Flying a drone can be harder than it looks, but with a bit of practice and knowledge of the basic set of skills you have to apply, it can be learned.
By breaking down each of these skills into separate parts it’ll be easier to master them, and when you put them all together you will have successfully learned how to pilot a quadcopter.
So, how exactly do you fly a drone?
There are a few key parts to learn when piloting a drone, including maintaining altitude, controlling the throttle, steering, and knowing what to do in harsh conditions or adverse terrain. Learning each of these skills is what’s required to become a proficient drone operator, but they will take time to master.
This guide can walk you through the basic skills needed to get started and with your own commitment to practice, you’ll slowly start to build up confidence and mastery of the controls.
Drones can offer hours of enjoyment and present an entertaining challenge to learn them proficiently, so it’s well worth it for the rewards.
How Do You Fly A Drone?
Just like learning any other skill, learning how to fly a drone is about breaking it down into the smaller, easy to manage skills and trying to get a handle of each of them separately.
This includes learning the specific controls of your drone, getting into the air, steering, maintaining altitude, and landing successfully. There are three key things that a drone does in the air:
- Hover: Maintaining altitude and staying in the same position.
- Climb: The act of gaining altitude or climbing higher into the sky and away from earth.
- Descend: This is going back down to earth and needs to be mastered for landing and steering.
There is a definite learning curve when it comes to piloting a drone and it’s not something that people pick up straight away, so don’t assume that it’ll be as easy as it appears to be.
You first need to master the controller and understand the purpose of each of the buttons, and although most are laid out the same, there could be specifics to learn.
Another important part of learning to fly your drone is studying your surroundings whenever you’re taking it out to practice.
Pay close attention to the terrain, where your planned flight path will be, and what weather conditions could have an impact on your flight. This will come as second nature as you learn to fly, so it’s best to make it a habit right away.
Are Drones Hard To Operate?
The short answer is no, but that is only once you’ve mastered the controls and know the basic skills.
People find it intimidating the first time they pick up a drone and realize that it’s actually harder than others make it seem, but keep in mind that those people would have dedicated hours of effort to practicing their skills.
Flying a drone means controlling the four rotors to propel the device so you can climb, descend, or hover.
You also use these to steer and make turns, so it’s important to get a handle of how they work and how your specific control system moves them.
There are hundreds of different drones on the market and some will be easier to operate than others, and it will also depend on your skill level.
Therefore, choosing a model that’s intended for beginners gives you a better shot at getting a handle on how they operate and what the controls for each system do.
With a basic understanding of the controller, you can start to practice the various skills needed to fly.
As your skills progress, you might feel comfortable moving up to a higher speed, trying a new location, or even upgrading your drone to one with a bit more power.
How To Take Off And Land
The first thing any drone pilot must master is the takeoff, but just as important is the landing.
Before you do either of these, you need to check your surroundings to make sure it’s clear and also take a quick look at the drone’s battery and other performance stats.
You should always leave yourself extra battery time to do both successfully, otherwise, a crash will be imminent.
To take off from the ground, power up the drone and slowly increase the throttle so that it starts to lift, aiming for just a few feet off the ground at first.
While doing this, you should be keeping an eye on your surroundings as well as the status of the drone’s performance. With everything clear, you can continue increasing altitude and then take off.
Landing The Drone
When you’re ready to come back down, let anyone in the landing area know that the drone is returning.
Slow down your speed and start moving towards the landing spot, aiming for a very slow and gentle return as you lower it down to the ground.
How To Maintain Altitude In The Air
Some people find maintaining altitude harder than anything else, as it requires you to keep the drone steady.
Hovering is a great skill to have for those wanting to take photos and videos as it ensures a steady view.
Make sure the propellers have stopped completely before going powering down and going to collect it.
Hovering will require you to master the throttle for success, as you’ll need to first get yourself into the air with it and then use the right stick to make adjustments that will keep your drone up in place.
Sometimes, the left stick will also have to be adjusted to stop the drone from turning around completely.
Start by practicing getting your drone just two feet off the ground and hovering there. You can make adjustments as needed so that it maintains altitude.
When you feel more confident, try hovering a little higher off the ground until you’re ready to land, and then you can pull back on the throttle to do so.
How To Steer Your Drone
Controlling the drone once it’s in the air is one of the easier parts of learning to pilot.
Once you can bring your quadcopter to a hover, it will be a cinch to master.
You have to constantly hold the throttle forward so it stays in the air, and with the other stick, you are controlling the direction it goes in.
- Pushing the stick forward will move the copter forward;
- Pushing the stick to the right will move it to the right;
- Pushing the stick to the left will move it to the left;
- If it starts to drop in altitude, simply push the throttle up more to give it power as you move.
How To Navigate Through Dense Areas
As a general rule, you should be flying in clear areas when you’re learning how to master the controls of your drone.
This includes avoiding any obstacles or people that might be in the flight path.
Some drones come with built-in obstacle avoidance sensors and technology but this isn’t always reliable and shouldn’t be your only fallback.
If your drone does get caught up in dense areas, the best approach is to try and land it safely and then go to collect it once it’s on the ground.
Without the skills to get it out of dense areas you’ll likely end up doing damage to it when it hits a tree or other obstacle.
For those with a bit more skill, flying through dense areas like forests and be a fun challenge.
Depending on the speed you’re traveling and just how dense the area is, you’ll need to have solid control of your steering and altitude in order to fly through successfully.
How To Navigate During Strong Winds
Before taking your drone out for a fly, you should always check the weather conditions and know what to expect.
You want to avoid flying a drone in harsh winds because of the very real possibility that you could lose control and your drone will fly out of the control range, and you might never get it back.
If you have a model capable of fighting wind gusts you can do so by controlling the pitch of the drone, but this is more for advanced users. For everyone else, you can fight the wind by pushing in the opposite direction to try and gain control.
If the wind is stronger on the left, fly into it so that it counteracts the push of direction, and the same goes for the right.
This can take some practice to get used to and it won’t always be successful, as it depends on the type of drone you’re flying, its capabilities, and the strength of the wind.
Ultimately, though, you should be returning your copter home as soon as you feel conditions changing and getting out of your control, or if speeds are between 10 to 20 miles per hour.
If the winds pick up and you’re unable to bring it home, you could lose the drone altogether or it might suffer serious damage.
Learning How To Crash Correctly
One major part of learning how to fly a drone is crashing and it’s something that all drone pilots have to experience.
Without knowing how to crash properly you run the risk of ruining the drone, so you have to be prepared for when it happens.
A crash can not only damage the drone but can cause serious damage if it hits another person or animal due to the fast speed and toughness of the rotor blades.
The most important thing to do is turn off the throttle immediately so that the copter blades stop spinning.
Without these rotating, there’s less chance that they’ll be damaged and the motor won’t be affected by the impact, so make that your first priority.
Some drones come with propeller guards installed or as an additional attachment, and if not it’s advisable to invest in some.
These will protect the propeller in the case of a crash and even if they continue to spin, they won’t be able to hit anything like branches or rocks on the ground because they’ll be covered.
Even if your throttle doesn’t cut off in time, these will provide you with adequate backup.
The Rules For Flying A Drone
Part of being a responsible drone owner and pilot is understanding the rules and regulations in place regarding these hobby aircraft.
Flying a drone is completely legal within the US but there are specific rules that you must adhere to. For recreational and hobbyist use, these are some of the basic guidelines to follow:
- A drone must weigh less than 55lbs to be safe to fly.
- You can’t fly your drone above 400 feet and it should always be within your line of sight.
- You must never fly the drone near emergency response efforts, other aircraft, or traffic control towers.
- If you plan on flying near within five miles of a traffic control tower or airport, you must notify them of your plans and adhere to their response.
- All drones should be registered with the FAA for recreational use.
- Check with the public area that you’re flying in to find out what their rules are regarding drones and be respectful of other people.
Using The Right Settings On The Drone
All drones are built differently and it’s up to you as the owner to understand the specific settings and functions of the copter you’re piloting.
The settings one your drone will have a huge impact on how it flies and operates so take some time to study the manual before you even attempt to take it off the ground.
These are some things you’ll want to keep in mind:
- GPS-Not all drones have a built-in GPS but those that do will require a check before take off. Make sure the home settings are correct and the GPS icon is showing a strong signal
- Calibration-Before each flight, you have to recalibrate the drone. This ensures that the compass built into your drone has the correct readings. This is especially important when you’re flying in a new area that you’re not sure of, in case it gets lost
- Modes– The two main speeds your drone has is automatic and manual, however not every model will feature both. Automatic is better used when you’re learning how to operate the craft as it can be more forgiving when you make an error. Don’t attempt to switch over to manual mode until you’re confident you can fly the drone safely which includes all aspects of taking off, landing, flight, and safety precautions
- Speed-Some drones come with different speeds that allow you to move up or down depending on your skills. Start off with a slower speed to practice all of the basics and you can increase this as you gain confidence.
- Battery-The battery should always be fully charged before a flight. Drone batteries don’t last very long and you need to factor in the take-off and landing time, giving yourself enough time to do both safely.
Learning how to fly a drone can be a lot of fun but it requires effort on your part to learn, as well as a respect for the rules and local laws.
As a drone is considered an aircraft by governing bodies, it’s a hobby that requires extra consideration.
These are some frequently asked questions to do with drones and learning to fly them that might make it easier to master.
Do You Need A License To Fly A Drone?
Depending on what you’ll be using your drone for, you may or may not require a remote pilot license.
For recreational use, no license is required to fly a drone.
However, if you intend to fly a drone for commercial reasons, you’ll need a remote pilot certificate and will have to follow additional laws and regulations.
Can You Fly A Drone Over A Private Property?
In most areas of the United States, it is not legal to fly a drone over the private property but it’s also not a crime.
Most models of drone fall under the Federal Aviation Association guidelines where it states that drones may be able to hover over private property as long as they aren’t causing any damage, but some privacy concerns are justified.
What Type Of Drone Is Best For Learning?
Experts recommend starting with a cheaper model to learn and then advancing as you gain the required skills.
Beginner pilots can expect a lot of crashes and potential damage, so a more expensive drone isn’t the best starting craft. Choosing one with automatic mode will be helpful, as would a GPS in case you lose track of its flight path.