Are you familiar with the British Subway video and the smartphone game titled Dumb Ways to Die? The article that you are about to read is going to be a bit similar to the above mentioned video and mobile phone game. But it is in terms of fly a drone. When you are about to fly your new quadcopter, you are bound to make plenty of mistakes. Let us share with you some of the most common errors and also present to you some suggestions that can be employed to get rid of them.
Fortunately, most of the mistakes to have made to our list are basically the common logical stuff that can be avoided simply by applying some common sense. The issues might be commonplace but you might die wondering when they crop up. This guide will help you get ready for some of the most common situations that might come your way during your initial drone flights.
Fly with laws in mind
Most of the drones available on the market do not come with a set of instructions guiding the dronie about what is legal and what is not. If you are not from the United States, you will not have this problem but over here in the US, the Federal Aviation Authority has formulated a rule that dictates that any aircraft that weighs more than 0.55 pounds should be registered with the authority and is bound to follow the regulations stipulated by them. We have gone through these rules a number of times but here is a summary of these regulations for your perusal.
Fundamental guidelines for drone flying in the United States:
Here are the fundamental drone flying guidelines in the United States of America:
- You are not allowed to fly above an altitude of 400 feet above the ground
- Line-of-sight flying is a prerequisite. If the drone becomes invisible to you, get it back in your sight.
- You are not allowed to fly in the vicinity of airports.
- You are not allowed to come any place near an aeroplane. The airspace is theirs when they are in the air!
- Flying a drone over humans is strictly prohibited.
- Drone flying near or over sports events or in the vicinity of sports stadiums and arenas is not allowed.
- In case of any emergency situations such as car crashes or building fires, drone flying is strictly not allowed.
- No drone flying is allowed under the influence.
- Controlled airspace and government installments are out of bound. You can make use of the B4UFly smartphone app.
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By controlled airspace we mean that you are not allowed to fly your drone within 5 miles of an airport. Even if you are to fly, you have to let the local air traffic controller know about your intention of flying a drone near the airport and inform the designated personnel where and when you will be flying.
So, you cannot go out in the middle of nowhere and start flying your drone. Having said that, the rules are not that complex. You just have keep the safety and security of your device, your surroundings, humans and even your own security in mind and the rules won’t be a hurdle in your way.
Patience is a Virtue
I know what it feels like when you have spend a few bucks on your new camera drone or your very new toy drone and you want to set it whizzing through the skies without any delay. We strongly advise you to give proper respect to the weather conditions and if they are not suitable, you should not test the mother nature.
I myself had to bear the consequences of my arrogance. I got hold of a $30 drone and tried to fly it in gusty conditions. The poor machine had been in the air for no less than 45 seconds and it could not bear the brunt of windy conditions. Hence, I had to climb a tree to rescue my new device. The very next day, I had great fun flying my new machine since the weather conditions were excellent.
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What really makes flying so difficult is that the higher you go in terms of altitude, the more stronger the wind and the harder it will be for you to manage your machine. The weather conditions might appear to you normal at the ground level but you will have to anticipate the wind strength at higher altitude before you put your device in the air.
Foliage, light posts and power transmission lines
There is no use trying to emphasize that you should avoid obstacles such as trees and power transmission lines when you take your drone out for a flying adventure. Remember that if you are only a tad reckless, these hurdles can come in your way like impending doom. Wind is the main factor that tends to divert the direction of the drones towards trees but other than the wind, there are a number of factors that should be taken into account while flying a drone. As far as I am concerned, the most crucial item that tends to cause a disruption is the effective application of the Return to Base feature.
First and foremost, there is a high probability that you are flying your drone at a very low height while the trees are a bit too high for the device to reach. This sounds like we are going to have an event free flight but as soon as you switch on the Return to Base feature, you will come to know that it boasts a high autonomous flight height. With most of the Return to Home features, the drone attains an altitude of no less than 60 feet above the ground which is equivalent to 20 meters.
Once I happened to manually land my machine. It was no more than 18 inches from the surface of the earth. I was pushing at the joystick to bring the device down just when the low battery return to base feature was triggered automatically. The drone rose to an altitude of 60 feet into the air, moved just about a distance of 3 feet and came back to the ground to land automatically. This machine had no option of switching off the Return to Base feature and I had to depend totally on the autonomous landing feature. Fortunately though, I have been trained not to take off from any position that has an obstacle above it. Nevertheless, the trees in the neighbourhood were way too close to my liking. I would have preferred the drone not to go more than 6 feet above the ground for that flight adventure.
There are other risks associated with the Return to Base feature as well. Majority of the drones are able to detect that they are currently positioned at point A and their destination or home is at point B. If your machine is not equipped with obstacle avoidance sensors, you should ensure that there are no obstacles between the point A and the point B which is the home station for the drone.
Lastly, you should take into account your control range and the expected interference. The toy drone that I happened to bump into a tree due to strong wind had a very small controlling range to the tune of about 60 feet. One can easily fly the device to the edge of its connectivity diameter. Once it gets to that point, the machine does not simply stop operating even though the connectivity has been lost. The machine tends to keep going while you have no control over it, then loses power and falls from the sky into the ground. If you feel that the edge of your connectivity diameter lies dangerously close to foliage or other potential obstacles, you should be careful.
Keep your drone in its control range and take care of the controller interference
I think we have gone through this topic in detail. Typically, drone manufacturers advertise the effective control range of their machines. By range, I do not mean the amount of distance covered by the drone before its battery runs out of juice. The term control range implies the distance in a straight line between the controller and the drone. You should keep your drone within the prescribed control range and be ready to get to your device if there is a hiccup.
In accordance with the rules and regulations stipulated by FCC, all radio frequency electronics in the US are bound to accept interference. The FAA naturally does not want any aircraft to experience any interference but it does tend to happen. This is a common phenomenon so you should get accustomed to it. This is more often the case with live video streams if your device is equipped with a FPV camera and a live streams video to smartphone or controller feature.
It goes without saying that you should not fly your drones in places that tend to boast high levels of magnetic interference since it deteriorates the GPS performance. You will observe that if you fly your device in the vicinity of large buildings, power transmission lines or radio towers, your flight experience suffers. The device does not fly with stability and experience turbulence while the pilot ends up losing control of the machine for small intervals of time. Again, this is not what should be happening to your drone.
You can obviously get rid of these issues but we would advise you to stop flying your device in these areas simply.
The most common mistake that a number of drone pilots commit is flying too close to the ground level. While it might appear that flying close to the ground is rather safe but it tends to create an extremely unstable flying scenario for the machine. It is associated with the mechanics of quadcopter flight. As the propellers rotate, air is pushed downwards with ample amount of force that the aircraft can take off from the ground. When the drone is flying close to the ground, that same tends to ricochet back off the ground towards the device.
When a quadcopter is hovering close to the ground level, a couple of things can take place. Firstly, the device gets an additional boost since the high pressure air helps to ensure that the machine stays in the air despite the fact that you are not putting in sufficient amount of throttle to keep the drone aloft. This can be experimented with a nano drone in your room. Hover your device as low as possible to a table, while gradually manoeuvring the machine to the edge of the table, the drone will drop to the floor. Actually, the propeller wash keeps the drone from landing on the table but since there was not enough power available, so the quadcopter was not able to sustain flight.
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Secondly, propeller wash is immensely unstable. I have witnessed drones flying at very low heights too close to the ground and abruptly whipping into a spin or flipping upside down even. Keep in mind that your quadcopter tends to produce sufficient airflow to keep itself aloft. If the same air ricochets off the ground back towards the quadcopter, weird things are likely to take place.
Most of the drones are generally safe at a height of few feet above the ground. But my DJI flight instructor advised me to go to an altitude of 7 or 8 feet immediately after take off and then continue with the flight from there onwards.
Wind and air temperature
I do not want to get into technicalities here but you must keep in mind that wind and air temperature have a great impact on your quadcopters flight. As far as the wind is concerned, at a higher altitude, your device will face stronger wind but it will be unpredictable, it will be powerful and can spoil your flying experience. Another important thing with regard to wind is the amount of battery power that is consumed by the quadcopter while it fights strong gusty conditions. Before take off, you should keep an eye at the wind speeds and direction and ensure that you have sufficient battery juice to let you get back easily in case of any uncalled for situation.
When it comes to air temperature, things are not as simple as one thinks.
Are you familiar with a hang-glider? Have you seen an eagle or a hawk soaring in the sky? This is only possible owing to the handful of warm, rising air that is a common feature above mountainous terrains. When utilized properly, these pockets of thermal air can be immensely powerful. There is a high probability that your quadcopter does not boast a large surface similar to a gigantic airplane wing to capture a thermal pocket of air such as this but there is enough of it that can have a tremendous impact.
When you are flying your drone over a mountain, as you bring your machine down from the hill’s crest to its edge, you should anticipate some instability in flight. This is also possible when you are flying your device over varying terrain. For example, flying from the beach out over the water or from over top of cool green grass to top of concrete of a road or a parking lot. The air temperatures will vary and so will the potential for pockets of thermal air. A thermal does not pose a great risk to the types of consumer drones that are in fashion today but it can be used to avoid any turbulence in your otherwise impeccable video footage. Moreover, you can also harness the power of thermals to enhance your flight duration.
Lastly, air pressure varies abruptly at different air temperatures. With all the other variables more or less constant, you will observe that you will get better flight duration on a cooler day as compared to a warmer day. Propellers are assisted by denser air to lift the quadcopter into the air. That’s all physics!
Fly your quadcopter alone
This looks to be quite a harsh advice since we are asking you not to share your machine with your friends and dear ones. We believe that flying a quadcopter is an adventure that should be enjoyed from the beginning till its climax. You should consider each flight as if you are driving a car. While you can certainly exchange your car with your relatives but not while driving. You should ensure that the drone lands safely on the ground before you hand over the controller to your friend. At least, it will help you determine who made an attempt to sabotage your precious drone. You are not supposed to take a risk of a bumped lever while handing the controls over to your friend.
When I say that you should fly your drone alone and only by yourself, I also imply that you should stay clear of your local drone park unless you feel that you have mastered your aircraft. You do not require the undesired kerfuffle around you as you set your drone whizzing through the air. This holds true for anything that can distract you; from humans to pets and kids. Keep in mind that FAA believes that a pilot is solely 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 wish 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.
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.
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It is also advisable to start your drone hobby with a machine 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.
Battery lifespans are 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.
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Dependence on Artificial Intelligence
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.
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Keep track of the sun
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.
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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.
Stay safe and enjoy
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.