With winter upon us, many pilots and would-be drone flyers find their mission options limited. Flying in high winds, snow, slush, ice and cold temperatures can take some of the fun – plus much of the battery life – out of flying. However, it is possible to get some stick time indoors if you follow some basic guidelines.
Why Fly Inside?
New pilots can gain experience by flying small toy model indoors. FPV mid-sized drones are often flown, and raced, in indoor warehouses. More experienced pilots may have reason to use advanced models such as the DJI Phantom 3 Advanced and Pro, which has special indoor positioning sensors, to take video of large indoor spaces or do demos for educational purposes.
Drone Sizing for Indoor Flight
In general, drones can be classified into these size ranges:
1. Nano Drones – are very small – about the size of a Silver Dollar – less than 2 inches square. Example: Cheerson X20
2. Micro Drones – these are palm size – about 4 inches square. Example: Hubsan X4-107
3. Mini Drones – These are about 12 inches square. Example: Syma X5C
4. FPV – 250 size – these are rectangular have a footprint approx. 14″ wide by 18″ long. Example: Eachine Racer 250
5. Phantom size – the DJI Phantom is the most popular consumer drone being sold – it and similar models are about 20 inches square.
While there are larger models made, these would typically be flown indoors only by very experienced pilots.
If you intend to fly in furnished rooms in a home or apartment, consider only #1 and #2 above – the Nano or Micro Drones. Either can be navigated in mid-sized rooms without damaging furniture and fixtures. Micro Drones should always be flown with included or optional propeller guards. This allows them to bump up against walls and even the ceiling without crashing.
Mini models can be easily flown in a large basement area or empty garage. In most all cases you are not flying these with abandon, but rather learning how to pilot your new machine. One useful exercise is to set up various landing pads and attempt to land and take off from these various locations. You can also practice the standard “heads out” (standing behind drone with it facing away) and “heads in” (drone facing you – much more difficult!) sceanarios.
It’s a good idea to dial down your controls so that you limit your speed and movements to their minimums. Many quadcopters have a “rate” setting expressed in percentage – i.e. 100% would allow for steep turns while 25% is more tame.
Nano sized Drones are actually more difficult to fly than larger models – a Micro such as the Hubsan X4 or Syma X11 should be your first choice.
Be wary of “ground effect” which makes the drone difficult to control when it is near the floor or just above any surface. Lift off immediately to 2-3 feet above the floor so as to fly in free air. You will find similar effects when flying near walls or curtains – that is, the force of the propellers may be deflected by nearby surfaces and change the flight characteristics of your drone.
FPV and Phantom Sizes
Beginners should not consider flying either #4 or #5 above indoors. FPV flyers should gain a lot of outdoor experience before – if ever – venturing indoors for competition or demos. When it comes to racing quadcopters you either have the right stuff or you don’t. I don’t, so I stick to outdoor flight above soft surfaces.
The only reason to fly a Phantom indoors is for photos or video that are unattainable in another manner. In many examples a stepladder or handheld gimbal such as the DJI Osmo may be a better choice for the shot you desire. The Phantom 3 Pro and Advanced models have bottom facing sensors that help the drone maintain position indoors when it’s within 10 feet of the floor. Other sensors keep it quite stable – although, again, the propeller guards are a good idea.
In general, the smaller the better for indoor drone flight – the exception being that newer pilots may find the tiniest of models too small to properly see and control.
Budding pilots might be wise to purchase a few low cost micro sized toy models for winter use. I personally learned in my unfinished basement using the Syma X1 (mini) and Hubsan (micro). Once I ventured outdoors I had to learn the hard way about the effects of wind – but that’s another article I’ll save for the future!
Happy Piloting – and rest assured that the eventual GPS assisted outdoor drone you may be lusting after will be much easier to fly than the more manual toy and FPV models.