Ok folks, at this point there is really no way to fight it – so I am going to address this directly. Why, you ask?
Well, gone are the times when the only choices for getting up into the air with a MultiRotor Drone were either: 1) Fork over $10k+ for a ready to fly Draganflyer, or 2) Do all the research and learning necessary and then build one yourself. At this point in time a novice with no knowledge of radio control or Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules and regulations can order themselves up a DJI Phantom 2 Quadcopter for $679 and be in the air the same day. It is for those folks that I’m writing these 10 tips. While my headline here is meant to be a bit funny, the real intent of this list is to provide some practical tips that will keep people who are new to all this and those around them safe, and having fun. Fun is the point, isn’t it?
Here’s the short list on how not to be “one of those DJI Phantom guys(or girls)”:
1. Please understand that flying is a privilege and not a right.
2. Never fly over people.
3. Read your entire manual and the pilot training guide published by DJI before taking your first flight.
4. Do not rely on GPS position hold, return to home, or altitude hold to get you out of a bad situation.
5. Crawl before you walk. Or, flap those little wings before you go supersonic.
6. Don’t take your Phantom to the nearest well known landmark and go flying with it.
7. Please, pretty please – do not claim to run an aerial photography or video business the day after you purchase you Phantom.
8. Be aware of real air traffic in your area and stay below 400′ above ground level (AGL).
9. When you’re out flying and strangers ask you questions, just be cool.
10. Keep yourself and others clear of the propellers.
Here’s the long version:
1. Please understand that flying is a privilege and not a right. At this point in time hobby flying and commercial drone usage of our lightweight MultiRotors is a topic that is under attack by the media, politicians, and the Federal Aviation Administration. We need to be on our best behavior when in public and we must respect the fact that our privilege to fly may be heavily restricted if our actions are thoughtless. You are responsible for any damage or injuries caused by your Phantom, so live up to that responsibility.
2. Never fly over people. By this I mean don’t fly directly over them at any altitude. The full weight of the Phantom 2 fitted with an H3-3D gimbal, a GoPro, a battery, an iOSD Mini and a video transmitter is around 3 lbs. When dropped from the heavens, 3lbs can hurt. It can also cause serious injury. You do not have the right to expose people to that sort of risk. Also, don’t forget to think about the wind. Falling objects won’t fall straight down when it is windy so it’s a good idea to not fly over people within a radius of at least 25 feet. If you don’t know how to judge distances, just stay really far far away from being over anyone.
3. Read your entire manual and the pilot training guide published by DJI before taking your first flight. Don’t just use the quick start manual and run out there to fly your new plastic wonder. There are a lot of details about the operation of your Phantom that you should know before you go out on your first flight. This advice comes from my experience as a real pilot and CFII: As a general rule, any time you put any sort of vehicle in the air – you should know as much as possible about the operating parameters and limitations of that aerospace vehicular contraption. Study a bit when you’re on the ground, because once that bad boy is airborne you’ll have no choice but to learn really fast. Better to learn when there’s no pressure.
4. Do not rely on GPS position hold, return to home, or altitude hold to get you out of a bad situation. Quick lesson: the GPS receiver in your DJI Phantom needs to be locked onto at least 7 GPS satellites in order to provide guidance. Therefore, any time the receiver doesn’t have 7 or more satellites the GPS features of the Phantom will not function. So the simple solution is to always maintain positive control of your drone. By this I mean – fly it. Don’t “let” it do anything. Be in control of it and be sure that you maintain an awareness of it’s position (altitude, distance) and direction/speed of flight at all times. Keep that hot tamale in visual range there too, Maverick. Don’t just fly off the video transmitter without being able to locate your Phantom visually (line of sight).
5. Crawl before you walk. Or, flap those little wings before you go supersonic. In order to maintain positive control of your drone, you’ve got to put in some practice time. Don’t immediately take it out and try to impress your friends. Instead, devote some time to practice flying in a safe environment. Get comfortable with all the controls. Be able to fly nose in (little Phantom pointing right at you) and nose out. Practice climbs and descents. Practice flying backwards, sideways. Practice pivoting around the yaw axis. Fly circular patterns in both directions as well as figure 8’s. Get familiar with how your machine handles in light wind and heavier winds. Realize that the wind tends to increase in strength the higher you go. Once you’ve put in enough practice time, you’ll know it from the confidence you have with your Phantom. You will learn and know your limits. As a general rule, if you aren’t sure whether you should be flying, it’s safest to just not fly. Practice will make you a better, safer pilot and you’ll have more fun at it too.
6. Don’t take your Phantom to the nearest well known landmark and go flying with it. People need attention. They want attention. You want attention. Get that attention some other way. National landmarks are a bad place to go flying without permission. We don’t need any more negative publicity, so steer clear no matter how much you need to have someone tell you how cool your last flight video was. If you must fly at landmarks, get written permission from the controlling authority first. Don’t be a turd sandwich or a giant douche. Be cool.
7. Please, pretty please – do not claim to run an aerial photography or video business the day after you purchase you Phantom. Wait at least 2 weeks. Going out and buying a camera doesn’t make you a photographer. So, going out and buying a camera and a drone at the same time surely doesn’t make you an aerial photographer. Why the hell would it?
8. Be aware of real air traffic in your area and stay below 400′ above ground level (AGL). The Phantom has a few safeguards to prevent users from flying near airports and above certain altitudes. Please do not rely on these safeguards, because as we discussed earlier – they may not operate properly at all times. You – the pilot, should be aware of all local air traffic and restrictions that apply where you fly. Flying below 400′ AGL is a good starting guideline, however being in the vicinity of an airfield may mean that you shouldn’t fly at all in that area. If in doubt, just ask the agency controlling your local airport or helipad. It is critical that hobbyists be aware of the national airspace system and maintain legal separation distances from all aircraft. One little DJI Phantom could destroy a jet engine if ingested through the intake. Not good. Very not good. Once you take a 3 pound plastic toy and fly it through the air, it becomes much less of a toy.
9. When you’re out flying and strangers ask you questions, just be cool. This one is about encountering annoying people other than Phantom pilots. But still, when you’re flying the white plastic wonder – it is best not to annoy those that are annoying you. For the most part, folks who have never seen one of these will simply not know much about them and will want to ask a few questions. If flying and talking to someone distracts you, tell them to hang on a moment. Then land and say hello. Don’t crash because an onlooker absolutely, positively, must have a word with you! I’ve had folks ask me a dozen questions while I was trying to concentrate on flying and maintaining control of my quadcopter. One of the top questions I get while flying my machines – “are you gonna use that thing for spying?” My response – “hey lady, you can see it and hear it, can’t you? Well if you can see it and hear it, it’s not too good at spying is it?” The poor public has been brainwashed by the media, so interacting at the local park with us fun flyers can shed a positive light on the “DRONES” that the media and politicians have terrified them with. Friendly drones. Nice drones. Nice drone pilots. Not spies.
10. Keep yourself and others clear of the propellers. They look all friendly and feel nice when they’re not moving, but they aren’t friendly at all. As a hard rule: if you Phantom is on and you need to pick it up to handle it – put down your Transmitter (aka TX, remote control, or radio). This will prevent you from accidentally starting the motors while you’re in a bad spot. Also, always turn on the TX first and the Phantom second. The reverse to turn things off – Phantom off first and TX second. For a little bit of added safety, DJI sells prop guards that are designed to protect the props from impact. They offer side impact protection, but you can still touch the props from the top or bottom and cut those grubby little fingers of yours – so be careful. Also, as a side note – watch out for children. Sometimes they’ll see a MultiRotor hovering, get all excited and run directly at it with their arms outstretched.