New Drone Pilot? Check out These 10 Mistakes Beginners Make Before You Fly

I’m no expert in flying a drone. You can see that from my first flight that ended in a Mavic-destroying crash. But while my drone awaits repairs, I decided to dive deep in learning to make sure I have some best practices under my belt before taking to the skies again.

YouTubers Jeven Dovey and Aldryn Estacio offered up some tips aimed at new DJI Mavic Mini users that I wish I had known before starting with the drone myself.

While many of the tips are ones that photographers and cinematographers will already know — how to set up and plan for establishing shots, where to point your camera in relation to the sun, and so on, there’s a lot that photographers who have never flown before wouldn’t even think of.

Two of the best tips shared were about batteries. I chose to by the standard Mavic Mini package, and while the half-hour battery life is pretty much best-in-class, that short window might not leave you with enough time to get all the establishing shots or b-roll you might need.

It makes it clearer now why there are so many “Fly More” packages on DJI drones: shooting aerial photos is pretty fun and addictive, and you’ll be disappointed when the batteries run out before the shots are all taken. The Fly More package on the Mavic Mini includes 3 batteries instead of the usual 1, extra propellors, propellor guards, and a nice bag and a charging hub. The batteries alone make the extra $100 worth it for the second reason that Estacio shared: It’s good practice to bring the drone back when you’re at 30-40% battery life, just in case of emergency. If nothing else it’s always nice to have a dedicated battery hub and charger, as many manufacturers aren’t throwing those in these days and there’s only so many things a beleaguered spare iPhone charger can charge. It also means you don’t have to take the whole drone out to charge the battery through it.

One thing Mavic Mini pilots don’t have to worry about is registering with the FAA, but as Dovey points out, that doesn’t mean that you can be a cowboy and fly where you aren’t supposed to, as one mistake ruins things for everyone. One helpful tool that I found when reading about FAA drone regulations was their “B4UFLY” app, which, while poorly named, does a good job of letting you know of any potential issues in the area you are intending to fly in.

There are a few other good tips in there, especially ones about flying that I wish I had known, but you can check out the video for yourself to learn some more.

Do you have any tips for new drone pilots? Share them in the comments below.

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1 Comment

John Armstrong's picture

Here are some tips. I have about 600 hours of in the air flight time on my DJI drones.

For the most part these are directed towards first time DJI drone owners but they likely can be applied to operators of any drone.

1. Put your drone up at 100 feet before you do ANYTHING if you are new. Get used to the controls up where there is nothing to hit. Then to begin with use Return to Home to land. If you think you are going to take video or photos within the first week of owning the drone... I think that is unrealistic and can be unsafe.

2. Make sure to set your return to home altitude to the right altitude for the flight you are making every time. You don’t want to return to home through a wall or trees or a mountainside.

3. Birds cannot fly straight up. You can... If the are coming for you just go straight up about 10 feet when they get kinda close.

4. Once you have a handle on it... (Make sure you know how to calibrate the compass, and the IMU (calibrate the IMU in a cold garage) then go to a wide open area... and learn to fly in ATTI just in case... There are rare times when the GPS does not work... or will unhook... You need to know how to use ATTI.

5. In the same open area, learn the auto modes... Orbits are very handy.

6. Do not put too much faith in following and obstacle avoidance. DON’T fly inside. And if you do, make sure you have the GPS off, the return to home set to hover (loss of signal) and the bottom sensors on... Especially... don’t fly inside at night (when it is dark) or in an area where there is not a pattern with contrast on the floor. The camera on the bottom of the drone positions the drone and if it cannot see any contrast it will not hold. (In a large concrete floored convention hall for example)

7. Learn in Mode 2... DON’T remap your sticks. ALL drones are Mode 2. It is just time to tackle it and learn.

8. Once you are comfortable with this stuff... Litchi offers some really cool intelligent flight modes that Go4 does not have.

9. Do not learn to use start up or shut down by moving the sticks down and to the center. You do not want that muscle memory in your fingers. Trust me.

10. Buy a yellow vest. Use it when you fly. It is an invisibility cloak. Everyone will ignore you.

11. When you get experienced enough to where you want to try a landing yourself rather than using auto land… This should take about a week of flying a couple of times a day… Fly it down to where you’re relatively close and then turn the drone backwards to where the camera is not facing towards you but directly away from you. This will simplify the controls. Right will be right left will be left.

12. Even if you are not going to get your part 107 license, presuming that you are in the US. Watching Tony Northrup with Northrup Photography’s Part 107 test prep video would be very smart for you.

13. Obey FAA rules. DO NOT FLY OVER PEOPLE, Keep the drone in your line of sight, do not fly more than 400 feet Above Ground Level, do not fly at night, do not fly nearby airports (See the next point)

14. In the US download the B4UFly app from the FAA. Learn to check for sensitive areas before you fly. If you are a hobbyist you now need to know how to use the LAANC system to fly your drone in restricted airspace. I suggest using skyward.io for LAANC services. There is NOT an LAANC app. You need to get your unlocks in place at home on your computer before you go to fly.

15. Make sure you register your drone with the FAA. Understand that local law enforcement are empowered to ask to see this registration number on your drone as per FAA Regulations AFTER your flight ends. This will help.
Getting Started. The Mavic Mini does NOT need to be registered in the USA, however the ONLY thing this will do to help... is save you $5 on your registration. You are still subject to ALL the same rules everyone else flying drones is.

It seems like a lot. It is not. This is a serious thing and some thought needs to go into it but this is a super fun hobby. You are going to love it.

Some other tips... Drone specific. While you can buy drones that do not have fly safe databases as DJI drones do, I would not suggest it unless you are very very clear on airspace. Get your drone, update the fly safe database and it will help you to stay in compliance with airspace regulations. I would NOT rely on it. One interesting note. If you use Gaia, aeronautical charts are a map layer you can download. If you watch the Tony Northrup course you will get a basic understanding as to how to read those charts.

The Mavic Mini is nice, super small... but it cannot fly in wind. The brand new 42 megapixel (these are going to be small sensors folks, this drone is NOT going to do well in low light) Mavic Air 2 looks intriguing and has the ability to shoot in much better codecs than even the Mavic 2 Pro, which, in my opinion is the best bang for the buck drone on the market for photographers. The Fly More Combo or the Mavic 2 Pro is about $1800 and the fly more Combo for the Mavic Air 2 is about $1000. Both are worth it.

Finally, remember, at this point if your drone flies well, remember, you can put DJI care on most current drones being sold as new by DJI. They make you do a kind of a test thing to show that the drone is fully functional before they will issue the policy but it is worth doing.

NEVER fly a swollen battery. Make sure your batteries will self discharge to 75% after 5 days by going into the battery menu from the DJI menu at the top right in the Go4 app. Change the discharge after days to 5 for longer battery life. Also, never every leave your batteries in a hot car and if you can, let them cool for 30 minutes before putting them back on the charger. One thing I love about the Inspire 2 is it uses two batteries at once. So, if you end up with a battery fault you have a redundancy. I had a hard landing with my mavic 2 due to a battery failure this past weekend. It sucked.

(I teach the DJI New Pilot Experience course pretty regularly at my local camera store... I fly a P4P and an Inspire 2 with the X7 camera. Used to have a Matrice M600 Pro...) www.drewarmstrong.com