Drones are getting more popular by the year, and thanks to numerous sales – not to mention these devices making for popular holiday gifts – new drone owners have exploded onto the scene. Something that has seen a correlating uptick, sadly, is drone fail and drone crash videos. These pop up online every now and then but are basically becoming a trend due to all of the newbie drone owners that make simple mistakes when they fly their drones for the first time.
Whether someone got their drone as a gift or on sale, it’s still an expensive and somewhat “delicate” piece of hardware that can get seriously damaged in a crash. Not to mention the potential safety implications if there are any people or personal property involved.
If you’re a new drone owner, then you’ll want to take some time to get acquainted with this fantastic new device. Because make no mistake, it can be an incredible tool and a fun toy to play with, but it can also result in a lot of damage to you, other people, animals, and property if you aren’t careful.
All of these mistakes are easily avoidable if you know what you’re doing and how to handle a drone properly. So here’s a look at some of the top beginner mistakes that many new drone owners tend to make.
1. Just taking the drone out of the box and trying to fly
While every drone brand is different, most drones aren’t capable of being flown straight off the bat. You need to prepare properly first.
Taking gimbal clamp and cover off, taking off the camera cover, and removing any stickers over the sensors is a good place to start. Setting up the drone before the first flight also includes installing any necessary apps and, most importantly, updating the drone’s firmware. Manufacturers regularly release new updates for their drones and when a drone has been sitting in storage, it obviously hasn’t been receiving those updates.
These updates are very important because they fix known bugs and prevent hackers from exploiting vulnerabilities in the software. When people don’t update their new drones, it could cause them to not function properly, some features may be missing, or it could even result in a crash.
2. Not calibrating the drone properly before taking flight
Before flying for the first time, you have to also calibrate the drone. Normally, a drone has to be calibrated or it won’t fly properly – or sometimes even at all. There are two parts to this: the inertial measurement unit (IMU) which regulates the drone’s gyroscopes and its orientation relevant to the ground, and the drone’s compass which regulates its position relative to longitude and latitude as well as true north.
This may sound like a complicated process, and might even feel intimidating at first, but if you just follow the steps for your specific drone (they should be in the user manual) then you’ll be fine. If you’re struggling, then you should be able to find a handy guide online as many drone owners and manufacturers have created helpful content to guide you through these common processes.
Note: If you travel more than 6 miles any time after calibrating your drone, you’ll want to redo the calibrating process. This is especially important if you’ve traveled long-distance, like to a different country altogether.
4. Trying to fly the drone indoors
This is probably the most common mistake new drone owners make when they just get their new drone. All of that built-up excitement coupled with little to no experience in flying a drone leads to some pretty nasty disasters. From drones smashing straight into people’s televisions, windows, lamps, and other expensive things, to people and pets getting hurt.
While there are situations where flying a drone indoors makes sense, usually professional ones, most people tend to fly outside. This is doubly essential for any first-time drone pilot. If you’re starting your drone up for the first time, you’ll want it to be in a big empty space that gives you ample room to maneuver without knocking into anything.
That means you may need to head out to a local park or field, as many people’s yards are dotted with large trees, shrubbery, pools, and walls that could make for serious obstacles. First-time flyers tend to underestimate how much space they need before their fine motor skills have learned to adjust to the controls and the movements of the drone.
5. Thinking it will be easy to fly a drone
Someone who’s never operated a drone can’t really imagine what it entails. It’s easy to see someone flying a drone, to look at the controller which looks a lot like a gaming controller or one of those remote control car controllers, and think this will be simple enough. The truth is, getting a drone into the air is easy, keeping it from flying into anything or crashing into the ground is the hard part.
There’s a lot that goes into orientating the drone and navigating in the air. Some simple beginner exercises can help a lot here. Most recommend that you start out by just getting the drone to hover in the air then land safely again in the same spot you started in. Then try to fly in a square pattern, after which you can increase the difficulty by trying to fly in a circle.
6. Not giving the GPS enough time to connect
This isn’t just a newbie mistake, but it’s something to keep in mind whenever starting up a new drone flight: wait and let the drone hover for a bit before setting off. This is necessary because the GPS doesn’t connect immediately. It takes a few seconds for the drone to connect to a handful of satellites to help pinpoint its position as well as its home point/starting point (which has to be set before you take off so that it can return to that spot if necessary).
If you fly off with the drone before the GPS has finished locking onto the drone, you risk it locking on in the wrong position and messing up the drone’s GPS location.
7. Not respecting the equipment enough
Drones are often mistaken for toys, and while they are a high-tech gadget that functions as a digital “toy” for many, they are decidedly more complex than toys. New owners tend to think that they understand how it works and so rush through the manual because they don’t see the drone as a high-tech piece of equipment. Usually not too long after that, they discover just how wrong that type of thinking is.
Of course, the smaller “toy” drones tend to be much less complex and often can be flown straight out of the box. But those are the cheaper variations that aren’t capable of flying very far and don’t come with a lot of extra features. Mid-range consumer drones are much more of a beast that requires some time to properly tame.
You need to understand how your drone works and how every individual part of the drone works. Otherwise, you could make an easily avoidable mistake or face a flyaway drone with no idea how to correct it.
People who don’t respect their drone equipment also often fly with little regard for speed and their surroundings. Flying recklessly is not only prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration (the FAA regulates airspace in the US and you should be well-acquainted with them if you’re a drone owner), but it’s also extremely dangerous.
8. Underestimating the weather
Despite heading out to operate an expensive piece of equipment in the air, a lot of people strangely forget to check whether the weather is safe to fly. Or they do notice some wind, but think it’s slow enough that they shouldn’t have to worry. Many fail videos can attest to the fact that they were wrong.
The ideal conditions for flying are open skies and low to no wind. While you won’t get lucky enough to have that all the time, you should be able to gauge when it’s not safe to fly. When flying in sub-optimal weather conditions, make sure it isn’t so overcast or foggy that you can’t keep track of your drone the whole time. It’s also not advisable to fly in the rain or snow as this can damage the drone.
Also, check your local weather news to see what the wind strength looks like. Drones generally shouldn’t fly in winds going over 30 mph. Although the rule of thumb is that drones can fly in winds that go up to two-thirds of their maximum speed, which varies per model. Even so, it adds a level of complexity and requires extra precaution when flying with higher wind speeds.
Knowing the weather isn’t enough though. Wind dynamics can change, especially when you’re flying over valleys, gorges, or near tall buildings. Sudden gusts have been known to sweep people’s drones off-course and they aren’t quick enough to correct it because they weren’t paying attention.
9. Flying without knowing the law
There are a bunch of laws and rules that apply to drone owners across the world. In the US, you need to contend with state-wide and local laws, as well as the FAA’s rules. Ironically, many of these rules were enacted because new drone flyers did something unsafe or illegal and the FAA had to implement a new rule to protect everyone.
Because of these laws, a lot of new flyers actually break the law without even knowing it as they fly in areas where it’s not allowed. But you should be aware that not knowing about the law will not get you out of trouble. Often, you’ll get either fined or jail time depending on the offense, whether you knowingly broke the law or not.
So it’s truly essential that you look up the laws that apply to you before heading out, even for your first flight. Be sure to check for state and local laws in your area. Make sure you’re familiar with the FAA’s rules as well, such as that your drone should be registered and have the registration number visible, that you can’t fly higher than 400 feet, and that you can’t fly over crowds, for example.
10. Not having a visual observer/spotter help out
Even experienced drone pilots have spotters that help them keep an eye on the drone while they’re flying. Newbies ideally should have someone stand by to help with keeping the drone in their sight because it’s hard to navigate the drone controls, look at the camera feed, and keep an eye on the drone at the same time.
11. Flying too close to objects
Videos of people crashing their drones into trees are very common because they underestimate how far away, they are from the tree. Usually, they’re relying on the drone’s camera as well, which is part of the problem because it’s very hard to gauge how far away the drone is from an object that way, especially for beginners.
So a good rule of thumb is to just stay away from any objects until you’ve got a good handle on how your drone flies. You should also rather keep the drone in your direct line of sight while flying close to any objects instead of trying to rely on the drone’s camera.
People who own drones with sensors and warning systems tend to get complacent too, where they end up relying on the drone to tell them if they’re too close to something. These sensors aren’t always accurate though, and you shouldn’t rely on them too much. For example, they can fail to pick up on wires and suddenly your drone is caught up high on a telephone line.
12. Flying too far too soon
Again, the excitement of flying a new drone can be intoxicating and many new owners want to go full throttle straight away without thinking. They didn’t set a home point. They didn’t check the battery levels. And they haven’t tested their flying skills in a more controlled environment yet. Instead, they just take off and see where the wind takes them.
Not only will this make it hard to return the drone safely, but if it loses connection or battery power then it will likely crash and/or get lost. Do some test runs in a big open space first and go a little farther each time before setting off on a longer flight journey. Also, be sure to know the frequency limit of your drone’s controller/receiver or you’ll suddenly lose connection.