Wait! This is a site which promotes the safe, fun and productive use of aerial robotics (aka “drones”), so why would we produce such a story as this?
Simple – because it’s the truth and we want to save a lot of people money, time and trouble.
How would you feel if your $1500 laptop dropped on the sidewalk and shattered into pieces….the first week you had it? Not very good, right? Well, this experience is being had by dozens of people each day at this time of year as their new “holiday presents” are opened and test flown. Here are a few recent quotes for your consideration:
“I used to own a brand new (higher priced drone). Tonight I noticed the lights started blinking red and it fell out of the sky. I haven’t found it , will go to look for it in the morning…. I’ve been crying like a child…. ”
“I lost my (expensive) drone a couple days ago and am trying to determine what most likely happened to it after I lost connection”
“Eventually my quadcopter ($2500+) got low over the water and was going so hard to the right that despite my input to go up, it went down and splashed into the water. No sight of it again. Just thought I’d share my tragic, if not scary, story”
“Flying at about 30ft my (expensive drone) decided to land in the water just 100ft away! No control over decent. Nothing I did with controller made any difference. It was just unbelievable, watching helplessly ”
“Just bought a brand new (expensive drone). It did a complete flyaway on it’s first flight”
“After following the instructions to the letter I took (my new $500 drone) outside on a calm day and sat it down and hit takeoff. Suddenly it started gaining altitude for no reason and I immediately tried to bring it down and it responded by shooting skywards at warp speed and there was nothing I could do to stop it”
“When I pressed the “Return Home” button, I expected the drone to return across the field to me. Instead, the drone shot straight up into the sky like a rocket, until it was a tiny speck and disappeared completely.”
Get the idea? But that’s not all. In many of these cases, the drone were heavy enough (3 lbs) to cause damage to persons or property they may have hit. They could have caused a car accident…or even a plane crash!
NONE of these losses….or any loses in crashes and flyaways…are covered by warranties or insurance.
Before we go any further….there is no problem with that little $20-$100 drone toy you bought the kid (or yourself) for the holidays. The worst that is likely to happen is that you will lose it or break it – at that point you can decide if you want to buy another or give up. As will be detailed below, succeeding in…and enjoying this hobby takes much more than just the money and desire to buy and fly a quadcopter.
The Basic Problem
Quadcopters are cool. Aviation is fascinating and the dream of flying is one which many people harbor. Combine that with newer technology and slick marketing and you’d get the idea that just about anyone can easily fly, maintain and enjoy a quadcopter.
Consumers today think that money = satisfaction. That is, if they spend enough to get the very best, it will treat them right. That’s true with many technology products such as smartphones, tablet and laptop computers, but when it comes to quadcopters more money equals more complexity, more danger and higher maintenance costs. And, the customer has to do most of the legwork and repair – no Drone Genius Bars or Drone Store to walk in and get instant answers and service.
This brings me to my First Rule of drones and quadcopters:
“If you are not handy and technically and mechanically orientated (read maps, know which was is south, know weather, etc.) , don’t enter this hobby”
Even fixing a $4 motor on a $35 quadcopter requires skill – everything from the use of tiny tools and screws to being able to solder, glue, test voltage, understand polarity, etc.
The only possible exception to this rule is if you are lucky enough to have a local hobby shop which is staffed by knowledgeable and technical “drone experts” who you can obtain your equipment from – and who will agree to do any and all repairs and replacements for you.
The Second Rule is not far behind…
“Never buy or fly anything you cannot afford to lose”…
Even if you have some disposable income, you’re likely to really feel your heart sink when a $2,000 setup flies over the horizon and doesn’t come back. As with any such rule, this can be overcome – by a fat wallet and/or great care and frugal purchases. If you get by this rule, you’ll then have Rule #3 to contend with.
The Third Rule is….
“These are REAL AIRCRAFT and you, as the pilot and crew chief, have to become familiar with every aspects of flight, including potential emergency situation”….
Truth is, just about anyone can fly…..or, at least take off. This is even true when it comes to advanced jetliners. With proper instruction and a knowledgable co-pilot, I could probably even get an Airbus to take off – they are “fly by wire” and if everything is in place, almost fly themselves. Despite this fact, Air France is not likely to hire me for the Captain’s chair.
Instead of reinventing the wheel completely, let me refer my dear readers to two articles – both written by technical experts who FAILED BIG at flying quadcopters. I will then take a more positive approach and detail what it takes to get you successful in this hobby!
This article describes a tech editor “Flying and Crashing a $1300 drone“.
In case you lack the patience to read other articles, here are some valid quotes:
“The Dunning-Kruger effect: a bias wherein unskilled persons mistakenly overestimate their ability to accomplish a given task. After buzzing DJI’s Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter drone around my driveway for about two minutes, I’m pretty sure I was its walking embodiment.”
“The most dangerous thing in that box is the Quick Start Guide,” says Peter Sachs, a founder of the Drone Law Journal. “There should be no such thing. Your experience isn’t surprising—learning from just the Quick Start Guide is inevitably going to result in a crash.” Sachs says any new drone owner should be sure to study basic aeronautics and meteorology, and should initially operate only under the tutelage of an experienced drone pilot in a designated recreational airspace“.
Meteorology? Yes – in fact, a lot of my success in flight is due to another pastime I pursue – Sailing! I have learned to understand wind and weather in a way that I didn’t prior to taking up that sport. Those who intend to fly more complicated craft also have to understand sunspots, mapping, solar flares and storms, compass headings, altitude (above where?) and other similar topics.
If you’ve gotten this far – and still want to fly the more expensive camera and video quadcopters, here are some tips and hints:
Take your time – do not buy that fancy drone for at least a few months! In fact, I’d suggest that a year may be a good time frame to build up from the toy quadcopters to middle-grade and then, finally, to those with a gimbal and fancy cameras.
Read books and manuals – we’ve written two books ourselves on getting started.
Download the PDF owners manuals for quadcopters you may be interested in – if they are hard to understand, you need to keep reading until you understand all the definitions, functions, etc.
Note that this site has a glossary – here is a PFD version of it.
Attend Pilot Classes – check with local hobby shops as well as with quadcopter manufacturers – some are starting to give “flight school” at various locations. We (Droneflyers.com) also offer drone tutoring “live” in New England (W. Ma and RI) and in Sarasota Florida (winter). Here is the link.
Piloting is no different from any other skill – you have to put in the hours as well as have the proper guidance (information) to succeed. Many folks will not take this advice and lose – in total – millions of dollars worth of equipment. Worst yet, some may fly dangerously and end up hurting themselves or others. With the proper planning, you and I will hopefully hang onto our aircraft and enjoy ourselves safely in this pursuit.