Drones have never been more affordable or easy to pilot, but which one is the right one for you? And what rookie mistakes would you do well to avoid?
Drones are seemingly everywhere these days. From aerial footage to drone-powered deliveries, the little robot flying machines have permeated the worlds of professional videographers, infrastructure engineers, and casual hobbyists alike – even recently setting world records in the name of 5G.
But how does someone with no experience get started? Which is the drone for you? And what common mistakes are worth avoiding? We’ve been speaking to Sion Roberts, MD of UK-based drone-piloting school RUSTA and winner of the 2014 DJI Global Aerial Photography competition, to find out…
Come fly with me
Once the sole preserve of military types and aerospace engineers, drones have come down in price so much over the past five years that almost anyone can pick one up, slot their smartphone into the controls and get a live feed of their mini copter as it takes to the skies.
And that’s arguably had the biggest impact on photography and videography hobbyists. Aerial footage – the kind that once needed a helicopter to capture – is now within everyone’s grasp. But before you dive in at the deep end, you need to know where to start. Namely: which drone is the right one for you.
“Set a budget and do your research,” Sion says. “Drone maker DJI is ubiquitous in the market, but there are loads of very capable copies out there, such as MI drones, which cost considerably less and have a very impressive battery life.
“For all round performance though, DJI and Yuneek are really safe bets,” he adds. “They have the best support packages and any spare parts are easy to find. However, they aren’t the cheapest models out there.”
Ok, so you’ve picked out your dream drone. What do you need to know before you send it skyward?
“Read up on your aircraft and watch the YouTube videos made by people who own them,” Sion suggests, “so that you have an understanding of how it works and what it can do before you take to the skies. That may save you an expensive (or painful) crash. Also, be sure to read up on the DroneCode.”
DroneCode is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a bit like the highway code for drones. It’s a simple two-page PDF with all the latest UK laws for piloting and, according to Sion, “it’ll stop you making errors which could, in extreme circumstances, lead to prosecution.”
“Finally, find somewhere quiet and open to learn the basics,” he adds,” where you won’t be interrupted or have to negotiate complicated obstacles.”
And, trust us, this is all advice worth taking. As the MD of a drone piloting school, Sion’s heard more than his fair share of stories about piloting faux pas – including overzealous newbies “crashing drones into their wives!”
“New drone pilots sometimes make the mistake of putting the aircraft together and getting airborne without researching the pitfalls,” he explains. “Most drones are straightforward to fly, but sometimes people get caught out by a switch or setting which then leads to a crash, or individuals will fly too high or too far and breach certain aspects of the air navigation order, causing a risk to manned aviation.”
As with anything in life, practice makes perfect, so it’ll take a good chunk of hours in the air before you become a true master of the skies. Sion explains:
“To become proficient at manually flying a drone doesn’t actually take very long as they’re quite easy to fly, but it takes a good few years to learn how to operate them safely and learn what’s called ‘Airmanship’ – the skills, judgement and integrity to realise when it is a good idea to fly or not.
“After all,” he continues, “it’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the sky than be in the sky wishing you were on the ground.”
The good news, though, is that with drones, the sky’s the limit – and Sion sees a bright future for the ever-evolving quadcopters:
“Cameras will only continue to improve, leading to higher and higher fidelity footage from smaller drones. And I think the drones themselves will also become more efficient, leading to reduced battery draw, meaning longer flight times will be achievable.”
And in our books, that’ll only make stunning aerial footage easier to capture than ever.
Ready to get going? You could always speed your flying proficiency along with a professional course as RUSTA. “We provide credible, fit-for-industry training,” Sion says. “It’s training that produces capable, safe operators in a respectful but challenging learning environment. Find out more here.
Looking for a new hobby? If drone piloting isn’t your bag, you can check out every edition of our ‘Get Started With…’ series right here.