Posted on November 6, 2016
Do you want to learn how to fly a drone?
Do you know the difference between yaw, throttle, pitch and roll? Do you want to improve your drone flying skills?
Then check out either the video above or the read the post below to learn everything you need to know about how to fly a drone.
In both the video above and post below I walk you through the most basic and essential steps for flying a drone and I include some of my favorite exercises for mastering the art of flying.
Flying using control sticks
The first thing you need to do before flying is understand how the drone controls work for yaw, throttle, pitch and roll. These aviation terms come from the old fixed-wing aircraft days.
It’s important to note, that I am using Mode 2 for my controller which is the most common setup outside of Asia. So if your controller is set to Mode 1, Mode 3 or Mode 4 the control sticks will work differently.
The left control stick allows the drone to climb and descend and also rotates the drone on its axis both left and right. The official aviation terms for these controls are “Yaw” and “Throttle”.
- Yaw rotates the drone around its center either clockwise or counterclockwise.
- Throttle controls how much lift your drone is creating which allows it to ascend and descend.
Right control stick
The right control stick moves the drone forward and backwards and also moves the drone left and right. The official aviation terms for these controls is “Roll” and “Pitch”.
- Roll controls the right and left movement of your drone.
- Pitch controls the forward and backward movement of your drone.
Trainer drone and stimulators
If you are looking to practice without spending lots of money on a drone or if you are a nervous about crashing your expensive drone, you might want to consider practicing with either my favorite trainer drone like the SYMA X1 or check out a flight simulator like Heli-X (you’ll need a special controller that plugs into your computer for a flight simulator to work).
If you happen to already own a DJI drone, then you should practice controlling the sticks while using the remote controller and the built-in flight simulator that comes with the DJI GO app.
You should always walk yourself through a drone flight checklist before you take-off just to make sure you’re good to fly. You’re welcome to download this free drone flight checklist here that I’ve put together for subscribers to my newsletter.
It’s also a good idea to review the drone rules before starting.
Starting up + calibrating
First, I like to power on the remote controller (R/C transmitter) and my flying app.
If you’re new to flying and you’re using a DJI drone then check out this tutorial I created: DJI GO App: A Step-by-Step Guide Through Every Menu & Button
Once the controller are powered then I turn my drone.
Before you fly you should consider calibrating your drone. It’s important to do this if you’ve never flown before or if you have change locations since the last time you took your drone up.
Most of the higher drones have an internal GPS and compass that allow the drone to hover in place and they also tell the drone it’s heading which is which way it’s facing. So you want to make sure that these are accurately set, so the drone knows exactly where on earth it is.
Let me walk you through the calibration process. For this demo I am using a DJI Phantom but most manufacturers follow a similar process like the one I’m about to explain.
With the Phantom, click on the top menu and then click on the calibrate button, once you select that, follow the prompts on the screen. The first thing you do is bring the drone level and then spin all the way around, some of us call this the calibration dance (so you may look a little silly but you don’t want to forget this important step).
After that first spin, follow the prompts on the screen and point the drone so it’s facing down. Then you’re going to spin around again. Once you do that, the menu should disappear and you can then see that the drone is ready to fly.
Your first flight
Now on to your first flight. Make sure your drone is on a flat surface and the front of the drone is facing away from you so that you don’t get confused with the orientation.
Turning on the motors
To get your drone up in the air, turn on the motors by pressing both the right and left sticks down and towards the middle. The motors will then start to spin and then wait for your next input.
The left control stick
Then slowly press the left stick up and the drone will start to lift up into the air. I usually like to get about 10 feet in the air and then have it hover in place for just a few moments to make sure everything is working just right.
To keep the drone from climbing higher in elevation, return the left stick to the neutral position and the drone will just hold in place, thanks to GPS.
Now with your drone hovering in the air, press the left stick up and the drone will rise. When you pull the left stick down, the drone will go lower. When you return the stick to the neutral position the drone will just hover in place.
When you push the left stick to the left the drone will begin to twist to the left and rotate, when you push it to the right, the drone will twist to the right.
The right control stick
Now with the right control stick, push it up and the drone will begin to move forward, if you want to bring it back move the right stick down.
If you want to fly it left, move the right stick to the left, if you want to fly it to the right move the right stick to the right.
These are the basic movements of how to fly your drone.
When you’re ready to fully land, slowly bring the left control stick all the way down for a nice smooth landing. Once your drone is on the ground, pull the left stick all the way down and hold it there for about three seconds until the motors turn off.
Make sure you fully understand how to land your drone before taking off. My very first drone crash was because I only kinda had an idea of how to land. Looking back I wish I was better prepared!
Exercises to help you get the hang of flying
You all know the saying, ‘Practice makes perfect’, so if you want to master flying then you’re absolutely going to have to practice, a lot!
Below are some of my favorite exercises that you can practice so that you become more comfortable with flying your drone.
The Simple Box
One of the easiest maneuvers to fly is the box because this helps you get more comfortable with the right stick. The right stick basically lets you move forward, left, right and back without having to worry about elevation or orientation.
Practice this by pushing the right stick up to fly forward, then left to fly left, then back to fly back, and then finally right to fly right.
Try flying the box both clockwise and counterclockwise. Once you are comfortable flying in a box you can move on.
For this exercise you’re going to fly out, then do a 180 and fly back. This will help you start to understand how the drone flies when you change orientation, so it’s important to note that whenever the front of the drone is facing you, the controls are flipped.
To start this exercise, push the right stick up to move the drone forward, then using the left stick turn the drone around.
Then use the right stick by pushing it forward to bring the drone back to you. You should do this multiple times to make sure you feel comfortable with this maneuver.
The Box With Yaw
This next exercise is the box with yaw, which is similar to the first exercise but this time we will be changing the orientation of the drone as we draw the box. Remember yaw just means you are rotating around the vertical axis.
To start this exercise, fly forward then stop, then turn 90 degrees to the left and move forward then stop, then turn 90 degrees to the left again and move forward then stop, then for the final move and to complete the box turn 90 degrees to the left and move forward then stop.
It’s super important to get comfortable with this exercise because you are flying the drone in the direction that it is facing, no matter which way you turn.
This will likely be hard at first but you’ll want to practice it enough times so that it just becomes second nature. Get comfortable flying the box with yaw both clockwise and counterclockwise before moving on.
This next exercise is called the circle and it’s more of an intermediate exercise because it requires you to use both sticks at the same time.
To start this one, move your right stick forward and then at the same time use your left stick to keep the drone slowly twisting or yawing to the left, practice this several times.
Then try flying the circle in the opposite direction just to get comfortable with using two sticks at once.
Practice flying tighter and more accurate circles to get better at this maneuver.
After mastering the circle it’s time to move onto the figure eight. This one is hard so keep practicing it until you get it right. Once you master this move you can fly pretty much any flight plan comfortably.
What you’ll do is fly the drone in a figure eight by flying in one clockwise circle and one counterclockwise circle with a transition in the middle.
Start off by making a big figure eight and then try to master this move by making smaller figure eights as you get more comfortable with this maneuver.
Practice varying both the speed and size of your figure eights to improve your sense of 3D space.
The last exercise is the orbit, which is essentially flying in a circle while staying focused on a subject.
What you want to do is select a subject and then fly a circle around that subject while keeping your drone facing the subject the entire time.
Once you’re ready, fly your drone using the right stick while turning the drone slowly with the left stick (yawing). Make your moves slow and big until you get the hang of it.
If you’re doing the orbit right then your drone should be moving in a nice smooth circle around a subject.
As you get comfortable with the orbit I suggest you try it even faster and then maybe even add in some elevation to get an even more interesting shot.
I hope this post helps you feel more comfortable with flying a drone! Once you have mastered these flying exercises you can focus on the really fun stuff like being creative with capturing epic photos and videos.
With that being said if you are looking for tips on how to take better drone photos then check out this post here and if you are looking for tips on how to capture better drone video footage then check out this post here.
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