First time flying a drone? Don’t make these mistakes

New drones can be tricky! You’re not alone if you find yourself trying to fly them when you first get them home and then quickly crashing. But don’t worry – we’re here to provide a bit of guidance on some common errors people make so that they can avoid making those mistakes again.

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We’re happy to report that most of the issues we find on our list are simple concepts that’ll make sense once you encounter them. However, it is important to keep in mind how these issues can come up – whether it be due to carelessness or accident. Our goal today is not just provide solutions, but also help prepare you for what could happen – because after all, anything can happen at any time.

Fly legally

Fly legally

The controlling restrictions on airspace is that you cannot fly near an airport unless first given permission from local control. To request this permission, use the LAANC app found in Airmap or KittyHawk which are FAA certified apps and follow instructions accordingly. Areas around airports are restricted areas so make sure to look up if there is a no fly zone in the area before deciding where and when to fly.

If you are flying for profit, or any other form of payment, you must follow a different set of procedures and acquire your own commercial drone license. This one we call the Part 107 – it isn’t hard to obtain but may take a little while to learn all the specifics of this particular rule-set. It’s worth it though; we want to help you make sense of these procedures and get your very own commercial license so you can fly legally! Check out our drone pilot training materials now!

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One thing to keep in mind is that you cannot just do whatever you want outside, sadly. There are some rules that need to be followed, but they’re all for your own good – so try not to let them stop you from enjoying yourself.

Have a good attitude

What it comes down to, is that sometimes people forget about how essential safe practices can be when handling a drone. There are specific things you can do to reduce risk of crashes and injury– things the FAA has laid out in its documents on drone use. What I’m saying is, if you’re studying for your Part 107 certification exam, take note; these will give you the answers (though they might not teach you everything).

In the end, it was clear from the FAA that they wanted me to do what I knew best in order to fly safely and responsibly. They didn’t want me logging my entire flight plan before take-off either – just follow the basic rules and develop a set of standards for your own journey through life – you might even choose to create boundaries where none existed before.

A proactive step you can take before flying your drone is to set its maximum altitude; for example, if it’s currently at 400 feet, set this number down to 200. If the airspace in your area doesn’t allow for flights higher than 200 feet (such as those under FAA jurisdiction), then make sure that this is also the limit indicated within your phone app – otherwise, you could end up breaking some important laws and getting yourself into serious trouble.

Be patient

Be patient

I understand how tempting it can be to take your newly acquired drone out for its maiden voyage when the wind is too strong, or there isn’t enough daylight left in the day. But please heed my warning: don’t set off unless you’re sure of all the risks involved!

Well, I learned this for myself one night when it was too windy outside. It was only $30 so I wanted to test out the skillfulness of my new toy – and although looking back on it now seems foolish in retrospect, at least I can say I tried. But less than 45 seconds into flight time – when the wind became too much for even a quadcopter- all my expensive gadgetry crashed head first into a tree. The very next day there were no winds at all, so I got to test out my new toy again and made sure never to do anything risky ever again.

The trickiest thing about wind-and-vacuum combinations is that they can change drastically in intensity depending on how high up you are. When looking down below, everything may seem fine, but when flying even just ten feet higher than the ground, one might feel an intense pressure against them. Make sure to pay attention before ascending!

Trees, light posts and power lines

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It’s no secret that if you’re up in the air, trees and power lines are just two of the items to watch out for. But even though they may not come across as threats while flying, it becomes clear how dangerous they really are once something goes wrong. Wind gusts can quickly lead a drone straight into one of those looming hazards; I’ve seen it happen countless times before.

And while wind is usually the culprit behind such troubles, my experience has also led me to conclude that returning home features are another potential risk worth mentioning – at least when we’re talking about newer models equipped with them. One thing you may be concerned about when flying drones is how they behave when they lose connection to their remote controller.

This could happen if you fly too far away or if there are large objects blocking the signal; most drones will attempt an automatic Return-to-Home (RTH) function which takes them back up to a higher altitude – so make sure not to fly too close to trees! Most RTH modes take your drone back up to around 20 meters (~60 feet). Once I was manually flying a drone, hovering it only 18 inches off the ground.

When the battery power began to run out and switched over to RTH mode – as if right on cue – my hands became inactive. The drone flew upwards towards 60 feet before circling around 180 degrees and coming back down for an automatic landing. It didn’t matter how close the object next door was though; this time I knew what precautions to take to avoid crashing into anything overhead when taking off so it didn’t become much of a problem.

There is yet another concern – this one should be more clear: most drones can identify that they’re at Point A, but home is at Point B. If there are no obstacle avoidance sensors on the craft, you need to make sure there aren’t any obstacles in between what your drone has identified as its destination and where it will land.

Finally, think about your control range and any potential interferences. For the toy class drone I was mentioning earlier – the one that I managed to fly into a tree and crash (despite me being so cautious), it had an operating range of only 60 feet. When this limit is reached, no matter if there is still signal on my remote controller, the drone will continue moving forward until suddenly cutting off power. Please do pay attention if you’re close to trees or other obstacles at all times!

Stay in range and be aware of controller interference

Drones typically measure their operating range in the number of feet or yards that separate the remote control from the device itself. Keep well within this boundary for safety reasons and always keep an eye on your drone to make sure it doesn’t stray too far away.

As per the Federal Communications Commission, all radio frequency electronics in the US must deal with interference; while the Federal Aviation Administration would love for anything in the sky not to experience interference, it happens. It actually occurs quite often so be prepared for it. This is especially true of video feeds if your drone has a first person view camera and transmits video feed to your phone or remote control.

Obviously, you should try to avoid traveling near any place where there is an excess amount of natural magnetism. It can interfere with your navigation system while flying and cause your aircrafts stability to become compromised which will result in loss of control – obviously, this isn’t a good thing. There are ways around these problems; however, the simplest solution for avoiding this complication would be not to travel near those sorts of places.

Propeller wash

One of the main mistakes a new pilot can make is flying too close to the ground. Flying low seems like an easy way out, but they’re really putting themselves in an unstable situation if they’re using a drone. Keep in mind that when propellers are spinning, they push air down with enough force that it creates lift. When near the ground, this bounce upwards makes them come crashing back down – which could ruin their drone completely.

Two things happen when you stay close to the ground: First, the drone is given an extra lift, and high pressure air helps keep it afloat even though there isn’t enough throttle to sustain flight. You can try this at home with a nanodrone if you want; hover as low as possible on a table or countertop, slowly slide off the edge of it – the drone will fall to the floor because of its inability to fly up in altitude.

Second, and much more importantly-propeller wash is highly unstable. I’ve seen drones hovering low that all of a sudden whip into a spin or even completely flip upside down. Don’t forget, your drone produces enough airflow to lift itself into the air- if that air bounces off the ground back up into your craft at an odd angle, strange things can happen.

For most drones, you should be safe once they are a few feet off the ground; however, I would recommend what my DJI flight instructor taught me and take off quickly into the air after hovering for a moment at an altitude of seven or eight feet. This will allow you to assess any interference caused by wind and other weather factors before continuing your journey.

Wind and air temperature

I would appreciate it if we could stay on topic, but while I’m at it – please keep in mind that wind and air temperature affects how well your drone flies. Wind becomes more powerful the higher up you are, which can be both dangerous yet unpredictable. One thing people may forget about is that being exposed to high winds means risking low battery life; try and take note of these factors beforehand so you’re prepared for what’s to come.

Have you ever seen a hang-glider in action? What about an eagle or hawk soaring? These are made possible largely thanks to pockets of warm, rising air. Often found over hillsides, these thermals are extremely powerful when harnessed properly. For example, even if your drone doesn’t have the ability to grab onto one of these thermals, there is still a chance it will gather some sort of pocket inside its frame; changing for the better how fast it can fly.

When flying around hillsides, you may feel bumps. This can happen whenever there are differing terrains; for instance, when going from the warm surface of sand to a colder one outside over water or pavement. As there are different air temperatures present, one might experience buffeting winds and thermals.

A thermal poses minimal risk for the average drone flyer, but your otherwise fantastic footage could be ruined by a sudden gust of wind. Air pressure is much different depending on weather; you’ll find that batteries don’t last as long when flying during warmer months. However, colder days present an advantage to those looking to stay aloft–thicker air makes it easier for propellers to produce enough lift while carrying this heavier payload. Don’t forget what goes up must come down!

Science of Flight series

There is plenty more for you to read if you want to learn about the science behind drone flight. We are not physicists, but we know enough to explain some of the basic concepts of how drones work – such as how they fly, why they fly certain ways and what makes them effective at flying. Be sure to check out our other articles on Science of Flight for even more information!

Fly alone, don’t share until you’re ready

This sounds like terrible advice, at least it sounds rude to your fellow humans. However, flying a drone is an experience worth having from start to finish; much like driving a car: you’re able to trade off with someone else when necessary, but never when the vehicle is in motion or about to crash. With safety being paramount – land the drone before you hand over control of it and let someone else have some fun too!

When I tell you to fly alone, I am telling you to avoid going around the local drone park until you are confident enough in your skills. You do not need any distractions when you first put up your drone- especially if it has anything distracting such as animals or children around. When flying drones, remember that the FAA requires you to be 100% present at all times and only take off once there is no possibility of something happening before returning home safely.

Start small

Now, I will reiterate what I just said. Practice will help you become proficient in your flying vehicle if something goes wrong while attempting to fly it. Another thought would be to start practicing on a smaller version of the device before tackling the real thing.

If you’re new to drones, we advise getting a beginner toy-class model which, incidentally, is disposable. Here are some low priced models we recommend; they may not be perfect but will give you an opportunity to practice your skills before investing heavily.

To this end, we also suggest starting with something that doesn’t have a lot of power. I know you learned how to drive by sitting in something expensive and fast like a sports car or Ferrari but there are weaker models out there so don’t jump right into the deep end when it comes to drones. And if one thing is certain, you’ll want to make sure you understand them well before crashing head first into a wall.

Update software before leaving your house

Sounds simple, but if you’re anything like me then you’ll often forget to check for updates before leaving the house. This is obviously an issue when it comes to wasting a battery or running out of mobile data- not forgetting about time wasted too. But hey! You can totally avoid all these hassles just by plugging into your computer and checking the app beforehand; we’ve already talked about how to update your DJI Mavic Pro so it stands to reason that updating any other machine would be pretty similar.

Batteries die, quickly

Continuing the idea of patience, apply it to power as well. It may tempt you to fly around without a fully-charged battery. Don’t worry if this happens; I’m not telling you it’s a bad idea, but there is no doubt that you’ll have fun while your drone is up and will wish for an even longer flight time. There are huge risks associated with going below 50% when flying – these machines won’t just slowly glide down, they’ll simply cut out and fall.

The first thing to remember is that you are legally responsible for ensuring your craft stays safe and doesn’t crash. Never go up if you’re unsure of whether or not you will be able to make a safe landing. With this in mind, try to always have a full battery before taking flight – but avoid overcharging.

Don’t rely on AI

One of the main reasons why we recommend learning how to fly a drone on cheaper models is that they do not offer too many autonomous modes. Without question, autonomy – particularly the ability for a GPS enabled drone to hold its position without drifting away from it – make flying very easy. Almost anybody can learn to operate drones such as the DJI Mavic Pro: all one has to do is push the button once and let go; then with precision accuracy it will take off, hover high above before landing at precisely where it first took off from.

Using the Mavic Pro for your first flight was such an easy task, but what did you actually learn from it? And more importantly, what will you do if those AI features fail? Practice is key to future successful flights; leaning too much on artificial intelligence isn’t practicing.

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