A Good Flight- Flying a Drone and Doing It Right

I bought a DJI Phantom 3 Professional, and for $500, it was a great deal. I was happy, the teenager I bought it from was happy and his parents were happy. I was anxious to finally fly somewhere other than my in-laws’ backyard.

I was working a 12-hour shift, but since it was July, the sun was up until late evening. I remember thinking that I would have enough time to drive somewhere after work and fly the drone. I couldn’t help but spend the spare minutes of my day researching drone rules. Since I worked as a flight instructor in the past and was currently working at an airport, being safety conscious was instinctive. I treated the flight as professional as I could. Here is the process I use:

  1. Preflight
  2. Planning
  3. Air Vehicle Check
  4. Inflight Control
  5. Post Flight

PREFLIGHT

Preflight started before I drove to the area to fly. I checked the rules, weather, drone and controller batteries making sure to have a good plan. The last thing I wanted was to get in the way of aircraft or lose control of the drone.

The FAA made an app called, “B4UFly.” It indicates any warnings if you are in an area you shouldn’t fly, an airspace map, various planning tools and references. The app is free and simple, but one of the things I did not like about the app is that the time to load the map was slow.

The app I used is called, “Drone Buddy.” It displays weather, wind, sunlight hours, and a quick reference of if you are in a “No Fly Zone.” The quick display is convenient, especially for drone pilots that want an efficient means to preflight. The app delivers weather alerts and has an airspace map that loads quickly. The only thing I do not like about “Drone Buddy” is that it only color codes airspace but does not give any other information. I would like to see what airspace it is without looking up the color codes, which inconveniently, are all similar colors.

PLANNING– FIND UNCONTROLLED OR CLASS “G” AIRSPACE

To keep it simple, I planned to drive five miles north of the airport and check the “Drone Buddy” app to make sure that my location was outside of controlled airspace. Right after I got off work, I drove north. It felt like I was racing the sunset, but in about 30 minutes, I made it to the more rural part of town with dirt roads and agriculture farm land. “Drone Buddy” indicated that I was out of ring of the controlled airspace.

AIR VEHICLE CHECK

I took the drone and controller out of the backpack and looked it over for cracks or loose parts, connected my iPhone to the controller, and turned everything “on.”

The app I used or the first few flights was called, “DJI GO.” After signing up, the app displays the first-person view (FPV) from the drone camera. I enjoyed the app because it kept track of flight data (total flights, total flight time, total distance, top speed, max takeoff altitude), editing feature and can directly share to social media. As a new drone pilot, this app legitimately had everything I needed to fly, capture, edit and post efficiently.

There was a warning on the screen indicating that I had to calibrate the drone’s compass. It was nice to see that there were instructions outlined in the app, which made it super simple. I followed the instructions and placed the drone back on the ground. I waited for the green, GPS indication on the top of the screen and started the propellers.

INFLIGHT CONTROL

After take-off, I hovered the drone for about 15 seconds, making sure that it was stable and ready for ascent. I pressed “record” on the screen, and started my ascent. There was very little wind, so the drone flew straight up. I made sure to watch the altitude above ground indicator and stayed below 400 feet. Concurrently, I was screening the uncontrolled airspace in the area just in case there were any other air vehicles around. At about 350 feet, I flew around the rural area, practicing directional control and using the camera features.

The FPV was displaying a bird’s eye view, and it was mesmerizing. The time was in what is referred to as, “the golden hour.” It’s the time where the sun is in the perfect position to capture great photos. The exposure, color and details come to life. For my first “real” flight, it was a beautiful experience.

While I was recording video and taking photos, I would check the battery life indicator. I knew I needed enough battery life to fly back and land, so I made sure to start flying back at around 30 percent battery life. It was a good thing that I started flying back, because the controller started making a “beeping” sound to warn me of the low battery. I kept the drone in line of sight during the flight, so it didn’t take long to fly the drone back for landing.

I controlled the drone through a descent and brought it to a hover. I allowed it to hover as I made final control adjustments and brought it down to a gentle landing. The flight was complete.

POST FLIGHT

When I picked the drone off of the ground, it felt hot. It was a hot, summer evening, so I just briefly checked to see if anything was cracked or broken before putting the drone away. I was able to review my flight path, video and photos on “DJI GO.” Because of this feature, I think it is a great app to use. For my first flight, it was expected to have an impromptu flight path. There were no point of interests or specific objects that I was trying to capture. I was simply, flying and enjoying the experience. “DJI GO” has the option to auto-edit video content, add music and post on social media. I explored the feature and posted something within minutes.

So when should I fly next?

After flying in the sunset, above the agriculture, I thought about how I could practice and improve my drone flying skills. Not only that, I wanted to learn how to capture and edit great content. This long, ongoing process, takes patience and passion. I can’t wait to share more of this journey soon.