You've heard it said: “Take chances, make mistakes!” Making mistakes can be a good thing, it's part of the learning process. What you learn from failing can be some of the most powerful lessons ever taught. However, when you're making mistakes flying your drone, that can spell disaster! So, don't take chances. And learn from the mistakes of others so you don't end up repeating them. Here are the most common…
Mistake #1 – Learning how to fly using an expensive droneJust getting into drone flying? Great! But don't go out and buy a DJI Phantom 4 right away! Since you are new and inexperienced, it's best to start small. Get the hang of flying. Use a drone that you're not afraid of and wouldn't feel too bad about crashing. The simple fact is, you're bound to have more than a few hard landings and inadvertent collisions while learning to fly, and that's okay! It's just way better to do that with something that cost you $50 instead of $1,500. Don't worry, the Phantom will be waiting for you – and it will be worth the wait!
Mistake # 2 – Flying near obstructions and in poor conditions
This is a big one. You don't want to try flying your drone in 50 mph winds! There are dozens of videos out there that show even the toughest and best drones getting carried away by mother nature. It is best to wait for a calm day, and enjoy uninterrupted flying.
You also want plenty of open space. Back yards are not always the best areas (unless you happen to have a football field behind your house!). Go to a park or field and find a place away from other people. Observe your surroundings and make sure you are well aware of where buildings, tress, telephone poles and power lines are. Oh, and although flying over water might seem like a good idea because there are no obstructions and no people around… keep in mind that drones are allergic to water! (Except this $29 waterproof drone!)
Make sure, wherever you're flying, that you're in compliance with local laws and regulations regarding flight. These laws are in place to keep everyone safe. The FAA has put into place several guidelines and best practices that should always be followed. You should be intimately familiar with all of them before your drone ever leaves the ground. For instance, it is illegal to fly a drone within 5 miles of an airport.
You also need to be aware of local ordinances. It is currently illegal to fly drones in state parks. Your area may have other restrictions, so make yourself aware of them before heading out to fly. Law enforcement will be quick to remind you that ignorance isn't an excuse!
Mistake #4 – See how high your drone can go
Want a quick way to lose your new drone? This is it! One of the biggest challenges for new drone pilots is learning how to fly their drone when orientation changes. What does that mean? It means that it can be pretty simple to steer your drone when pressing the control stick forward makes the drone go forward. But what happens when your drone gets turned around? Suddenly forward makes your drone go left. The further away the drone is, the easier it is to lose orientation.
With practice, you'll learn how to fly your drone even when orientation changes (and many drones now come equipped with a “headless” or “orientation” mode that helps compensate for this issue). But until then, keep your drone close (but not too close!) while learning to fly. If you lose control when the drone is only 6 feet from the ground, a crash landing won't do much damage. When it is 60 feet from the ground, watch out!!
Mistake #5 – Being caught unprepared
The boy scouts are right – “always be prepared!” It is easy to get so excited about going out to fly your drone that you leave behind some essential equipment. It is always wise to have spare batteries, replacement propellers, extra memory cards and some basic tools with you when you go to fly. In fact, check out our article on putting together a field box with all the essentials to take with you.
Better to take a little extra time preparing to fly then having your flight time cut short by forgetting something as simple as a spare propeller!
This one sort of goes without saying, but it's best to say it anyway, right? Don't try to be a crazy trickster right away. Make sure you've got the basic flight skills nailed down before you start attempting new techniques, like rolls and dodging trees. Yes, most micro and mini drones (and even some large drones) come with 1-button flip features that can make doing tricks pretty easy. However, be aware that doing flips causes a loss in altitude – and some of the cheaper drones don't always level out and recover consistently.
Master the basics first and only attempt new techniques when you have plenty of space and have already gone through the appropriate safety precautions.
Mistake #7 – Not being intimately familiar with your drone
A common mistake people make is not knowing their drones inside and out. We're not saying that you should be able to build a drone from scratch. However, you should be well acquainted with all of your drone's features. For instance, most smaller drones have a “speed” setting that can range from 25% to 100%. If you are used to flying your drone at a slower speed, you could accidentally hit the speed button mid-flight and suddenly find yourself with a much faster drone! Accidentally engaging the “return to home” or “headless” mode can also seriously impair your flying.
Many drones have a low battery warning, but the amount of flight time left when the warning goes off can be different for every drone. Sometimes you still have several minutes of flight, but other times it means you've got 30 seconds to land before the drone falls out of the sky! Learn the limits of your drone by spending your first few flights flying your drone at a height of 10 feet or less and keeping it within 40 feet of you.
You've heard it before, but we'll say it again… read the manual! (Yes, we know it is likely written in broken English, but it will still give you a rough idea of what each button does).
Mistake #8 – Relying on “gimmicky” features
As the drone market gets more competitive, manufacturers are trying harder to distinguish their drones by adding extra features. Sometimes these features work well. Sometimes not. For instance, some drones can be controlled by an app on your phone or tablet. In our experience, there is almost always some lag between your input and when the drone responds. We've also found that the drone doesn't always respond to every input – which, as you can imagine, could be disastrous!
We are also seeing more drones with an “altitude hold” feature, which we love! But again, it is not always implemented perfectly, so be prepared to save your drone from a crash by manually adjusting the altitude now and then.
Finally, we've yet to find a sub $100 drone with true FPV abilities. In case you are not familiar with FPV: some drones can stream video to your phone or tablet while you fly (some even come with a dedicated screen attached to the controller). Many of these drones advertise that they can be flown solely by watching the video (i.e. First Person View) – however, there is always a bit of lag (sometimes significant lag) in the video feed, and there can be significant reception issues as well (e.g. the further away the drone flies, the poorer the video image). If you are flying in an open field – no big deal. However, trying to maneuver your drone in tight quarters via laggy FPV would likely end in the drone making an “unplanned hard landing” (i.e. a crash!).
The simple fact is, as with learning any new skill, you'll make mistakes. But hopefully after reading through these common errors, you'll be able to avoid these mistakes and have a smoother flying experience.
Anything you would add to this list? Let us know in the comments!