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If you’re considering taking up flying drones, it may seem like you have a lot to learn and remember. It is not as difficult as it may seem. Fortunately you’ve come to the right place to get you started. We’ve summed up some of the best tips and tricks for beginners here.
FAA Certification for Flying Drones
If you’re new to flying drones, one of the first steps you may have to take is to become an FAA-certified drone pilot. This step may not be necessary depending on what state you live in. Some states require this certification before you fly any kind of recreational or commercial drone. Check into your specific state’s laws to see if you need to get certified.
To complete the certification process in the United States, the FAA requires that all drone pilots:
- Be at least 16 years of age
- Communicate fluently in English
- Be in good physical and mental condition
- Pass the aeronautical knowledge exam
This exam covers topics such as:
- Privileges and limitations of the aircraft (the drone)
- The effects of weather on small unmanned aircrafts
- Loading and performance of the drone
- Emergency procedures; radio communication
- Decision making and judgement
- Maintenance and pre-flight inspection.
Once you pass the exam and complete the paperwork online, you’ll be set to fly! Renewal is required every two years. This process can be simplified if you already hold another type of pilot’s license.
Even if you don’t plan on flying drones commercially right now, certification is still a good idea if you ever plan to make money as a drone pilot. That’s right– you can turn your passion for flying into a hobby that can pay off.
When you’re just learning about flying drones, odds are good that you will crash once or twice (or a dozen times). Don’t feel bad, it’s a part of the learning process. Learning what not to do when flying is just as important as learning what to do, and your mistakes will be your best teachers.
Be safe and learn good habits. Drone propellers can cause injuries. Go here for more on that.
With this in mind, a lower priced drone that is more durable can be a good choice for new pilot learning to master the art of flight. You can also find kid friendly drones for younger pilots. For a relatively small investment, you can practice piloting a drone and discover what features you like, and which features you don’t need. The stakes are much lower than if you invest hundreds of dollars on a high-end, expensive model.
Mini drones are particularly cheap, fun, and easy to learn on also. Also known as nano drones or micro quadcopters, mini drones can cost under $30. They’re best suited to indoor use, which means you can fly even in bad weather when it wouldn’t be advisable to fly a drone outdoors. They’re great for kids too. Its a way to learn the basics before graduating to a full-size quadcopter (and/or waiting until a pilot’s license can be attained at age 16). The compact size of mini drones also makes them very easy to travel with, so you can even take one in your pocket for entertainment on the go.
Read The Manual
Now that you’ve got yourself a starter drone, you might think it’s time to rip it out of the packaging and get it into the air. And you will, soon, but first stop and read the manual. Flying drones can be a lot of fun, but as the certification process shows, it is also something that can come with great responsibility. As a drone operator, you must be in control of your device at all times, even in unpredictable situations such as bad weather, human activity, and mechanical malfunction.
It’s important to give the manual a thorough read-through to understand your drone’s unique controls and features. This will better prepare you to handle your drone during flight and ensure your safety along with others. It will also make your flying experience more enjoyable if you can problem solve effectively as issues arise, instead of having to stop what you’re doing and go back to square one.
Unfortunately flying drones for the first time is not as simple as taking it out of the box and launching it into the air. First of all, charge up your batteries. You’ll need as much power as possible as you discover all the features your drone has to offer. While your batteries are charging, read the instruction manual.
It may sound elementary, but a thorough read-through of the instructions is the best way to ensure that you are operating your drone in the way it was intended to be used. This will prevent damage from accidents now as well as long-term use issues further down the line.
Each drone has a number of unique controls and features. You probably chose this specific drone for a reason. What special features are you excited about? Allow yourself time to do some thorough reading of the instructions and experiment with its different functions at home before taking it out for your first test run. You’ll be glad you did when you’re able to show off these features to your friends or onlookers during your first flight.
Beyond the basics of getting it airborne, how do you care for the drone before, during, and after use? Propellers, for example, are powerful, but can be fragile too. If the drone is being stored in a case, the propellers may need to be removed (and replaced when shaky) and stored separately. Any video components may attract dirt from takeoffs and landings, but will need to be cleaned (often before each flight) for optimal image capturing.
Some drones have manuals available online, while others still have traditional paper manuals. The internet is also a great resource for advice beyond what’s covered from the manufacturer. Searching online for a particular question or problem will likely pull up video tutorials from drone enthusiasts on how to address the issue.
Some of these videos may be specific to the make and model of your drone, while others may feature different brands but the information may be just as relevant. As always, use your best judgement and don’t be afraid to make discoveries for yourself. Maybe the next tutorial video out there will be yours.
Find A Good Spot to Fly Drone
It’s usually legal to flying drones indoors, but I enjoy outside in the open where I can fly unobstructed. Your backyard may work, but it also may not. To fly your drone, you need a wide-open area that is mostly free from obstacles. Think outside the box about what constitutes an obstacle: they range from standard things you can see (buildings, trees, power lines) to things that may not be as apparent (wind, birds, sun glare).
Despite all the measures you can take to avoid crashes and unintentional landings, accidents do still happen. Take a look at the area surrounding your flying zone. Are there lots of trees nearby? A busy street? A lake or other body of water? Consider using a drone tracker device to aid you as you gain experience.
Think about the worst-case scenario of which way your drone could go in the event of a command error. You’ll want to give yourself a wide perimeter between your intended flying zone and any potentially hazardous places your drone could crash. It’s much better to limit your flight at first. Land in a flat area. Don’t land a drone where it could be run over by a car. Other hazards include getting stuck in a tree, or worst of all, underwater.
Once you gain confidence with your controls and with your ability to read environmental conditions, your flight perimeter can begin to widen.
Monitor The Weather
The weather is another important consideration when it comes to flying drones. Keep an eye on the radar and watch for any approaching storms. Pick a day where the wind is gentle and not too breezy.
Ideally, you should be able to maintain visual contact (also call line of sight) with your drone at all times during the initial flights as you learn how the drone responds to your controls. Consider if looking up into the sun or bright clouds will be difficult. The last thing you want is to crash your drone because you were visually impaired by sun glare.
Wind and precipitation are the two biggest weather-related concerns when flying a drone. Even if you don’t feel like it’s a gusty day, it only takes a moderate wind to knock your drone off course. You may learn how to navigate small winds with your controls, but this will take time and practice. The water from rain or snow is harmful to a drone’s mechanical parts unless your drone is waterproof).
There are splash-proof or water-resistant drones (Swellpro Spry, Swellpro Splash, QuadH2O, Tetra Drone, PowerRay). For other drones, caution should be taken when exposed to wet environments. Waterproof drones are okay to fly in rain and can be submerged. Usually they cannot take off from water except for certain drones. It is not recommended to fly drones during storms with thunder and lightning due to the danger of electrocuting yourself or your device.
Watch Your Battery Level While Flying Drone
While drone flight time has come a long way, the technology is constantly evolving. Some drone batteries last longer than others, but they still are usually only capable of a few minutes of flight time. This is especially true on beginner models. The average drone battery lasts around 10 minutes, while high-end models can last 30-60 minutes or more. It’s usually true that the more expensive your drone is, the longer the battery life will be.
An average lithium ion battery lasts 300 to 500 charges before it needs to be replaced. If you drain the battery completely on each charge, the battery ends up weakening faster. You can prolong the life of your battery by avoiding overcharging (up to 80% full is optimal) and charging it in a cool environment. Charging your battery in a very hot environment can reduce its effectiveness by up to 35%. It’s also ideal to charge batteries for a few hours before you plan to use them instead of a few days. This is because batteries lose a small percentage of their charge in the time between when they’re plugged in and when they’re used.
The most foolproof tip, of course, is to always keep extra batteries on hand. This is so you can continue flying for as long as you’d like. But remember– always keep an eye on your drone’s battery level. Guide it back home when it starts to get low. “Better safe than sorry” is a good mantra here: you’d rather lose a minute or two of flying time than lose your drone in a crash. Batteries should be stored in a drone battery case or bag, because they can catch on fire if not stored propertly.
Don’t give up! Technology can often be frustrating, and drones are no exception. No matter how bad your first few trial runs with your drone go, don’t stop practicing. Consider how far drone technology has come in a decade. It will get easier over time, and the only way to get better is to keep doing it. Use all the resources available at your disposal if you reach a stumbling block. Call a drone-flying friend, search the internet, or consult your instruction manual. As the old saying goes, practice makes perfect. You can learn more advanced tips in our drone academies article.
With these tips and tricks, you won’t be a beginner drone pilot for long. With proper certification and training, the right equipment and location, and awareness of the hazards, you’ll be setting yourself up for success as you learn to fly your drone. Have fun!