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Due to the fact that last Christmas was the first year when drones were one of top stocking stuffing choices, there are probably more beginners out there anxiously looking for tips, guidance and actionable hints to help them enjoy this awesome hobby safely than ever before in history.
It makes sense after all. Your beloved spouse is a technophile and you have purchased the new iPhone last year, the new iPad the year before, and you ran out of ideas. Of course you will purchase a multicopter, and that is a good choice as long as the on receiving it handles it in a safe and liable manner.
So I feel that we should help beginners as much as we can instead of mocking them. After all, we must also remember the first day we flew for the first time. We have not been confident at all. Nobody is born with an inherent knowledge of flying copters, so we had to make mistakes in order to learn to fly drones.
New to Quads, Where to Begin?
This guide will teach you how to fly a quadcopter (or any other multirotor drone).
Multicopter flying is a relatively new and emerging hobby. However, multirotor flying definitely has a learning curve and everyone goes through different struggles when piloting a quadcopter for the first time. There isn’t much information for people when they start out. That’s why very often, they just pick up the radio controller and start to fly around without knowing anything.
So if you’re just getting started and you’re having trouble flying your quad, or you’re looking to hone your skills, don’t worry because you’re in the right place.
It’s important to know that quadcopters are pretty powerful machines with fast rotating propellers. This means that you can easily break or damage what it crashes into. It’s important that you follow the rules to minimize the risk. You should avoid flying over or near people and property, or any restricted area without permission.
No matter your quadcopter model, the guide will provide you the skills and mindset needed to learn how to fly a drone for the first time. There are many aspects in play when starting out to control this kind of device, especially from beginner’s perspective and our goal is to give you a guide that will take out all of the guess work – from going through a pre-flight checklist, learning the controls, controlling your quad’s flight pattern, and even some advanced quadcopter flying techniques.
Note: You’ll have to understand some flying jargon to learn how to fly a drone properly. Of course, you can go by trial and error to get to fly an RC drone. However, do remember, every crash is an opportunity for your quadcopter to be damaged. Also the more you want to advance your hobby, the more you will need some background knowledge about flying a drone.
What You Will Need to Follow This Guide
There is a notion that drones are reserved only for those of us with excessive budgets although they have been around for some years now. Sure, professional models don’t come cheap. However, there are many alternatives for beginners which can help you get into it without spending too much money.
The commercialization of multirotors made them accessible for a wide variety of users, so, if you’re a newbie, I would recommend you to try it first with cheaper models and first learn how to fly a toy-grade drone. Furthermore, you could spend some time watching someone who already owns a quadcopter and see how the whole thing functions. They might even let you try it for yourself, which is an excellent way to see if you’re really interested in this kind of activity.
You can progress to FPV systems after you sharp your skills flying one of the toy drones. That’s where the fun really starts.
Note: If you haven’t flown a quadcopter before, we strongly recommend to start with affordable models to practice on, and brush your skills without headless mode.
For this tutorial, however, we would suggest having your own quadcopter model. The reason for that is that you can take some time getting to know all the different things that are in play here.
In order to follow this tutorial, you’ll need the following:
- A quad model
- An open area where you can practice on
- Enough time for practicing
- A lot of patience
You have probably already made a plan as to where and when you’re going to have your first drone lesson. It is important to note that the space you’ll use should be safe for you to fly the quad. Places with high traffic or other people around may not be the best option. This is especially true for beginners who want to get into the basic maneuvering.
Also, you should check if space is permitted to be used for flying drones. There are many new laws already in place to make sure that nobody is endangered by this activity. That’s why you should make sure to check carefully out what is and what isn’t possible in your surroundings.
Free time is essential to hone any skill, and flying drones are no exception. You will need much free time to make sure that your handling of the quad becomes fluid. Baby steps are crucial here. For example, if you want to become better at landing, you should spend a few sessions only on that.
This leads us to the patience. Patience is the key to your success. It is important to not get frustrated in the beginning because your quad doesn’t behave the way you want it to. Don’t let it get the better of you because over time, you will feel silly about ever doubting that you could learn to fly a drone with such ease.
What Will This Guide Teach You?
We know that not all aspiring commercial pilots or hobbyists are on the same level, so we’ve put together a table of contents to help you work on specific skills.
- Read the instructions first
- Drone controls
- Getting to know your transmitter/remote control
- Overview of the main quad parts
- The pre-flight checklist
- Choosing a place to learn how to fly a quadcopter
- Important safety precautions
- How to get your quadcopter off the ground
- How to hover in mid-air and land your quadcopter
- Flying your drone right/left and backwards/forwards
- How to pilot your drone in a square pattern
- How to fly a drone in a circle
- How to rotate your drone
- Flying a drone continuously
- Different milestones to pass
- Beginner quad flying techniques
- Advanced quad flying techniques
- Create a mental image
- Take care of your drone
- First Person View (FPV) – The pilots can see where the quadcopter is flying by looking through the UAV’s camera.
- Line of sight – The pilots can see their quad during flight.
- Camera – Today many quads either come equipped with a camera or allow you to attach a camera to them. (When we interviewed UAV experts about their favorite drone accessory , a camera came in second place.) This is how you practice aerial photography and videography.
- Propellers – Propellers spin according to the manual controls of the pilot, and the intensity of the spin correlates to the intensity of the drone’s movement.
- Remote Control/Transmitter – This is the hand-held device that allows the pilots to maneuver the quad and adjust its settings.
(Note: You can adjust flight modes with certain buttons on your transmitter/remote control.)
- Attitude (Auto-level) Mode – A quadcopter will level itself out once the sticks are centered.
- Self-level Mode (Horizon Mode) – It uses the Gyro sensor and accelerometer. The quadcopter will always try to balance itself when you are hovering.
- Manual Mode (Acro Mode or Rate Mode) – This flight mode is similar to flying a helicopter. Once you tilt the quad (roll) it will notauto-level itself back to its original position, and the quad will stay tilted even if you let go of the stick and it returns to the middle.
- GPS Hold Mode (Loiter Mode) – This mode returns the drone’s position once the sticks are centered. The same as attitude (auto-level) mode. However, this mode uses a GPS.
(Note: For simplicity’s sake, this article assumes that the right stick controls roll and pitch and the left stick controls yaw and throttle. It is important to note that some transmitters allow you to switch these controls based on what’s most comfortable.)
- Yaw – Rotates the drone left or right and it is done by pushing the left stick to the left or to the right. Points the front of the quadcopter different directions. Helps with changing directions while flying. It’s very straight forward when using yaw control – you’re rotating your quad clockwiseor counterclockwise. However, it takes time and practice to learn and get familiar with the confusing orientation changes created during a yaw.
- Throttle – The throttle is the moving of the quadcopter up and down, and this control is on the y-axis of the left stick. Pull the left stick backwards to decrease. Push the left stick forwards to increase. When flying the quad, you’re going to need to control the throttle all the time. For someone just beginning and starting to play with a new toy – controlling the throttle and hovering your quad would be some of the first steps you want to get yourself comfortable with.
- Roll – It is done by pushing the right stick to the left or right, and it literally rolls the drone, which maneuvers the drone right or left. This movement doesn’t change the drone’s altitude but only the position on the x-axis.
- Pitch – The Pitchis the moving of the quadcopter forward and back, and this is done by pushing the right stick forwards or backwards. You have to know the orientation of the drone to make sense of the right sticks movements. This means that you have to know what the front and back of the model is.
- Trim – Buttons on the transmitter that help you adjust throttle, yaw, pitch, and roll if they are off balance.
- The Elevator – Same as the right stick, but it relates directly to controlling pitch (backwards and forwards movement).
- Aileron – Same as the right stick, but it relates directly to controlling roll (right and left movement).
- The Rudder – Same as the left stick, but it relates directly to controlling yaw (as opposed to the throttle).
- Figure 8 – Flying your drone in a “figure 8” pattern.
- Hovering – Staying in the same position while airborne, and this is done by controlling the throttle.
- Bank turn – This is a consistent circular turn in either the counterclockwise or clockwise direction.
Read the Instructions First
The first thing you should do is carefully read the instructions provided with your drone, because the manufacturer is responsible for providing you with all the aspects you need to know regarding the features. The instructions may come in handy if any problems occur, so don’t take this part too lightly.
The controls will become your bread and butter when learning how to fly a drone.
Once you know how they act individually and how they interact together to form a complete flying experience, they will become second nature.
With any of these controls, the stronger your drone will move in either direction, the harder you push the stick.
Push the sticks very gently when you first start out, so the drone performs slight movements.
You can make sharper movements as you get more comfortable.
There are four main drone controls:
Simple sketch of pitch, roll, throttle and yaw on a remote control (left image) and drone (right image).
(Image source: Quadcopters Are Fun
Let’s go through each of these controls.
Pitch is done by pushing the right stick on your remote backwards or forwards, which will tilt the drone. This will result in backwards or forwards movement.
Example of a drone pitching backwards and forwards (this view is from the left side.)
Roll moves your drone right or left, and it’s called “roll” because it literally rolls the drone. It’s done by pushing the right stick on your remote control to the right or to the left. For example, the drone will angle diagonally downwards to the right as you push the right stick to the right.
Example of a drone rolling right or left. Notice the angle of the propellers and the tilt of the drone.
(Image source: Best Quadcopter Spot )
Here, the bottom of the propellers will be facing to the left, and this pushes air to the left, forcing the drone to fly to the right.
The same thing happens when you push the stick to the left. However, now the propellers will be pushing air to the right, forcing the drone to fly to the left.
Throttle provides the propellers on your drone enough power to get airborne. You will have the throttle engaged constantly when flying your drone.
Push the left stick forwards to engage the throttle. Push the left stick backwards to disengage the throttle.
Make sure not to disengage completely until you’re a few inches away from the ground, otherwise, you might damage your drone, and your training will be cut short.
Yaw rotates the drone clockwise or counterclockwise, and this is done by pushing the left stick to the right or to the left.
Yaw is usually used at the same time as throttle during continuous flight, which allows the pilot to make patterns and circles. It also allows photographers and videographers to follow objects that are changing directions.
The controls are all switched when the drone is facing you (instead of facing away from you).
This makes intuitive sense…
- If you push the right stick backward, the drone will movebackward (pitch)
- If you push the right stick forward, the drone will move forward (pitch)
- If you push the right stick to the right, the drone will move to the right (roll), etc.
So pay attention to that as you start changing directions, and always be thinking in terms of how the drone will move, rather than how the drone is oriented towards you.
Transmitter is one of the first things you will encounter with multirotors. This is a hand-held controller that lets you pilot your quad and control its flight pattern. The key to knowing how to fly a quad is knowing what the different buttons and sticks represent.
Quadcopter transmitters can have many buttons for various functions. More professional models can be rather overwhelming at first. However, in time, you will get a feeling on how to embrace all of the options you’ve been given with your particular model.
Below you can see a picture that describes each part of the transmitter:
Transmitters come in different shapes and sizes, and they also have different features. However, there are certain parts that are universal for every transmitter.
The right stick controls the movement of the drone on the x-axis. That is to say, it controls the roll and the pitch. In other words, it moves your drone backwards/forwards and left/right.
The left stick controls two aspects of flying a quad – the throttle and the yaw. In other words, it rotates your quad clockwise or counterclockwise. It also adjusts the height at which you are flying.
Each transmitter has its own trim button. You can see them in the image below.
(Image source: Quadcopter 101
You may notice that the drone automatically tilts and flies to one direction (or multiple) when you first push your throttle to get it off the ground.
This happens when the controls on the transmitter are unbalanced. Certain controls need to be trimmed to balance them out.
Overview of the Main Quad Parts
When learning how to fly a quad, it’s very important to understand the aircraft you’re commanding, because if something goes wrong, you want to be able to diagnose and fix the issue. It’s also very important to understand the capabilities of each part and how these parts play into flying a quad.
Here are the main parts of a drone:
- The frame
- Battery Charger
- Flight Control Board
- Electronic Speed Control (ESC)
- Radio Transmitter and Receiver
The frame is shaped in either an X or a + shape and connects all of the other components.
You want to consider the size and weight of the frame if you’re building your own drone. You also want to consider how the frame will affect your flying experience.
The motors spin the propellers, and a drone needs four motors, because one motor powers a single propeller.
Motors’ maximum speed is determined by the voltage – the higher the kV, the faster the motor will spin. Kv is often quoted in RPM per volt. This means that a 1000 Kv motor on a 10V supply will rotate just under 10,000 rpm at no load.
The battery is the power source for the whole drone, and without a battery, you cannot fly your drone. That’s why the battery needs to be charged and recharged.
The battery charger charges the battery so you can take multiple flights.
(Pro tip: It is recommended purchasing multiple batteries, so you won’t have to wait for the first battery to charge in order to take more flights.)
The Flight Control Board controls the accelerometer and gyroscopes, which control how fast each motor spins.
Electric Speed Controls (ESCs) are wired components that connect the battery and the motors, and they relay a signal to the motors that tells them how fast to spin.
At any one time, each of your motors could be spinning at different speeds, and this is what lets you change direction and maneuver.
A quad has 4 propellers. Each one helps determine which direction the quad flies or whether it hovers in place.
The radio transmitter is your remote control. The receiver is the antenna on the quadcopter that talks to the remote control. When you make an adjustment on the transmitter, the receiver is what understands that adjustment. After that, the receiver sends an adjustment to the rest of the quad system.
The Pre-flight Checklist
Going through a pre-flight checklist will keep you and your drone safe, and it will also make sure you don’t waste time fixing components and getting things ready, when you could be having a blast flying your drone.
Here’s a pre-flight checklist:
- Check that the drone battery is charged.
- Check that the transmitter battery is charged.
- Insert the battery and make sure it is inserted securely.
- Check that you have your micro SD card inserted (if your drone has a camera).
- Check that each propeller is secure.
- Make sure there are no loose parts on the drone.
- Check for loose or missing screws.
- Turn on the remote control.
- If your drone needs to calibrate and get satellite lock, wait until it completes its work.
- Check that there is enough room for launch and flight.
- Check that the throttle is all the way down.
- Back away to a safe distance (3 or 4 steps).
- Keep facing your drone the whole time.
- Keep a direct line of sight at all times when flying, so you can always see your drone and know when you’re about to crash. Also, sometimes, drones can fly out of the range of the transmitter’s signal. This can cause your quad to fly off on its own. Keep the transmitter’s range in mind. Don’t let your quad fly out of that range.
Choosing a Place to Learn How to Fly a Quadcopter
Any UAV pilot will tell you that learning to pilot a quadcopter in an enclosed space is asking for something to go wrong. There are many things that could go wrong – either with your belongings, you, or the drone itself.
However, flying in tight spaces will be a cinch as you get more experienced, and your control becomes natural.
But as a newbie, it is very important to choose a place that will minimize the impact any mistakes might have.
We suggest starting out in a large, open space with no obstacles such as buildings or power lines around. Go to a large open field or a park. Many people prefer to learn to fly a quad on grassy ground. This is a great place because if the quad needs to make a crash landing, it will at least have some sort of cushion.
Next, stay away from people or animals, because any crashes could cause serious injury.
And finally, when learning the nuances of flying, wind can be your worst enemy. Try to fly in the morning to reduce the chance of flying in the wind.
Important Safety Precautions
Quads are basically flying lawnmowers and they can be dangerous if not operated carefully.
Here are some very important drone safety precautions to keep in mind:
- Turn the throttle down to zero if you’re about to crash into something, so you don’t potentially destroy your drone, injure yourself, or injure somebody.
- Tie your drone down or surround it by a cage if you’re a beginner learning to fly indoors.
- Before doing any work on your drone, unplug/take out the battery. You might have a tough time doing future flights with missing fingers if the drone turns on accidentally and the propellers start spinning.
- When the propellers are spinning, keep your fingers away from them.
How to Get Your Quadcopter off the Ground
Alright! Now that you’ve taken all of the right safety precautions and you understand the controls, you’re ready to fly.
The throttle is the only control you need to get your quad in the air.
Push the throttle up very slowly, just to get the propellers going, and then stop.
Repeat this until you’re comfortable with the throttle’s sensitivity.
Slowly push the throttle further than before, until the quadcopter lifts off the ground, and then pull the throttle back down to zero and let the copter land.
Repeat this several times. Notice whether the quadcopter is trying to move backwards or forwards (pitch), move right or left (roll), or rotate right or left (yaw).
If you see any movements happening without you making them happen, you should use the corresponding trim button to balance them out.
For example, adjust the “roll” trim button next to the right stick if you notice the quadcopter moving to the left when you push the throttle.
You should keep the trims till you have a relatively stable hover off the ground by only using the throttle (left stick).
Congratulations! You now know how to get your quad in the air.
How to Hover in Mid-air and Land Your Quadcopter
To hover, you will use the throttle to get your quad airborne and you will then use small adjustments of the right stick to keep the quad hovering in place.
You may also need to adjust the left stick slightly, to keep your quad from turning.
Use the throttle to get the quadcopter about 12-18 inches off the ground.
To keep the quadcopter hovering in position, you should make tiny adjustments with the right stick (and the left, if necessary).
Cut back the throttle slowly when you’re ready to land.
When your copter is 1-2 inches off the ground, cut the throttle completely and let your quad drop to the ground.
Repeat this multiple times and until you become comfortable with hovering off the ground and landing gently.
Flying Your Drone Right/Left and Backwards/Forwards
You will need to hold the throttle at a steady rate to keep your drone airborne to fly it right, left, backwards, and forwards. After that you will use the right stick to maneuver your drone in the direction you want it to fly.
First, bring your quadcopter to a hover, push the right stick forward to fly it few feet forward, and pull the right stick back to bring the quad back to its original position.
Now, move your drone further backwards few feet, and return it to its original position.
To move your quadcopter few feet to the left, push the right stick to the left.
Move your drone back to its original position, and then fly it few feet to the right.
If the copter begins to rotate, you need to adjust the left stick to the right or left to keep the quad facing the same direction.
(Pro tip: You will probably notice your quad dropping in altitude when you move in either direction. Push the throttle and give the quad more power whenever you turn or move to keep it at the same altitude).
How to Pilot Your Drone in a Square Pattern
You know how to get a drone airborne from a dead start. Also, you know how to fly it in the four basic directions.
Now, it’s time to combine these skills and start flying in patterns, and this will help you get a feel for simultaneously engaging the controls.
Keep your quad facing away from you the entire time to fly in a square pattern.
Push the right stick forward (pitch), fly forward a few feet, and then return the right stick to the middle and hover in place.
Then push the right stick to the right (roll), fly to the right a few feet, and then hover in place for a couple of seconds.
Pull the right stick backwards, fly backwards a few feet, and then, hover in place for a couple of seconds. Then push the right stick to the left and return the copter to its original position.
Congrats! You now know how to fly in a square pattern. Keep doing this until you get comfortable with it. After that, you can move on to our next pattern – flying in a circle.
How to Fly a Drone in a Circle
This is where you will hone your simultaneous control skills, because you will use pitch, roll, and throttle at the same time to fly a drone in a circle.
As usual, use the throttle to get airborne, and then decide whether you want to fly clockwise or counterclockwise.
We’ll assume you’re flying clockwise (to the right) for this example.
Keep the drone facing away from you. Push the right stick diagonally up and to the right. This will engage both roll and pitch simultaneously, and start flying the drone in a circle to the right.
Start rotating the right stick more to the right after a couple feet, so you engage more roll. This will start maneuvering the drone to the right.
Start rotating the right stick diagonally to the bottom right after a few more feet, and continue to circle the right stick around until the quadcopter returns to its original position.
Try changing directions, and slowly rotating the right stick to fly your quad in a circle. Adjust the quad’s yaw by pushing the left stick to the left or right if you notice the copter starting to rotate and face different directions.
How to Rotate Your Drone
To rotate a drone, use the throttle to get airborne, and push the left stick in either direction once at a comfortable hover. This will rotate your drone in place.
Rotate the drone 360 degrees, and then push the left stick in the opposite direction and rotate it 360 degrees the other way.
Repeat this multiple times and until you’re comfortable with it.
Flying a Drone Continuously
Flying your drone continuously is your first serious goal as a drone enthusiast. If you can do it, you’ll be able to track different objects, capture great videos, and even take part in drone racing!
Flying a quadcopter continuously requires you to get the drone off the ground, keep it hovering at the desired altitude, and rotate and change directions simultaneously. In the early stages, it’s best not to go too high because you don’t want to crash your drone from too high up. Somewhere around 10 feet should be enough.
This will take some getting used to, because your drone will be facing different angles in relation to how you’re facing. This means that you will need to pay close attention to how each movement of the sticks will affect the drone’s flight.
First, take off, hover, and rotate your drone to a slight angle.
Fly your drone left/right and forwards/backwards using the right stick. Keep doing this until you get comfortable flying the copter while it faces a different direction.
Rotate your drone to another angle. Use the right stick to maneuver it again.
Repeat this till you get comfortable flying at different angles.
Slowly push the right stick forward to fly continuously.
As you’re pushing the right stick forward, push it slightly to the right or to the left at the same time.
Fly your drone in different directions by pushing the right stick forward and adjusting it right and left. Also, use the left stick to change the direction your drone is facing.
Then, move the left stick forward and backward to try adjusting the quad’s height.
Congrats! Now you know how to fly your drone continuously.
Keep repeating this till you can direct your drone at will.
Different Milestones to Pass
These milestones will help to keep you organized during the learning process, and they will also help you gauge where you’re at and what you should be going for next.
- Understand the parts of your drone. Also, understand what each of them does.
- Understand how the four main drone controls – throttle, roll, pitch, and yaw – affect the drone’s movement.
- Use the throttle to get airborne. Use the trim buttons make any necessary adjustments.
- Prepare a pre-flight checklist. Go through the list before each take off.
- Understand and follow the safety precautions.
- Get comfortable hovering your drone in mid-air.
- Get comfortable at gently landing the drone.
- Take off to an altitude of 3 feet and land your drone in the same position.
- Take off to an altitude of 3 feet and spin your drone around 180°.
- Get comfortable at flying the drone forwards/backwards and left/right.
- Learn to fly your drone in a square pattern.
- Learn to fly your drone in a circle.
- Learn to rotate your drone.
- Learn to fly your drone with continuous movement.
- Do all of the above, but this time fly your drone at an altitude of 25 feet.
Beginner Quad Flying Techniques
Here are some beginner flying techniques that you should to master:
- Hover your drone in place.
- Hover and rotate your drone.
- Rotate your drone to different angles. Fly your drone forwards/backwards and left/right until you get comfortable flying the drone without it facing the same direction as you.
- Fly in a square pattern.
- Fly in a circle.
- Fly your drone at different heights.
- Choose two targets on the ground. Repeatedly land, fly, and land on each one.
Advanced Quad Flying Techniques
Here are some advanced flying techniques that you should master:
- Do bank turns with your quad. Keep a little forward pitch for forward movement, apply throttle, and roll the quad in the direction of the turn (right or left).
- Fly your quadcopter in a “figure 8” pattern. This technique will require you to fly your copter with the front facing forwards the whole time.
Create a Mental Image
Even professional pilots have difficulties in determining how a drone is oriented in reference to them. However, they still have a slight advantage over the rest of us who might just start to learn how to fly a quad – they have experience.
How do they do that? It’s very simple. They create a mental image of themselves being in the quad, and this way, they stay on course, regardless of how many times the drone may turn and spin.
Of course, you won’t be able to do this instantaneously on your first try, and perhaps not even on your tenth one either. However, the more comfortable you get with the controls on the transmitter, the more you will get a feeling on how your quad behaves.
Take Care of Your Drone
It’s very important to take good care of your drone! Unfortunately, this is a thing many of us often forget. We often forget how sensitive this technology still is. That’s why it’s very important to clean your drone after every use and take good care of your device as well as the transmitter.
Drone flying is a great hobby to take up. It’s also a great way to capture some amazing photos, capture breathtaking videos, and explore places around you like you’ve never done before.
However, it’s important to note that you need to invest some time into learning all the different aspects of flying a specific drone. It may be tedious in the beginning, doing only basic maneuvers and limiting yourself to a smaller area. However, we hope we shed some light on what the payoff of will be if you show a little patience while learning how to fly a drone.
Practicing drone flying can be lots of fun. However, remember that safety is very important – whether we’re talking about the safety of your drone, your own safety, or the physical integrity of those around you. Taking all the necessary safety precautions means enjoying your drone more.
With the growing drone community, you can find drone enthusiasts around you easier than ever – get in touch with your local UVA group, join events, take part in drone races, compare and trade models. As you can see, there’s plenty of great fun to be had if you’re into drone flying.
We hope this guide gave you some basic information about drones, and how to fly one. Follow the instructions from this ultimate beginner guide and you should be flying your drone in no time. Have fun and fly safely.