Do you have a passion or interest in RC drones and want to give it go? Perhaps you are wondering – are drones hard to fly? I am here to tell you some bad news and good news.
The bad news is that learning to fly a quadcopter is like anything, it takes time and persistence. The good news is that amongst all other flying machines, such as helicopters and planes, learning how to fly a quadcopter is the easiest of the lot.
1. Pre-flight Preparation
Read the manual
We know what you may think and we agree – this is the boring part, but the one that is really needed. Although the drone controls are very similar in general, most drone manufacturers have small nuances you need to know before starting to pilot your quad.
Don’t skip this step as it could be useful to learn what to do in unforeseen situations.
Charge the batteries
This one may sound silly, but you will be amazed how many of us forget to do that before getting out on the field.
Apart from the drone’s battery, you may also need to charge the radio transmitter’s battery. Most of them take AA size batteries, however, if yours are rechargeable, you will need to get them ready too.
Please use the charger that comes with the drone to avoid any sort of damage that can be made to the drone or the charger.
Pick the venue
It is important (especially when you are only starting out) to choose a place that is open, with no trees or other obstacles that could cause the collision with the drone. Ensure the area is safe for others to avoid any harm that may be caused to the people or animals around you.
Another thing you want to ensure is that drone flying is around in the area that you have picked. There are multiple flying legislations that have been introduced to control the drone flying environment and increase safety.
Be ready to be patient
Learning how to pilot a drone can be frustrating and you have to keep it in mind. Getting used to the controls will take time and practice and does not come naturally for some of us.
You did not learn how to walk in a day, so be prepared to be persistent and ready for challenges.
2. Know Terms and Definitions
- FPV – First Person View. This means that the pilot is able to have a ‘cockpit’ view from the drone allowing the pilot to have a first-person view.
- The line of sight – the pilot is able to see the drone as it flies
- Ceiling – the maximum height the drone can fly at
- Hovering – having the drone maintain the same altitude whilst staying in the same position
- Bank turn – when the drone if flown in a consistent and circular motion
- Pitch – tilts the quadcopter forward or backward. This is achieved by pushing the right stick of the radio forward of backward.
- Roll – maneuvers the quadcopter to the left or right. Usually done with the right stick of the radio by pushing it to the left or right.
- Throttle – controls the altitude of the quadcopter by increasing or decreasing the propeller rotation speed. This is done by pushing the left stick forward or backward.
- Yaw – rotates the drone left or right horizontally. This is typically controlled by pushing the left stick to the right/left.
- Trim – buttons usually located somewhere close to the sticks allowing to fine-tune the default throttle, yaw, roll and pitch levels.
- Aileron – most often refers to the right stick movent to the left or right controlling the drone’s roll.
- Rudder – usually refers to the left stick that controls the drone’s yaw levels
The quad’s flight modes vary per manufacturer and model, however, some of the generic flight modes are quite common.
- Attitude – typically engaged by centering the control sticks. It returns the drone to a hovering state.
- Manual – the mode where you completely take over the controls. All the flying aids such as Attitude are disabled having you to do the leveling.
- GPS hold – returns the drone to the take-off position when the control sticks are centred.
3. Understand Drone Controls / Radio Transmitter
Most of the time when buying a drone, you will get a radio transmitter specifically designed for the model you have purchased. Depending on the type of the drone and its skill level, the controls on the radio transmitter may vary from only having the basic control rods to advanced multi-channel and multi-button setup.
Despite additional control options on advanced drones, the basic control feature set is shared between all models. The below image depicts the common radio transmitter features.
There are four main controls you will need to get good at before you can fly the drone successfully. They are pitch, roll, throttle and yaw represented by the left and right sticks.
When learning how to control a quadcopter it is imperative that you are proficient with those controls and can operate them both individually and at the same time. The latter is perhaps the most important as learning how the controls interact with each other can be confusing and challenging for some of us.
Starting out we suggest that you are intentionally gentle on the controls as it will help you to learn incrementally and minimize your chances of crashing the drone.
The pitch is controlled by moving the right elevator stick on your remote up and down. Moving the stick up will make your drone tilt forward and result in a forward drone movement. Alternatively, pulling the right elevator down will make the drone tilt backward, initiating a backward movement.
As the name suggests, the roll controls literally make the drone roll to one side or another. The roll control is triggered by moving the right transmitter stick (i.e aileron) to the left or right.
Facing the back of the drone, moving the right stick to the left will make the drone roll to the left. Moving the right stick to the right will make the drone roll to the right.
Keep in mind that if drone position changes relevant to you, so will the rolling. For example, if the drone faces you, pushing the right control stick to the right will make the drone fly left and the other way around.
You need to always think as if you were sitting in the drone so that the controls are always relevant to the drone, rather than the drone’s orientation towards you.
The throttle control is one of the easiest to explain, but may not be so easy to master in practice. Basically, it represents the propeller rotation velocity which is controlled by your left stick. Moving the throttle stick up increases the propeller velocity, whereas moving the stick down decreases it all the way until the rotation stops.
Since the lowest throttle position completely disengages the motors, you need to be careful with it and only fully disengage once the quadcopter has already landed or only a couple of inches away from the ground.
The yaw is probably the most difficult control to get used to as I and many others found it to be the most confusing at first.
In essence, it makes your drone turn left or right on a horizontal axis whilst staying put in the air. The yaw is controlled by moving the left stick to the left or right. Pushing the stick to the right will make the drone rotate clockwise, whereas pushing the control to the left will make ti turn anti-clockwise.
All of the above four controls have their respective trim buttons which are designed to adjust the default, centered stick positioned. If you have your sticks centered yet the drone is not able to hover in the air, your controls need to be trimmed. Adjust the trim controls as per the image below so that when the sticks are centered, the drone stays still in the air and does not move.
It may take you some time practicing trim adjustment to get it spot on. Keep lifting the drone off the ground, watch where it drifts and adjust the trim to the side directly opposite of the drift.
Keep in mind that even a mild wind will impact the drone’s ability to hover, so try choosing a calm and quiet day for it.
The more expensive drones have sophisticated gyroscopes built-in which allow them to automatically adjust trim levels on the fly. This results in a perfect hovering ability even in windy environments.
To view trim adjustment in action, check out the video below.
4. Pre-Flight Check
Before you try to get your drone airborne, there are a couple of things we need to check to reduce chances of facing any issues whilst in flight.
Before taking off, you need to quickly inspect the drone for some obvious issues. There could be many things, but a couple of simple things to check could be:
- Ensure that drone motors, frame and undercarriage are solidly in place
- Ensure the gimbal (if applicable) is solid, yet moves freely
- Ensure there is grass, hair or other fiber tangled in the drone’s rotors
- Ensure the drone is positioned flat and not on the surface that is uneven
- Assess the space to be clear of debris, close-by trees or any other potential obstruction
- Know where the front and the back of the drone is before taking off
- Position yourself behind the drone so that you have a pilot orientation initially
- Push the throttle stick down (yup, the one on the left) before turning on the radio transmitter
- Turn the radio transmitter on
- Verify the display panel on the radio transmitter (if applicable) is displayed properly
- Connect the drone’s battery and turn on the drone
- Ensure the lights indicated that it is in a ‘ready’ state with the established connection. Check instruction for more details.
- Calibrate compass (if applicable)
With those basic checks done, you are ready to start learning to fly a quadcopter. Below we have listed all the basic lessons you need to take that will help you learn how to how to fly a quadcopter in no time!
5. Drone Flying Lessons
Below you will find the lessons designed to get your flying skill up to level quickly and safely. Please undertake the lessons in the order they are listed as it will optimize your learning experience. The lessons are build so that they increase in difficulty as you go along.
If you fail a particular lesson, do not advance to the next one, until you master it. This will ensure that you are building up your skills incrementally and reduce any chances of things going wrong.
Take Off and Land
The first lesson is the most basic one and mostly intends to develop your landing skills. With the drone ready to fly, start by pushing the throttle stick up gradually to learn at which point the drone is about to take off. Do that a couple of times to have your hand memorize the mechanical motion and the lift-off point on the throttle stick.
Next, start lifting off the drone about 10 inches from the ground and then landing it. Add a couple of inches everytime until you get the drone to your eye-level altitude.
If the drone starts to drift to the side, front or back – adjust the trim levels respectively to ensure that the drone maintains its vertical position when only the throttle control is used.
Every time you take-off, try to land the drone without damaging the landing gear. When the drone is one or two inches off the ground, cut the throttle completely and let the drone land.
Practice it until your landing is smooth and consistent.
Hover In Midair
The next step is to get the drone hover in the air. This may come easy for those of us who have advanced drones with efficient gyro systems as they can do the hovering part for you. If you do own one of those drones, I suggest that you turn it off for the purpose of this lesson.
The lesson is similar to the previous one, except that you do not land the drone after taking off but try to maintain it in a stable position few feet above the takeoff point.
Making the drone hover is a tedious task that is not at all exciting, yet extremely valuable going forward. It teaches you to balance the drone and develops a mechanical memory which will help you to maintain the drone’s altitude whilst flying. Learning to control the altitude effectively will help you to keep your drone safe and make it last longer.
Most of the time you will find yourself fighting with the throttle stick as the drone normally either ascends or descends rather than staying in place.
Getting good at taking off, landing and balancing are essential skills in order to learn how to fly a drone. We suggest spending ample time practicing it before moving on to the next lesson.
Fly The Drone Left, Right, Forward and Backward
The third lesson involves both sticks to be used at the same time which slightly ups the challenge.
First, you will need to bring you drone to a hover state now that you know how to do it. Keeping the quad in a hovering state and start to use the right control stick to pitch the drone forward and backward. Then, push the stick to the left and right to make the drone go sideways.
Move the drone around and return it to the original hover position and land it.
Repeat the process multiple times until you can successfully get the drone to the eye-level, move it around, return to the take-off position and smoothly land it.
Note that you have engaged all controls in this lesson except the yaw control which rotates the drone clockwise or anti-clockwise.
Fly A Square Pattern
Before attending this lesson we have to assume that you know how to fly the drone in any of the four directions one at a time.
The next step is about creating a continuous flying pattern experience that can be repeated over an over again. Start by having the drone hover and face away from you. Engage the right stick by pulling it up which will make the drone tilt and initiate a forward movement. Fly for a couple of feet and center the right stick. Then push the right stick to the right, it will engage to roll to the right side. Again, let the drone move to the right by a couple of feet and center the right stick. Next, pull the right stick down and initiate a backward movement for the same distance and return the stick to the default position. Lastly, move the stick to the left which will initiate the drone’s roll to the left and return the drone to its original take-off position.
Repeat the exercise until you can fly a square in both clockwise and counterclockwise directions.
Rotate The Drone
Next, we will have to learn how to rotate the quadcopter using the yaw control. Like I’ve mentioned previously, it is the control that raises the most confusion and is the trickiest to master. Although it may not as straightforward as other controls, it is absolutely imperative to learn it if you want to be a good drone pilot.
Let’s start by positioning yourself (like in the lessons above) behind the drone and getting ready for the take-off. Like before, get the drone in a stable hovering state at the eye-level and push the left stick to the right to engage the yaw control which shall make the drone spin clockwise. Keep rotating the drone until it faces you, then return the yaw control to its centered position to stop the rotation.
Now that you have the drone hovering around the eye-level mark facing you, try to fly the drone forward, backward and to the sides. Note that when the drone is facing you, the pitch and roll controls will do exactly the opposite. If you push the right stick to the right, the drone will start moving to the left. If you push the right stick forward the drone will start going towards you rather than away from you.
There is no magic or shortcuts to this lesson, you just simply need to get used to controlling the drone when the frame of reference changes. The best way to do it is to move the drone around when it is facing you, then rotate the drone until it faces away and run it around once again. Alternate the frame of reference and keep repeating it until you get comfortable flying the drone whichever way it may face.
What has helped me and other to get a good hold of the yaw control is to create a mental image of you sitting inside of the drone. Some of us will find it easy, whereas other will struggle. However, if you do manage to push your imagination and place yourself inside of the drone whilst it is flying, you are sure to find it easier to master the yaw control.
Combine Controls and Fly A Circle Pattern
In this lesson, you will truly get to control the drone with engaging both left and right sticks at the same time. In fact, to fly the drone in a circular pattern, you will need to resort to using the roll, pitch and throttle control simultaneously.
Before flying your drone in a circular pattern you need to decide if you will be flying your drone clockwise or anticlockwise. Let’s assume you want to fly the drone clockwise.
Get your drone airborne, hover it at the eye-level and make it face away from you.
First, start slowly pushing the right stick diagonally to the top right corner of the control. This will engage both, the side roll and the forward pitch motion making the drone move in a circular fashion. Let the drone fly a couple of feet and then start slowly moving the right stick control to the bottom right corner and eventually circle the right stick around until your drone returns to where it has started.
Keep practicing the circular movement in both directions and once you are good at it, add a little bit of yaw control to the mix making the drone glide through the air like an airplane.
Keep trying and perfecting your skill as now you know everything you need to become a good drone pilot. Nothing beats practice and if you stay persistent, flying a drone will become your second nature just like driving a car.
Pick Two Spots, then Take Off, Fly, Land
To further strengthen what you have learned, pick two different points which will serve as a take-off and a destination location. Alternate the routes and get creative about getting from point A to point B. Try using a square, circular or any other pattern to get your drone consistently fly between the two spots. To make the challenge even more tricky, elevate your drone to 25 feet before you start to move around between the spots.
Congratulation on making it to the end, you have finished a “How to Fly a Drone for Beginners” training guide. We hope that you have enjoyed the process and learned the basics of how to fly RC drones.
So what’s now?
It really depends on where you are at and what do you want to do. If you are only starting out with drones, perhaps you need a good advice on which drone to buy? If you do, we have recently prepared a great review assessing the top GoPro drones on the market.
We are always looking at helping you make better product decisions, so if you are searching for the best budget drone review, please bear with us, as it is already in the making.
And one last point, always remembers to stay within the drone code of conduct. It will keep you and your drone away from trouble!