Have you come across that British Subway video and the smartphone game Dumb Ways to Die? This post is not intended to be like one of those but definitely for flying a drone. When flying your quadcopter for the first time, mistakes are inevitable, so we bring to some of the most common mistakes and our recommendations how to avoid them.
Fortunately enough, most of the mistakes that we are going to bring to the fore are based on common logic and you can avoid them if you comprehend the situation aptly. The difficult situations might appear to be simple but in the hindsight, the way and how they crop up is going to bewilder you. So, be ready to face any sort of circumstances while flying a drone.
1 – Fly Legitimately
Majority of the drones do come with an instructions manual that elaborates what a pilot is supposed to do and not supposed to do with a drone. When it comes to majority of the places around the world, this may not be an issue. But when it comes to America, any aircraft that weighs more than 0.55 pounds must get registered with the Federal Aviation Administration and follow their stringent set of guidelines. We have been writing about these guidelines earlier as well and intend to do so time and again. But here is a gist of these guidelines for your perusal.
Keep in mind that currently, you are not required to get your drone registered with the FAA mandatorily. The registration is optional but not legally binding. However, the aeronautical rules are still in place and you are supposed to follow them or else face sanctions.
Here are the fundamental drone flying guidelines in United States of America:
- Fly at or below an elevation of 400 feet from the earth’s surface
- Always fly within line of sight. If you are not able to see the drone with your naked eye, it’s time to bring it back home
- No flying near airports
- No flying near airplanes since they retain the right of way in the air
- No flying near or above people
- No flying near or around sports stadiums
- No flying near emergency situations such as fires or car accidents
- Do not fly under the influence
- Use the B4UFly smartphone app to be aware of the no fly zones
The no fly zone or controlled airspace situation underlines that a pilot is not supposed to fly a drone within 5 miles of an airport and even if you plan to do so, you have to inform the concerned local air traffic controller about your intent for where and when you will be flying.
Finally, sad as it may appear, but you are not allowed to fly your drone anywhere you want. However, the rules are not difficult to comply with. You simply have to think about yours safety and the safety of those in your surroundings and it won’t be a hassle.
2 – Patience is a huge virtue
I can comprehend the overwhelming desire to take your new drone equipped with a stunning camera out of the box and start zipping around in the skies. But we suggest you to not attempt flying unless you are cocksure about suitable environments.
I had to learn it the hard way since I took my $30 drone out for a flight on a windy evening just to see how it responded to my inputs. Since it was a toy grade quadcopter, so it was not able to sustain the gusty winds and it took no more than 45 seconds of flight before I had to climb up a tree to retrieve my quadcopter. The very next day, it was bright and sunny with no wind around and I had a great time flying my sweet thing.
The problem with wind, though you already may be familiar with it but may forget it when the heat is on, is that the higher up you go, the stronger in intensity it gets. At the ground, the conditions might appear to be normal but out there in the skies, the situation might not be suitable for your drone flight. So, keep these aspects in mind before you head out for a flight adventure.
3 – Be careful of trees, light posts and power transmission lines
It is needless to say that you have to stay wide clear of the trees and power transmission lines. But within a matter of seconds, these hurdles might come in your way. Your drone might be driven away by strong wind into the trees but there are other factors at play as well. I consider the apparently convenient looking feature Return to Home a cause for concern.
Firstly, you might be flying a drone at a low elevation with a high tree canopy above. Initially, it all sounds good until the Return to Home feature is triggered on and you figure out that the RTH feature boasts a higher autonomous flight height. Most of the RTH features take your drone to an altitude of 60 feet (20 meters) or above.
I once happened to be landing my drone down on the ground and it was no more than 18 inches from the surface. All of a sudden, the RTH feature was triggered owing to low battery and the drone was taken to an altitude of 60 feet above the ground, travelled a distance of about 3 feet and then autonomously landed on the ground. I had no option to override the RTH instruction so I was totally at the mercy of the autonomous flight feature. I knew that I had to ensure the drone landing at a place that had no hindrance above but still the trees in the surroundings were a lot nearer than I had anticipated. I never ever desired that drone to attain a height of more than 6 feet above the ground.
RTH has another rather conventional risk associated with it. Most of the drones know that they are at point A and their home is at point B. If your drone is not equipped with obstacle avoidance features then you should ensure that there are no hindrance between your drone and its base station.
You should also keep in mind your operational range the interference in between. That toy grade drone that I discussed earlier had a control range of about 60 feet. It is easy to fly your drone to the edge of its connectivity sphere. As it crosses that dreaded threshold, the drone does not just stop there but keeps goings for a few moments that seem like an eternity, loses the power and down it goes. If the edge of your connectivity sphere is near to a tree canopy or some other hindrance, just stay safe.
4 – Stay in range and keep track of controller interference
This postulate seems to be rather self-explanatory. Most of the drone manufacturers claim a certain control range for a certain drone. By control range I do not mean the ground a drone can cover before it collapses to the ground due to the battery running out of juice. I mean the straight line distance between the drone and the radio controller. Keep your drone within this control range and be ready to run towards your drone in case of mishap.
According to the FCC rules, all radio frequency electronics in the US accept interference. Ideally, FAA would not want any device hovering in the sky to undergo interference but it does. A lot of interference takes place so you have to be ready to face the music. If your drone is loaded with First Person View system and transmits a real time video stream to your smartphone or the controller, you will be facing plenty of interference.
It goes without saying that you should avoid flying near places that have lots of magnetic interference since it tends to harm the GPS. It generally happens while flying near skyscrapers, power transmission lines or radio towers. In such cases, you might end up losing control of your drone for a few fleeting moments and experience turbulent flights.
There are solutions to these issues but a simple way to avoid such circumstances is not to fly near such infrastructure.
5 – Propeller Wash
One of the most conventional mistakes pilots make is flying dangerously close to the ground. Keeping the drone at a low altitude might seem to be a safer option apparently, but it tends to create one of the least stable flying environments for a drone to fly properly. It is related to simple mechanics. As propellers rotate, air is moved downward with sufficient force so that the aircraft can take off from the ground. When the drone is closer to the ground, the same air ricochets back off the ground to hit the quadcopter.
Two things happen while flying closer to the ground. Firstly, the drone gets an additional boost, the high air pressure keeps the drone aloft even though you might not be having sufficient amount of throttle to sustain flight. This can be tested with a nano drone in the house. Hover as low as possible over a table and move towards the edge. The drone will drop to the floor, the propeller wash prevented the drone from landing on the counter top but there was not enough throttle to sustain flight.
Secondly, propeller wash is not a stable situation. I have seen drones hovering dangerously close to the ground and end up being whipped into a spin or flip upside down. Keep in mind that the drone is generating sufficient amount of airflow to keep itself aloft. If that same air ricochets back to the craft, it may spell doom for the device.
As far as most of the drones are concerned, once you get to a few feet above the ground, you should be out of the danger zone. My DJI Flight instructor taught me to take off from the ground and swiftly take your drone to about 6 to 8 feet height. Hover there while you reassess the environment and observe if there is too strong a wind for your craft. If it is calm, then continue with your flight.
6 – Wind and Air temperature
Wind and air temperatures tend to have a lot of influence on your flight. The higher you go, the stronger the wind and the more unpredictable its behavior becomes. It is a powerful element and can be dangerous for your craft. Moreover, wind also dictates the amount of battery power that is consumed. Before you embark on your flight adventure, take a note of the wind speed and direction and ensure that you have sufficient battery juice to support you.
Have you ever seen an eagle or hawk soaring in the skies? This is made possible because of the pockets of warm rising air. These are generally found around hillsides and these thermals can prove to be rather strong if utilized properly. It is highly probable that your drone does not have a large surface area like an airplane wing to harness a thermal. Whatever its surface area may be, it is still large enough to make a difference.
While flying your drone in a mountainous terrain, especially if you come close to the edge of the crest of a hill, be ready to experience unstable flight. This can also take place while you are flying over changing terrain, for instance, flying from a beach to water or flying from top of tall grass to hot concrete of a parking lot. Different air temperatures will give rise to thermals. A thermal may not have that large an effect on the modern day consumer drones. But you can avoid that dreaded jerk in your video or enhance your flight time if you are able to harness the power of thermals.
Finally, air pressure tends to be different at different air temperatures. So, your flight time would be longer on a cool day as opposed to a warm day. The dense air makes it easier for the propellers to create the life for the takeoff. That’s all physics, y’all!
7 – Avoid flying in your local park if you are still learning
Seemingly, this one appears to be a rather harsh advice as you may consider it disrespect to your fellow beings. To be honest, flying a drone is a liberating experience that should be enjoyed from the very first moment till the very last. You may think of it as something similar to driving a car. You can let others drive your car but not while you are driving it. We suggest you to land the drone safely before you hand someone else the controls over. At least, if you pay heed to this advice, you will know who is responsible for crashing your precious drone. There is no need to augment that added risk of a bumped lever while you transfer someone else the controls.
When I ask you to fly alone, I mean that you should avoid going to the local park before you get a hang of flying a drone. You do not want to get obfuscated with all the kerfuffle around and people ogling at you as if they have seen something unique. This is true for anything that can distract you; from humans to pets and kids. Keep in mind that Federal Aviation Administration considers a pilot only responsible for all the actions and movements of a drone until it lands safely onto the ground. You should ensure that you are not distracted while flying your drone and if anything prevents you from safely landing your device, you should stay clear of it.
I sincerely hope that you become enough of an expert who can fly with other fellows since it can be a whole lot fun if congregational drone flying is put into practice.
8 – Avoid investing big at the beginning
I have said it thousands of times and will say it again and again that practice makes a man perfect. It can help you avoid tricky situations in case your machine misbehaves owing to environmental conditions or any technical glitches. You should spend lots of time practicing flying your beloved drone and purchasing a low cost low-end device.
We suggest that you should go for a toy drone that is cheap and can be disposed off easily. There is a list of cheap drones that we have compiled and you can have a look at it. This list comprises drones that are placed at the lower end of the price spectrum and can be used to learn flying a quadcopter.
It is also judicious to being your drone hobby with a device that consumes less power. There would be many of you who learnt how to drive a car by sitting in high tech Ferraris or racing cars but when it comes to drones, starting with low power devices is the way to go. The market is proliferated with formidable devices that boast high power and are super fast but we recommend you to learn your flying skills first before using them on bigger and better machines.
9 – Battery lifetime can be short
You will definitely be tempted to set your drone whizzing through the air with a partially charged battery. This is not the worst of ideas but while you will be having fun, the battery will run out of juice quickly without lasting the amount of time it has been designed to serve and your thirst for adventure and phenomenal flight experience will remain unquenched. Having said that, while using a partially charged battery, there is always a tremendous risk of your device crashing down onto the ground since these machines do not slowly drift to the ground rather they just stop working and drop down.
This is also true for the quadcopter and the controller. It is also your legal responsibility to make sure that the quadcopter lands safely on the ground. Moreover, if you are unsure about landing, then you should not take off at all. Taking your drone off with a fully charged device will reduce the probability of your device getting crashed into the ground.
10 – Over-reliance on Autonomous flight features
A significant reason because of which we profess newbies learning to fly a drone on cheap low power machines is that they are loaded with autonomous flight features. It is true that autonomous flight capabilities and the GPS-enabled hovering functionality in particular renders drone flying exceptionally easy. As a matter of fact, even a beginner can fly a DJI Mavic Pro. All he has to do is to tap the button to take off the drone, as the device hovers impeccably over a certain location and a simple tap of the same button will ensure that the quadcopter lands exactly where it took off from.
So, if you are using the legendary DJI Mavic Pro for your first flight, you will surely enjoy the experience but there will be no learning for you in this flight. Moreover, if the autonomous flight features malfunction, what will you do to prevent your device from crashing into a tree or into the ground? I should reiterate here that practice will help you accomplish big things in drone flying so you should avoid from depending on autonomous flight features.
11 – Know where the sun is
Most of the drone enthusiasts are interested in capturing stunning aerial images and video footages from the sky. This is certainly a great art and so you should play by the rules of the game of photography. When it comes to capturing images and videos with a drone, the best source of light for photography and cinematography in the sky is none other than our sun. It can make or break your day since if a cloud intervenes, low light can spoil your entire aerial photography experience. This is a reality and we have to live with it. I would advise you to plan your flight before you take off.
Taking photographs and capturing videos while facing the sun can be a bit of a hassle for the contrast with a bright sky and dark ground. Similarly, with sun on one side, undesired shadows can be unleashed on objects or flares are produced on the camera lens. The best situation is when the sun is at your back but you have to take care of your machine’s own shadow which may get into your frame. Now, I like this effect but it does not necessarily mean that you will.
There is another attribute of the sun that should be taken into account while pursuing aerial photography and this is the brightness of the mighty star. You must have tried sitting on your lawn chair and ogling straight into the sun. Legitimate drone flight is the one in which the pilot keeps the drone within his/her line of sight. There could be a scenario where you are attempting to keep the drone in your line of sight and your vision gets hampered by the sunlight. So, it is essential that you immaculately plan your flight and choose a location and path of flight appropriately. Moreover, you should also ensure that you have sunglasses at your disposal and a hat to protect your eyes and drone simultaneously.
We would highly recommend you to opt for a sunshade for your controller and it is included in our most suggested list of accessories. You can always use your First Person View camera to get a live video feed from your device’s camera and it is a great assistance if sun is making it difficult for you to keep an eye at your device. The sunshade enables you to view the controller’s display without any hiccup. Please note that the video feed comes with latency and you should never think of it as your primary mode of vision.
12 – Stay safe and happy flying
We have bombarded with loads and loads of relevant information. It will definitely take its time to sink in and you will require weeks and months to get a hang of how to fly a quadcopter. It is a game of patience and we all know that patience is a virtue. You should meticulously plan your flight and ensure that perfect flying conditions exist for your flying adventure. Try to abide by the rules and regulations stipulated by FAA. They are not actively pursuing violations of these rules but recently there have been instances where people have been fined heavily for being reckless.
If you take care to ensure that everyone around you and your device are safe, you will surely have a time of your lives while flying a drone.
Do you think that we have missed out on any important tricks that every beginner drone pilot should be aware of? Please let us know in the comments section.