Drones like the DJI Mavic Mini and Mavic Air make it easier than ever to get started with drone flying, and I’m sure many were unwrapped yesterday. However, those first few flights can be quite daunting, so I spoke to a few expert pilots, including some from DJI, to discover some exercises that can help improve your drone flying. They stood me in good stead for the flight test to get my PfCO (Permission for Commercial Operation) and perhaps they can help a few other new drone pilots take to the air for the first time.
Forget the Photography
It’s only natural that photographers want to start shooting aerial stills and video with their newly acquired drone. However, thinking about exposure and composition can be a distraction. Consequently, landscape photographer, Elia Locardi recommends focusing on the flying and forgetting about the photography at first.
He tells new pilots to only start using the camera once controlling the drone is second nature.
A key benefit is that you’ll spend less time trying to position your camera and more time getting the shots and footage you want. That’s good news with limited battery life!
Don’t look at the camera feed
It’s easy to get drawn into looking at the screen that’s showing what your drone is seeing. However, you should maintain visual contact with your drone at all times. During your first flights, you should try to ignore the camera feed and look at the craft in the air. This will help you to develop an understanding of how responsive it is to the controls.
It’s also much easier to judge how far away your drone is and the speed it’s flying at when you’re looking at it directly.
Set yourself a landing spot
It’s easy to land a drone in an open space, but there may be times when you have less room.
To prepare for this, mark out a space or use a landing mat as a target. Keep honing your landing skills by taking off, flying a circuit and then landing on your target.
Aim to land slowly and smoothly without making lots of jerky adjustments.
Fly in perfect circles
DJI’s Daniel Schuster recommends spending time learning to fly your drone in perfect circles. Start by flying it around you and then progress to flying around a point in front of you. As well as developing your coordination, this will improve your ability to use both the controller sticks together.
Fly in a figure of eight
Once you can fly your drone in perfect circles, Daniel recommends moving on to figures of eight. These will test your skill even more, further developing your coordination. It will pay dividends when you want to manoeuvre your drone into position for a shot before the perfect light disappears.
Land with the camera facing away from you
Expert drone pilot, Naomi Locardi has a great tip for helping with landing in tricky situations. As you fly the drone into land, turn it so the camera is facing away from you. This means the drone is facing the direction that you’re looking and you can use the controls more instinctively. Pushing the right stick to the right, for example, will move the drone in that direction.
If the drone is facing you, pushing the right stick right will make it move left. You should aim to be capable of flying in that orientation, but it can lead to mistakes under pressure if you need to react quickly during landing.