How to fly a drone

Earn your wings with Haynes drone expert Alex Elliott’s tips 

Whether used to capture stunning aerial photography, for surveillance, or as is mostly the case, just a bit of fun, drones have become the must-have gadget of 2016, and now a new manual from publisher Haynes gives readers a step-by-step guide to building their own.

Here, author of the Build Your Own Drone Manual and professional drone maker Alex Elliott shares his top tips from the manual on flying drones for the first time.

Start with the basics

When people build their first drone they often want to add all the bells and whistles available. However, my suggestion if you’re just starting out in the hobby is to begin with the barest minimum of equipment when you make your first few flights, such as just the autopilot. Once you’re happy your aircraft is flying and that you’re comfortable flying it, then you can start adding extra equipment like a camera or FPV gear – which are great fun! The reason for starting this way is that you’re risking less of your investment until you’re more confident in your skills, and limit the potential for silly mistakes.

Haynes Build Your Own Drone, front cover
Haynes Build Your Own Drone

Simulators

There are several R/C flight simulators available on the market, including some free ones. This is a great way to get comfortable flying R/C aircraft without having to care about crashing – not to mention that it’s also great fun! Most R/C flight simulators include a USB cable that you can connect with your R/C radio to control your aircraft, but when choosing an R/C flight simulator it’s a good idea to check if your radio is compatible. If not, you can also buy cheap dedicated simulator R/C radio controls on the Internet. Many R/C flight simulators also include flight tutorials and challenges designed for all skill levels. This is a great way to learn to fly, starting with the basics all the way to advanced acrobatic flying. Learning on a flight simulator will greatly improve your flying skills as well as give you the confidence to try new things without worrying about breaking your aircraft.

Cheap toy quadcopters

If the idea of using a flight simulator doesn’t appeal to you the other great option is to buy a cheap mini quadcopter toy. These are often very basic but will still teach you the fundamentals of how to fly and hover a multirotor, and they often cost less than £20 for the entire kit. If you can fly one of these toy quadcopters well, then flying a fully featured GPS multirotor drone will be no problem for you, as the extra sensors and advanced features of the larger drones make them easier to fly.

Buddy box

If you know anyone who’s a decent radio control pilot chances are that they’ll be happy to help teach you to fly. A very useful feature found on almost all R/C radio controls is the ‘buddy box’ feature used for pilot training. This enables two radio control units to connect to each other (wirelessly or via cable), with one unit being the master (controlled by the trainer) and the other being a slave (controlled by the trainee). This way if something goes wrong while you’re learning to fly the pilot with the master R/C can take over control at any time to prevent a crash.

Pre-flight checks

Before setting out, a very useful check is to make sure that all your equipment is securely fastened and won’t come loose during flight, especially the flight battery. I remember when I made this mistake with a plane where I hadn’t secured the battery properly, and during a tight turn the G-force caused it to fly out of the battery compartment, leaving my plane with no power or control. All I could do was sit there as my plane spiralled down to the ground… It doesn’t matter if you have the very best safety features on your drone (such as a parachute), if the entire platform has no power nothing will work!

The Haynes Build Your Own Drone Manual is priced at £22.99 and is available in hardback.

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