All to often we spend more of our time researching what to buy rather than how to use it once we buy it.
Drones however are a little different. Many laws in place and all different per country.
But we are not talking about drone laws today. Here are 7 tips that will help you maximise the potential from your first flight and help you avoid some common mistakes when you fly a drone.
Whilst a lot of these tips will apply to all drones, it’s worth noting that they were made whilst using the DJI Mavic Air so will be most relevant to DJI drones such as the DJI Mavic Pro series, Mavic Air etc.
Tip 1 – Be Prepared, to be Scared!
Drones are very expensive items. unless you have been given one or lent one, when you fly it up for the first time, there is that feeling that you have just opened your hands and let your money blow away.
You will continue to get this feeling each time you fly it, although your confidence will grow. There is always that risk that it could blow away or crash land into a tree or the sea or be lost for good.
If you can’t afford to lose it, be super careful and don’t take silly risks or fly it to high or out of sight.
Tip 2 – Memory Cards
Memory cards, make sure you buy the right one. The DJI Mavic Air takes a Micro SD card which you may not expect as most cameras take normal SD cards.
Do your research before you buy or check when your drone arrives before buying your memory card.
Once you have your card, don’t forget to go into the menu system and set the drone up to record to the card.
I forgot to do this on my first flight and it recorded directly to my phone. It’s nice I still had video, but signal loss happened occasionally and it only recorded at 720 rather than 4k which it could do to the SD card.
It is always handy to have a backup memory card in case anything happens. That said, with flight times of 20 minutes or less, you are unlikely to fill the cards up in one flight session. So as long as you remember to empty your memory card each time you charge your batteries you should be good.
Tip 3 – Camera Settings
Before you take off, make sure you go into the settings and set the quality you want to record in. Whether it is 720p, 1080p or 4k. The frame rate, whether it is 24, 25, 30 or 120 frames per second if your drone allows it.
Decide whether you want to record in MP4 format or MOV. This will largely depend on what you plan to do with the footage and whether you edit in Adobe Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro.
You can also go in and set the shutter speed and ISO settings and white balance amongst other things. Adjusting these will help you get the best picture colour and reduce highlights being blown out or shadows being too dark. But don’t worry, you can leave these on Auto if that is too much to take in on your first flight.
If you plan to adjust the shutter speed down to work with 24 frames per second for smooth video. You may need to buy a set of ND Filters for your drone. Make sure you buy a set that match the exact drone model as most of them are not cross compatible. Even within the same brand, ie DJI Mavic Air ND filters will not fit a DJI Mavic Pro.
Tip 4 – Beginner Mode
You may be keen to fly off and deactivate beginner mode as soon as possible. However, if this is your first flight, its recommended to leave it on.
Beginner mode restricts it to 30 metres distance away from the pilot and sevearly reduces the speed.
Get a feel for how responsive the controls are. Learn which controls move it forward and back, up and down, rotate, record, take off, land, etc. There is a lot to control and chances are unless you play a lot of computer games, you will need time to learn and practice.
Yes it is very slow, but you will feel a lot better once you have done this and then turn off beginner mode and get excited again.
Tip 5 – Preparation
Of course, there is the usual, checking your drone’s batteries are fully charged. Your controller is charged. Your phone is charged. Your memory card has space. etc.
Check the weather conditions, I would advise not to fly if there is much more than a tiny breeze. It does affect how the drone flies. It can also blow the drone further away from you a lot quicker than expected.
The other thing you can do is install the drone assist app NATS. This will give you an overview of the area. Where you can and can’t fly. It also shows you flight paths of aircraft for that day. Basically, if you see red. Do Not Fly.
I know sometimes you are so keen to do the first flight that you may overlook some of these things. But some small aircraft can fly low enough to encounter a drone which could put lives at risk… the last thing you want.
Tip 6 – Perfection
Your first flight should be about practising flying and learning the basic maneuvers such as:
- Taking off
- Testing the return to home feature
- Performing a horizontal square shape
- Performing a vertical square shape
- Circling around an object
This may sound boring, but these will be some of the most used motions you will need to perform. You may need to use them sooner than you think, so best to know how to do them straight away.
Tip 7 – Screen layout
Take a moment to learn the screen layout. Your drone app will be displaying a lot of information. At first, you will see all the numbers and ignore them. But then when you take off and you start seeing numbers flashing in red and beeps, you will wish you knew what they meant.
Some of the basic and important ones will be knowing how high the drone is and how far away it is. Also research or read the manual to find out how far the remote control will work so you keep well within those boundaries.
Also, check before take-off that the remote has locked sync with the drone so it doesn’t fly off and not come back. Check that you can visually see the camera on the screen so you can see where it is going.
Check if there are any alerts for updates to the software and firmware. Even if it takes most of the battery to download and install. This could be an important update that lets it work with your phone. Or a safety fix that allows the signal to stay strong and consistent so do not skip this process.
Do you own a drone?
Have you purchased your first drone yet? How was your first drone flight? Or are you in the market to buy one in the next 12 months?
If you are interested to see what comes in the box when you buy a drone, check out the unboxing article and video about the DJI Mavic Air Fly More Combo
Here are the links for the same DJI Mavic Air Fly More Combo if you want to view more details on Amazon.
Would love to hear what you are using or planning to buy in the comments below. Did I miss any other tips for flying a drone?