I’m always looking for ways to improve my piloting skills. The approach I am going to share with you is what I use and also share with my friends and clients. Remember, an out of control drone can be a danger to you, other people and property. Learning to fly with precision and confidence is essential.
**Warning!** You could crash your drone when practicing these maneuvers.
That being said, don’t go into this practice thinking you’ll crash. Go slowly. Take your time. Don’t push faster than you are able. And don’t let others push you beyond what you know are your limits.
In these practices, you will fly in GPS mode. Later we will start practicing in ATTI mode. You will need 4 large white yoga bricks or small boxes or plastic crates. You’ll want to use something large enough and bright enough, that you can see them from where you land and take off your drone.
Ideally find an open field without tall obstacles, such as trees and buildings. Begin practicing on a light or no wind day. As you get better, begin flying in windier conditions. Flying in windier conditions will improve your flying abilities. When practicing these maneuvers keep your fingers and/or thumbs on the sticks at all times. A bad habit many get into is letting go of the sticks because they are in GPS mode. You can do this periodically if your hands get tired, but this only intentionally. These practices are challenging, so have patience and acknowledge your progress.
Optional – Landing Pad. I always use a landing pad like the ones from Hoodman as it gives me a specific location to take off and land from. It also protects my drone, the electric motors, blades, camera and gimbal from rocks and other debris that is often on the ground where I fly.
At the Field
Lay the bricks out to the form a square, about 15 feet from where you land and takeoff, and approximately 20-30 feet apart. As you get better, increase the distance between the bricks.
Landing and taking off: Place your drone on your landing pad with the nose of the drone facing into the wind. Then pick a side, whichever is more comfortable. You will want to stand behind the drone to the right or left side of it. This is the position you will use whenever you take off or land your drone. You will learn how to control your drone with real consistency. Also landing and taking off into the wind will give you better control over your drone. In the diagram below I have positioned myself with the drone to my right. This is my safe position. I always land and takeoff with the drone in that position and with the drone pointing into the wind.
Now with your fingers and/or thumbs on the sticks, lift off and move to the first square. Have 10-15 feet of altitude. Using only your right stick move to each square, keeping the drone in the same position, pointing away from you until you are back to the starting square. Do your best to keep the drone moving in a straight line from square to square using only your right stick, stopping at each square. This will help you to really understand what your right stick does and how to control the drone more accurately. Make the stops at each brick smooth and gentle by being soft on the sticks, not moving them abruptly.
Once you are able to move through the bricks, smoothly and accurately, going counter-clockwise, then change your direction, repeating the practice above, going clockwise.
When you are able to do the exercise above smoothly and accurately, repeat the exercise, making a smooth transition through each corner, without stopping at the brick. This means you will need to reduce the amount of input on the right stick as you approach each brick and increase the amount of input as you leave each brick. Keep practicing and congratulate yourself on the progress you have made. You are on your way to becoming a better drone pilot.
A Change of Orientation – Moving to the Next Level
Taking it to the next level means changing the orientation of the drone. Face the drone to the left and repeat the steps above. Be sure to practice this both clockwise and counterclockwise. Next, face the drone to the right and repeat the steps above. Finally, face the drone towards you and do the exercise again. Facing the drone towards you is often the most difficult exercise, as all the controls on the remote are now reversed. As you practice these exercises and gain confidence, start increasing your speed, but always keep your drone in control.
Fly safe and have fun!
Chris Anson is an FAA licensed Part 107 Pilot. With a background in landscape photography and video, at the beginning of 2017, Chris took these skills to the air using a drone, also earning his FAA Part 107 Drone Certification, allowing him to do commercial drone work. His transition to flying drones was aided by having flown large 6’ rotor span radio controlled helicopters for 5 years. Chris started The Anson Group Drone Videography and Photography company with the focus on working as a contractor for other companies, flying their drones and his own, as well as capturing stock videography and photography. Chris flies a DJI Inspire 2 drone with Zenmuse X5S camera. See examples of his work here.