apple
- X-Hubsan 2: For Android / For Apple
- Fimi Navi Mini: For Android / For Apple
You should keep your drone’s firmware up-to-date to ensure that it is in good working order. It’s also a good idea to keep the battery and the controller updated. It may help you avoid certain problems, and perhaps unwanted legal matters.
Chapter 3: The Fly Operation
One thing you need to think about is how to keep yourself motivated when flying your drone. What encourages me is to consider my operations as if they were some kind of military mission, where everything needs to be conducted perfectly.
Flying a drone is so much fun, but it can also be extremely dangerous, for example, to those unaware of having a mechanical bird above their heads. If you lose control and crash it into someone, it could be fatal. This is why you should prepare for your flight operations carefully.
The operation’s objectives
Knowing what you are going to be doing in the field will always save you time and prepare you for some time-related contingencies. This does not mean that you should not improvise when flying, but always have a clear idea of why you are there specifically.
Emergency landing zones
So far, I haven’t crashed any drones outdoors (although I have at home just being silly). However, in very rare circumstances, you could start losing power from one of the motors, experiencing a strange performance in your flight.
Thinking about emergency landing zones before you start flying might be the difference between having to fix your drone or having to buy a new one in this and other emergency scenarios. It may even prevent someone from getting hurt!
Topography and obstacles
Drones, particularly those without sensors, are vulnerable to colliding with trees, buildings, and other objects as a consequence of pilot error.
If your drone has an obstacle avoidance system, in most cases it will prevent you from crashing against something, but there is no better prevention than knowing the area where you are flying.
For those times that you won’t be able to check the area of operation in person, the use of Google Earth’s terrain layer, or topographic maps, can help you get an approximate idea of what you will find in reality.
In the past few years, most countries have been implementing an online system to check the airspace restrictions of a given area. These websites give you clear information about airspace class, restricted areas, location coordinates, etc.
Below you can find a few examples (click/tap on the links to open the website version):
Remember, pilot, that only YOU are responsible for following the drone laws of whatever country you are planning on operating in.
Certain areas, such as those located on a CTR (controlled traffic region), will require you to communicate with an airport tower or similar buildings in charge of the airspace.
For example, to carry out drone activities in certain zones in Spain, you must be certified as a radio operator. So, once again, make sure you satisfy all legal criteria to use your drone in your specified region before flying.
A crucial part of not getting into legal trouble when flying your drone is having all your documentation with you.
Personally, I like to have it digitally, as in my country it is not required to have any physical documents, but check what is needed in yours.
These are the most common documents to be carried for your drone operations:
- Your national ID card, driver’s license, or passport
- Pilot certification
- Drone insurance
- Radio operator certification (usually only required to fly in restricted airspace)
- Waivers (if needed)
- First aid certification (required in certain drone jobs)
There was no day when I first started flying my DJI Mini 2 that I didn’t forget something. This is why I started making checklists for practically every facet of my drone operations.
Take a look at the following checklists, they might be of use to you.
- Aircraft Limitations
This checklist is focused on analyzing the technical limitations of the drone I will be flying. It involves checking for the first time the altitude and surroundings of the area, the weather conditions, and the necessary documentation to be taken with me.
☐ UAS Operator Registration
☐ Flying Above Sea Level at +4000m
☐ Obtain Permissions
☐ UAS Insurance Documentation
☐ Winds of Up to 10 m/s (36 km/h)
☐ Avoid Manned A/C
☐ UAS Pilot Certificate
☐ NO Take-off from Moving Objects
☐ Avoid crowds
☐ Temperature? 0° to 40°
☐ Careful Taking-off from Sand
☐ Avoid Prohibited Areas
- The day before flying
I go through several things on this checklist that could have already been verified, but that may need to be revised due to their changing nature, such as weather conditions.
It also includes other aspects, such as charging the batteries, updating the fly app or the firmware, etc.
☐ Check Weather
☐ Shot List and Storyboard
☐ Controller Charged
☐ App Updated
☐ Check NOTAMs
☐ Ground Station Charged
☐ Flight Route / Area Planned
☐ Pre-Notification Requirements
☐ SD Card Formatted
☐ Site Survey / Obstacle Check
☐ First Aid Kit Packed
☐ Equipment Packed
☐ Firmware Update
☐ Aircraft Batteries Charged
In the pre-flight checklist, I review the facets that need to be considered just before taking off. Things like checking that I brought all the equipment, inspecting the aircraft for faults, double-checking for obstacles, or establishing a landing point are just a few of the things I check on this list.
☐ All Equipment Brought
☐ Set Comms
☐ Home Point (RTH Height)
☐ Inspect UAS for Faults
☐ Warn Spectators
☐ Check SD Card on A/C
☐ Compass Calibrated
☐ Check Controller
☐ Propellers Tightened
☐ Check Signal Strength
☐ Double Check Obstacles
☐ Establish Take-off Point
☐ Batteries Properly Fitted
☐ Check Satellite Strength
☐ Establish Landing Point
☐ Battery Temperature
☐ Check Wind Speed
☐ Turn-off Phone Wi-Fi
- Take off
This list is the shortest, but it does not mean that it is the least important. On some occasions, there can be moments of tension before flying (for whatever reason), so it is good having a take-off checklist to make sure that you are not making any mistakes.
☐ Turn-On Controller
☐ Turn-On UAS
☐ Hover for 15 seconds at 5 m
☐ Record to Monitor Behavior and Sound
☐ Check All Controls are Responsive
- Pack up
The pack-up list was the last one I created on my tablet. Day after day, I realized that it was taking me too long to pick up all the stuff required for my drone operations, and I concluded that it was due to poor organization.
☐ Sun hood
☐ Landing pad
☐ Power bank
Chapter 4: Flight Modes
Regardless of the brand of your drone, these aircraft usually come with some pre-programmed flight modes. DJI, the industry-leading manufacturer, includes four: cine, normal, sport, and ATTI.
Except for the ATTI mode, which is initiated in-flight when the drone’s GPS disconnects from the global satellite set, these flight modes are typically adjustable, allowing the operator to adapt them to his or her individual needs.
Cine mode is the most sluggish of the four. It’s set up in such a way that the pilot can shoot seamless cinematic video. In this mode, the aircraft’s horizontal speed and yaw movement are both reduced, yielding an extremely distinctive effect.
Normal mode encompasses the parameter configuration that should be suitable for most scenarios. The aircraft travels at a much higher speed than in Cine mode, but slower than in Sport mode.
This is ideal for long-distance flights, as it achieves a decent mix of performance and energy usage. However, if we want to film any cinematic videos, we will not be able to do so since the yaw rotates significantly quicker (nothing that cannot be adjusted though).
For those that are looking for an adrenaline rush, they should set their drones to Sport mode. It offers the best aircraft performance but at the cost of battery consumption.
Sport mode will put the drone on its technical limit, and even though that usually means fun, it can also translate into crashes. The higher the speed, the longer it takes for the drone to come to a complete stop in the air, so keep this important detail in mind.
If you own a drone with an obstacle avoidance system, be aware that activating Sport mode will automatically disable this system, so you will be on your own in this regard. Try flying in open spaces while using this mode.
If you thought that the Sport mode is dangerous, maybe you have not experienced the ATTI mode. Short for ‘ATTITUDE’, this mode is enabled when your drone loses its GPS signal.
The loss of the Global Positioning System (GPS) might be disastrous for the aircraft, since any winds can quickly knock it off course, making it crash against obstacles.
In ATTI mode, you will have to continually counteract the wind force, which may be a lot of fun but also super risky!
Not all drones include an FPV (First Person View) mode. DJI aircraft, however, can access this feature thanks to third-party apps such as Litchi.
The user enjoys a flight experience as if he or she were flying onboard the drone. The FPV mode is ideal for enjoying the incredible views that birds get to see every day, as well as for doing inspection work, as you are more engaged in what you see.
However, because the drone is not in your visual line of sight, you are flying BVLOS while using FPV goggles. Depending on your country’s legislation, you may need to have a spotter with you to legally fly like this.
Chapter 5: The controls
So far, we’ve been helping you through the process of planning the flying operation, which should save you time and keep you from having problems like crashing the drone or getting into legal battles.
Now, you are finally ready to start flying your drone, and we are going to teach you how to do it, from the most basic maneuvers to the most difficult ones. Let us get started!
Drone Physics: Major Forces
The big difference between driving a vehicle and flying a drone is that the latter involves more complex physics.
Without entering the technical world of equations, these are the main forces acting on a drone.
- Gravity: Due to the drone’s mass, gravity pulls it down. Therefore, the higher the weight of the aircraft, the more power is required to lift it and make it move.
- Lift: This is the vertical force acting on the drone. The most important element that deals with it is the propeller, which lifts the body of the drone against gravity.
- Thrust: This is the action that occurs in the motion’s direction. As the drone is hovering, the thrust is completely vertical, but when it moves forward or backward, the thrust force gets inclined.
- Drag: This is the force opposite to the thrust, or the force contrary to the motion, due to the air’s resistance. The aerodynamic shape of the quadcopter reduces drag.
When you drive a car, the vehicle is always facing in the same direction as you are.
When flying a drone, however, if you are flying it towards you, while it’s facing you, you might get the impression that you should move the right stick backward, while in fact, you have to keep moving it forward.
- Moving Forward/Backward (Pitch)
For you to become a skillful pilot, you need to understand the three aircraft principal axes in which the drone operates. From now on, pay strict attention to the figures, as they will help you perform the following maneuvers.
The pitch axis, also known as transverse, comes from drawing a line from left to right. The resulting motion is called pitch.
- If we push the controller’s right stick forward, the back engines will spin faster, causing the aircraft to move forward.
- If we push the right stick backward, the front motors will spin faster, causing the aircraft to move backward.
- Moving sideways (roll)
The roll axis, also called longitudinal, is the result of drawing a line from the back to the front of the aircraft. The resulting movement is called roll, and it makes the drone go left and right.
- If we push the right stick of the controller to the left, the motors located on the right side of the drone will start to spin faster, making the aircraft move to the left.
- If we push the right stick of the controller to the right, the motors on the left side will start spinning faster, causing the aircraft to move right.
- Rotational movement (Yaw)
The yaw axis, or vertical, makes the aircraft rotate to the left or right while it stays level with the ground.
- Pushing the left stick of the controller to the left will cause the front left and back right motors to spin faster, causing the aircraft to rotate left.
- Pushing the left stick of the controller to the right will cause the front right and back left motors to spin faster, which will make the aircraft to rotate right.
- Going up and down (Throttle)
The throttle is not a directional element in pitch, roll, and yaw, but it controls the altitude and speed of the aircraft.
- If you push the left stick of the controller up, all the motors will spin faster, making the aircraft ascend.
- If you push the left stick of the controller down, all the motors will spin faster in the other direction, making the aircraft descend.
- Hovering in position (ATTI mode)
As we discussed earlier, the ATTI or ATTITUDE mode is activated whenever the aircraft loses its GPS signal. Alternatively, some drones, such as the Phantom 4 Pro, can manually activate this mode.
The dangerous thing about ATTI mode is that the drone will drift in the direction of the wind if we do not take action. Therefore, if the wind is blowing from the left to the right side of the aircraft, we will push the right stick to the left to counteract the wind force and maintain the drone in its original position.
Note: When practicing ATTI mode, make sure you are flying in a wide-open region without too high winds for your drone.
Facing different directions
One of the most difficult things about flying a drone is being able to feel like we are on board when flying it in our visual line-of-sight (VLOS).
Pushing the right stick forward while flying the drone in front of us with its back facing us causes the drone to travel away from our position. However, if we move the right stick forward when the drone’s front is facing us, the quadcopter will travel toward us.
This seemingly unimportant fact is an essential part of flying a drone. Sometimes it gets hard to “get on board” the drone, as we are not used to doing that. Practice this from time to time.
Chapter 6: Intermediate Flying Maneuvers
So far, we have covered all fundamental aspects that you need to know to prepare for your flying operations, as well as some basic maneuvers to get you started in this field. Continue paying attention to the figures, as they will help you understand the maneuvers more easily.
Now, it’s time to up our game and start covering what will make you a great drone pilot. Most of the following maneuvers combine the use of both left and right sticks to be performed. Let’s get started.
To perform the square, you will need to focus on the right stick only, so it should be fairly easy with some practice. To do a simple square, follow these steps:
- Make sure you are in a wide-open area.
- Elevate the drone to a safe height. 16 feet (5 m) should be enough in most cases.
- Slowly start moving the right stick of your controller to the right.
- When you think you have reached the first corner of your square, move the stick up for the drone to go forward.
- Move the stick to the left once you have reached the next corner.
- On the next corner, move the stick down.
- In the last corner, move the stick to your right.
- If done correctly, you should be back at the starting point.
The yawing squares
Making a square only with the right stick was easy, right? Let’s try to do it with the help of the yaw, so we will be rotating the aircraft with the left stick, while we fly it forward with the right one.
- Elevate the drone to a safe height.
- Position yourself behind the aircraft, then rotate it 90° to its right (push the left stick to the right to do it).
- Push the right stick forward to allow the drone to slowly begin advancing.
- When you have reached the position where the first corner of your square should be, push the left stick to the left to yaw left.
- Continue going forward by pushing the right stick up.
- On the next corner, yaw left with the left stick.
- Continue going forward again.
- Once again, yaw left with the left stick.
- Continue going forward.
- Push the left stick to the left for the last yaw.
- Continue going forward to reach the starting point of the square.
By now, you should have mastered making squares with your drone in the air. Well done! Let’s now make a new figure, the circle.
The process will be the same. We will start doing a circle only with the right stick, then we will use the yaw to draw it with the head of the drone.
- Elevate the drone to a safe height.
- Move the right stick to the right to slowly make the drone fly.
- Then, all you have to do is draw a circle with the right stick (do it calmly)
- Push the right stick right and forward.
- Then just forward.
- Then left and forward.
- Then just left.
- Then left and backward.
- Then backward.
- Then right and forward.
- Then right (you have reached the starting point).
The yawing circles
Next, we are going to perform another circle, but this time we will use the yaw to make it, just like we did previously with the square.
Making a circle yawing is super easy:
- Elevate your drone to a safe height.
- Continuously push the right stick up to make the drone go forward.
- Continuously push the left stick to the left for yawing.
- Keep both sticks in the same position to make the drone draw a perfect circle.
Let’s move on to the next figure, the triangle.
Remember that we are just giving you some ways to fly your drone, things that will surely improve your skills. However, don’t forget to try drawing these shapes in different ways once you have mastered the ones we have shown you.
Time to see how to make a triangle with your drone. This time, use only the right stick of your controller.
- Elevate your drone to a safe height.
- Once the aircraft is hovering, push the right stick to the right to slowly move in that direction.
- When you are ready to draw the first corner of your triangle, do so by pushing the right stick up and to the left side at the same time. That is, in a diagonal way.
- Continue pushing the right stick up and left until you reach the next corner of your mental triangle.
- In the next corner, push the right stick down and the left stick diagonally to begin drawing the next face of your triangle.
- Continue pushing the right stick down and left diagonally.
- In the last corner, simply push the stick to the right.
- You have reached the starting position.
The yawing triangle
The same as before, we are going to make a triangle in the air with our drone, but this time we will use the yaw to do it.
This is how it is done:
- Take off and rise to a safe height.
- While the drone is facing away from you, rotate it 90° to your right.
- Push the right stick to cause the drone to begin moving forward.
- Whenever you have reached the corner of your imaginary triangle, push the left stick to the left while keeping the right stick up to continue moving forward, but also yawing left, drawing the corner.
- Continue drawing the second face of your triangle by pushing the right stick up.
- On the next corner, just like before, yaw to the left while keeping the drone moving forward.
- Keep going forward to draw the last face of the triangle.
- Once again, in the last corner, yaw to the left while moving forward.
- Continue to reach the starting point.
Chapter 7: Advanced Flying Maneuvers
Hopefully, at this point, you have been practicing the basic and intermediate maneuvers that we have shown you in this article. As a result, we anticipate that you will be prepared for the next challenge.
The following advanced flying maneuvers require the highest concentration of them all, as they combine the use of both sticks, and move in all possible aircraft axes.
It is worth mentioning that you should practice all of the figures in this document both as shown and inverted.
Using the triangle as an example, I demonstrated how to draw it by moving the drone to the right of your location and then yawing to the left. You should, however, practice it yawing to the right as well.
This is because we have all favored sides to draw figures with our drones. It is a lot simpler for me to yaw to the left, and my explanations reflect this. It might be the other way around for you. Don’t forget to practice drawing figures from all sides.
The next figure we are going to draw with our drones is the spiral. This is the first time in this guide that we will be pushing one of the sticks diagonally while using the other one at the same time.
You will notice that the complexity has gone a step higher, and you might fail to do it properly the first several attempts, but don’t worry, it has happened to the best of us UAS pilots. Just keep trying.
Here is how to draw a spiral with your drone:
- Elevate your drone to a safe height.
- Have the drone in front of you, facing your right.
- Push at the same time the left stick up and to the left, diagonally, and the right stick up.
- Maintain both sticks in the same position to slowly draw the spiral.
- Once you have ascended to a high position set as your limit, try drawing a descending spiral.
- Remember to do both ascending and descending spirals yawing both left and right.
The following figure is a bit more complicated than the spiral, but only if you do it ascending and descending (and you should).
This time, you will be drawing in the sky an 8. Yes, the number 8. It doesn’t matter how big, we will leave that to you.
Let’s do it!
- Elevate your drone to a safe height.
- You can consider your take-off spot the starting point for your 8, or choose another one.
- The number 8 is drawn by keeping steady two different stick combinations.
- For the upper part of the 8, maintain the left stick yawing to the left while the right stick is up, making the drone move forward.
- For the lower part, maintain the left stick yawing to the right while the right stick keeps moving the drone forward.
- To make it more interesting (and difficult), fly the drone ascending/descending while yawing left and right. Be aware, though, that this won’t be easy at first, so be careful.
Ice Cream Cone
Lastly, we will be drawing something for all you summer lovers; the ice cream cone. This figure is quite interesting, as it is great to draw it both vertically and horizontally (that’s right, try to do this with the other ones too).
As usual, once you have mastered the figure, use any combination you like to make it more interesting. The first variation you should try is making the cone while ascending and descending, but you already knew that, right?
This is how you draw an ice cream cone with your drone:
- Elevate your drone to a safe height.
- Visualize the 6 waypoints from which your cone will be drawn.
- Position the drone so that it is facing point 1 (remember that this point is much higher in height).
- Push both sticks up to make the drone move forward while ascending to waypoint 1.
- In waypoint 2, you will start drawing “the ice cream part” of the cone. To do it, maintain both left and right sticks in the same position. The left stick should be yawing left, while the right stick continues to make the drone move forward.
- Once you have reached waypoint 6, rotate the drone using the left stick until it is facing away from you.
- Initiate the maneuver to make the drone return to its starting position by pushing both sticks down. This will make the drone move backward while descending.
I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t emphasize how crucial it is for you to develop your flying abilities to combine the techniques you’ve learned here.
The easiest way is to add ascending and descending motions to your figure drawing. It might seem easy, but it makes things so much harder, as moving the sticks diagonally feels extremely awkward at first.
The other way to vary the figures is by visualizing them horizontally and vertically. For example, if you have drawn a square horizontally, try next doing it vertically, which will involve a series of ascending and descending maneuvers (not practiced when done horizontally).
Chapter 8: Safety tips
We have previously covered the majority of the precautions you should take when flying your drone, but we thought it would be even better if we added a list of things to keep in mind.
We recommend that you look at the following lists from time to time to remind yourself about these important aspects.
Basic safety tips
The first list consists of fundamental safety precautions that you may forget from time to time simply because you believe they are easy to remember. It occurs regularly.
However, keep in mind that any error, no matter how minor, might lead to an accident that we should constantly strive to prevent.
For example, a damaged battery could make the drone fall from the sky abruptly, or not updating your home point could mean that your drone won’t be able to return to where you are in case it loses connection with the controller.
To prevent those situations, and more, let us have a look at the following list:
- Check regulations and then check them again.
- Whenever possible, fly in open areas.
- Fly in your visual line of sight (VLOS).
- Do not fly over groups of people.
- Avoid flying your drone without a GPS signal.
- Put your device in airplane mode while flying your drone.
- Never fly inside a stadium or near airports unless you have permission.
- Check for emergency services that are flying in your area.
- Make sure the weather is good for the operation.
- Land your quadcopter if a manned aircraft is close to yours.
- Never fly under the influence.
- Avoid flying through clouds or fog.
- Respect people’s privacy.
- Stay away from rotating propellers.
- Your drone should be able to withstand the weather conditions. Check them again!
- Ensure that your insurance is not expired and that it fits the operation (recreational vs professional).
- Check the battery power.
- Inspect your drone for faults, including the propellers, motors, and any other aspect you might think could be damaged.
- Calibrate the compass.
- Update the home point before departing from the take-off location.
- Consider landing your drone when the battery is at 25% of charge.
- Upon landing, turn off the aircraft, then the remote controller.
- Do not charge the batteries right after you’ve landed (they need to cool off).
- Attach the gimbal protector as soon as you have turned off the drone.
- Store the aircraft properly.
One of the most common concerns for drone pilots is ‘flyaways,’ which occur when your drone gets lost in the air and you are unable to control it. It must be quite frustrating.
This is something so worrying that DJI back in January 2021 launched flyaway coverage in its Care Refresh program. The DJI insurance covers you from flyaways, but you would still need to pay quite a bit to get a new drone. Although, it’s much less than without being insured!
To avoid having to deal with this issue, here are a few tips to keep in mind:
- Do not fly until the home point is established.
- Watch out for any compass interference.
- Maintain your drone within your visual line of sight.
- Reset the home point if you have moved from the take-off position.
- Adjust the return to home altitude appropriately, making sure that the drone will not encounter any obstacles when going back home automatically (particularly important if your aircraft has no obstacle avoidance system).
- Monitor your battery to prevent the aircraft from doing an emergency landing.
- Do not fly further than the range of your remote controller.
- Avoid flying in ATTI mode. This is a big cause of flyaways, as the drone will drift towards the direction of the wind if the pilot does not counteract that force.
- If you are not sure about something (battery condition, wind, connectivity, etc.) bring the drone back to its home point.
Chapter 9: Drone Maintenance
Maintenance is a critical component that prevents you from experiencing difficulties, yet it is often neglected. Taking care of your drone is essential, and because we are teaching you how to fly it in this document, we thought that we should also show you how to care for it.
The batteries are a crucial part of your aircraft. From them, it gets the electricity required to feed power to the motor. Connected to the motors are the propellers, responsible for lifting the drone into the air.
Here are a few tips to use batteries properly to maximize their life span:
- Read and follow the battery guidelines in your drone’s manual.
- Keep your battery firmware updated.
- Be aware of the operating temperature range of the battery and never go above or below it.
- Use the manufacturer charger to charge them.
- Do not store them at 100%.
- Avoid discharging them to 0%.
- Make sure the battery is not swollen, leaky, or damaged.
Your drone’s propellers are in charge of lifting the aircraft into the air, thus they are crucial.
DJI advises changing them every three months, but according to the DJI forum, 56 percent of the pilots who responded to the survey said they only change them when they are bent, chipped, or damaged.
It would not hurt to change them every three months, though it does not seem to be necessary unless you are flying many hours every week.
Here are some tips on how to maintain the propellers of your drone.
- Check that they spin properly.
- Listen to hear if there is any strange sound going on.
- Make sure they are tightly fitted.
- Clean them after every flight using toothpaste.
- Clean the gears after the propellers have been removed.
- Before storing them check for any damage, like cracks. You can do this by bending them lightly. Change them if you notice any problems.
- Always have spare propellers in your drone bag.
- Write it down in your drone logbook every time you change or clean them.
- Do not be cheap with propellers, as they can fly away from the motors if they are cracked, with the serious risk of injuring someone.
The gimbal is one of the most expensive parts to repair on your drone. During the pandemic, I crashed my Mini 2 at home and had to pay 220 euros for the repair. Ouch!
Fortunately, taking care of it is simple: DO NOT crash!
In addition to the obvious, make sure that you put on the gimbal cover as soon as you turn off your drone.
It is obvious that the motors are an essential part of why your drone is staying up in the air. While gliders can fly without engines, the lift of the quadcopter is based on the power of its motor. Therefore, if one fails, the aircraft will crash.
Let us take a look at all the things you should do to take care of your drone’s motors:
- Inspect them before every flight.
- Remove any dirt from them after flying, especially if you have been operating in a dusty area.
- Clean them with a bristle brush, or a cloth.
- If you have been operating under light rain, dry the motors once you have landed the drone.
- Write down any maintenance done on your drone in its logbook.
In terms of drone maintenance, the MicroSD card is frequently neglected. A brief test every now and then, on the other hand, can save you from losing vital data.
To maintain your microSD card, download the following programs according to your operating system:
With any of these programs, you can check the performance of your MicroSD card by doing a simple and quick test, so it will not steal much of your time.
If there are any problems with your flash drive, the program will notify you. To avoid difficulties, you should consider changing your MicroSD card. However, in my experience, there is some wiggle room between reading the alert and your drive breaking. But don’t take any chances.
Another technique to tell whether your MicroSD card is performing strangely is to see if the speed in the test matches the speed listed on the card’s packaging. If it claims it should read 100 MB/s but only reads 50 MB/s, something is wrong.
Your drone logbook is at the core of your maintenance activities. It is essential to organize in this area to avoid future hassles. Remember that the safety of the operation should always come first, and keeping your drone in good working order is an important element of that.
Things to write down in your drone maintenance logbook:
- Checks for faults in the motors.
- Motor clean-ups.
- Battery defects or maintenance duties, such as clean-ups.
- Battery replacements.
- Propeller cleaning.
- Propeller change.
- Drone body clean-ups.
- Any drone part replacements, such as the arms.
In my case, I keep a logbook in Excel for each of my drones. It’s simple to keep up with and back up on the cloud. Aside from that, I can simply copy the file and save it on an external hard drive.
Here are a few examples of drone logbooks for maintenance:
|RPAS model||DJI Mini 2|
|In-service date||January 20th, 2021|
|Maximum Take-off weight||250 g|
|Max wind resistance||37 km/h|
|Maximum flight time||31 min|
|Max Transmission Distance||4000 m|
|RPAS Maintenance Log – |
DJI Mini 2
|Date||Description of maintenance or defect||Name/Signature|
|28/03/2022||Motor clean-up||Dan C.|
|16/03/2022||Propeller cleaning||Dan C.|
|14/03/2022||Clean-up of the controller||Dan C.|
|02/03/2022||Tighten propellers||Dan C.|
|19/02/2022||Motor check-up||Dan C.|
Another excellent method for keeping a logbook is to use one of the free internet services, such as Dronelogbook.
These services provide you with an online solution to record any maintenance you do on your drone, along with flight data and other useful statistics.
Personally, I use Dronelogbook for my drone maintenance duties, while I also use Air Data to log my flights. Air Data is without a doubt the best place to log your flight data, check statistics, telemetry, etc. It supports most drone fly apps, such as DJI Fly, DJI Go, Parrot FreeFlight, Autel Explorer, Drone Deploy, Drone Harmony, Litchi, and many others.
Unfortunately, Air Data does not include a drone maintenance logbook in its free plan.
This is all for today. Hopefully, you are now confident in flying your drone in many different scenarios. For sure, you should be able to perform quite a few interesting maneuvers, right? If not, get out there and do it!