Things to learn before you fly a drone

Drones are propeller-driven aircraft controlled with joysticks that look just like the ones on video games. This is why serious gamers are able to learn to fly drones more quickly than most people.

As the size of the drone gets bigger, so does its lifting ability and battery life. For instance, mini drones make great gifts for beginners; they carry small cameras and are used mostly for training new pilots. Mid-sized drones, on the other hand, are better able to survive crashes because they have stronger components. Large drones have the best cameras and controllers. 

What you need to know

You are going to crash

Unless you’re already a skilled pilot, you have a lot to learn about controlling a flying machine in three dimensions at once.

Start off easy

It’s best to learn to start and stop, turn and go up and down by practicing at low speeds and low altitudes. 

  • Joysticks: One joystick makes the drone fly up or down while also rotating it to the left or right. The other joystick makes it move forward and back on one axis and left and right on another. Over time, you learn to synchronize these motions.
  • Buttons and switches: You control cameras with buttons and switches that let you tilt, pan and zoom in for closeups. You also use buttons and switches to access menus where you adjust all your drone and camera settings.

Where can you fly?

Pilots should keep their drones away from people, animals and traffic. The best places are open areas without trees or power lines. Make sure you’re not trespassing on private property.

Your drone can harm people and property if you’re not a skilled pilot

Even if you’re lucky enough to not harm anyone, you will surely damage your drone when it crashes into the ground. Some drones have a beginner mode that restricts speed and altitude to reduce your likelihood of causing harm.

Drones run out of fuel

Until you learn your drone’s flying time, operate it close to where you are standing, so you don’t lose it when it falls to the ground. Some drones automatically lower themselves to the ground gently when power is almost gone.

Drones have range limits

If your drone gets beyond the range limit of the remote controller, it will not respond to any of your commands. A few drones are built with the ability to automatically return to the base station when battery power is low. 

What kind of flying do you have in mind?

Recreational

Some people fly hobby drones just for the fun of it, just as they would a radio-controlled model helicopter. 

Aerial photography and videography

Most photo and video drones are built so you can mount your tablet or smartphone directly to the remote control. This gives you a display screen so you can fly it as if you were in the pilot’s seat. Drones without cameras are flown with the pilot watching from the ground, not from the viewpoint of actually being in the cockpit. 

Racing

Drone racing has become hugely popular, with regularly televised racing events. To be a good racer, you’ll need a fast racing drone with a good camera and the ability to sense and avoid obstacles. 

Drone types

Ready-to-fly

You can fly these drones right out of the box. All the components are designed to work together so they are essentially foolproof. Controls are usually simple to operate.

Build-it-yourself

If you’re handy with tools, electronics and computers, you may enjoy designing and building your own drone. Serious hobbyists buy frames, motors, rotors, controllers, antennas, transmitters and cameras from separate suppliers to build custom drones that meet all their specifications. 

Almost-ready-to-fly 

This is an RTF/BIY combo. You get to build the drone yourself, but you don’t need to shop for separate components. When you buy an ARF drone, you choose the price you want to pay and you get all the best components in your price range, including transmitters, controls and first-person-view goggles.

What you need to buy

A drone with a first-person-view camera

DJI Mavic Air 2 Drone

DJI Mavic Air 2 Drone

You can capture 4K photos and videos with this drone’s intuitive shooting functions. It senses obstacles in three dimensions and has a flying time of up to 34 minutes.

Sold by Amazon

Holy Stone HS110D FPV RC Drone

Holy Stone HS110D FPV RC Drone

You can stream 120-degree wide-angle video directly to your phone with this drone. Set it to hover hands-free for stable, crisp aerial photos. Control it with your voice or gestures through a series of pre-programmed maneuvers over a 20-minute flight time.

Sold by Amazon

Ruko Foldable Dual-GPS Drone with 4K Video

Ruko Foldable Dual-GPS Drone with 4K Video

The ultra-high-definition camera has shock absorption technology built in for clear, stable images. It has one GPS in the drone and the other in the controller, giving it a range of up to 1,640 feet and a 30-minute flight time.

Sold by Amazon

FPV goggles

First-person-view goggles are your portal to immersive flying experiences. The drone sends a constant video to the receiver that converts it into images displayed in real time on the pilot’s screen. 

  • Box goggles: These goggles use one screen. They are usually built with a 4:3 aspect ratio because that’s the image provided by most FPV cameras. 
  • Low profile goggles: These goggles use two screens. Each is a miniature liquid crystal display with high contrast and minimal image distortion. These goggles may have a 16:9 aspect ratio, the same as on your TV. 

DJI FPV Goggles V2 for Drone

DJI FPV Goggles V2 for Drone

These comfortable, lightweight box goggles have a slot for a microSD card so you can share your drone views with other FPV users.

Sold by Amazon

Fat Shark Dominator HDO2 FPV1122 Goggles

Fat Shark Dominator HDO2 FPV1122 Goggles

The outstanding image quality of these 4:3 aspect ratio goggles with a 37-degree field of vision is great for serious racers. The improved interface makes for better switching between HDMI and analog feeds.

Sold by Amazon

iFlight FPV Goggles with DVR Function

iFlight FPV Goggles with DVR Function

Small and lightweight, these budget goggles have batteries with 3.5-hour charge times. The super-sensitive receiver comes with a three-way adjustable headband in a carrying case with a USB charging cable.  

Sold by Amazon

 

Want to shop the best products at the best prices? Check out Daily Deals from BestReviews.

Sign up here to receive the BestReviews weekly newsletter for useful advice on new products and noteworthy deals.

David Allan Van writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

Copyright 2022 BestReviews, a Nexstar company. All rights reserved.