7 steps every beginner drone pilot should take to become a pro
The following is a guest post by Michael Karp, author of the blog Drone Business Marketer.
The FAA predicts that hobbyist drone sales will increase from 1.9 million in 2016 to 4.3 million in 2020. With that many novice pilots flying around, it’s imperative they learn how to fly safely.
Here are the 7 steps new pilots should follow in order to become a proficient drone flyer:
1) Buy The Right Drone
The right drone for you may not be the right drone for someone else! Consider:
- Skill level
- Use case
Beginner drones are usually smaller in size, making them better for indoor flight and flying outdoors in moderate conditions. They are cheaper and tend to be used for recreational purposes only, although newer models may come with low-power cameras for taking aerial photos and videos.
Before investing in an $1000+ drone, new pilots should start with a cheap, small drone they can afford to lose or break.
For your first drone purchase, find one that’s cheap, smaller in size, and durable enough to handle a good amount of inevitable crashes.
2) Learn What Each of the Controls Do
Check out this diagram of a typical drone controller:
The left stick usually controls your throttle. This is how fast or slow the drone flies in the direction you are pointing it. It also controls your altitude (distance from the ground).
The right stick usually controls your yaw, pitch, and roll, or left/right and forward/backward movement.
Then you have trimming buttons, which adjust your drone’s default sensitivity to fly to one side or the other. If you get into the air and your drone automatically flies a certain direction, use the trimming buttons to re-center it.
Some drone controllers also come with buttons for the camera, doing 360-degree flips, changing flight modes, and more, depending on the drone’s features.
3) Practice Hovering and Landing in Place
When you first get in the air, get a feel for using the throttle to adjust your height and speed.
With the drone sitting on the ground (away from other objects), slowly increase the throttle until the propellers start spinning.
Increase it further until the drone lifts off the ground. Fly up 3-5 feet in the air. Then hover in place.
Slowly release the throttle and bring your rig back down to the ground. When you’re ready, slowly increase the throttle and bring it to a hover again. Then land it back down.
Continue doing this until you get comfortable with how sensitive your throttle is. And practice landing as softly as possible.
Here’s a great video to follow along with:
4) Practice Yaw, Pitch and Roll
Yaw, pitch, and roll are simply different terms for directional flight:
Yaw – Yaw involves turning left or right around a vertical axis. If you bring your drone to a hover and spin it to the left, you are yawing to the left. And vice versa to the right.
Pitch – Pitch involves pointing your drone’s nose (front) down or up, thus causing the drone to fly forwards or backwards.
Roll – Roll involves your drone’s left and right horizontal movement.
First, bring your drone to a hover of about 3-5 feet. Then slowly angle the throttle stick to the left. Your drone should start spinning counter clockwise.
Try slowly angling it to the right. Your drone should start spinning clockwise.
Keep doing this until you’re comfortable with the drone’s yaw sensitivity.
In order to practice pitching, bring the drone back to a steady hover. Then push the right stick up. This will point the drone’s nose downward, pushing the drone forward.
Note: When pitching, in order to keep your drone at the same height you may need to increase the throttle at the same time.
Then try pulling the right stick downwards to fly backwards.
Keep practicing until you get comfortable pitching backwards and forwards.
Finally, try pushing the right stick directly to the left and to the right to fly in those directions. This is your roll.
5) Use Landing Markers
Now that you know how to orient your drone , let’s starting putting them together.
Find an area with a lot of open space. Then place markers on the ground in varying distances from each other.
Start from one marker, steadily fly over another, and land on it. Then fly up again, fly over to another marker, and land.
Keep doing this from marker to marker in random order. This will help you practice your throttle control, yaw/pitch/roll, and landing skills.
Pay special attention to how you orient the drone while the nose is not facing you. This is a tough skill to grasp, but it’s extremely valuable when you start flying more advanced drones.
6) Fly in a Circle
Flying in a circle requires a distinct balance between yaw, pitch, roll, and throttle control.
If you can fly in a circle while adjusting its size and height, you will have come a long way in utilizing all of the controls at the same time.
To fly your drone in a circle, fly up to a height of 5-10 feet. Then increase the throttle slightly as you push both the throttle and right stick diagonally up and to the right or the left. This engages yaw, pitch, and roll at the same time.
To adjust the height of your circular flying, increase the throttle. To adjust its size, lessen the angle of the throttle and right stick.
Keep doing this until you’re comfortable flying in a circle and adjusting it in both directions, because this segues into our final step.
7) Fly in a Figure 8 Pattern
Flying in a figure 8 teaches you how to balance yaw, pitch, roll, and throttle control while switching from the drone’s nose pointing away from you and towards you. This helps you get used to accurately controlling a drone no matter which direction it’s facing.
To fly in a figure 8, start by doing a wide angle turn to the right and slowly bring the drone back around to the left.
Then start a bank turn to the right again and keep turning until the drone is facing you.
At this point, all of the controls will be backwards, since they are based off where the nose of the drone is facing, not you.
(Note: This is unless you’re using headless mode. But for the sake of practicing your flight skills, don’t use headless mode just yet).
Then finish off the figure 8 in the opposite direction until the drone is back where it started.
This is a tough skill to master, so take your time and don’t get frustrated. But once you are able to do it adequately, you will be a proficient drone flyer who’s ready to upgrade to higher-end models.
Over to You
Despite the number of videos and amazing drone imagery out there, flying a drone isn’t the easiest thing in the world.
If you’re struggling, don’t get frustrated. Just take a step back and put more time into practicing the skills you’re currently weak in. The more training you get in, the faster you will advance.
How have you been learning to fly? Let me know in the comments below.
About the Author
Michael Karp runs Drone Business Marketer, a blog that teaches professional pilots how to grow their businesses.
Great article! The tips about flying in a circle and a figure eight would have been useful tip when I first started to fly. I’m now filming with my DJI Phantom 3 4k, making short films and creating some fun footage. Some of my footage can be seen here. Would love any feedback, https://stock.adobe.com/contributor/206518165/x-wing-films
Nice, detailed guide, love the flying in figure 8 advice. That’s was one of my first steps too. If some of the readers are still unsure if they want to start drone racing I suggest they read a short article I wrote: http://bestracingdrone.net/give-drone-racing-try/
Flying a drone isn’t the easiest thing in the world. You have to invest a lot of your time to practice it.
headless mode does sound like cheating, I can’t wait. I been flying heli’s and drones for about 5 years now, never had a headless mode. My flying toys are no frills cheapos with no visual positions holding hardware or altitude holding hardware, all direct control. I got one for 30 bucks that still flies like the day I bought it. The batteries are super cheap too. I can’t afford the fancy stuff, it seems now so many drones come with cameras. I’m living in the stone age.
Hi, this is good advice how to learn how to fly.
Could you give us advice about, how to contact sponsors, list of companies who are hire people to be racing drone pilots. What is needed to become a a paid pro over the fly skills. Thanks!