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How to fly a drone, using controls, for beginners, and more!

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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.​

We'll cover the basic terminologies like "Yaw," "Pitch" and "Roll."  We will also discuss common techniques and best practices on how to fly a drone for beginners.

We will teach you as well how to beat the wind when flying a drone and even take great selfies like an expert.

By the end of this article, you’ll know a lot more about how to successfully control your quadcopter. 

Here is a breakdown of what we will be talking about on this guide:

  • The Controls
  • The Hover
  • Crashing
  • Beating the Wind
  • Taking Selfies
  • Choose a Landing Target
  • The Pre-Flight Checklist
  • Five Important Drone Safety Tips
  • Our goal is that by the end of this article, you'll know a lot more about how to fly quadcopters successfully. 

    Moreover, soon enough, you will be joining the pros as you cruise through the skies with your drone. 

    How to Fly a Drone


    1: The Drone 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.

    Mastering the drone controls as soon as possible will make flying a drone easier and safer. 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).

    Let’s get to know these terms one by one, so we would have a better understanding what these mean.

    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 fly quadcopters, spend much time perfecting your rolls. Many accidents happen because people either fly too far to the right or too far to the left.

    how to fly a drone for beginners

    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:

    flying a drone

    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

    how to fly quadcopters

    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.

    That wraps up the discussion about the basics of your drone controls. Take note that this is the setup you’ll find in most transmitters. 

    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.

    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.

    Expect to fail (and fall) a lot in the beginning, as it will happen. However, as you become more proficient behind the drone controls, hovering will become more comfortable and become second nature.

    Good thing, most units come with gimbals that help stabilize your camera and get those images and videos correctly.

    Before we proceed on our discussion on how to fly a drone for beginners, let’s talk about headless mode.

    As we know, drones move in four basic directions: 

    front, back, left and right. It is easy for us to identify which is which, unusually for quadcopters, as we can place LEDs, stickers or other indicators to make the directions clear. 

    Moreover, if we move the pitch and roll, the unit moves to the path relative to its front side.

    While this sounds relatively simple to understand, adding the yaw to the drone controls can make things a bit complicated.

    Since the yaw can move the unit clockwise or counterclockwise, the front may face a different direction from you.

    So, when you run the yaw 90 degrees to the left and move the stick forward, instead of going your forward, it will veer to its forward, which is to your left.

    Headless mode addresses this concern. When this feature is activated, when you push the right stick forward, it will still move forward relative to your direction, regardless where its front is.

    This is a useful feature for those learning how to fly quadcopters, as the unit will rely on your path, other than its own.

    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:

    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.

    1. Let’s start this section by learning to recognize the signs of a crash. Some of the common reasons for your drone to crash include:
    2. Loss of GPS signal – this usually happens when your unit is flown either indoors or a closed area. Some drones have a return feature when GPS signal is lost, which is a neat addition. However, some may not have this and could go down without proper GPS connection.
    3. Incorrect home point – another possible crash scenario caused by GPS problems. This time, the crash is caused by an improper recalibration of the unit's home point, and it returns to the wrong place. It is best to check the drone's home point calibration before flying a drone. We also recommend making the home on a higher altitude so your unit can find it more comfortable.
    4. Drained Battery – flying a drone with low battery power runs the risk of you unit crashing. To avoid this from happening, be familiar with the maximum flight time of your unit. Making sure that your battery is fully-charged or having a spare battery can save you from this.
    5. Broken or malfunctioning propellers – propellers are what keep your drone up in the air. While they are made with sturdy materials, they can warp, bend or generally out of shape with extended use. Checking your propeller blades before flying a drone can keep it from crashing, and have replacements ready just in case.
    6. Video loss – another common cause for crashing drones is losing visual connection. Just like walking blindfolded, not seeing where your unit is headed can usually end badly. This can be due to different factors, from loose video cables to damaged ports, so be sure to check these before each flight. If your unit does not include a camera, your camera's battery must also be monitored, as it can shut down beforehand.
    7. Pilot errors – this will be common for those who are still learning how to fly a drone. Getting the proper sense of direction, as well as being on the right perspective when operating, is going to be a challenge for beginners. Aside from losing direction, it is also possible to hit other drones in the air, leading to a crash. Being familiar with drone controls, as well as having much practice with how to fly quadcopters will help avoid this.
    drone controls

    After looking at possible causes of crashing, let’s discuss what to do whenever the inevitable happens. The first thing you should do is to turn off the throttle. 

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

    Turning the throttle off will prevent your blades from spinning against the floor and risk breaking the propellers, the motor, or both.

    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.

    4: Beating the Wind

    how to fly a drone

    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.

    The three things that are needed when flying a drone on these conditions are practice, patience, and a lot of spare batteries.

    Going against strong winds will drain your drone’s battery like a sponge. Because of this, it would be best to have backup batteries to continue flying.

    Also, know your drone's limits. While your unit can go against winds to some extent, it is always possible for your drone to be carried by the wind.

    Even the return home function may not work correctly in these situations. 

    If you don't want to lose your hard-earned drone, choose the right weather conditions when going out for a flight.

    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.

    Knowing when they come and acting accordingly with drone controls can save your drone from damage or getting lost.

    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.

    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.

    Here are some excellent drone selfie ideas:
    1. -Shadow shots – take unique images while traveling. Set your drone at a high enough altitude that captures both your subject and the shadow, and take that photo. Best places to take these are on spacious areas like beaches.
    2. -High-angle images – get shots of not just you, but your amazing surroundings as well. Having a higher altitude is preferred for these shots, so feel free to go as high as you can and pose for the camera.
    3. -Long Exposure photos – start giving your selfies a more exciting background with prolonged exposure. This trick works well when your dark surrounding is combined with a glow stick, flashlight, or firecracker. To do this, make sure your camera's shutter speed is around 2 seconds, get your drone to a good height, and capture away.

    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:

     Just remember that when taking a selfie, everything is going to become reversed (unless you have the 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.

    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.

    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.

    Some who struggle with landing their drones resort to a more dangerous maneuver we call "catch landing." To do this, the pilot lowers the drone with one hand then catches the unit with the other. The motors are then turned off to end the flight session.

    While this may sound a cool thing to do, it poses some serious risks.  The unit can hit you, the person next to you, or the ground. Moreover, that can cause damage to the unit or yourself.

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

    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 and properly installed. Partially charged batteries may lead to crashing, as we discussed earlier.
    • Check that the SD card (for storing footage/photos) is inserted. It would also help if you can check if the SD Card has enough space left for the new images/footage so that you won't miss any memorable moment.
    • Make sure that your transmitter is charged before use. Nothing spells crash more than a low battery transmitter.
    • If you are connecting your smartphone on the controller for additional drone controls, make sure it is properly charged. Also, check that your smartphone is correctly connected to the controller, and the appropriate app is installed and working.
    • Check the propellers (chipped or cracked props should be replaced)
    • Make sure the propellers are securely fastened on the motors.
    • Check that there are no loose parts on your UAV unless it is intended.
    • Make sure it's legal to fly where you're at. Get appropriate licenses or permits if needed. The last thing we want is to be penalized for something we can easily avoid.
    • Calibrate the GPS of your UAV to make sure it has the right settings.
    • Setup the home point before flying a drone. As mentioned earlier, it is ideally recommended that it would be on a higher level than the ground.
    Run through the checklist thoroughly to avoid any possible problems. 

    You don’t want to be 60 feet above the ground before realizing there’s a problem.

    Additionally, we recommend having spares of the following items just in case you need them.

    • Batteries, especially for units that have either a short flight time or battery power
    • Propellers, in case something happens to the installed ones due to a crash
    • SD Cards, if you are planning to get a lot of 4K videos

    Now that we've shown you the pre-flight checklist, here are four crucial drone safety tips to keep in mind:

    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.

    8: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

    flying a drone

    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. 

    Also, depending on the drone you will pick up, you may need to buy some spare parts for replacement.

    Once you have your drone, review the manual so you would be familiar with the specifics of your unit.  When ready, step outside; run through the checklist; and start flying. Keep on practicing the drone controls so it will be second nature to you in the future.

    As mentioned, crashing will be inevitable while learning. So learn from the signs and practice safe landing and crashing.

    Now that we have looked at most of the things we need to talk about, it is high time we wrap up this discussion.

    Thank you for checking our guide on how to fly a drone for beginners, and we hope this could help you with flying. Moreover, with that, good luck, fly safe and enjoy the skies!

    About the Author David

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