We’ve put together some of the biggest mistakes we see drone pilots making. Whether you’re an experienced pilot or just a beginner, we all make mistakes. We hope that you can learn from these tips and not make these mistakes yourself!
1. Not knowing your drone and controller.
You are now the proud new owner of a drone! After anxiously waiting to open your new aircraft, you tear the drone out of the box, put in the batteries, and rush outside to take to the skies. Of course, you gather up your friends and neighbors to witness your great first flight. Everyone is impressed with your mad skills. That is when in a split second, it all goes wrong. To prevent major failure and loss of your done, before taking to the skies you need to understand all the functions of the controller, know what each button does, how to setup all the features, and have a basic understanding of how a drone flies.
2. Not knowing how sensors work.
Drones have many types of sensors to provide you with the best user experience. From Multispectral, Lidar, Photogrammetry and Thermal sensors that are used to provide 3D models of buildings and landscape to ToF depth ranging camera sensors that can be used for object scanning, indoor navigation, obstacle avoidance, gesture recognition, tracking objects, measuring volumes, reactive altimeters, 3D photography, augmented reality games and much more.
In addition, many drones are now equipped with collision avoidance systems. These drone vision systems use obstacle detection sensors to scan the surroundings while software algorithms and SLAM technology to produce the images into 3D maps allowing the flight controller to sense and avoid the object. However, it is unlikely that they will detect small thin objects like power lines in time to avoid a crash.
3. Flying in restricted areas.
As a new drone pilot, in addition to learning how your drone operates, you should educate yourself on the airspace regulations of your country, and the general rules of safe flying. Restricted areas are typically located around airports, military installations, or other areas where flight could be hazardous. Temporary Flight Restrictions ( TFRs ) define a certain area of airspace where air travel is limited because of a temporary hazardous condition, such as a wildfire or chemical spill; a security-related event. The TFR website can help narrow down the relevant active TFRs in a specific area.
Without a camera, if your drone is less than the limit of 0.5lb, you shouldn’t need to register it. However, if your drone has a camera, you may need to get it registered with the FAA regardless of weight. Technically, you don’t have to register your drone if you are flying under the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, but it’s not always possible to fit the criteria of that rule, and it’s better to be safe than sorry. To register your drone, you will need to go to registermyuas.faa.gov. Don’t worry, it’s an inexpensive and easy process.
4. Not taking gimbal bracket/covers and sensor stickers off.
If your drone has any “remove before flight” stickers and/or foam or a plastic clamp that holds the gimbal in place be sure to remove them. Not doing so can cause your motors to overheat and irreparable damage may occur.
5. Not updating firmware
Why you should upgrade to the latest firmware. Firmware is essentially the software that operates a particular device. Nearly every device you use has a firmware, from calculators to modems, to smartphones and most other devices we’d consider ‘smart’. So, it’s no surprise then that drones have relatively complex firmware, which controls how all the various electronics within the UAV and the controller interact. If you want to keep your drone running to the best of its abilities, update the firmware!
6. Flying without a spotter.
Flying is not without risks. After all, think about it, you have a package of sensitive electronics zipping around at a range of speeds and altitudes. One mistake can easily spell disaster for what are usually expensive hardware investments. Sometimes, things just go bad. Currently, FPV technology inherently sacrifices peripheral vision. Because of the shaky beginning every novice pilot encounters, there will be the inevitable crashes that come with learning. Having another person maintaining a line of sight can be invaluable when this happens. Also, having a buddy out there with you sharing in the experience can make for a richer experience.
7. Not understanding the weather.
As a drone pilot, you should have a high-level understanding of important weather factors and how it will affect your drone. Both hot and cold environments will cause adverse reactions for various components in your drone, resulting in reduced flight performance.
Obviously, drones don’t hold up well in rain, sleet, or snow. If you’re out in the field and it’s raining even slightly, don’t fly — it’s not worth the risk. Fog may not get the same attention precipitation does, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less crucial to consider. Drones don’t handle any sort of moisture well, regardless of the form it comes in.
Higher wind speeds make it more difficult for your aircraft to hold its positioning, which will result in shorter flight times, less accurate position holds, and more difficult maneuvering. The key here is to not fly in conditions where gusts may exceed your drone’s top speed, not just the average wind speed. Terrian can affect wind speed. Going over a gorge, around a building, or other objects can cause a sudden gust of wind.
8. Not calibrating the Gyro, IMU, Compass, GPS, etc.
It would be nice if these calibrations could be set once, but things like differing magnetic pulls, a hard landing, and other factors skew the drone’s sensors, in particular, the accelerometer and magnetometer. The accelerometer is responsible for keeping the drone stable and balanced as it flies, detecting changes in rotational attributes like pitch, roll, and yaw. The magnetometer is the compass that guides the drone between cardinal directions as it flies over a field, mostly to assist against orientation drift.
A very important, but often overlooked, step in flying a drone is to calibrate the drone’s compass each time that you fly. This is especially important if you bring the drone to a new location to fly. To be safe and prevent a fly-away, complete the calibration process every time you put the machine in the air. GPS is what keeps the drone in place and from drifting. If your drone has it, keep it turned on!
9. Flying indoors for the first flight.
Flying your drone indoors presents a unique set of risks and challenges, such as flying into people, furniture, ceilings, and floors. If you have pets, you have to be concerned with their curiosity with the flying chew toy. You can easily damage something or someone. In order to avoid breaking something expensive or giving someone a haircut, you’ll want to make sure you know what you’re doing before attempting this advanced flight.
10. Not getting GPS lock on before flying.
GPS is used to help the drone determine its position and yours and is what makes it possible for the drone to stop and hover in place. There are always far more than 6 GPS and Glonass satellites visible at any given time. Barriers, such as structures, terrain and even weather (clouds, precipitation) can cause the signal to be unusable. Generally, if you have 6 or more locked before takeoff, you should have at least that while flying, unless you fly near buildings, into a tunnel, etc. If your drone includes GPS stabilization, return-to-home functionality, and other automated flight modes getting a GPS lock before each flight can make a difference in getting your drone safely on the ground or lost to you forever. For solar weather, you can check http://www.swpc.noaa.gov/.
11. Flying too far away.
Drone technology has grown by leaps and bounds over the last few years, and consumer drones have better range than ever before. But the maximum range is only achieved if there is nothing in between you and the quadcopter – if you’re in an open field and fly straight out, or if you fly high and straight out so that there’s a straight line between you and the drone. Some drones have ranges of around 2 to 3 miles – the drone can maintain a radio link to the pilot and a video link, too. Most FPV systems work on the 5.8 gHz spectrum, which has even less range than 2.4 gHz commonly used in radios. Understanding the range of your particular drone model allows you to properly operate this machine, so as to not attempt to fly out of range and damage it.
12. Overcharging and Draining the battery.
Never overcharge a LiPo battery, they do not have a safe saturation point like car batteries where they will no longer accept a charge. If you overcharge a LiPo battery, it can eventually explode. You should also never “trickle” charge a LiPo battery (use a charger designed for LiPo batteries). Also, you also should not discharge a LiPo battery below 3.0v per cell to maintain a healthy battery. It is best practice to always leave 20% of rated capacity in the pack at the end of a flight, with 10% as an absolute minimum.
Safety Tip: Always use a fireproof container such as a LiPo safety bag, metal ammo box, or fireproof safe for storage. Remember to never leave your LiPo batteries sitting around on a full charge for more than 2-3 days. If by the 3rd day you realize you are not going to use your battery today, you need to discharge your battery for safe storage until you are ready to use the battery again. If you’ve ever purchased a new battery and checked the voltage, you should have discovered that it was at approximately 40% of capacity. Over the years, manufacturers have to come to the conclusion that this is the best condition for cell storage over long periods.
13. Flying Into trees and other obstacles.
If you fly these fun machines, it’s only a matter of time – usually a very short duration – until you get one stuck up in a tree. Given murphy’s law and your luck, it will naturally be quite high up. Getting your new drone stuck in a tree can be extremely frustrating. Not only does it force you to hang up the controller, but it also leaves you feeling dejected until you get it down or get a new one. If possible, fly in a large open field away from trees and other obstacles.
It might happen the first time you fly it outside due to inexperience, or it might happen way on down the line due to overconfidence. Or it might happen just by sheer bad luck. Even experienced pilots can run afoul of the giant oak tree and need to call the local power company to save Christmas and their grandchildren’s present. Yep, that’s Santa’s helpers getting a Bugs 2 down. Grandpa was testing it out before putting it under the Christmas tree.