Learn how to fly a drone

Learning how to fly a drone is a process that is not difficult if you go about it in a sensible and systematic way. Whether you learn on your own or get trained by another person, you will have to spend some time with your drone in order to understand both the drones capabilities and your capabilities. Below is an overview of some of the things you should know or should consider, and is focused on learning how to fly the kind of multirotor drones, especially quadcopters, which are the most widely available type of recreational drone.

Owner's manual is not enough
The owner's manual provides basic information about how to control your drone, but typically does not include detailed information such as a recommended training program or suggestions for basic skills that should be mastered.

There is no substitute for personal experience
While many drones have sophisticated flight control options that allow autonomous or semi-autonomous flying for some portions of a drone's flight, anyone flying a drone will still have to have to master some basic skills to fly safety and under control.

Make the effort to fly systematically
As with any aircraft, following procedures before, during, and after a flight makes it more likely that you will be able to fly consistently, and to stay ahead of most problems. Those procedures include understanding any obstacles or other hazards before you fly, and planning accordingly.

Every drone model is different
Different drones, even if they are different models made by the same manufacturer, may have different flying characteristics, so take the time to become familiar with how each of your models may fly.

Start with a training drone
If you plan on buying and using a higher end drone, you should first buy and learn how to fly a low priced, basic drone that has a similar controller layout to the more expensive drone that you plan to buy. There are several good reasons for starting with a very basic drone:

  • Many drone controllers, both low and high priced, have similar controller setups where that features two finger/thumb control sticks, one that combines throttle control and yaw control (rotating left or right), and a second control stick that moves the drone either forward and backward, or left and right.
  • By practicing on a cheap drone, you can learn how to stay ahead of the drone and keep it in stable flight.
  • Lower priced drones also tend to be more difficult to control, so if you can learn basic flight maneuvers on a cheap quadcopter, you will have much less trouble transitioning to a more expensive drone.
  • Crashes and other mishaps are frequent during the learning process, and damaging or losing a very inexpensive drone will be much less costly than doing the same with an expensive drone.

A key part of every drone controller is something called a trim switch. Typically, the two control control sticks have a set of trim switches that corrects for unbalanced controls. Read closely the part of the manual that discusses the trim switches, because if you can effectively trip the controls, the drone will be more stable while in flight.

Find a place to train
It is best to find a place outdoors that is relatively flat, has few obstacles, and no people or pets in your training area. Large backgrounds, parks, athletic fields, and other open spaces are all good places to consider. This area would preferable be covered in something soft like grass so that when you have the inevitable crashes, it will be less likely to damage the drone.

Use online resources
There are a wide range of free online resources for learning how to fly drones, including downloadable flight training manuals, online drone flying user groups, and online videos and audio podcasts, that would be useful to both novice and experienced drone pilots. Take the time to search for those resources that work for you, and use them to both learn how to fly a drone, but learn about other activities associated with safe flight operations.

Basic flying skills
No matter what kind of quadcopter drone that you fly, you will be a competent pilot if you can consistently demonstrate the following (increasingly difficult) skills. Note that for all of these skills, it may be easiest to start with the drone in front of you, and facing directly away from you:

  • Taking off, hovering at a low altitude (waist level), and then landing. While doing this, you call also use the trip switches to deal with any drifting that you may notice.
  • Taking off, hovering, and rotating 180 degrees so that the drone is facing you, then rotating back (do this for both a left and right rotation)
  • From a controlled hovering position, flying forward, and returning to you starting position. Do the same sequence but with the drone either flying toward you, or to either the left or the right. Note that for these maneuvers, you may have to use small amounts of yaw (left and right rotation) to keep the drone pointed forward.
  • Flying a square pattern. Starting in a stable hover, and then flying a short distance in one direction before stopping. Repeat until you have traced out a square pattern, while keeping the drone's nose pointed away from you.
  • Flying a circle pattern. Unlike the square pattern, where you can concentrate pushing a control stick either forward and backward or left and right, to fly in a circle you have to make diagonal inputs with that stick.
  • Flying a circle pattern. Unlike the square pattern, where you can concentrate pushing a control stick either forward and backward or left and right, to fly in a circle you have to make diagonal inputs with that stick.
  • Fly back and forth between a takeoff point and a destination point a few feet away, keeping the drone no higher than waist high.

Advanced flying skills
These more advanced skills allow you to get more comfortable with flying in a more challenging environment:

  • Perform all of the basic flying skills listed above, but with the drone at an altitude at least a few feet over you head.
  • Perform all of the basic flying skills listed above, but with the drone not pointed directly away from you. For example, if the drone is directly in front of you, place it on the ground so that the nose is at a 45 degree angle, and keep it at that relative angle as you go through the maneuvers.
  • Fly the drone in a figure-eight pattern.
  • Fly the drone around or between widely spaced obstacles like trees or lawn furniture.

Additional drone resources

Learn how to fly a drone
http://airsafe.com/issues/drones/learn.htm -- Revised 27 September 2016