We get a lot of questions from people who are just starting or are interested in getting started in the drone hobby. So we've put together this guide to help you. It contains tips, tricks, and advice that should make your foray in to the exciting world of drones more enjoyable.
- Cheaper doesn’t mean easier to fly – Often it’s actually the opposite which can make the decision difficult for a new pilot who wants a good experience at a low cost. More expensive drones often come with advanced options that a new pilot may not be ready to dive into, but they are also usually steadier in the air and more reliable.
- Specs are not the most important thing – Sometimes you can compare specs on different drones and think that one is the better value, but specs are not the only or even the most important thing to consider for a new pilot. You must consider how approachable the drone is for a new pilot, how easy it is to handle in the air, and how reliable it is. None of these can be determined by looking at a spec sheet.
- Talk to a dealer – Let your dealer know that you do not have experience and tell them what you are looking for and they can help you. At VH Drones, we would much prefer taking the time to e-mail or chat with you to help you get the right drone than send you something that may be a little harder to handle than what you were hoping for.
- Pick your seller carefully – There are basically three kinds of sellers:
- No Service Sellers - Many of these sellers are on Amazon or eBay. They will sell the drone to you, but you are unlikely to receive any help or service after that. Potentially more troubling is their potentially inability to help you should need to file a warranty claim. If the seller is not an authorized dealer, you may be out of luck.
- MAP Pricing – All manufactures give authorized dealers a minimum price at which they can advertise their products. If most dealers list the drone at one price and one is below that price it likely means they are not an authorized dealer or they have violated their agreement with the manufacturer. If they don't keep their word with the manufacturer, can you trust their promises to you?
o Large Dealers – These are legitimate businesses that you can trust, such as Atlanta Hobby or B&H Photo. There are no worries over their legitimacy, but it is also unlikely you will have much of a relationship with anyone there to help you on your drone journey.
o Small Dealers who do Drones only – This includes VH Drones. The advantage is that if you find a good small dealer, the service level will be much better than the other types of sellers. At VH Drones, you will be dealing with the owners. You have access to us. It’s the best option as long as you feel good about who you are buying from. Payment through PayPal, which VH Drones offers, provides some additional security.
- VH Drone’s current general recommendations – We love the Autel Robotics X-Star Premium for new pilots. It is approachable and reliable and Autel has great customer service. If you're especially concerned that you'll crash, you might consider buying a small, inexpensive trainer such as the Micro Drone 3.0.
- Some instructions are better than others – Some foreign manufacturers are still working through language barrier issues. DJI once struggled with this, but now produces excellent instruction manuals. 3DR is a US company and its manuals are easy to follow. Yuneec and Autel Robotics also do a nice job. Some other manufacturers that lack a solid US presence produce some directions that may leave you scratching your head.
- If in doubt look on YouTube – There are great resources on YouTube. Seeing something assembled often helps much more than reading instructions or looking at a diagram.
- Register your Drone - Effective December 21, 2015, anyone who owns a small unmanned aircraft of a certain weight must register with the Federal Aviation Administration's Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) registry before they fly outdoors. People who do not register could face civil and criminal penalties. You can find more information here.
- Read the Manual - With some products, you can take it out of the box and start using it. This is not the case with drones. Each has its quirks and differences and it's important that you fully understand how to operate your drone before you take it flying. Read the manual through at least once, if not twice. Pay close attention on how to correctly install the battery and props, start up, shut down, takeoff, land, activate return-to-home and deactivate or pause smart modes.
- Check for New Firmware and Update if Required - Manufacturers often provide firmware updates that correct critical, safety of flight related issues. Make sure you have installed the latest version before you go flying for the first time.
- Calibrate the Compass - Magnetic Variation can differ greatly from region to region. You should calibrate the compass of your drone when you receive it and consider re-calibrating it before its first flight in any new area.
- Join AMA - The Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) is an outstanding resource for both new and seasoned pilots. In addition, AMA membership comes with $2.5 Million in Comprehensive General Liability Protection for members. Find out more information and sign-up at www.modelaircraft.org.
- Make sure you're legal to fly. Visit knowbeforeyoufly.org to learn more about where and when you can fly your Drone. There are several apps that can help you get to know the airspace around you These apps include KnowB4UFly, Hover, UAV Forecast, and others.
- Find an open area – Your first few flights should be in a location free of trees, houses, and other obstacles. Fly at a park, or soccer field, or a pasture. Again, this is to mitigate your risk of crashing it.
- Follow the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) Guidelines – In general, make sure you can see your drone, are not flying above 400 feet, and aren’t within 5 miles of an airport without notifying the airport operator. Also use common sense and do not fly in crowded areas. Learn more at knowbeforeyoufly.org.
- Make sure you have a good GPS lock – The drone will have a GPS indicator on it. Do not take it up in the air without a solid lock.
- Have somebody with you – It’s more fun to fly with others and at the beginning it’s a great idea for safety. There are so many things to look at and watch that it’s a good idea to have another set of eyes.
- Be safe and keep the drone in sight – No stunts for beginners!
- Be prepared to crash – Pilots will crash their drones. It’s part of the hobby. You just want to avoid major crashes. Replacing props or landing gear is neither hard nor expensive if you should have some minor damage. Replacing cameras, gimbals, or control boards can be quite costly. If you have some minor damage, don’t let this upset you. It’s part of learning.
Troubleshooting and Finding Tips
- Join a group – There are Facebook groups and message boards dedicated to almost every model of drone. Find a group with yours and join it. These groups have experts in them that love to share ideas and provide help.
- Look for information from the manufacturer – This could be the user manual, the company website, or the company’s social media pages.
- Ask your dealer – VH Drones is here to help! We may not be experts with every drone, but if we don’t know the answer we do have lines of access to the manufacturers that customers do not.
- Have Fun - Drone flying can be an enjoyable and rewarding hobby provided you conduct your flights safely and within the law. So, get out there and have fun!