Get Off To a Great Start with Drones

November 22, 2019

Get Off To a Great Start with Drones

The idea of ​​owning your drone, to pilot, to discover the exhilarating joys of the FPV (first person view) to make photo or aerial video tickle you for some time but you are not sure how to approach the thing, by what to start and where to go Here is our guide in the form of 10 tips for getting started in drone practice . You'll find everything you need to know about drones, good addresses, tips, best practices and mistakes to avoid.

Here is the first part in three points.

1. Choosing the right machine to start
The latest models of recreational drones are loaded with various technologies, ranging from gyroscopic stabilizers to GPS, altitude limiter and automatic return to the starting point. But here we are talking about drones whose first prices are between $100 (AR.Drone) and $1100 (DJI Phantom Advanced). You'll need larger budgets for gear that does not allow for indoor flying.

For instance, the already cult DJI Phantom Advanced is a beautiful beast, but $1100 and not usable indoors. However, with winter coming, with its climatic disadvantages, it will be increasingly difficult to fly this favorite drone outdoors. On the other hand not everyone has the chance to live in a large property in the countryside or to do several tens of kilometers by car to just fly a drone during the 10 minutes of autonomy that usually offers a drums. The ideal is then to have a machine that will allow you to learn the basics of driving, or even become an ace of the handle indoors. For this you need a small machine, robust, and if possible will not devastate your living room in case of hazardous control on your part. Also start with a drone at very low price, where you can easily change parts without breaking the bank (especially propellers).

The drone best suited for this purpose is certainly the Hubsan X4 "basic" (there are 3 models, with or without various video options). This little machine that fits in the palm of the hand has already all of a big since it embarks a stabilizer and proposes various settings on its remote control. Very light (30g!) And nervous, it is very fun to drive and it is perfectly suited for flying indoors without risk. It is also very robust (by the propellers, so, but often in case of crash they jump before breaking). The Hubsan X4 costs less than $25, and you will learn to pilot. Once you have mastered this device a little tricky to drive because of its size and nervousness, you will know how to fly any drone, including a big multirotor "professional". It will be even easier because the larger drones are more stable and less nervous. An automotive metaphor to understand: if you learn to drive with a competition kart without any assistance in driving, you will find it much easier and "comfortable" to drive a large sedan with all the driving assistance available.

Hubsan X4 mini drone

The Hubsan X4 "basic", which holds in the hand. Nice, no?


The complete kit, ready to fly.
If I tell you that the remote is barely larger than an Xbox controller, it gives you an idea of ​​the size of the machine!

2. Learning to fly!
As with any leisure activity with a playful tendency, or as with any machine that "pilot", you will tend to want to put the cart before the horse.  Your package will barely arrive containing your new toy, that you will jump on it, open it, load the battery a few minutes, grab the remote control and try a first takeoff, then try free figures that will endanger your cat or the vase on the mantle.

First of all, patience!

Patience! First, depending on the device, and even if they are ready to fly "out of the box", you will still have to observe some basic rules before making your first room-kitchen trip. The best is to establish a small check-list: check the loading of the battery of the drone, the batteries of the remote control, check that the throttle is at zero (usually set in low position), well think to turn on d first the remote control and only then the drone (usually by plugging the battery), wait for the connection between the remote control and the drone, check that the diodes turn on normally, etc ...

Some basic concepts to know: at the time of the order, you can, depending on the drone, choose between "Mode 1" and "Mode 2". These modes determine the order of the remote control's joysticks. Generally, by default, we are in mode 2, namely throttle on the left and joystick on the right. In mode 1, you'll understand, it's the opposite. You choose.

The remote control of the X4. Remember to choose your mode when ordering

The joysticks, precisely: let you be in mode 2. The lever on the left is used to push the throttle (movement upwards) and thus to raise the drone. An opposite movement, from top to bottom, makes the engines slow down and thus lower the drone. But this controller has another purpose: it is also used to rotate the drone on itself. Be careful, this does not steer the drone, it stays in place, but it makes it turn on itself. A movement that is essential to perfectly control when you make the photo or aerial video because it is the one that allows you to frame, to follow a fixed point while turning around and also to make panoramas or tracking shots.

Still in mode 2, the right joystick is used to steer the drone: forward, backward, right and left. If you skillfully master the function of rotation and direction, you are an ace, and you will make very beautiful flight paths! Incidentally you will take a huge leap to pilot your craft like a professional pilot, as if you were on board. And if in addition you are in FPV (immersion with live video feedback) then there is the seventh heaven assured, you become a bird.

Well, dreamed enough, let's get back to earth and go to practical tests: you will try your first take off. Even if the drone is supposed to take off vertically, plan a fairly large area, at least 2 or 3 square meters, because it may not be optimally adjusted and it goes into crab mode. 

Once the fine adjustments of the remote control are made using the vertical and horizontal "trims", try a new takeoff. If it works, try to stabilize your drone about a yard and a half from the ground for a few seconds, then start familiarizing yourself with the controls. Pull the throttle stick towards you to lower it down and test a soft landing on a specific point. Repeat the exercise several times until you get comfortable without the bazaar bouncing like a tennis ball with each contact with the ground.

Then attack a new exercise: take off the drone by putting it forward, with the rear pointing towards you. Stabilize it about a yard and a half from the ground, then push the joystick (normally the right if you are in mode 2) to the right. The drone will lean slightly to the right and will move laterally to the right. Bring the controller back to the center and do the same on the left. Do it all very gently because the mini-drone is very sensitive and nervous.

Then do the same thing in the longitudinal direction: push the left joystick forward to advance the animal, then pull it backward to back it towards you. Repeat these exercises as many times as necessary until you are comfortable with these maneuvers. Do not go through the steps, it is fundamental to master your drone in all circumstances.

Once these operations are assimilated, you will now test the rotation on the spot. Always in mode 2, take off and stabilize the drone at about 1m50 from the ground, always with the rear facing you. Then push the throttle lever (the one on the left) to the right, very slowly, without touching the right joystick. The drone will start to rotate on itself to the right. Do the same operation to the left. Repeat several times by making small rotations to the right and left, then try a 360 ° (horizontal huh, not vertical). Repeat until you are perfectly comfortable with this maneuver

Inverted controls: it gets tough!
Characteristic common to any radio-controlled machine: you are not on board. We must therefore "act as if" and we will see that it is not so simple, even a little complicated at first. Because as long as you are "behind" the machine and that it evolves "before" you by turning your back, everything is - pretty much - good, since all orders are naturally made in the right direction: you push the joystick forward, the drone moves forward, you pull, it moves back, you push right, it goes right, you push left, it goes left. You see me coming: when you have taken a little confidence and you have dared this banal maneuver of making a U-turn, you find yourself in front of your drone, whose diodes or the lens of the camera you look straight in the eyes,

And here the trouble begins: all the "horizontal" commands (except those that allow to go up and down, therefore) are reversed. It does not sound like that but in reality it's just hell on earth. Imagine, for example, that you had to drive a car that does exactly the opposite of what you ask it: when you turn the steering wheel to the right, it goes to the left, when you accelerate to move forward, it moves back. You see a little picture? Certainly, some drones have a smart processor that can handle this (including the DJI Phantom) and still respond in the same way commands, whatever their orientation. But on the one hand it is still rare, and on the other hand it works with the help of a compass and so it is very random indoor.

You will have to familiarize yourself with this parameter and learn to fly with the brain upside down. I do not have any particular advice to give you except to practice, practice and practice again until muscle memory is integrated in your cortex and that it becomes totally natural. I warn you, depending on your cognitive abilities, it may take a little time.

When you master all that is explained above, you will be a real Top Gun of the drone, you will only have to practice drawing a few "8's" in flight, and you the great outdoors!

3. Drone flight simulators (apps ...)
If you do not want to spend the first cents in a drone without knowing exactly what to expect, there is a pretty great alternative, and also very fun: drone flight simulators. This is software or mobile applications that allow you to take control of a drone and find the flight conditions rendered in an extremely realistic way. I selected two applications: one, the Parrot AR.Drone, the other, available only for iOS allows to pilot virtually several types of radio controlled aircraft, including a "generic" quadcopter.

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