There are many reasons for a drone to crash, and most drone crashes are attributable to pilot error. Here are some tips and good practice to help you reduce the risk of crashing your drone. Most of the tips may sound like common sense, you may possibly be tempted to skip a rule. But quoting from Benjamin Franklin, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure’. It’s a good idea to take a little precaution before a crisis occurs, don’t you agree?
1. Tips before you make your first drone flight:
- Whether you fly for fun or fly for work, you want to know the FAA rules for operating a drone (an unmanned aircraft). Some basic FAA rules include: don’t fly near airports, don’t fly over 400 feet, don’t interfere with any aircraft, don’t fly over crowds, and don’t fly anywhere near an emergency scene, and register your drone.
- Know where you can and cannot fly. Some parks have had trouble with drone pilots flying over crowds and interfering with ball games. These parks now have rules prohibiting drones. Please check the park rules and don’t interfere with other people using the park.
- Most people think of drones as toys. Please take the drone seriously. Never take a drone out to test its limits. This is the attitude that results in people getting hurt and drones getting crashed.
- Many drones are controlled by generic tablets or smart phones. Make sure your controller device will work with the drone.
2. Tips before you take your new drone out for its first flight:
- Read the manual. All of it. Odds are about 50-50 which should you power on first, the drone or the controller. If you choose wrong, you may have trouble controlling the drone.
- Find out if there is some way to test the controller range with the drone. You will want to stay well within this range.
3. Tips before each flight:
- Do a pre-flight check list. Are all props working? If the battery fully charged? Make sure that there is nothing loose on the drone. If your drone has “Return to home”, make sure that it is properly set. Calibrate your GPS (if you can).
- Check the environment. Most drones will blow away in a 5 mile per hour wind. Even a 2 or 3 mile per hour wind at ground level can translate to 15 or 20 miles per hour when the drone is flying at 40 or 50 feet above you.
- Plan your flight area. Watch out for trees, radio towers and other obstacles. Plan to do your flying where it will be safe.
- Many drones have lights. The lights tell you where the drone is – not where the trees are. My advice is to pack it up once the sun goes down.
- Make sure that the controller and drone are properly linked.
- Another obvious way to avoid crashing, is to use one of the flight planning software packages. However, most people who fly for fun do not use flight planning software, because the software takes over and you are not directly linked to the drone. People who use flight planning software are usually using the drone for work and have a rather specific task in mind. If you are of a mind to do some aerial photography and need a rig with flight planning, let me suggest that you look at these two rigs (that well outside of what I consider ‘toys’.
4. Tips during the flight:
- Keep the drone in sight at all times. By maintaining visual contact, you will be able to spot potential obstacles and to avoid a crash.
- Keep the drone within a reasonable flight time to fly back to you. You may want to land it quickly in an emergency.
- Drones may be advertised as ‘easy to fly’. However, that is advertising and you will most likely need quite a few practice hours before everything works right for you. Modern drones are really flying computers. Much of the flying is done by a ‘flight controller’ chip. Depending on how well that chip is programmed will determine how easy it is to fly. Of course, everybody is different, so it will be easier for some people than others. (Translation: Practice, Practice, Practice.)
- You may be tempted to quickly correct for errors. Don’t make big sudden changes. Take off slowly, land slowly, make nice gradual sweeping curves.
- The ground is not your friend. You may be tempted to keep the drone close to the ground. Keep plenty of airspace between the drone and the ground. Most flights should be 40 to 60 feet above the ground. That way you have a few feet to recover if something goes wrong.
- Practice a lot with smaller drones before going to a bigger drone. Take off and land on a spot. Fly the drone in a circle, in a box pattern and a figure eight.
- Most drones with a camera have a low battery indicator. Keep an eye on it and bring the drone back to you when the battery starts getting low.
- Learn to fly the drone to a spot about a foot or two above your head, then slowly drop the drone into your hand. By landing it in your hand you avoid the ground which is less forgiving than your hand. As you work up to the larger drones you will have the skill to land them safely on the ground near you.
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