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7 things I learned in my first month as a drone owner

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4. Losing control of your drone induces panic attacks, heart palpitations

When you’re flying around and the battery gets down to 30 percent, the Mavic remote starts making a high pitched squealing noise, notifying you of low battery.  You can change these settings so it kicks in at a lower battery percentage but 30 is about right to ensure the drone has enough juice to get back to you without falling out of the sky.

At 25 percent, the ‘return to home’ function is triggered. It may also kick in whenever the connection between the drone and the controller is severed. When RTH is underway, you have no control whatsoever. It simply follows a set route and lands back where it took off from. The first time this happened, I was hovering high above a large lake in a mountainous region of Samoa (pictured below).

Not pictured: several moments later when the return to home feature was triggered and I panicked.

It is very disconcerting, seeing your expensive toy hovering above a body of water of unknown depth and not responding to your commands. As I feebly jiggled the joysticks, nothing happened. I broke out in a sweat and pictured the drone disappearing into the lake’s watery depths.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen at the Air came back to me and began to land. Problem was, I was standing on a small jetty and the landing point was (for some reason) about 3 feet to the left of the jetty. As it started to lower, it looked like it would set down in the water. I had to reach my arm out, avoid falling into the lake and catch the drone. With the props going crazy, I managed to catch the drone in midair. It buzzed and I shut it off, avoided slicing my fingers (although I did cut myself another time – see lesson on second page). This time – crisis was averted. Anyone who experiences this loss of control will know what I’m talking about. No matter how much your trust the awesome technology, it’s still a freaky experience when it acts unexpectedly.

5. Multiple apps exist to make for a better drone flying a better experience 

There are a bunch of factors that should be considered for anyone before taking off. The two most important are A: that you know the local drone regulations to avoid falling foul of the law. B: that you’re aware of the weather conditions so your drone doesn’t end up smashed.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do extensive reading to figure out the local drone laws. I downloaded Airmap and it seems like its a must-have for drone owners. It can tell you what your local UAV laws are as well as which zones you can and can’t fly in. If you’re within 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) of an airport or a helicopter pad, it’s pretty much a no-go without permission from your local civil aviation authority.

Similarly with weather – you don’t wanna take your drone out when the winds are too strong. This isn’t always as obvious as feeling how strong the breeze is. Air flows vary significantly depending on how high up you fly. UAV Forecast can quickly tell you  a bunch of useful weather information and tell you whether its a good idea to fly or not.

Screenshot from UAV Forecast.

There are plenty of cool lists of apps to download online such as this.

6. People are still intrigued / scared by drone technology

It’s easy to forget that although drones are getting more common, they are still a niche technology and many people haven’t had close up experience with one (including yours truly until a month ago).

Drones are still a novel technology and people’s reactions to them are sometimes pretty funny.

Nearly everyone I’ve flown the drone near is transfixed. They find UAVs a novelty and probably think, as many of us do: “Is that drone spying on me?” Nobody stops and stares when someone pulls out their smartphone because by now, they are so ubiquitous, they are about as unusual as a pair of sneakers. Drones are far from that point and although more people than ever before have drones, you have to realise – as an owner, you’re very much in a minority. Which is why – you should be a courteous and responsible drone owner. I’ve said it many times – it only takes one idiot doing stupid stuff to ruin a party for everyone.

7. Drones can be dangerous – cuts hurt!

It’s extremely ironic that just a few months ago, I looked at other pictures online of people being injured by their drone and thought: “Pff, that’ll never happen to me.” I also wrote this article called Common drone injuries and how to avoid them. Skip a few months later and this happened:

How did you manage that?

When you first start to fly, you gradual get the feel for your UAV in the air and how to handle situations when things go wrong.

I had cranked up my drone in my lounge (a generally terrible idea) but merely wished to show my flatmate what it looked like in action. For unexplained reasons, the props started spinning at full speed while it was sitting on the ground but it didn’t take off. Not wanting it to hit the roof, I reached down to delicately grab it. This was, to put things mildly, extremely foolish. I could have simply pushed the lever down on the controller and stopped the propellers but no, I picked the thing up and badly cut two of my fingers. It’s surprising that plastic can cut so deep but it was a reminder for me not to be so stupid next time.

Going forward

There’s still much left for me to learn but my early experiences have helped me appreciate the drone flying is not as simple as picking it up and flying. Have fun and be safe out there!

What did you learn as a new drone owner?

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