First of all a do NOT–take it out of the box and fly it. Flying a modern drone is straightforward nowadays but following a few simple procedures will help you not to crash or lose your drone.
1. Legally you have to register with the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) for most drones and put your Operator ID on the drone where it is visible. This will mean reading and understanding the Drone Code and taking a simple online test to get your Operator ID and Flyer ID. The link below will take you to the CAA website which explains it all. Note, this is not a licence, merely a registration.
2. Read the drone manual, not just the leaflet that comes in the box. This will tell you everything you need to know about your drone. You may have to download this from the manufacturers website.
3. Charge the battery/batteries to 100%. This is important especially in cold weather when the battery won’t last as long. Make sure that battery is fitted securely in the drone. Check that the propellers are fitted correctly and are not damaged. Take the camera cover off the drone. Check the drone over for any damage.
4. Download whichever app you need to control the drone to your phone/tablet. Ensure you have the latest version. Connect the phone to the controller with the cable supplied. Turn the controller on FIRST, then the drone. The drone should connect to the controller and the app may start automatically. If not, start it manually. This can be done indoors to check everything works OK but do not start the drone up.
5. Find a good clear outdoor space but make sure that you can fly legally. Nobody owns the airspace above their property but legally you require a landowners permission to take off and land from their property. (eg. The National Trust do not allow taking off and landing on their properties.) In practice this often comes down to common sense. There are free apps which will show where you can fly and where you can’t. Drone Scene is one of the best. There are also local byelaws to check. It is your responsibility to ensure you are flying legally. You also have to be aware of privacy rules and the fact some people object to drones. Better to find another spot if someone objects rather than get into an argument.
6. OK so you have found a good place. Check the weather. Windy is a good app for this. Now you need to sort out some settings in the app. This is the reason some drones are lost, because they are not set up correctly. First, calibrate the compass. It’s a good idea to do this if you move more than a few miles from the last location just to be sure it’s correct. Set the height and distance limitations to no more than the legal limits. Remember you have to be able to see the drone at all times so it’s no use setting the distance limit to the legal maximum of 500m for a small drone that you can’t see beyond say 300m. Set the Return to Home height sufficient to clear any obstructions. Set the drone to return to home for low battery. Set the battery alarm if there is one, 30% is best for the initial alarm and 15% for the second. If the app has the ability to show the signal strength look at it and make sure it is OK. There are lots of places where there is radio interference which can sometimes block the drone signals. It’s a good idea to put your phone into Aeroplane Mode. This helps with the connection to the drone and stops any distractions coming through while flying. Now check that the drone has enough GPS locks to ensure a good position. This is very important or your drone will not retain it’s position.
7. So everything looks good to go and it’s not too windy (see the manual) or raining or cold. Ideally have someone with you to keep watching the drone. It’s very easy to lose sight of the drone as you glance down at the screen so having a spotter is a big help. Leave the camera settings on Auto for now and start the drone. Make sure the drone is facing away from you. Look around, check the area is clear and take off up to a couple of metres high. Gently rotate the drone, move it side to side and backwards and forwards a bit to make sure all the controls are working. Assuming all is OK gain some height say 50/60m and fly slowly around for a while to get the feel of the controls. Look out for obstructions (don’t rely on the drones avoidance systems if it has it, they are for emergencies) and keep an eye on the battery levels (drone & controller). Once you have gained some confidence in moving the drone around you can try out the camera using the Auto settings to start with. Bear in mind other peoples privacy. Once the battery gets down to around 30% start to think about landing. It’s vital to ensure you have enough battery power left to get you back home so watch out where you are. Ideally you don’t want to fly back against the wind. Now land the drone gently and turn it off before turning off the controller. Carefully check the drone over, especially the propellers and give it a clean if necessary. Keep practicing until it becomes second nature. Once you are OK with the controls you can start to try out the various Auto modes that many drones have and try out the different camera settings.
Just take care, follow the Drone Code, be responsible and enjoy your new drone.