Confidence, the Drone Killer

Over the past several years, the best consumer drones have become increasingly easy to fly, successfully lowering the barrier to drone use and opening the door to millions of new hobbyists. But as a novice drone pilot, it’s important recognize limitations and not allow the ease-of-use factor to create a false sense of confidence.

There are two flight factors in particular that are easy for new drone pilots to underestimate:

  • Orientation at the controls: Many drones have colored lights, icons on the controller display, and other visual indicators to help pilots understand the orientation of the drone. Despite these indicators, it’s not uncommon for new pilots to rotate the drone’s orientation in the air (the yaw), get confused about the new positioning, and then panic when the controller inputs don’t maneuver the drone as expected.
  • Depth perception: You might be able to estimate the distance between you and your drone with reasonable accuracy, but it’s considerably more difficult to determine the distance between your drone and trees, buildings, and other objects — especially when the drone is a long distance away.

These two skills take time and deliberate effort to develop, and for many new pilots, overconfidence in these areas leads to lost drones and other mishaps that could have been avoided.

Flying Safely as you Build Your Piloting Skills

As you work to master orientation, depth perception, and other essential drone piloting skills, here are a few tips and insights to help you fly safely:

Fly in wide open spaces. It’s an exciting moment when your drone arrives, and you might be tempted to make that maiden voyage in your front or back yard, or even inside your house. But the best place to fly is a wide open area, free of potential obstacles. Fight that initial urge to fly just outside your house or in other risky areas, and scout a flight location that provides plenty of room for you to maneuver the drone and get comfortable with the controls.

Altitude is your friend. When you’re first learning to fly, altitude is your friend. Some new drone pilots mistakenly think that low altitudes flights are safer, but when you fly near the ground, you may be forced to navigate trees, power lines, guy wires, buildings, and other obstacles. Take the drone up to at least 100 feet (or higher if necessary), as that should ensure you’re clear of potential obstacles and enable you to experiment with the drone more freely.

An older, white building in a green field from the perspective of a drone.

When you’re learning to fly your drone, altitude is your friend. Flying high above any trees, buildings, or other obstacles will allow you to experiment with the controls and maneuver the drone more freely.

 

Practice makes perfect. Like any other hobby or skill, the only way to improve as a drone pilot is by spending time at the controls. Start by getting a feel for the basic inputs on the controller, then practice simple maneuvers such as flying in the shape of a circle, square, or figure eight. Fly with the battery facing you for your first several flights, and then rotate the drone (the yaw) and practice staying oriented at the controls as you complete the same maneuvers.

Don’t panic, let off the sticks. If the drone does something unexpected, or if you’re flying towards an object or obstacle, don’t panic, just let off the control sticks. If you’re flying in GPS mode (which you should be), when you let off the sticks the drone will hover, giving you a chance to reorient yourself with the controls and navigate the drone to safety.

Remember, the drone won’t fall out of the sky. Many toy-grade drones require constant input from the controller to maintain altitude — which is a major difference when compared to drones with GPS technology that typically hold their altitude when you let off the control sticks. If you’ve mostly been flying toy-grade drones and recently leveled-up to a drone with GPS, this difference can take some getting used to. Knowing that you can simply let off the sticks and hover can help you stay calm at the controls.

 

In addition to these recommendations, spend time studying your drone’s user manual, visiting online forums and blogs, and educating yourself on other drone best practices. Each of these actions can help you recognize the limitations you have as a pilot and help ensure you don’t lose your drone to overconfidence.

The Bottom Line

You can purchase a new drone and have it delivered to your house in under 24 hours, but becoming a skilled drone pilot doesn’t happen over night. Overconfidence may cause you to fly in risky areas or conduct maneuvers that exceed your skill level, which may lead to an accident or lost drone. Incorporating the tips and guidelines mentioned above can help you fly safely as you develop your piloting skills.