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How to Fly a Drone – The Basics

Written by David

For beginners, one of the hardest parts of owning a drone is learning how to fly it. While the pros make it look easy, maneuvering a quadcopter takes a lot of practice. In this article, we’re going to talk about the basics of how to fly a drone.

We’ll cover things like “Yaw”, “Pitch” and “Roll”, as well as teach you how to beat the wind and even take selfies.

By the end of this article, you’ll know a lot more about how to successfully control your quadcopter. With that being said, let’s get started.

How to Fly a Drone - Part 1: The Controls

First and foremost, you need to know what controls what. As you know, the transmitter is what controls your quadcopter.

A standard transmitter comes with two joysticks- one for the throttle and yaw and the other for directional control.

Here’s a transmitter with all of its major parts highlighted for convenience:

How to Fly a Drone

In most transmitters, the right stick is what controls the “Roll” and “Pitch”. These are just a fancy way of saying that they control the forwards, backwards, and side-to-side movements of your drone.

The left stick controls the “yaw”, or clockwise/counterclockwise movement of the drone, as well as the throttle (or the up and down movement of your drone).

Roll

Roll is what controls the left and right movements of your drone. If you look at the illustration below, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

As you can see, if you move the right joystick to the right, then the drone will move right. Likewise, if you move the right joystick to the left, then the drone will move left.

When learning how to control your UAV, spend a lot of time perfecting your rolls.

Many accidents happen because people either fly too far to the right or too far to the left. Now that you’ve familiarized yourself with roll, let’s talk about pitch.

Pitch

Pitch refers to the forward and backward movement of your drone. Just like rolling, the drone will move in the direction that you push the joystick.

So if you push the right joystick forwards, then the drone will move forwards. Likewise, if you push the right joystick backwards, then the drone will move backwards. Refer to the illustration below:

You can’t learn how to fly a drone if you don’t perfect your pitch technique. Keep in mind that pitch becomes complicated when you aren’t flying on headless mode.

If you aren’t sure what headless mode is, check out this article. Now that we’ve talked about pitch and roll, let’s move on to another term that tends to confuse people- yaw.

Yaw

A lot of people get confused about yaw, but in reality, it’s pretty straightforward:

When you move the left joystick to the left, the drone will spin in a counterclockwise direction. When you move it to the right, it will spin in a clockwise direction.

Yaw is useful for when you’re tracking something in the air, or when you’re adjusting your position. In the drone community, a lot of people like to look at “yaw rate”, which is a measure of how quickly a drone is able to spin.

The Cheerson CX-10 is an example of a quadcopter with a fairly high yaw rate.

Throttle

Throttle is pretty straightforward to understand: it’s what gives your drone the power necessary to get off the ground.

If you push the left joystick up, then your drone will fly up. Likewise, if you push the left joystick down, the drone will begin descending. 

Unlike yaw, pitch, and roll, the throttle is the only control that will remain engaged while the drone is in the air.

The moment you let go of the throttle, the drone will lose power and begin falling. Part of learning how to fly a drone is being able to give your drone just enough throttle to where its able to maintain its position in the air.

Those are the basics of your controls. Note, this is the setup you’ll find in most transmitters.

However, there are transmitters in which the throttle/yaw and pitch/roll controls are switched (typically these are designed for left-handed people).

Now that you’ve learned about the controls, let’s continue this lesson to help you become more comfortable in the air.

Part 2: The Hover

The hover is arguably the most difficult part of controlling a quadcopter. But it’s doable once you learn the steps and practice. As a general rule of thumb, the closer you are to the ground, the more difficult it will be to keep your UAV steady.

Why? Because the downdraft from the rotors will be reflected upwards. Try raising your drone at least 5 feet off the ground before practicing your hovering.

At first, getting your drone to stay in the same spot mid-air is going to be challenging. Fully expect to fail in the beginning. But as you become more proficient behind the controls it will become easier.

Maintaining a steady hover is particularly important when you’re trying to take steady video shots. Here’s a video that will explain the hover more in-depth:

Part 3: Crashing

A big part of learning how to fly a drone is understanding how to crash.

It’s going to happen, so you might as well learn how to minimize the damage.

The first thing you should do upon crashing is turn off the throttle. This will prevent your blades from spinning against the floor and breaking.

Some people panic and drop their transmitter with the throttle still ON, which isn’t good as you can imagine.

Secondly, learn to recognize the signs of a crash and find a soft spot to land. Avoid crashing into trees, pavement, or rocks.

Instead, seek out soft spots in the grass if you feel that you’re about to crash. Typically, lighter drones like the Syma X5C won’t get too severely damaged if they’re crashed into the grass, so you should be okay.

Part 4: Beating the Wind

The wind is a drone’s worst enemy.

In a battle between your quadcopter and the wind, the wind will ALWAYS come out on top.

Still, this doesn’t mean that you can’t adjust accordingly and avoid a crash.

When learning how to fly a drone in the wind, keep an eye out for sudden wind gusts. These are the ones most likely to cause a crash since they’re so unexpected.

As you can guess, wind has a stronger effect on lighter drones than it does heavier ones. The DJI Phantom 3, for example, does a very good job at remaining stable in the wind.

However, something like the UDI U818A doesn’t stand a chance. This is something to keep in mind when learning to maintain control of a drone in the wind.

Part 5: Taking Selfies

The reason we recommend taking selfies with your drone is because it forces you to become better behind the controls. If you want to become a better flyer, it’s something you should practice regularly.

Remember: when taking a selfie, everything is going to become reversed (unless you have headless mode on). By that, I mean that right will become left and left will become right.

It can be very confusing if it’s your first time flying quadcopters. While taking selfies with your drone are fun, they’re also a great way to hone your transmitter skills.

Lily Camera – A Drone That Automatically Takes Selfies

Speaking of selfies, we wanted to bring up the Lily Camera. This drone will automatically follow you and take selfies without you having to manually control it.

I don’t know about you, but I think that’s pretty cool! Plus, it’s waterproof, ultra-portable, and comes with an HD camera that’s perfect for any occasion. Here’s a video of it in action:

Part 6: Choose a Landing Target

The next step in your journey of learning to control a drone is to choose a target and land on it. From personal experience, I’ve noticed that this is an area where a lot of beginners fail.

Start by choosing where to land your drone- a bench, an open patch in the ground, etc. Once you’ve chosen a spot, begin flying to that location.

Landing a drone precisely where you want it to isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially if there’s a lot of wind present.

Flying from target to target and landing will force you to become better at turning left and right, as well as moving up and down.

Here’s a handy video from MyFirstDrone.com that shows the fundamentals of controlling a quadcopter:

Part 7: The Pre-Flight Checklist & Safety

Before getting into the air, there are a few things you’ll want to check. Here’s a handy pre-flight checklist for you to follow:

  • Make sure your battery is fully charged.
  • Check that the SD card (for storing footage/photos) is inserted.
  • Make sure that your transmitter is charged.
  • Check the propellers (chipped or cracked props should be replaced)
  • Make sure the propellers are securely fastened.
  • Check that there are no loose parts on your UAV.
  • Make sure it's legal to fly where you're at.

When learning how to fly a drone, check these things before getting into the air.

You don’t want to be 60 feet above the ground before realizing there’s a problem. Now that we’ve shown you the pre-flight checklist, here are four important drone safety tips to keep in mind:

Four Important Drone Safety Tips

Safety Tip #1

Follow the instructions for charging Lithium Polymer batteries. These types of batteries are very volatile, so be careful.

Safety Tip #2

Don’t risk flying your drone in weather conditions that aren’t optimal. Wait until the weather is good before going into the air.

Safety Tip #3

Never fly your drone over or near people. Your propellers are moving at very high RPMs, so they have the potential to cause serious damage.

Safety Tip #4

Always switch off your quadcopter before switching off your transmitter. This is a big safety tip that many beginners forget about, so remember it! 

Learning how to fly a drone is as much about safety as it is getting good behind the controls.

Take the time to learn where you’re allowed to fly to ensure that you don’t break any laws. Check out Know Before You Fly if you have any questions about what’s allowed and what isn’t.

How to Fly a Drone – Bottom Line

No matter how much reading you do, learning how to fly a drone is about going out there and practicing. You can’t become an expert by sitting on your computer reading about it.

It’s recommended that you start off on a smaller/cheaper quadcopter before moving up to a more expensive model. This will allow you to hone your skills without having to worry about losing a big investment.

Good luck and fly safe.

About the author

David

Hey! Thanks for checking out my website. My name’s David, founder of SkilledFlyer.com. As you can tell, I'm an RC drone junkie. The goal of this website is to provide readers with up-to-date drone reviews, news, and tutorials. Thanks for stopping by!

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