This guide explains how to get into flying a drone (or quadcopters): where to start, what you should buy, and how to fly a quadcopter.
New to Quadcopters, Where to Begin?
Best First Quadcopter for Beginners
It’s always a good idea to get a cheap, robust “ready to fly” micro quad to start with. They are small and light, it causes a lot less damage to people or objects.
Although there are expensive and advanced flight controllers and copters that offer amazing GPS stability and assistance flying modes, you still need to be a good pilot to handle all sorts of situations. I don’t remember how many times I have seen someone posted a request online looking for a missing “fly-away” Phantom, or posted a picture of their wrecked costly quadcopter after maiden flight. I bet a high percentage of these incidence was due to inexperienced pilots. It might save you money to go straight to the quadcopter or setup you want, but learning how smaller, more crash-resistant nano quad benefits you in the long run.
I have shared some info on how to choose a good first quadcopter before.
Radio Transmitter Control Explained
If you have ever play games with game console, the Radio Transmitter is very similar. Here is a diagram of the controller, showing what each control do to the quadcopter.
You have two main sticks for the throttle and direction control, and you will have some optional switches as well (aka AUX switches), which are often used for switching between flying modes, turning on/off LEDs etc.
- Throttle – makes the quad ascend (climb) or descend (come down).
- Yaw – rotates the quadcopter clockwise or counter-clockwise.
- Roll – tilts the quadcopter left or right.
- Pitch – tilts the quadcopter forward or backward.
These controls are also referred to aileron (roll), elevator (pitch) and rudder (yaw).
If you want to know more, here is a guide to introduction of Quadcopter radio transmitters.
Quadcopter Flight Modes
There are many different flight modes (stabilization modes) for a quadcopter, depending on the kind of quadcopter, or flight controller. The most common flight modes being rate mode (aka manual mode or acro mode in KK2 boards), Self-level mode (aka horizon mode in multiwii, Naze32), Attitude mode, GPS hold (aka Loiter mode) and so on.
Each flight mode is designed for different flying purposes, and might uses different sensors and electronics modules. For example for the self-level mode, it uses the Gyro sensor and accelerometer, and the copter will always try to balance itself when you are hovering. But manual mode only uses Gyro, and the copter doesn’t level itself. Once you tilt it, it just keep going that direction, until you manually correct the angle, thus the name “manual mode”. Self-level mode is good but it’s not perfect, you will still find the quadcopter to drift around. Also it tends to wobble and vibrate a bit because of the the fact that it’s constantly trying to balance it self. Therefore many FPV’ers including myself prefer to fly in rate mode, and the results is a lot more smoother, and it becomes fairly easy to control too once you get used to it.
You can check out all the flight modes on the Multiwii to gain some insight.
However I still recommend new people to try self-level mode first, to build up experience and confidence. Manual mode can be very hard to control for someone just begin flying. Most cheap nano quad comes with self-level mode, some even have the optional rate mode available.
How to Fly Quadcopter and Rules
Here we begin talking about how to actually fly the quadcopter. First, here are some safety rules.
- Pick a nice day with no wind.
- Go to a large open field with no obstacles such as buildings or power lines around.
- Keep distractions at a minimum, and switch off your phone. :)
- Make sure you don’t fly near people or properties.
Now it’s time to practice your skills. Taking off and climb a couple of meters, hovering, flying from point A to point B, and landing. Take it slowly. :)
This is probably the first thing you need to find out before your flights, if you are flying outdoor. I personally would not fly if the wind is stronger than 15mph. It’s flyable, but the the quad will be a bit wobbly, and the video footage will be a bit shaky.
Before I understand how important this is, I flew my 450 size tricopter in gusty wind (it must be 25mph – 30mph) and it didn’t end too well. It was totally uncontrollable, eventually it was pushed away by the wind and crashed pretty badly. So you need to know the limits of wind speed your quadcopter can handle, and don’t risk it flying in powerful wind.
Hovering is actually harder than it seems, especially when you are flying FPV through a monitor or FPV goggle. Mastering hovering does not only allow you to have better control over your aircraft, but also allows you to shoot better aerial videos and pictures.
When you are flying forward fast, and you are about to crash intro a tree, what would you do? If you can escape by turning left or right, a wise option would be turning off your throttle. By stopping throttle, you also stop the fast rotating propellers as well. This reduces the chance of breaking your props, motors and further damages to your quadcopter. Some nano quad comes with prop guard, which is also a good feature to consider.
Unfortunately crashes are inevitable, even for the experts and pro. The best you can do is to learn how to minimize the breakage.
Once you have mastered flying line of sight with a small quadcopter, you might wonder how to fly in FPV which is the ultimate experience of flying a drone.
For more information on FPV system, check out this post.
I hope this article gave you some basic ideas about quadcopter, and how to fly one. There is indeed too much information to cover in just one article, do check out my other pages as well. Have fun and fly safely. :)