Category Archives: Drones

How-To: Learning to fly a quad copter

Thinking of flying a quad copter but you have no experience? And you need to teach yourself?

My recommendation, and that of others, is to start with an inexpensive radio controlled toy. You will crash. You will break stuff. And fixing an inexpensive RC toy costs a lot less than a $1,000 or $4,000 multi-copter.

I have the Hubsan X4 with its integrated 720p video camera. They are available at Amazon:

The camera is okay but its not anything fantastic. It’s a fun to have feature but if your goal is learning to fly, you can get a version without the camera for about half the price:

I also recommend a “crash pack” or at least an additional set of blades, plus spare batteries:

I have this set of 5 extra batteries and they work just fine. Keep in mind that on a small quad copter like this, your battery life may be only 5-8 minutes, depending on whether the camera is turned on, the LED lights are turned on, or if you have the rotor protection ring installed (adds weight). You will be changing batteries frequently.
In spite of your best intentions, you will hit stuff and a blade or two will go flying and may become very hard to find.  I once hit the ground hard out in front the house and one of the blades hit a brick and just vanished. I had the video camera going at the time and watched that frame by frame in hopes I’d spot the blade, but didn’t. Not until a week later did I find it about 25 feet away.  Order a set of extra blades.

I need to put together a tutorial on setting up and configuring the Hubsan as the instruction booklet was not very clear to me – and I even have a pilot’s license:)

The key is that you need to calibrate the control system so that everything is balanced. This basically means setting the “trim” tabs for roll, pitch and yaw. And you do that by briefly powering up on grass or indoor carpet (if indoors USE THE BLADE PROTECTOR that is hidden underneath the plastic packaging in the box).

If the quadcopter drifts sideways or forwards or back, you’ll need to adjust the trim tabs on the flight controller. There is no easy way to describe this in words – I really need to make a tutorial video.  Once you figure out how to do this, the process is simple. And the goal is that the quadcopter will roughly hover and drift very slowly once it is trimmed up properly.

After that, start practicing. It took me many flights to reach a point where I could stationary hover and maintain altitude. And then more practice flights to learn to maneuver. And that was all done in the living room. Then more practice outdoors in the yard.

ALWAYs move the controls slowly. Don’t let the aircraft get away from you. If you feel you are about to crash and perhaps fly off, reduce the throttle and land. Get yourself re-oriented and start over.

I really need to make a tutorial video to explain this!

“Drones” and telepresence for the mobility limited

Last night I thought of a novel application for “drones”. (“Drone” is a bad word – R/C aircraft, UAV or remotely piloted model aircraft are all benign and accurate terms and have been used to describe civilian applications for a long time.)

Some of the new R/C n-copters (quad, hex or octo-copters) have very advanced flight control systems that simplify flying and provide safety features (like automatic return in case of loss of control signal).

Once these are easy and small enough to operate, they could provide a type of telepresence to someone who is unable to have much mobility. Many R/C pilots have added First Person Video (FPV) links that send a video signal from the craft back to the pilot; a very few even have 3D video links.

Crazy as it sounds, such capabilities could give a telepresence mobility to those who are, say, confined to a wheel chair or worse, provided they have the ability to operate the flight controls. That, in turn, could open up their surroundings to an exploration that they are presently unable to do.