Ahhh, winter. A great time to just stay indoors, binge on Netflix, and dream of warmer days. What it’s not that great for is improving your drone piloting skills, unless you’re using a simulator. We have another suggestion.
Let’s face it. It’s not the best season for flying. Depending on what part of the world you live in, winter is the worst time of the year for taking out your drone. It’s cold out. Batteries and flights don’t last as long. And unless you’re really bundled up, you may just want to get back indoors before long. So what can a pilot who wants to improve his or her drone piloting skills do? We have some thoughts.
In fact, we have a few of them.
Improve drone piloting skills with an inexpensive drone
This is our favorite technique. Pick up a rugged but inexpensive drone. You’re not looking for anything with GPS or position hold, so something cheap will do. In fact, the lack of stability with most toy-style drones require you to constantly be on the sticks, making non-stop adjustments. And while that might not be optimal for field flying, it’s great practice if you’ve got a reasonable amount of space indoors. In fact, choose something that has enclosed propellors to minimize the chance you’ll cause some damage to either the drone or anything (or anyone) it might hit.
We own the predecessor to this Lite Hawk, and it has worked great for this purpose. Priced at around $55 US, this is quite a responsive and — just as important — rugged drone.
Some of you will be familiar with this term — perhaps even most of you. What it describes is the need to reverse controls when the drone rotates and is facing you. Yes, we’re aware there are some “headless” drones where it doesn’t matter. But we think working on reverse orientation is an important skill to have.
If you haven’t worked on reverse orientation before, prepare yourself for a crash or two (or more). Our brains are so hard-wired that the muscle memory will trick you every time. If the drone is in reverse orientation and starts banking to the right (from your perspective), instinct will be to correct by pushing the stick to the left. But what the drone actually needs is a push in the opposite direction. Remember, all controls (except for thrust) are reversed when the drone is facing you compared to when it’s pointing away.
Sure, you’re not piloting a military transport aircraft. But look at the image above: For the pilot in the cockpit, the wing to his or her left is always on the left-hand side. But from our perspective, with the aircraft facing us, that same wing is on the right. If you were remotely controlling this, you’d need to reverse your inputs when the aircraft is facing you.
And yes, simple practice with a simple drone can get you going. Though we couldn’t find a link for purchasing the Neon, it’s a good example of the type of drone that’s perfect for this. Don’t go for something that’s $10 — often tricky to fly and prone to breakage with no support. Trust me, it’s worth the $50 or so.
DJI Mavic Mini or Mini 2
DJI’s sub-250 gram Mini 2 and the original Mavic Mini are more forgiving options, because if things get hairy, you can simply let go of the sticks and the machine will hover. So much the better if you have the optional prop guards.
Put the drone into Tripod Mode, so your inputs are dampened. Take the drone straight out from you, yaw it 180° so it’s facing you, then bring it back. Make minute left and right corrections to keep it on course. If you can do that well, try flying in a circular pattern, where you switch from normal to reverse orientation while it’s mid-flight. Keep doing this until it becomes second nature.
Yes, it will take time. But the confidence that comes from a seamless transition to reverse orientation is worth the effort.
BETAFPV or other all-in-one FPV kit
Of course, some of you might prefer to get into the FPV game. I’m with you on this front.
Orientation doesn’t matter with FPV, because you always have the pilot’s view. But a small all-in-one kit that gives you everything: Drone, controller, and transmitter is a great way to ease into the scene. I’ve done a lot of indoors flying with an FPV setup and a small brushless drone. It’s a great way to learn, and a fun way to pass some time on a dark winter’s night. The BETAFPV Advanced Kit 2 is $199 and is a great way to get into learning FPV. (More fun than a simulator, too!) If you’re interested in more deets, we’ve written specifically about this before.
If you do order a kit, remember that the batteries are generally good for about 3-4 minutes. Since they take a bit of time to charge, it may well be worth picking up a few extras.
Happy flying… and be sure to remove any fragile items that might potentially become targets for an errant drone. Even with small units, things happen quickly — especially in a confined area.