Learning to fly a drone can be a bit tricky, especially if you’ve got no one to walk you through the process.
Luckily, you’ve come to the right place. If you want to learn how to fly a drone, continue reading our guide below for all the information you need.
Knowing how to fly a drone safely and correctly is very important. When flying a drone, you are responsible for anything that may happen. By taking the time to learn how to fly a drone, you minimise the chances of anything go wrong and if they do, you stand a better chance of getting everything under control.
There’s definitely a learning curve when learning how to fly a drone, however with a bit of practice, I’m sure anyone can do it.
In this guide, you will learn:
- A glossary of drone piloting terms
- Safety precautions to follow when flying a drone
- An understanding of a drones’ transmitter and its controls
- What is a drone
- Drone/ Quadcopter flight modes
- A step by step process of learning to fly a drone
When learning to fly a drone, the different lingo and terminology thrown around can be daunting.
That’s why I thought it would be a good idea to go over some common terms and explain what each one means.
RTF – RTF stands for ‘ready to fly’. This is when your drone comes fully built alongside a transmitter. You will usually have to attach the propellers yourself.
Line of site – This is when you’re able to see the drone directly. When flying a drone, it is important that you maintain line of site at all times.
FPV – FPV stands for ‘first person view’. This is where you pilot your drone by looking at a live feedback from the drones on board camera. This is usually done with a set of FPV goggles.
These definitions are based on the default transmitter controls. Some transmitters allow you to change the controls in order to better suit the pilot.
Trim: This is where you use the buttons on your transmitter to adjust the yaw, pitch, roll and throttle. This is required when one of the controls is off balance. I’ve included a video tutorial on how to trim your drones’ controls later in this guide.
Yaw – Move the right stick left and right to rotate the drone.
Throttle – Push the left stick forward to increase the throttle and backwards to decrease it. This will adjust the altitude of your drone.
Pitch – Pushing the right stick forward and backwards controls the pitch. This will cause the drone to either move in a forward or backwards direction.
Roll – Move the right stick from left and right to move the drone in a sideways direction.
Hovering: This is where you maintain the drone’s position in the air. More advanced drones’ come with altitude hold, which allows the drone to hover without the pilot controlling the throttle. Cheaper drones will require the pilot to maintain its altitude by using the throttle.
Figure of 8: When you fly your drone in a path resembling the figure 8.
Orbit: When you circle an object on the ground. Often used when shooting aerial video to deliver cinematic looking shots.
For a full list of drone safety guidelines, check out the FAA website.
If you haven’t guessed already, flying a drone can be pretty dangerous and certain safety precautions should be carried out. As I mentioned earlier, you as the pilot are accountable for any damage that may be caused by your drone. Follow the rules below to ensure a safe flight for yourself, your drone and those around you.
- Do not fly above 400ft
- Maintain line of site with your drone at all times
- Never fly near or over an airport. If you are going to be flying within 5 miles of an airport you should contact the airport management
- Do not fly near emergency response efforts such as fires
- Don’t fly whilst intoxicated or under the influence
- Never fly over a stadium or sports event
- Never fly over a group of people
- Avoid flying near large obstacles
Top Tips For Flying Safely
- If you think you are about to crash into someone or something, increase the power of throttle (push up on the left stick). This will send your drone up in the air away from anyone you may damage. You can then compose yourself and get the drone under control
- When you take off, hover for 30 seconds to a minute. This way if there is anything wrong with your drone, it doesn’t have far to fall and will sustain minimal damage
- If you’re planning on launching or landing the drone by hand, keep your fingers away from the propellers. They can cause some pretty serious damage, which should be avoided at all costs.
- If your drone has a ‘beginner mode’, activate it whilst you learn. This will reduce your drones maximum control range and speed whilst you get comfortable with the controls.
- Carry out a pre-flight check. There are a number of different things that should be checked before you take off. We’ve got a free pre-flight checklist that you can download here. By carrying out a pre-flight checklist, you greatly reduce the chances of something going wrong mid flight.
Drone Controls & Transmitter
When learning how to fly a drone, it is important that you have an understanding of the drones’ transmitter and what each control does.
When piloting a drone, there are 4 basic controls:
Moving the left stick sideways controls the Yaw. This will cause the drone to rotate in the direction that the stick is modes.
Moving the right stick forward and backwards controls Pitch, which in turn will cause the drone to move forwards and backwards.
Moving the right stick sideways will cause the drone to move from side to side. This is known as “roll” because the drone literally rolls in the direction that the stick is pushed, causing it to move sideways.
Moving the left stick up and down will increase and decrease the drones’ altitude. This is known as the drones’ throttle and determines the amount of power that is delivered to the motors, hence adjusting its altitude.
When you first start learning how to fly a drone, the controls can get confusing. This is where practice comes in. The more you fly, the more you will familiarise yourself with the controls and you will get to a point where you do not even have to think about what you are doing, it becomes second nature.
If you’re struggling to get to terms with your drones’ control, be patient and continue to practice using the methods we will discuss further along in this guide.
If you’re completely new to flying a drone, check out the diagram below to gain a better understanding of a drones transmitter.
The left stick on your transmitter is in charge of adjusting the yaw and throttle. This means that the left stick can be used to both rotate the drone and adjust its altitude.
The right stick is in charge of adjusting the roll and pitch of your drone. This basically means that right stick is used to move your drone forwards, backwards, left and right.
If when you take off, you notice that the drone moves and tilts in a certain direction, this means that the controls aren’t balanced. You can use the trim buttons to balance out these controls, which will make piloting the drone a lot easier (and safer).
Check out the video below to see how this pilot trims his controls.
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Familiarising yourself with your drones different components is always a good idea. If you have a good understanding of what makes up a drone and how each component works together, you’re bound to be a better pilot.
Similarly, if anything were to go wrong with your drone, you stand a better chance of diagnosing the issue if you are familiar with your drones’ parts.
The main components of a drone are as follows:
- Propellers – These are attached to your drones’ motors and rapidly spin in order to keep your drone in the air.
- Battery & charger – The battery supplies your drone with the power it needs to maintain flight. Typical drone batteries are Lithium Polymer based (LiPo) and as such, should be looked after well.
- Motors – These are in charge of spinning the propellers. You can get either brushed or brushless motors. Brushless motors have a higher power output and tend to last much longer than their brushed counterparts. As such, they are usually more expensive.
- Frame – This is the main body of your drone that holds everything together.
- Electronic speed controller (ESC) – Your drones’ ESC receives commands from the flight controller based on the pilots’ controls. The ESC will then increase or decrease the power supplied to each individual motor, resulting in the desired movement of the drone.
- Radio transmitter & receiver
- Flight control board – This is essentially the brain of your drone. It is in charge of receiving controls from the pilot, translating them into commands and sending them to the ESC.
- Radio Transmitter – This is the controller you use to pilot your drone. The transmitter sends signals to the drones’ receiver, which will in turn send the controls to the right components.
Drone/ Quadcopter Flight Modes:
Drone technology has come a long way over the past few years and we have seen an introduction of a number of different flight modes. These flight modes are designed to make piloting a drone both easier and more efficient. I will quickly discuss some of the common flight modes found on popular models of drones.
Manual: This is where the pilot is in full control of the aircraft with no aided piloting features. The drone does not make use of its gyro-stabilisation and you are required to manually balance the drone after performing a manoeuvre. This is more for experienced pilots, although it is recommended that you learn to fly manually, in the case of your drones’ assisted flight modes failure.
Attitude Mode (ATTI): The drone will maintain its altitude; however will drift from side to side in the wind. Attitude mode is also used when a GPS signal is not available.
GPS Mode: GPS stands for Global Positioning System. This will allow the drone to both maintain its altitude and its position, without swaying from side to side. This is the recommended flight mode for beginners as the drone is able to hold its position without any direct controls from the pilot.
Intelligent flight modes: This is where the drone is able to autonomously pilot itself in order carry out certain manoeuvres. These are commonplace amongst high quality camera drones designed for aerial photography and cinematography.
Headless mode: When the drone takes off in headless mode, it will remember its forward facing direction. From there on out, no matter which way the drone is facing, pushing forward on the transmitter will cause the drone to go in the direction it was facing when it took off.
Your First Flight
So you’re about to embark on your first flight? Awesome! Follow the steps below and you’ll be a pro in no time.
Finding Somewhere to Fly
The first step is finding somewhere suitable to fly. An ideal location would be somewhere large, open and with few to no people around.
This is a good idea for a number of reasons. Firstly, flying a drone in a tight space is no easy task and greatly increases the chances of you crashing. Secondly, if something were to go wrong, you won’t be able to do much damage if there is nothing around you.
Ideal places are fields, parks, and beaches… Essentially anywhere that is secluded.
Before you fly you should make sure that you are allowed to be flying in these locations and if you are required to obtain permission, make sure you do so. No one wants to get a fine!
Top tip: More advanced drones such as the DJI models have a ‘beginner mode’. This will reduce your maximum range to 30m and greatly decrease the maximum speed of your drone. Spend your first flight in beginner mode until you are more comfortable behind the controller.
Ok so you’ve found the perfect spot to lean how to fly, nice!
Depending on you’re drone, you will have two take off options. If you have an advanced drone, you will be able to make use of the ‘automatic take off’ feature. Alternatively, if your drone doesn’t have this, you’ll have to do it the old fashioned way!
Even if your drone does have auto-take off and landing, it is always a good idea to learn how to do this yourself.
Firstly, slowly increase the throttle (lefty stick forwards) until the propellers start to spin. Don’t take off yet, just get used to how sensitive your drone is to the commands.
Once you’ve done this a few times and feel comfortable, continue to push the throttle forward until the drone takes off.
Hover for a few seconds, and then slowly pull the throttle down (left stick down) until the drone lands. Once the drone has landed power off the motors. Repeat this manoeuvre a number of times until you are completely comfortable. I would recommend doing this around 5 times, as that should be enough to familiarise yourself with the controls.
If you notice the drone moving without you inputting any commands, you may have to trim the controls (check out the video mentioned earlier to learn how to do this).
Watch from 1:15 to see how this pilot takes off. Thanks to My First Drone for the video.
I’m in the Air, Now What?
Side to Side, Forward and Back
Ok, so you’ve mastered taking off, hovering and landing. Now it’s time to take things a step further. I think at this point it is worth mentioning that there is no need to rush these steps. Take your time and only progress once you feel comfortable.
The next step is to take off, move side-to-side, land and repeat. Take off by pushing the throttle forward (left stick up) and move your drone side to side by moving your right stick left and right. Do this 5 or so times until you are comfortable doing so.
Now it’s time to start moving forward and backwards. Take off, move your drone forwards, then backwards, land and repeat. To do this take off, then using your right stick, move it forward and backwards. Again, repeat this manoeuvre around 5 times, until you’re completely comfortable.
Fly in a Square
Now it is time to put the previous two steps together, by flying your drone in a square. To start off with, make the square by flying in a clockwise direction.
To do this take off by pushing your left stick up (throttle). You then move the drone forward 5 or so metres by pushing your right stick forward (pitch). Now move your right stick to the right (roll), again so the drone travels 5 or so metres. Now push your right stick down (pitch), so the drone travels around 5 metres. Finally, move your right stick to the left (roll) 5 or so metres until the drone reaches its original position.
You then repeat this 5 or so times until you are comfortable doing so. Then, do it in the opposite direction, again until you are completely comfortable.
Well done! You’re almost there.
Fly in a Circle
Now it is time to start some more complex manoeuvres, starting with flying in a circle. Again, we will begin by carrying out this manoeuvre in a clockwise direction.
This is actually a lot easier than in may seem, and is done by simply making a slow, circular movement with your right stick.
As usual, take off using the left stick (throttle up). To begin the circle, push your right stick forward and to the right so that it is in a diagonal position. This will engage both the pitch and roll and cause your drone to move diagonally.
Then, move your right stick towards the right hand side, which will cause your drone to move towards the right.
Following this, move your right stick downward and continue moving the stick a slow circular motion until the drone arrives in its original position. Make sure that you are doing this slowly and in a circular motion.
Do this 5 or so times until you are completely comfortable flying in a circle. Then do the exact same thing with the drone flying in an anti-clockwise position.
Master The Art Of Rotation
So far we’ve practiced using roll, pitch and throttle to control the drone. That leaves us with one final control to master… yaw.
To begin, take off using the throttle (left stick) and maintain a comfortable hover. Then, move your left stick (yaw) to the right, this will cause the drone to rotate clockwise. Allow the drone to complete a full rotation and then do the same in the opposite direction. You do this by pushing your left stick left (yaw).
Definitely take the time to complete this step. Each drone has its own sensitivity to the yaw control and it is one of the harder controls to get the hang of.
This is especially important if you are looking to shoot some aerial footage. In order to do a panning shot, you will have to control the drones’ yaw. If you move the yaw too much, your footage will look very jumpy and unprofessional. There is an exception to this and that is if your drone has a 360-degree rotating camera such as the DJI Inspire 2 or a Yuneec Typhoon H.
Ok, by now you should feel comfortable adjusting each control and have a decent amount of experience in the air.
Now it’s time to start flying continuously. This will require you to use each control simultaneously, keeping the drone moving in a nice fluid motion.
To start off with, take off using the throttle (left stick up). Then, move your drone forward by pushing the right stick forward (pitch).
You can then use the left stick to control the direction your drone is facing. This is done by moving the left stick left and right (yaw) like we just did in the previous step. This will allow you to continuously flying in any direction you want.
You can then start to increase and decrease the altitude of your drone using the throttle (left stick).
Practice continually flying and you will get the hang of it in no time.
One thing to bear in mind is that it is easy to lose orientation. What I mean by this is that you may not know which way the drone is facing, which means you won’t know which direction forward is.
For example, if both you and the drone are facing forward, and you move the right stick right (roll) the drone will move to your right,
However, if you and the drone are facing each other, when you move the right stick to the right (yaw), the drone will move to your left. This can be very confusing and took me a while to get the hang of!
Most drones have different coloured LED lights located on the front and back rotor arms, for example the DJI Phantom 4 has green and red lights. These are used to distinguish the front and back of the drone, which will allow you to know which way the drone is facing.
Another way you can avoid this is by using headless mode, which I explained earlier on in the guide.
How to Fly a Drone: Final Thoughts
Learning to fly a drone is a very fun and rewarding process. It is important to remain patient and to take it slow, moving at a comfortable pace.
I hope you enjoyed our article on how to fly a drone and that you found it helpful. If you have any questions at all, please feel free to comment below.