The 10 tips for new drone pilots

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Flying a drone can be a fun and challenging activity. Have you just bought your first drone and want to get your first flying hours? Then read our ten tips for novice drone pilots to make your first flights a little easier.

Tips prior to drone flight

What should you pay close attention to before you start drone flying?

1. Check the weather conditions

    Check what the weather conditions are before your drone flight. Most drones cannot fly in the rain and strong winds can also cause problems. The app UAV Forecast is specially designed for pilots. Through this free app, you can see key weather factors such as: wind speed, wind direction, weather forecast and the number of satellites the drone can connect to at a single glance.

    The app gives a general advice about the weather: not good to fly or good to fly. 

    2. Calibrate your drone's compass and check all parts

      Before your drone flight, it is important to check all parts of the drone and calibrate your drone's compass, for example. Check that there are no damages on the propellers and on the outside of the drone. Check if the batteries are sufficiently charged and remove the gimbal cover (!) from the camera.

      Calibrate the drone's compass:

    1. Open the main menu, by clicking on the three dots
    2. Navigate to 'Security'
    3. Select 'Compass calibration'
    4. Follow the steps on the drone controller.

      3. Fly only in open airspace

      There are different types of flying areas. These include (temporary) no-fly zones, Natura2000 areas and low-flying areas. Where you are allowed to fly your drone depends on the airspace and restrictions present. The drone map of each EU country shows for each location all possible restrictions.

      Tips during drone flight

      What to look out for when drone flying.

      4. Always fly in direct vision

      European legislation states that drone pilots must always fly the drone in direct sight. This means that you must always be able to see the drone when you are flying. This way, you can survey the environment you are flying in and avoid accidents with obstacles, people or vehicles.

      5. Keep an eye on drone parameters

        Some important parameters, which can be found on the drone controller:

        1. Flight mode (GPS is default)
        2. Satellite signals
        3. Connection to controller
        4. Access rate
        5. Height of the drone
        6. Distance from the drone

        The drone looks for satellite networks, such as GPS, to connect to. Make sure the drone has at least 6-8 satellite signals to fly. If GPS signal drops or deteriorates, try to land the drone safely as soon as possible. The bar, at the top of the controller's screen, indicates whether the drone has enough GPS signals to fly.

        The drone's battery percentage is displayed in percent and Volts. At 30%, you get a notification that the drone's battery is starting to run down. We recommend landing the drone at 20% battery percentage and not flying unnecessarily until the last few percent. In that case, the drone will automatically land itself.

        The height of the drone is also displayed on the controller. The maximum altitude for free-flying drones in Europe is 120 metres.

        With the connection signal, the radio link strength between drone and controller is displayed. If the signal decreases, fly the drone closer to the controller so that the signal does not drop completely. Should the signal drop completely, the drone often automatically flies to the stored take-off point (Return to Home). 

        6. Fly in an environment without obstacles

        Make your first drone flights in an environment without too many obstacles. A large meadow is suitable for this. Despite most drones nowadays having obstacle sensors, this cannot be fully relied upon. Small obstacles, such as branches of trees without leaves, may well not be seen by the obstacle sensors. Therefore, do your first flying hours in a safe environment so that you can get to grips with the controls.

        7. When in doubt: Use RTH

        If you find yourself in a difficult situation with your drone, never panic. There are two ways to intervene.

        Hover the drone. You do this by simply releasing both sticks for a moment. The drone stops and the device - in GPS mode - hangs in the air at a fixed position. After this, you can calmly fly the drone back to a safe location.

        Use the RTH button. By pressing the RTH button, the drone will independently fly back to the location you took off from. The RTH button is always located on the drone's controller.

        8. Make use of the drone's flight modes

        Many drones have built-in flight modes, which you as a beginner drone pilot can make excellent use of to create stunning images. Deploying these flight modes automates the flying process. Flight modes, which you can use as a beginner drone pilot, are:

        1. ActiveTrack
        2. QuickShots
        3. Hyperlapse
        4. WayPoints
        5. MasterShots

        With ActiveTrack, the drone follows the subject of the photo. In a fluid flight motion, the subject is tracked until ActiveTrack is switched off.

        The QuickShot programme allows you to capture the subject of the image through a pre-programmed flight option. You select the option that best suits your subject and QuickShot takes the shot.

        With Hyperlapse, the drone takes multiple shots, allowing the device to fly and rotate. You can set a flight path using waypoints. All the pictures are merged into one video.

        Select some perspectives in advance. The drone then flies a smooth route by using these different perspectives.

        Select a subject after which the drone takes several shots of the subject in MasterShots mode.

        Tips for novices

        What do you need to arrange as a drone pilot before you are allowed to fly in European airspace?

        9. Register yourself as an operator

        If the drone has a camera, you need to register yourself as an operator. You can easily register online by filling in a form. The operator number must be visibly attached to the outside of the drone. This can be done through a sticker or branded plate.

        If the drone has a C1 or higher tag, you must also have the operator number broadcast with Remote ID. Registration as an operator is mandatory. Fail to comply with this and you risk a money fine.

        10. Get your EU Drone Licence

        It is often mandatory to possess an EU Drone Licence if you want to fly in Europe. If your drone weighs more than 249 grams, you need to obtain at least the Basic A1-A3 certificate.

        In the EU Drone Certificate training course, you will learn all the European drone rules. The training ends with an online exam. You can retake this one for free. Once you have passed, you will apply for the official EASA drone certificate, which you will receive digitally within minutes.

        If you want to fly a C2 label drone, you will need the Additional certificate A2 in addition to the basic certificate.

        Sem van Geffen

        Co-owner Drone Class B.V.

        About the author

        Sem is an experienced trainer/developer, with drones as his main interest. He holds the Dutch RPA-L license and the EASA STS theory certificate. His specialism is EU aviation law and he enjoys flying the DJI Mavic 3 Enterprise.

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