A BEGINNER GUIDE TO DRONES
So you have decided to become a drone hobbyist, or you’re an aspiring aerial photographer but clueless about how this Unmanned Ariel Vehicle (UAV) works? Well, this guide is for you.
By the end of this article, you’ll have a basic understanding of various parts of the drone, piloting, FAA’s Drone Regulations (yes, there are some rules), and a few practicing techniques.
1. HOW DO YOU CHOOSE YOUR DRONE?
As a beginner, choosing the best drone that works for you might be a little tricky. Suppose you are looking to get your hands on some essential experience. In that case, investing in an affordable model is a good strategy. In that way, you don’t have to worry too much if your drone crashes or gets stuck in a tree!
Toy drones are a good option if you want to master the controls. They are usually under 100$ but don’t have any smart or sophisticated features. That is why they are a little harder to fly and probably won’t have the camera feature.
If your goal is to go into aerial photography, then a mid-level camera drone is the way to go.
Because they come with GPS, they are easy to fly and are very beginner-friendly. They may also come up with other cool features like stable hovering and return-to-home buttons that help beginners.
2. GETTING TO KNOW YOUR DRONE:
After getting your hands on the drone, spend some time getting to know its parts and how it works.
Whether you have a toy or camera drone, it will have the following elements if it is a quadcopter.
- THE FRAME: It is either X shape or + shape, and it holds all the components together.
- MOTORS: A quadcopter has four motors, each powering a single propeller. Two of them move clockwise and the other two counter-clockwise, which equalize the propellers’ turning force. How fast the motor will spin depends on the KV. The higher the KV, the faster it will move.
- ELECTRIC SPEED CONTROLLER: Electric speed controllers connect the motors and the battery. They dictate how fast the motor spins, which in turn determines the propeller speed.
- FLIGHT CONTOR BOARD: The Flight Control Board Is the mastermind of the drone. It converts electrical signals from the controller into actionable information, which is then sent to ESCs.
- RADIO RECEIVER AND RADIO TRANSMITTER: Your remote control is the radio transmitter. The radio receiver is the antenna on the quadcopter. When you adjust the remote control, the transmitter sends a signal to the receiver, which interprets it and sends it to the rest of the system.
- PROPELLERS: Propellers are the four spinning plastic blades attached at the end of each quadcopter’s arm. Each propeller determines which direction the quadcopter takes or whether it hovers in space.
- BATTERY: It is the power source of your quadcopter. Depending on the model, the battery might be removable. If you want to get more flight time, it is better to bring extra batteries.
- THREE-AXIS GIMBAL: Camera drones have a gimbal in them. During flights, the gimbal cancels any unwanted movements like wind or vibration and stabilizes the camera for clear footage.
3. CHECK OUT THE DRONE CONTROLLER:
If you have no experience with remote control vehicles or video games, the remote controller might intimidate you. But mastering it is crucial since your drone isn’t going anywhere without it.
Your drone controller may or may not have FPV (First Person View) screen, depending on the model. If your drone controller doesn’t come with a screen, you can use your smartphone or tablet instead.
There are eight flight directions of a quadcopter: left/ right, up/down, forward/backward, pivot left/right. Each one of these directions is made by two sticks on the controller. All these movements are named pair-wise as follows:
THE RIGHT STICK CONTROLS:
- ROLL: The left and right movements of the drone are called rolling. When you move the right stick towards the left, the drone will move towards the left while still facing forward am vice versa. The one actually “rolls” to the left and right.
- PITCH: It is the forward and backward movement of the drone. When you move the right stick of the controller away from you (forwards), the drone will move forwards too. Similarly, if you move the right stick towards you (backward), the drone will move towards you (backward).
THE LEFT STICK CONTROLS:
- THROTTLE: This is the upward and downward movement of the drone. If you move the controller’s left stick forwards or away from you, the drone will move upwards. Likewise, if you move the left stick downwards or towards you, the drone will move downwards.
- YAW: This is the clockwise and anti-clockwise movement of the drone. Pivoting the left stick towards the left will move the drone towards the left (clockwise). Similarly, moving the stick towards the right will move the drone towards the right (counter-clockwise).
Almost all control sticks have this standard operating system. Spend more time with your controller, and learning these operations will prepare you for the actual flight.
4. FEDERAL AVIATION ADMINISTRATION RULES AND REGULATIONS:
FAA is an agency that regulates the skies and ensures everything flies safely. According to FAA, your drone is considered an aircraft, and there are specific rules you need to know before flying it in the US.
- If you are flying for commercial purposes, meaning you are getting paid in any way by flying your drone, you need to pass an FAA test and receive Part 107 certification. You can sign up for the course here.
- If your drone weighs over 250g/0.55 lbs, you need to register for an FAA number. This number needs to be displayed on the exterior of your drone.
- Fly your craft at or below 400 ft.
- Do not fly near restricted airspace, near airports, over a group of people, stadiums, or any emergency response efforts such as fires.
- Always keep your drone in your sight, and don’t fly at night unless your drone has lights on it to let you know where it’s facing.
- Never fly under the influence. Apart from alcohol or rugs, this includes any over-the-counter or prescription medications that might impair your abilities.
- Updated by FAA on June 22, 2021: “All recreational drone pilots in the United States are now required to take free FAA online training to fly legally. The Recreational US Safety Test (TRUST) was mandated by Congress in the FAA Re-authorization Act of 2018. All drone pilots need to take the training if they are flying recreationally, regardless of whether they have a Part 107 license.”
5. PRE-FLIGHT CHECKLIST:
Going through a Pre-flight checklist will save you and your drone safe and will make you feel more confident about your first flight.
Here is some of the stuff you need to check before your flight:
- Check the weather forecast and see if the precipitation rate is less than 10%
- Research your location before heading out
- Check all the batteries (phone, controller, drone)
- Plan take-off, landing, and hover zones
- Set up the Home button to enable the drone to come back to its take-off location
- Look out for any pedestrians, animals, and obstacles such as trees, power lines, and buildings in the vicinity
- Check if the registration number is properly displayed
- Clean the lens with microfiber
- Double check the camera settings
- Make sure propellers are properly attaché
- insert SD card and set it as the default storage
- Do a final check to secure the safety of flight operations
6. FLIGHT TIME!
The moment has finally arrived! Turn on the controller and flight app before you turn on the drone. If your drone has a beginner mode, you can turn it on.
GETTING IN THE AIR:
To get your drone in the air, all you need is the throttle. Move the left stick away from you to get the drone upwards. Stop and repeat this step multiple times until you get the hang of it.
HOVER AND LAND:
Use the throttle to get the copter airborne. To keep the copter hovering, you need to make slight adjustments to the right stick. You might also need to adjust the left stick slightly to keep it from turning.
Cut back the throttle slowly when you are ready to land. When the copter is one or two inches above the ground, cut own the throttle completely.
Repeat till you feel comfortable doing it.
FLY LEFT/RIGHT, FORWARDS/BACKWARDS:
Keep the copter airborne by keeping the throttle at a steady rate. Then use the right stick to move the copter in the direction of your choice.
Move the right stick to fly a couple of feet forwards. Then again, move the right stick backwards to get back to its original position.
Now, move the right stick towards the left to fly the copter to the left. Then again, move the right stick towards the right to get it back to its original position.
Remember, practice makes perfect!
7. A WORD OF CAUTION:
Lastly, while trying to become a proficient operator, keep your safety a priority. Drones can be dangerous if not operated carefully.
- Turn the throttle to zero so if you feel you might potentially crash into something.
- Keep your fingers away from the propellers.
- Keep the batteries out of the drone while working on it. You can get seriously hurt if it accidentally turns on while being in your hands.