Welcome to this guide, fledgling pilot. We hope you treat How to fly a quadcopter: The eightfold missions to mastery as your hand-guide on how to go from an absolute newbie to an enlightened Jedi multirotor pilot.
This guide is a series eight missions, mostly arranged in increasing difficulty. You have to not only pass but also master each mission before heading to the next one. We will begin by explaining your transmitter and controls and start off by teaching you how to hover.
By the end of the eight mission, you will have enough skills for learning advanced quadcopter tricks and FPV flight, including training for drone racing. This guide will leave no stones untouched, so you will be forced to learn to control your drone at all possible angles and situations.
Note: If you haven’t bought a quadcopter yet, it is recommended that you check out our buying guide for the best drone under $50, aimed at beginners. Quads aimed at kids are also ideal for practice. This low price range we recommend you start with, while training with this guide. If you are up for it, you could go up to the $200 price range. Check out our buying guide for drones under $200 as well. These crafts will have additional features like a camera, elementary FPV capabilities and control ability from an app and so on and so forth.
- DO NOT get a big, expensive, fancy quadcopter/multirotor drone when just starting out. If you already have one, we recommend you buy a cheap, smaller quadcopter/multirotor for the purpose of training with this guide. Don’t get hung up on the camera, FPV and all that fancy stuff just yet. The main reason for this is that you will most likely crash a TON before you actually master multirotor piloting. Do you want to lose that expensive multirotor before you even learn how to fly? We think not.
- DO NOT cheat. Turn off any self-stabilization and auto-level features of your ‘drone’. You want to learn how to walk without a stick. Same thing goes here. You will never become a true multirotor champion if you rely on those features from the beginning. Think of it like learning how to drive a manual gear car. It gives you more flexibility and you can always drive an automatic car. If you are only used to the automatic vehicle, you will not be able to handle the manual one.
- Here is an infographic that lists the most important things to know pre-flight (I’ve also listed this at the end of this article)
Share this Infographic On Your site (copy and paste code below)
Multirotor Controls : Understanding your cockpit
Okay, trainee. First things first. You need to understand your cockpit before you can even think of flying. Smashing on random buttons and controls is asking for disaster. Pick up that transmitter and study it. Here is an overview of a typical transmitter:
Note: Your transmitter control positions may vary and not be exactly as described here. Check your user manual!
- Power button is pretty straightforward. Use it to turn your transmitter on and off
- This stick is for both Aileron/Roll and Throttle. Throttle determines how much total power is drawn by the motors, determining how high your multirotor will go. This is essentially the accelerator for your multirotor. Aileron (or Roll) is used to sway the multirotor sideways, either to the left or to the right.
- This stick is for both Elevator and Rudder. Elevator control is used to pitch the multirotor. That is, to move it forward and backwards. The rudder control is used to yaw the multirotor. That is, to rotate it about its axis.
- Power indicator determines how much power is left.
- Bigger antenna usually is better.
6 to 9. Dual rate controls can be used to switch up how sensitive each control is. This is essentially ‘tuning’.
Trimming is yet another ‘tuning’ for your quadcopter/multicopter. If you feel like your multirotor moves unnaturally, then you might need to ‘trim’ your craft. Here is a nice video demonstration on trimming for beginners:
Your multirotor has four types of controls: Throttle, Aileron, Elevator and Rudder.
- Aileron = Roll movement
- Elevator = Pitch movement
- Rudder = Yaw movement
Check out this article more details on how a multirotor works.
Mission 1: Learn how to hover your quadcopter
Part 1: The Simple Hover
Alright fledgling, it is time to begin your training. Take your craft out there and hover it in place. That’s right, no moving the craft around yet!
Use the throttle, pitch and roll controls to keep your craft in place, about 3 inches above the ground. You will have to constantly use the pitch and roll controls to keep the craft from moving about and the throttle to keep its altitude.
Spend a couple of hours and use up plenty of batteries, but do nail this part of the mission before heading to the next. Mastering this will give you a ‘feel’ of how the craft works and develop the necessary muscle memory for more advanced maneuvers later in your path to mastery.
Things to note:
- Keep the craft facing the same direction you are facing
- Do not touch the Yaw control just yet, we’ll get to this soon enough
Part 2: The Ascended Hover
So, fledgling, you finally mastered the low altitude hover. Now it is time to confuse your brain and get some new neurons working in that head of yours.
Ramp up that throttle and get your craft to ascend a bit higher in altitude. Don’t fly too high, a bit higher than your head is enough. You need to be able to perfectly see whether or not you are doing well!
Now maintain the same altitude and position, similar to what you did in the last part of this mission. Feels a bit different, doesn’t it? That’s because the air behaves differently in higher altitudes. Learning how to fly at different altitudes is part of learning how to fly a quadcopter! No worries, just spend a couple of hours mastering this step before proceeding!
You are now the ‘basic hover’ master. Congratulations, you are now no longer an absolute fledging. Go get a beer or something to celebrate.
Mission 2: The Dead man Walking – Movement while hovering
Part 1: The Decapitated Flight
Alright, no more plain hovering. Now you finally get to move around your craft. But wait, no touching the yaw control yet, newbie!
That’s right, you only get to move around with the roll and pitch of your craft, while keeping the craft facing the same direction you are facing.
However, don’t move around frantically and all over the place. That defeats the purpose of learning. Visualize an imaginary square boundary and keep your movement within that boundary.
This will force your neurons to learn how to exhibit full control over your craft. Marking a square boundary by placing four stones at four different corners on the ground might help.
Bottom line: use the throttle, roll and pitch control to move your craft about inside an imaginary box. Spend a few battery charges mastering this.
Part 2: The Zombie Walk (walking the dog)
Now you finally get to yaw! First, throttle up your craft and make it hover at about knee or chest height. Then, move your craft forward by using the pitch control.
Don’t just stand there, follow your craft! Use the throttle to maintain altitude, yaw to turn, pitch to go forward and roll to course-correct.
Follow your craft so that it is facing the same direction as you are at all times. Don’t make your craft fly too fast unless you are in the mood for some running exercise.
Keep a slow, steady pace and get a feel for how all the controls work together. That’s the whole point of this exercise! Do spend a couple of batteries in this step!
Mission 3: The Resurrection – Pitch and roll at an angle
Part 1: Low altitude
Alright, newb. Now stop following your craft around. It is about time you learn how to yaw and fly the craft while it is not facing the exact same direction you are facing. This is where things might start to get difficult!
Throttle up your craft to and make it hover around knee to chest height. Now yaw the craft at an angle of 15-20 degrees.
Fly around at this angle – Throttle, pitch and roll to move around. Again, visualize an imaginary boundary. Do not let your craft fly around frantically. Take it slow and easy. Make sure you have CLEAR visual at all times so you know you are doing it right!
Feels completely different now, doesn’t it? The pitch and roll controls might now feel completely alien to you now that the tail of the craft isn’t directly facing towards you!
(Don’t forget to practice after you yaw in the other direction, at the same angle)
Once you get used to that angle, increase the angle to about 45 degrees. Practice at that angle. Keep increasing the angle (practice moving around with each increase) till it hits 90 degrees and practice flying around when it is at that angle. Again, don’t forget to work both directions of yaw. You don’t want to be a lopsided pilot.
Part 2: High altitude
Drained a TON of batteries with the previous part of this mission? Now it is time to move up in altitude. Fly at around just above the height of your head and repeat the same process with the previous part. Make sure you absolutely master this mission!
Mission 4: The Square Quest – Learn how to fly quadcopter in a square perimeter
Part 1: Low altitude
To do this mission, mark a square area wherever you are going to fly. You can do this simply by placing four stones at four different corners. If you want, you can mark it by hoisting four poles at four corners to make that square flying area.
Now place your multirotor at one of the edge of this square or rectangle. Throttle up, hover at around knee to chest height. Now fly your quadcopter to the adjacent edge of the square and stop.
Now yaw your quadcopter to turn around and then fly to the adjacent edge of that edge. Your goal in this mission is to pitch, roll and yaw to fly along the perimeter of the square!
Remember – Do not rush this. Make it deliberate and controlled. Stop at each edge. If you manage to complete a round, give yourself a candy with each completion. If you fall off the line of the perimeter by rushing things, slap yourself.
Also remember – Do both clockwise and anti-clockwise directions of the square perimeter. Again, you do not want to be a lopsided pilot!
When you mark the square, make sure to make it big enough to have enough perimeter to fly along on!
Part 2: High altitude
Practice the same thing as before, at an altitude above your head. Master the square to master all the basic multirotor movements!
Mission 5: The Circle Quest – Learn how to a fly quadcopter in a circle (Bank turns)
Part 1: Low altitude
Alright, alright. I’ll stop calling you a fledgling now. Though you are far from being a multirotor master, at this point you should have a decent amount of ‘feel’ for flying the quadcopter. This is where you learn how to fly a quadcopter in a circle.
Like all of the other missions, it is recommended that you learn to do this at a low altitude before going up.
First, hover up at around chest to head height or slightly above. Now, while your multirotor is still facing away from you, with the use of both pitch and roll controls, go forward and make an angled turn (use roll with reverse pitch).
You may not be able to make a perfect circle at first but that’s okay. Your goal at first should be to learn angled turns. You may experience that if you do not time the pitch appropriately, your multirotor will fall off due to the roll. Timing is key. After you have done a couple of these, it is time to move to the next step.
To make a complete circular motion, you have to apply the yaw motion into the process. This will definitely take time to master, as it is about timing the yaw with the angled turn. Which is essentially timing it with the roll in the same direction. (First roll and then immediately yaw)
Take your time and master this step. Watch out because you may crash, especially when you are a beginner trying to pass this mission.
Part 2: High altitude
Time to move up in altitude. Practice the same process as before at a higher altitude. In this mission, higher altitude may feel easier because you have more room to recover from a fall before you crash. Nevertheless, it is important to get practice at different vantage points.
With both altitudes, remember to practice both clockwise and anticlockwise directions!
Mission 6: The Infinity (or ‘figure 8’ flying)
Part 1: Broke infinities
This part of the mission is much like mission 4. Deja-vu!
First, you have to mark the ‘infinity figure’ or ‘figure-8’. Using the pitch, roll, yaw controls, move along the perimeter of the figure. Stop at each edge of the figure, turn using yaw and then proceed ahead with only pitch and roll.
Remember- slow, steady and controlled movement is what we are looking for here. Do not rush things, make sure you do not sway too much from the figure.
Make sure to practice both clockwise and anti-clockwise direction!
Part 2: Continuous infinities
Alright, this is where things get different from what you are used to in the past. Now you have to learn to apply what you have learned from both flying in the square perimeter and in a circle.
Same thing – move along the perimeter of the infinity figure. The difference is, you don’t get to stop at the edges. After you reach the edge, you have to fly continuously and make the half-circle or ‘smooth’ turn at the edges using pitch, roll and yaw.
You don’t have to fly at high speeds. Keep the altitude at about head height and fly slowly but continuously, without stopping.
Part 3: High speed, high altitude infinities
Alright, time to go up one notch. Same thing as in part 2. Fly along the perimeter of the infinity figure continuously, but this time take your craft up at a high altitude and try to go at high speeds.
Speed is key. Remember to pick an open spot with no people. You do not want to injure anyone in case of a crash accident.
With this mastered, you are getting really close to being a Jedi multirotor pilot. Well done, get yourself a beer!
Mission 7: Revenge from the past – ‘Nose-in’ Hovering
Part 1: The nose-in hover
Mission 1 all over again. Only this time, instead of the keeping the craft facing the same direction you are facing, keep it facing directly opposite to it. That is, the ‘nose’ of your multirotor will now be facing towards you.
Use the throttle, pitch and roll control to hover the multirotor in place, about 3 inches above the ground. This will feel completely different from what you experienced in Mission 1 as the controls are now completely reversed.
Part 2: The elevated nose-in hover
Alright, now it is time to do the same thing you did in part 1 of this mission, only the altitude should be a bit higher than your head to get a practice for the difference in perspective and how the air behaves at higher altitudes.
Part 3: The nose-in decapitated flight
Mission 2, part 1 again. Do not touch the yaw control, but move around with the roll and pitch of your craft, but this time, keep the craft facing opposite of the direction you are facing. That is, keep it nose-in.
Like mission 2, Remember not to move around frantically and all over the place. Visualize or mark an imaginary square boundary and keep your movement within that boundary.
Part 4: The nose-in zombie walk
This is analogous to Mission 2, part 2. Follow your craft, but this time the craft should be ‘nose-in’, facing opposite of the direction you are facing. Use the throttle to maintain altitude, yaw to turn, pitch to go forward and roll to course-correct.
Don’t make your craft fly too fast or you will have to run to chase it. Remember, getting used to the controls while going at a slow, steady pace is the whole point of this exercise.
Mission 8: The Enlightenment – Switch between tail-in and nose- in
Part 1: The Hover switch
In this part of the mission, you must combine what you have learned from missions 1, 2 and 3 with 7. First, practice hovering around when your craft is facing randomly in any direction. Rotate your multirotor with the yaw and stop at a random direction.
You should be able to switch up your reflexes as required and hover the multirotor at any angle – tail-in, nose-in or anything in between.
Start practicing at low altitudes, at about 3 inches above the ground, then move onto higher altitude hovering.
Part 2: The flying switch
Like mission 6, fly figure 8s. But this time, your multirotor must be facing nose-in. Similar to how you practiced before, fly at a slow pace first. Stop at the edges of the figure and turn using yaw. Proceed with pitch and roll after.
After you have done that, practice flying continuously while making that ‘smooth turn’. Again, slow pace first. Go up a notch and fly at high altitudes and high speeds after you have practiced the slow continuous flight, just like mission 6.
Switch up between clockwise and anti-clockwise directions. Also, switch up between tail-in and nose-in! Train your reflexes to be reactive to any scenario that might get thrown at you during your multirotor flying adventures!
If you have mastered this step, CONGRAGULATIONS! You can now be classified as an enlightened Jedi multirotor master. You are now capable of flying and maneuvering around your quadcopter/multirotor like a true master.
Go get yourself an exquisite, aged wine and celebrate!
How to do quadcopter tricks
Now that you have mastered the eightfold missions, you can now have some fun with advanced quadcopter manuevers. Proceed with caution and always do these advanced tricks in an open field with no people or pets around.
How to fly a quadcopter in funnels
Funnels look amazing but before you perform this, make sure your multirotor is at a decent altitude. Once you have attained some altitude, pitch forward and gain some speed.
As the multirotor is moving forward and leaning in, hit yaw in either left or right direction to make your multirotor spin like a ‘whirlwind’ at 90 degree angles. Only attempt this trick when there is little to no wind.
To make it look even better, briefly roll in the opposite direction of your yaw while you are still pitching forward and then both roll yaw in the direction of you want to whirlwind. Timing it is key.
Multi flip drop
Like whirlwind spins, to perform multi flip drop you need plenty of altitude. After you have climbed up, multiple flips are achieved by first making a regular flip and then cutting off the throttle right after the first flip.
Using the momentum of that first flip, let it flip multiple times as it drops down in altitude. Ramp up that throttle again before it hits the ground to complete this awesome stunt!
Break and switch
These look plain awesome. Basically, this trick is achieved by a sudden change of direction to the opposite direction while your multirotor is in motion.
To achieve this, you need to suddenly pitch to the opposite direction while also rolling and yawing to any direction (left or right).
What this does is put a sudden break on your multirotor and using the momentum of the roll and yaw motion, switch to the other direction and be ready to fly in that direction.
This guy explains pretty well, on how to do some of the quadcopter tricks we’ve mentioned here (although he uses different terminology):
Here is a video on multi flips:
The FPV Zen Mastery: How to fly an FPV drone/multirotor
After you have mastered the eightfold missions, you are now all set to learn how to fly FPV drone with camera and other fancy features. It is necessary to master regular line of sight flight before moving on to FPV especially because cameras and FPV equipment are subject to fail.
You need to be able to quickly switch back from FPV to LOS flight and bring your multirotor back to you and land safely in such scenarios.
FPV flight is a completely different ballgame. It will require some additional practice before you can actually enjoy it without crashing and burning.
With FPV, we become handicapped in our ability to judge height, distance and velocity of our craft. It is hence necessary to train our neurons and eyes to this new perspective. If you live in a particularly windy area, it will take some time getting used to adjusting for wind directions when your situational awareness is handicapped.
Lesson 1: Hovering
Back to basics. Although this shouldn’t take long since you have your fundamentals down already, the first thing to learn is to get a feel of the new perspective. First of all, learn how to hover with the FPV gear on.
Ideally you should turn off the flight stabilization features so you actually apply your Jedi skills on the FPV perspective, during hovering. When you proceed to coming lessons, you can turn on flight stabilization features for additional control during FPV flight.
Lesson 2: Flying in a line
Go to an open field with little to no trees or other objects. Mark two end points to make up a line. Your goal with this lesson is to fly along that line with FPV gear on.
Pitch forward, roll to keep yourself from drifting with the wind and yaw around when you reach the end of the line to turn around and head back.
Repeat this process till you are really comfortable with flying in a line. If it is windy, you will need to learn how to cope with the wind to keep from falling off course. Make sure you fly up in a decent altitude.
Lesson 3: Flying in a square
Same thing as before, go to an open field with little to no objects. A football field is a good example. Mark a square if you have to or just fly along the edge of the field. With this lesson, your goal is to fly along a square or the edge of the field. Pitch, roll (to keep yourself from drifting) and yaw and go around the field.
Repeat this process till you are comfortable. Again, learn how to really cope with wind. Try not to diverge too much off course.
Take it slow and easy, there is no need to go all drone-racy when you are just learning. Crashing is never fun. Minimize the possibility for it.
Lesson 4: Flying figure eights
Once you are used to flying FPV in a square, it is time to take it up one more notch and do figure eights with your multirotor. Like in the eightfold path to mastery, first go slow and stop at the edges, yaw and then proceed to the adjacent edge of the figure.
After you have mastered that, it is time to learn to make smooth corners and angled turns. Watch out for the wind as it can really blow you off course, especially with figure eights. Go slow but continuously. There is no need to rush things in the beginning.
After you have mastered the figure eights while flying slowly, it is time to go fast and high. With that nailed down, you should now be able to fly FPV in almost any scenario.
Free flight and drone racing
With practice, you will eventually get to a point where you will be able to do advanced maneuvers while on FPV. These include being able to roll and flip, seeping and maneuvering through small gaps etc.
Drone racing experts are especially good at FPV free flight. It is worth mentioning that it is necessary to have customized builds for your multirotors for drone racing. It is near impossible to drone race with regular mainstream multirotors that is typically used for filming.
Specifics on drone racing and things related to it deserve a standalone post on its own.
Things to keep in mind
- Make sure the batteries are fully charged and taken care of at all times.
- Make sure the propellers are balanced to avoid uneasy flight and unnecessary wobble.
- Keep a safe distance from your multirotor at all times, especially during FPV flight.
- Avoid flying out of line of sight if you are a beginner, even with FPV gear on.
- Make sure to pick an open field with little to no people and pets around. If the place is wide open with no objects like trees, then it is even better. Grass is a bonus (for softer landing during crashes).
- If you are crashing, immediately turn the throttle off. This will not only minimize the damage to the propellers and motors of your drone, but also to people, pets or objects it might potentially crash onto.
- If you are particularly susceptible to having vertigo or a feeling of dizziness during FPV flight, consider sitting down on a reclining chair during FPV flight. If you are new to FPV, this is usually the case (it was true for me).
- Avoid trouble. Try not to break any laws. Make sure you are thorough with the drone laws and regulations within your country.
- Use a drone simulator to compliment your training. This is especially useful during winter and other unfavourable times during the year.
Practice till enlightenment. Though it is never really boring, the real fun begins when you are really, really good at flying your drone. Do not lose heart if some of the missions prove to be really difficult to master. Take your time but we recommend you do not skip through any of the missions. Once you have mastered the handling of a multirotor with a cheap drone under $50, a quadcopter made for kids or even with a craft under $200 we recommend you think about purchasing a higher end drone either for photography or for drone racing.
For another decent article on quadcopter flying basics, check out Alan’s guide on how to fly a quadcopter.
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