Learning how to fly a quadcopter is an exciting and rewarding activity. Quadcopters are easier to fly than single rotor or coaxial RC helicopters. With the simple instructions provided below, you can start flying your drone within 24 hours. But you must realize that to get your quadcopter to take off, hover, turn, and land safely, without crashing, you need to practice consistently for a couple of months. In this concise, step-by-step tutorial on how to fly a drone, you will learn: basic quadcopter movement, how to use your remote control (transmitter), safety precautions, pre-flight preparation, and how to start flying your drone.
Basic Quadcopter Movement and the Remote Controller
A quadcopter is capable of moving in different dimensions. Each movement takes place along a particular axis of rotation. The basic quadcopter motions include:
- Altitude: The drone can move up into the sky or come down to ground level. This is usually the first type of movement to master.
- Yaw: This is the movement of the drone clockwise or counter-clockwise around its center. To understand this, imagine that your quadcopter is on the ground and its spinning on the same spot.
- Pitch: The forward and backward motion of the drone is called pitch.
- Roll: Roll is used to describe the movement to the right or left.
All the four movements can be achieved using the joysticks on the remote controller. On most remote controllers, the left joystick controls the altitude (also refered to as throttle) and yaw. The stick on the right controls the pitch and roll.
While the drone’s tail is pointing to you, you may increase the altitude of the quadcopter by pushing the left stick up, then move it down to reduce it. In the same orientation, you can push the right joystick up to move the drone forward and push it down to move the drone backward. This is known as adjusting the pitch.
Moving the right stick to the left or right will also move the drone left or right while its tail is facing you. This is known as rolling the quadcopter. Those are the most fundamental movements (for the tail-in orientation) and they are the first you should master when you are learning to fly.
The first aspect of learning how to fly a drone is safety. Make sure you observe these safety precautions any time you are handling or flying your quadcopter.
- Read your quadcopter manual thoroughly, follow the instructions carefully and observe all safety rules written in it.
- Always remember that the propeller blades rotate at very high speeds and may lead to serious injury.
- Never fly the quadcopter very close to yourself. Give a gap of at least 8 feet always.
- Avoid flying where a lot of people are gathered, if possible ask someone to tell you where people are standing so you direct the drone away from them.
- Avoid flying close to the maximum remote control signal range.
- As a beginner, don’t fly above rooftops or trees until you have mastered flying in all orientations.
- If you lose control and you discover you are going to crash, turn the throttle down to zero so that you can minimize any damage to the drone.
- Beware of children who may suddenly walk up to you or the quadcopter while the blades are still spinning.
- If you are flying a large drone, don’t carry it along with the transmitter while the battery is connected. Preferably, disconnect the battery so you don’t accidently switch it on.
- Always unplug the flight battery on your drone before you attempt to fix it.
- Be very careful when flying in windy conditions. As a beginner you should avoid flying when it is windy and don’t fly your drone close to trees on a windy afternoon.
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Before you attempt to fly, make sure you charge the batteries for your quadcopter and the transmitter. Do a physical check on your aircraft to ensure that there are no loose nuts or leaks that can cut short your flight. Check all the propeller blades and make sure their nuts are tight. If you are flying a quad like the DJI Phantom, you should run your hands all over the body. Ensure that the battery is firmly in place and its door is shut. Check that all landing structs are firmly attached and there are no obstructions on the antenna.
Next, check the transmitter, take a look at the controls, ensure that the antenna is up and it has no obstructions, then confirm that the batteries are fully charged. Put on the transmitter and do a signal test and observe all warm up notifications. In addition, you should also go through your manual and follow all the steps prescribed for pre-flight check up.
How to Fly Your Quadcopter / Drone
Hovering your drone is first skill you must master when learning how to fly a quadcopter. To hover your quadcopter means to elevate it from the ground level and maintain a stable altitude in the air. All flights with your drone will start and end with hovering. If you master this skill you will be able to fly your drone in almost any orientation. There are various types of hovering including tail-in, side-in, and nose-in hovering. This tutorial will provide the basic steps involved in tail-in hovering which is the easiest to master for a beginner.
This involves elevating the quadcopter while its tail is pointing towards you. Here are the basic steps required to practice this skill:
- Observe all the safety precautions listed previously.
- Practice this flying exercise very early in the morning or just after the sun sets to reduce the effect of the wind on your flight.
- Use an open grassy field or a hard flat level surface on your pavement. The space you choose for this practice session should not be less than 12 ft by 12 ft.
- Position your quadcopter in the center of the space you want to use so it can serve as a reference point.
- Go through the pre-flight check.
- Stand behind the drone with the tail facing you. The distance between you and the drone should be about 8 to 10 feet.
- Power on the drone
- Push up the left joystick very slowly until the legs of the drone are raised above the ground by about 4 feet.
- Keep the left joystick in this position for about 20 seconds.
- Gradually bring down the left stick, and then allow the aircraft to go back to its initial reference position on the ground.
- Repeat steps 6 to 8 until you can do it without much effort and you always have a soft landing. You may need to do this about 8 to 10 times then take a short rest.
- Then start increasing the altitude at which you hover your drone. Repeat steps 6 to 8 until you are comfortable with hovering at 20 feet. After this height, wind plays a major role in the orientation and stability of the aircraft, so you need to master how to fly in other orientations before you go beyond this height.
- As you practice this exercise, you must stop the drone from drifting away from the original vertical orientation. Use the right joystick to do this.
Short Horizontal Foward Flights
These are simple steps you can use to practice moving your quadcopter forward and backward in the tail-in orientation.
- Observe all safety and pre-flight procedures.
- Ensure that you start the flight session when the wind is blowing very gently.
- Using the hovering technique discussed earlier, hover the aircraft till it gets to your eye-level. Let go of the left stick.
- Use the right joystick to move your quadcopter forward for a few feet by pushing it up very slowly.
- Let the aircraft hover in that position for a few seconds.
- Move it back to its former position by pushing the left joystick back.
- Repeat steps 4 to 6 and begin to increase the distance the aircraft moves forward.
- If the aircraft loses height while moving forward, use the left stick to increase the throttle. If it goes up beyond the height where it was hovering, use the left stick to decrease the throttle.
Using a Flight Simulator
To improve your flying skills and develop an understanding of how to use your transmitter to control the quad in any orientation, you should practice with a good flight simulator. This will give you more confidence and help you prevent the kind of damage that occurs when a drone crashes into a tree or lands on a roof top. The DJI Phantom 3 has a flight simulator module in its Pilot App. It is also beneficial to have a more experienced pilot around you when you are taking your first few flying sessions.
Other Important Flying Skills to Learn
Mastering new flying skills is a very rewarding aspect of the quadcopter hobby. Some of the basic flying techniques you need to master include: tail-in hovering, nose-in hovering, side-in hovering. Middle-level flying skills include: forward and reverse flight, triangle and figure eight while the advanced flying techniques include the square, circuit, rolls, flips and loops. Practice these skills with a suitable flight simulator. After you are comfortable with your performance on the simulator, you may attempt to practice with your quadcopter.
This short tutorial on how to fly a quadcopter is meant to introduce you to the basic steps involved in flying your drone. Ensure that you practice frequently with a flight simulator and master one skill at a time before you move on to more advanced skills.