With consumer-level drones like the DJI Spark and Mavic Air costing around £450/$400 and £799/$799 respectively and the much-publicised dangers of flying in the wrong area, it’s not unreasonable to be a little nervous when making your first few flights. This guide is designed to calm those nerves and help you fly safely.
1. Charge and Update
Don’t expect to fly your drone the instant it arrives. After you’ve unpacked it you’ll need to charge the batteries for it and the controller. The next step is to ensure that the firmware is up to date so it has any bugs ironed-out and all the latest technology working. You may be able to do this via the manufacturer’s app on your phone (with the phone connected wirelessly to the drone) or you may need to make a wired connection to your computer.
Similarly, the onboard information system that works with the GPS may also need to be updated.
2. Assemble the drone
If necessary, unfold the drone, make sure the landing gear is deployed and that the lens/gimbal cover is removed.
Although they increase wind resistance and reduce battery life, if you’re new to flying a drone it’s a good idea to fit propeller guards to your drone if they’re supplied. As well as helping to keep foliage away from the propellers, they give you some protection – the propellers might only be plastic but they move quickly and can do some damage.
Always check your drone for damage and make sure everything is secure.
3. Pick your flying location
Even if you’re not flying for commercial purposes, there are a few rules that you need to adhere to when flying a drone. Firstly, you need to steer clear of airports and airfields. You can use an app such as RunwayHD or Drone Assist to check whether your chosen location is within a controlled airspace.
If you’re outside of curtilage of an airport but still within controlled airspace, you can still fly a drone if it’s under 7Kg in weight but it’s advisable to call the air traffic controller to let them know your plans. If your drone is over 7Kg in weight you have to obtain their permission before you can fly it.
At take-off, your drone/SUAS needs to be 30m away from anyone not under your control. When it’s in flight, it needs to be 50m from people or built-up areas.
4. Get Permission from the Landowner
Once you’ve identified a location that fulfils all the requirements for remoteness from people, buildings and roads, you need to obtain the permission of the landowner to take-off and land your drone. That’s a legal requirement.
5. Check the weather
Drones have a maximum wind speed limit for flying, so check the weather conditions before you fly. Weather apps can give this information but you can also check it with an anemometer.
7. Extra Kit
While your drone should be supplied with all you need to fly, there are a couple of extras that can be useful. A take-off and landing mat, for example, keeps grass and twigs away from the propellers.
The object avoidance systems built-in to some drones means that they can be very fussy about what they will land on. The DJI Mavic Air, for instance, doesn’t seem to like grass longer than regulation bowling green length for example and a mat gets around the problem.
You could put your coat on the ground, but a pop-up mat with pegs to keep it in place in the drone’s downdraft makes a neat solution and doesn’t cost much.
An anemometer is also often recommended so you can check the wind speed and make sure it’s below your SUAS’s maximum for flying.
Spare propellers are also useful because they’ll allow you to continue flying in case of a breakage and an extra battery or two will enable you to fly longer.
Summary: How to Make your first Drone Flight
1. Charge the batteries
2. Install any firmware and/or information system updates
3. Assemble and check your drone
4. Get the landowner’s permission to take-off and land
5. Check the weather
6. Take-off at least 30m from people
7. Fly at least 50m away from people and property
8. Stay away from airports
9. Get insurance