The Dangers Of Drones – Fly Safe

Drones are great, they can make our work easier and more efficient and they can also provide us with a rewarding and fun hobby. Combine the two and you could end up with a job you love and find fun, however, drones are really, really dangerous!

Safety In The Sky

Most hobbies from hunting to playing sports have some dangers with them but the real danger with drones is perhaps that no one realizes the potential damage that you could really do with them and there is a segment of the market that definitely regards them as toys which they are not, they need to be respected.

Up until now no one has managed to take down a commercial aircraft playing with a hobby drone so please use common sense and ensure that you are not the first, this is a very possible scenario and not something out of the movies.

With a momentary lapse of concentration a drone pilot could easily start a serious fire (burn your house down!) or lose a finger. Imagine the impact those kind of injuries or events could have at an event like a wedding or perhaps even a funeral and you start to understand the impact that a badly flown or badly maintained drone could have.

When taking to the skys for the first time you meet with a similar dilemma to the first time job seeker, unable to get the job because they have no experience but unable to get experience as they have no job.

The more you fly your drone the safer you will generally be but you do need to get the thing up in the air and play around with it to familiarize yourself with the way it works and become a better pilot.

There will be a post in the next few days to give you some advice on taking your first flight and, while that post will contain a lot of details, at this time the best one liner of advice is to simply take yourself away from everyone and everything to master the art of flying your drone. When you take to the skys for the first time you will be an absolute hazard!

Generally speaking it is good practice to keep your drone a sensible distance away from buildings, carparks, roads. wildlife. and generally anything that someone would be annoyed if you destroyed. In the UK the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) apply the rule of 50 meters between you and anything classed as a hazard (something that you should not be flying close to).

Some areas do have absolute bans, the only way to be sure you are flying within the law is to research the areas you plan to fly in, however, some manufacturers have done a little to help enforce common sense blocking using no fly technology in combination with GPS to stop their drones from even been able to take off if they are in the vicinity of an airport.

Safety In the Consumer Drone Marketplace

Consumer drones at all grades from toy and hobby and even to an extent commercial grade drones are new to the market. Development is still in the early phases and ideas and features are been implemented as they are though of and as they become technically available. Think about the average car on the road and how long we have been driving, generally auto stop breaks have only become widely available in the last 5 years. Getting into the drone thing right now is like getting into a car when they first took to the roads many, many decades ago!

What is safe flying

When we talk about drone and flight safety there are really two areas of concern there is the avoidance of damaging anything or one you may encounter when flying the drone but then the secondary element of safe flying is keeping your drone safe.

RTF Have The Edge!

This is something you wont hear often on this but in the safety department RTF drones usually have the edge, that’s right, RTF drones are the safest!

In our buyers guide we did talk down RTF a little as we want everyone to get the most out of their drones and the absolute best way to do that is to become an expert which is more easily done if you master the art of building your own drone, however, the buyers guide did talk about fine tuning a drone and the safest drone to buy is one that will have the latest safety features finely tuned to work optimally (read, an RTF!).

The problem with builder drones, drones from kits or even drones other people have custom built and then sold on is that the safety feature is just not the most interesting thing. Drone enthusiasts rarely get into the hobby to build safe drones, more likely the experts who build their own drones are doing so because they want to create faster, more powerful more maneuverable drones. Your car insurance goes up as you buy more expensive and more powerful cars for a reason, its because they are capable of causing more damage, the same thing applies when it comes to flying drones. Some of the extreme customized tweaked for speed and power drones we have seen look like they could take down a building at full speed.

Wind And Top Speed

It is best to avoid flying in exceptionally windy conditions and even in mild conditions make sure you are aware of the wind, even at low levels. A new pilot might think a mild wind is almost unnoticeable but consider if your drones maximum speed is 11 meters per second which is roughly 25 miles per hour. Now take a slightly over average UK wind speed of 8 meters per second which is around 17 mph.

When you fly your drone into the wind you are going to have a top speed of 25-17mph = 8mph but when going in the opposite direction you are going to achieve 25+17mph and find you drone moving at 42mph, a 34mph difference simply by changing direction.

But Before Take Off Remember The Danger Starts When You Take Your Drone Out Of The Box

When you think of a drone related injury you are likely going to be thinking of a somewhat comical drone falling out of the sky and hitting someone but a falling flyaway can be serious, especially in a built up area, however, long before your drone takes to the sky there are other hazards you need to be aware of.

Propellers

When fitting and testing your propellers bear in mind they are designed to spin at speed just like on a helicopter and just because the proportions are smaller does not mean the danger is alleviated, while some very small toy drones wouldn’t even hurt if you caught you finger in the propeller the more serious a drone prop could easily cause you to lose a finger… You want to avoid the propellers altogether, no testing if your drone is lightweight enough to stick your finger in!
If you are buying a drone for a minor be sure to look for one that has some kind of propeller protection/guard in place.

Arming Your Drone – The Ultimate Safety Catch

Before your drone will take off you need to arm it which basically means putting it into flight mode. Arming the drone initiates its controller and motors.
Different drones will have different processes to arm them for flight but the basic principle is the same.

Arming the drone is the last thing you do before you start flying, one the drone is armed it knows its ready to fly and it is ready to receive commands from the controller. Here is one of the biggest rules of drone flying, never touch an armed drone, ever, no matter what.

The Most Dangerous Part Of The Drone – A Battery Lesson

This is a little subjective, if you speak to someone who lost an arm in a drone crash or someone who injured themselves on a propeller they will probably have their own opinions on the most dangerous part of the drone, however, the part most likely to cause a fire through carelessness is without a doubt the battery.

You’ve no doubt read on this site or at least heard about the lipo aka the lithium polymer batteries that power a drone. In the purest sense most “lipo batteries” are actually not true lithium polymer batteries but a hybrid between two technologies.

A bit of a science lesson

Batteries use a series of chemical reactions in order to produce electricity, however, true (pure) lithium polymer batteries create the electricity via chemical reaction between dry components.

The problem with a pure lithium polymer batteries is that they are somewhat limited and drone motors are real power consumers, they also need a stable supply of power for obvious reasons.

Drone batteries are more of a hybrid combining wet and dry chemicals to facilitate a higher rate of energy discharge. As you would expect with something that has been tweaked to create a higher more aggressive performance there are increased risks associated with incorrect use.

The increase in risk is twofold, there is a lot of talk online of fire and explosions and that is definitely one side to it but there is also the annoyance of damaging and needing to replace your battery or not getting the maximum life from it due to improper care.

The most common cause of damage to lipo batteries is overcharging which is an easy oversight given mobile phones no longer suffer from this we have all become used to plugging batteries in and letting them charge, drone batteries don’t cut out in the same way and they can be overcharged.

Overcharging your drone battery can actually cause it to swell, swollen batteries are a fire hazard and susceptible to explosion.

Post Flight

Plugging in a damaged battery onto a charger can result in swelling and a fire, while no one would knowingly attempt to charge a damaged battery lipos are very fragile and you might not know if a cell has been damaged. Dropping a battery is enough to permanently damage it so you imagine the potential damage that could come from an inevitable drone crash.

Wear And Tear

For those people who have had the same cellphone for as long as they can remember and habitually plug it in every night it may come as a surprise to know that drone batteries actually wear out and have a finite amount of charges. Once a battery is performing at 20% or less it can become dangerous and you should stop using it.

A battery functioning at 20% capacity might not be powerful enough to sustain a drones flight but it is still a hazard and needs to be disposed of responsible. Responsible disposal sounds like a relatively simple task merely involving completely discharging it before you toss it out.

Best Way To Discharge A Lipo Battery

If you are involved in, are aware of or even have a local drone community that you can interact with your probably have access to a hobby shop who can safely dispose of batteries effortlessly and maybe even for free… Failing that you might have to do a little work.

The recommended way to discharge a battery yourself before disposal is connecting it to a light bulb and emerging it in a bucket of sand, true drone hobbyists become all too familiar with buckets of sand as they have a lot of uses related to batteries and discharge. You can safely store damaged batteries in buckets of sand until they are ready for disposal.

Buying Your First Drone

Edit – just for sanity it is important to note that the terms builder, builder drone and drone building kit all mean the same thing and are used interchangeably in the post below!

Regardless of if you become a total drone obsessive and work your way through every drone becoming and expert builder along the way or if you just buy a low cost first drone and play with it once and never touch it again buying your first drone is something that is complicated and you will no doubt have a load of questions about everything from the brand and cost to the remote control transmitter and range.

With all the complexities around the drone hobby it has been said may times that taking the first step is the most difficult and challenging part of the whole process. The average time between someone deciding they want to buy a drone and actually making the purchase is much longer than in most hobbies with the average time been in excess of two weeks, a large number of people actually talk themselves out of buying a drone at all and walk away when they realise how complex an arena they are playing in.

When buying your first drone it is common to research and then settle on a model but then to learn something about that model that puts you right off. No drone is right for everyone and that can mean you find negative reviews about perfectly good drones because someone else made the wrong decision and left an irresponsible review. That been said, take reviews on board when you are considering your options but if all the other data is pointing you in the direction of one drone don’t let a few bad reviews put you off (fly aways can be the result of a bad handler too despite people never wanting to admit their mistakes!).

The best advice you could have when buying your first drone is to draw up a shortlist and then not allow yourself to be distracted from it, create a shortlist and then look into those drones in detail before picking the option you like the look of.

RTF vs Builder (Drone Building Kits) To Build Or To Buy

To build or to buy, that is the question.

One of the first things you need to consider when buying a drone is if you want to go for the ready to fly option or would you rather build you own? This seems a strange question to a total novice who probably just wants to take a drone and fly it but the more people get into their drones the more they want to understand how they work and the components, this allows them to make their own modifications and tweaks. The build or buy question is really dependent on the type of person you are, do you enjoy making things, will flying a drone you put together yourself be rewarding to you or will taking the time to put it together just be an annoyance to you? If you are after instant fun and the kind of person who just wants to crack open the packaging and take to the skys you can eliminate anything that is not RTF from your shortlist before you even start writing it.

Building your own drone from a kit is going to, once you get over the initial pains associated with building, leave you with a much better understanding of how it actually works.

Repair and Replace

Putting your drone together yourself will mean you know what every part does, why every screw is where it is and why it is there. When the time comes to carry out a repair (and novice pilots often need to carry out repair work!), having built your own drone, you will be much more equip than your RTF counterparts.

When a part needs replacing, perhaps after a particularly brutal crash, you will quickly find that it can be hard to find parts for RTF drones whereas builder parts are much more frequently available. No matter how well people know their drones, just because of the difficulty sourcing parts, people with RTF models often find them sending them off for specialist repair or just discarding cheaper models in favor of buying a new one as the usual repairer of choice would be the manufacturer and quite often they are not based in the same country as the pilot.

On the plus site if you are in the same location as a drone repair center which your warranty will allow you to use and something does go wrong with your RTF drone you can just send it off for repair, no need to look at individual parts or try to work out what is broken. In some rare cases drone manufactures will diagnose faults with RTF drones over the phone and send out a replacement without requesting the return of the faulty unit, if the instances that this happens there is no easier way to get your drone (or replacement drone) into the sky…. But don’t count on getting a replacement without returning your drone every time it breaks, that is more the exception than the rule.

Do I Need A Camera Drone?

This is a simple question with a simple answer, YES! Most buyers guides you will read are really just padded out content and the answer to every question is basically “that’s up to you but here are some pros and cons of the options you are looking into. When it comes to flying a drone the only reason not to have a camera is if you are really trying to work on a budget. No one who has ever piloted a drone has been flying through the air and thought “I wish I went for the no camera option”. One of the most amazing things about the whole drone hobby is been able to see the world from a totally different perspective. Also, your camera drone could come in handy if you ever have a quick odd job that needs doing such as an inspection of the roof of your house. Saying that why would you need a job to justify taking a close up look at the roof of your house? Doesn’t it sound like a cool thing to just check out?

Seriously, unless you are buying a toy grade drone for a young child as a toy then go with a camera option.

It is worth saying that a camera can later be added to kit drones but not to RTF models.

Tuning And Tweaking

One area in which RFT undoubtable have the advantage is that they are very well tuned out of the box whereas builder drone usually require some tuning as one of the final stages of the build.

If you are a hands on type of person and would like to actually fine tune your drones, you guessed it, you will need to be working with a builder drone. Even attempting to tune or interfere with your RTF drone in any way could well invalidate the warranty.

Time To Upgrade

The bottom line on upgrades is that RTF models cannot really be upgraded, they are designed and built to fly out of the box and tampering with the drone will likely invalidate your warranty.

People new to drones might question if they would ever want to upgrade or modify drone, it might seem like the kind of thing an over the top hobbyist would do and totally unnecessary, however, consider the practicality and perhaps desire to add a camera to your drone – that would count as a modification.

If you are not sure if you will want a camera in the future but don’t need one to start with you will need to opt for a builder drone if you want to this to be a viable option, or you may get away with an NRTF.

It is not just cameras that you would be able to add, on builder drones you can swap out any component you want:

  • Motors
  • Transmitters
  • Batteries (a RTF specific battery is usually at least double the price of a battery for a builder drone)
  • Propellers
  • Landing gear
  • And of course as we already stated, cameras

Upgrading Your Drones Software

Drones, sort of like mobile phones, contain a load of different components that all have to work together and these components require software which is also known as firmware. You may have heard about people flashing the firmware on their mobile phones and a comparison could be made to drones.

You have more than likely installed an update on your mobile phone, upgrading a drone is a similar concept in theory but it will usually require you to connect the drone to your computer were as a phone can be upgraded as a standalone because they have their own Internet connection, who knows if in the future Internet of things drones will be “always on” and able to upgrade themselves? That would make thing a lot simpler.

For now a RTF drone is easier to carry out firmware updates on because the firmware is released by the manufacturer as a single update for each drone covering all components. You can even subscribe to be informed when upgrades come out for specific drones.

Drone kit or builder drones, especially if you have strayed from the given setup with a few customizations will require more effort to upgrade. You will find you need to upgrade the firmware related to each component within the drone.

The bottom line with firmware updates is that once you have done them once you wont have any problems doing them again, they are pretty standard but doing them the 1st time can be a little scary. Having to do them 1st time on 4+ different components is just 4x as scary but you will get there.

The Drone Community

Although the number of people interested in drone flying (and building) is growing it is still, at the time of writing a niche hobby. Generally speaking it is easier to find people and communities online around the RFT drones than it is for the builders. Builder drone communities do exist but they are relatively quiet. In our opinion there is still a lot of room for an authority drone community to make a footprint in cyberspace, maybe it is something we will look at doing in the future. If you would be interested in having a drone forum added to this site please leave a comment below, if there is enough interest then it might happen!

A good drone community is much more than just a place to shoot the breeze, there are lots of good forums such as:

If you have an issue with your drone or need help with anything, even choosing your first drone some one to one or one to many engagement on a forum can really help you make up your mind.

Speaking of forums, once you have drawn up your drone shortlist why not run it past some more experienced pilots on one of the forums above, or all of them?! You may even pick up a cheap used drone when you first signup.

A Bit Of A Summary Builder Drone vs Ready To Fly

The bottom line, any you might not see this written anywhere else, is that, generally a builder drone is going to be better:

  • They are upgradable
  • It is easier to carry out your own repairs
  • You can customize them
  • You will get more for your money
  • You are more likely to make friends online with an RTF

The Ultimate Decision

People do like to make a case for RTF drones and there is definitely an appeal there especially for new pilots, however, our recommendation is that they are best avoided unless you are really buying the drone to use as a toy, the age of the person playing with it does not matter! So long as it is a toy and it will always be a toy go with a RTF unless the community aspect referred to above really appeals to you.

The upgradability of builder drones just adds so much flexibility and your if you go with a builder not only will you get a bit more for your money but you will also likely be able to keep your first drone and have it evolve with you on your drone journey as you want to do more creative and advanced things, many of our writers still use their first builder drones with customizations. Remember even adding a camera to an RTF that comes without one is impossible.

Regardless of which drone you opt for take good care of it, this may sound strange for such a new technology but one day your first drone could well become an antique.

Just How Hard Are Builder Drones/Drone Kits To Put Together?

Generally anyone with any sort of engineering or practical skills will have a huge advantage here but with a little patience any competent person should be able to assemble a drone from a drone building kit.

The best approach is a slow one, especially if you are building your first drone. You need to view the build process as part of the experience and not just something you want to get out of the way so that you can take to the sky.

As a total novice the best approach would be to view building and flying your drone for the first time as a weekend project:

  1. The week before the weekend on which you plan to start building sign up to an online drone community forum and introduce yourself, this will be your support network if and when things get tough,
  2. Open the builder kit on Friday night, have a quick look at everything and lay out the parts, examine everything but don’t start assembly. Plan to build the drone on Saturday,
  3. On Saturday take your time and work through the drone builder kit, put everything together and make sure your battery is charged. Once you have finished building make sure you test the drone takes off before telling yourself the job is done but show some restraint and don’t go out for a flight just yet.

    Remember one rule, no rushing or stressing when it comes to building because building is as much a part of the fun as taking off for the first time.

  4. On Sunday you can take to the sky and call yourself a pilot.

Take time to read everything that comes in your builder kit but remember as you start to put the thing (or the fucking thing as they are often referred to after a few hours “building” with very little progress) together that building a drone, especially for the first time is just not an easy process.

Brace yourself for the worst-case scenario and if you do manage flight the same day you start building you will feel even better about yourself.

Flight Time

At the time of writing specialist long flight drones can maintain a flight time of 25 minutes but as discussed in several places on this site some low end toy grade drone have a flight time of 10-15 minutes. Note that when a manufacturer gives you a flight time of 15 minutes you will probably get less and people flying at high elevation will get even less time.

Because of the relatively short flight times (that feeling you get when your phone is on 10% battery and you know you need to charge it is nothing in comparison) you are advised to have at least 2 but probably 3 batteries when you go on a flying session.

This is another thing that plays into the hands of a drone kit or builder (read not a RTF). This is because you can pick up additional batteries for kit drones fairly cheaply, however, RTF drones have specialist battery requirements, often specific to the drone or the manufacturer and that means you usually end up paying at least double for a battery for a RTF vs a kit but prices for builder drones could be 3x or 4x what you expect to pay for the RTF equivalent.

But What About Your Second Drone?

Okay so this sections is made a little in jest but people really do outgrow their drones and this can happen really quickly.

Usually people outgrow a drone because they went for a basic toy grade FTF and quickly decided that wanted to add a camera, have more range or even longer flight times as lots of low end drones only have 10-20 minutes flight time in good conditions.

When you are ready to buy drone 2 you should be pretty confident and you are on your own this time around!

A Bit About Brands – What Is The Best Brand Of Drone

Even though the drone marketplace and droning hobby is still relatively new there are a lot of manufacturers out there and competition in any market is good for the end user as it means

  • Competition on prices
  • More choice
  • Quicker innovation

At this point its important to stress that this post, and this site in general has no loyalty to any brand in general. Every drone we test, every comment we make and every review out there is based on our experience with that drone and that drone alone, we review drones as it they were totally unbranded.

Most people have a favorite drone brand be it one they have had a good experience with or a brand they will stay away from but in reality you want to look for a drone that delivers what you want. Not everyone has to (nor does) agree on the best brand, in the next few days there will be a post on this site comparing drone manufacturers.

Drone Definitions – Learning the drone lingo

If you are new to the drone market you can quickly find yourself very confused with the lingo (some say nonsense) and acronyms thrown around. Some people seem to take delight in statements such as:

“There was probably a problem with the lipo with a narrow FOV and lost LOS before the drone went AOL”

This section should help you with the acronyms, abbreviations and industry lingo, if you think anything is missing please add it below in the comments. The below section will also grow as, inevitably, more terms find their way into the lingo.

The Drone Lingo

Accelerometer

Anyone who has been involved in Dimension Engineering will likely already know this term as it is not exclusive to the drone industry/space. An accelerometer is basically an instrument that is used to measure the acceleration of a moving body. In layman’s terms this means it measures how fast something is moving in a given direction and the rate of acceleration, on some drones this information is fed back to the flight controller to keep the drone stable as it increases its speed.

Most people actually own an accelerometer without realizing it as almost all present day smart phones have them fitted as do over 90% of drones on the market today.

AGL

Altitude above ground level, not too much to say here as the next item on the list is altitude.

Altitude

This is an easy one, altitude, in the drone sense, refers to the height of a flying object (in relation to the land below it). There are actually specifically designed high altitude drones but it is imperative to bear in mind that local laws will prevent you from taking a high-altitude drone and flying it as high as technically possible. The action that will be taken against the first person to interfere with a commercial flight using a drone is going to be brutal, don’t be the scapegoat. Although you must check this it is usually safe to fly a drone no higher than 100 meters.

Recently a drone broke the altitude record (and the law) by flying to just over 11,000 feet.

AHF

Altitude Hold function is a feature that will enable the drone to hover and steady itself in the air so that the pilot can make use of the camera more effectively.

AP

Aerial photography, which can be either done as a hobby, commercial service or even by the military as part of a recon operation.

ARTF

Almost Ready to Fly, simple? Basically if a drone is ARTF it will be partially assembled and you will need to finish the job. As a beginner you may question the logic of an ARTF drone, however, as a beginner you would probably benefit the most from this type of setup.

Building a drone from the ground up is a very complex task but taking one that is pre built and ready to fly does not allow you the opportunity to tinker with the drone and get to know its workings. The ARTF option allows you to get your hands dirty, learn about the components and technicalities but without throwing you in at the deep end and expecting you to perform rocket science (or drone science).

Autonomous

Dare we use the term “auto pilot”! Basically, an autonomous drone is one that can actually fly on its own without constant supervision or control from a human.

Following autonomous this seemed a logical next definition, a feature of a drone to basically fly without real time input from a person. An example of autopilot usage would be where a drone is programmed to follow a selection of GPS coordinates to take it from A to B to C to D.

BPS

A barometric pressure sensor empowers the EAH on photography drones. The BPS basically feeds back the altitude to the flight controller so that it can remain stable for photography.

BNF

Bind and fly, a drone unit which is ready to simply be bound to an existing transmitter that you already own and at that point its ready to fly, use your existing transmitter that you know and love to fly your new drone with it is BNF.

Build

A build is simply a drone that you build yourself completely.

Commercial flight

This is one you should be able to guess, a drone flight which is occurring to make someone a profit.

Drone

If you need this defining you are probably in the wrong place.

Elevation

Remember elevation and altitude are two different things. Elevation is the height of an area above sea level. As most people know higher elevation means thinner air, this is why athletes sometimes chose to train at high elevation as it is harder to get their breath and puts the body under more stress. The same is true for drones, thin air means the drone needs to work harder and some lesser drones will not perform well at higher elevations so if you are investing in your first drone and planning on using it in an area of high elevation you should check the elevation limits on the model you are considering buying.

Also – when flying in thinner air at altitude, as the drone needs to work harder, you will often see a reduced flight time.

ESC

Electronic speed controller(s). All drones currently require at least one ESC, knowing this is increasing important if you plan to build your own drone or are considering the ARFT option. An ESC controls the amount of power that is sent to the engine and the number of ESC that a drone requires is related to the number of motors that it uses.

Flight Controller (or just controller)

Dare we call this the brain of the drone? The “logic” that keeps it in the air. The one thing you don’t want to malfunction as it usually means expensive repairs, an in air malfunction, obviously, can lead to disaster!

Fly Away

If you truly love something let it go and if it loves you back it will return, or something like that? The term fly away is one no drone owner wants to hear or at worst use. A fly away drone is one that has vanished into the sky never to be seen or heard of again. Improving flight controllers, GPS and tracking features fortunately are reducing the number of fly aways but the problem still exists.

The very nature of a fly away makes it difficult to diagnose the exact reasons why the problem occurred, however, anything from high levels of interference, faulty GPS/positional lock or a number of other things could be the cause of the problem. Flying your drone in a responsible manner in a sensible location can reduce the likelihood of experiencing a fly away.

Fly away protection system

An additional feature on some drones which will try to protect you from a fly away situation, fly away protection works in a number of ways but one example would be to restrict the drone from going beyond the range of control.

FOV

This is actually a frequently used one amongst the camera drone crew but a bit of a mystery to the mainstream, field of view means the view area that a camera has and all cameras have different FOV and these can again differ under different conditions.

Some drone cameras are actually designed for specific FOVs with more focus towards landscape or portrait.

FPV

First person view, much like a first person shooter style video game (older readers remember Doom, Duke Nuke Em and of course the new wave too!). Sometimes but less frequently called “through the eye view” basically you are seeing exactly what you would it you were legitimately piloting the drone, sitting in it, or even if you were it.

To be true FPV you need to be able to view in real time and high quality, this is a useful feature in camera drones and when using a camera drone a larger screen like a TV or PC are often the best approach, however, if you are in it for the fun and just want a thrill you are better off using HD goggles.

GPS

This might be the only term that does not need a definition due the GPS weening its way into everyday life. Initially we saw GPS in cars under the guise of satellite navigation subsequently GPS started to appear in mobile phones. GPS was initially used by the military as a location positioning service but as it became cheaper and more affordable it was adopted for everyday use. GPS is used in drones to provide stability but it is also used to “return to home” (see the term home position in this guide) on more advanced drones, it can also sometimes be used as a beacon to find a fallen drone.

Gyroscope

Without going into the absolute technical details on this one gyroscope is a technology that is used to aid drones in their direction and promote steady flight.

Headless Mode (similar to IOC/intelligent orientation control)

A fun and also useful feature which basically means refardless of which way round or up the drone is pushing a direction on your control will take the drone in that direction. For example, if you think logically if the drone was to flip upside down pushing forwards on your control, without this feature, would actually take the drone backwards, however in headless mode it will follow your instructions as if it was always the right way around.

Hobby Grade

This basically sits between toy grade and commercial grade drones. The quality and reliability of a hobby grade drone is far superior to the toy grade but the price does go up. With toy grade they usually come RTF but hobby grade have far more options.

Home Position (home point)

This is an option that can be set on some drones and others will set it themselves before they take off. It is logged using GPS so that the drone can identify where it took off from and the route back to the point of takeoff.

IMU

The inertial measurement unit is an element of the drone which works with other components on order to ensure smooth and stable flight by suppling additional information the the flight controller.

Lipo

Lipo is not to be confused with a medical procedure and refers to the type of battery commonly used in drones. The reason its not just called a “battery” is that the specific type of batter is a lithium-ion polymer. These are not the safest batteries in the word and you do need to handle them with care.

LOS

The term you have most likely not heard of but could guess if you were pressured. LOS is simply line of site, you probably guessed what it stands for and with that information you can certainly guess what it means. When people talk about line of site they just mean they can see their drone, if you lose sight of your drone your LOS has been “broken”.

Mod

A modification, a term used in lots of different hobby areas, basically where someone has done something to their own drone to customize it or make it feature in a nonstandard manner.

No fly zone

An area which for at least one reason you are not allowed to fly a drone, for example if you were to fly a drone over the whitehouse your drone would be confiscated and you would be fined…. At the very least!

OSD

On screen display, basically, however you control your drone, if it has a screen it is referred to as the OSD.

Pitch

– Pitch refers to the movement of the nose or back end of your drone. Adjusting the pitch makes the nose or back end of your drone tilt down or up.

PMU

The various components of the drone require different amounts of power at different times to carry out different actions and the power management unit is what handles the distribution of that power.

Pre Flight Planning

In a similar way a pilot carries out checks before flight a light aircraft (and to get a private pilots license in the UK potential pilots are tested on this) a drone pilot should take steps before each flight to make sure that the flight is done safely and efficiently in accordance with the law.

Roll

You may have heard this phrase used in the movie Top Gun and, as you will likely have noticed, the drone industry and aviation industry do share some terminology. A roll is a drone spin on a horizontal axis.

RTF

A shorter version of the NRTF acronym, where as NRTF is nearly ready to fly a RTF is ready to fly out of the box. If you buy a RTF drone you can expect to take it out of the box and fly it straight away.

RTH

We have talked extensively about GPS and the homing ability of drones, RTH is basically making use of these features to return to home. Different drones offer different options but most drones targeted at beginners have a RTH failsafe which brings the drone back to where it took off (not always your actual home) if it loses signal or malfunctions. You can also request the drone RTH if you lose track of what you are doing or need bailing out. Some controls even have a dedicated RTH button which is basically like an emergency get out button to be called on when needed.

One important note is that, if you have a RTH enabled drone you need to set the home location every time you take off unless this is done by default otherwise, upon hitting the RTH button the drone will attempt to get back to last set RTH location – if that happens if will make chasing down your dog the last time it escaped seem like child’s play.

Spotter (visual observer)

A phrase borrowed from the gym with a similar meaning, a drone spotter is nothing like a train spotter but it would not be surprising if at some time in the future “drone spotting” became a hobby. Going back on topic a spotter is someone who accompanies you while you fly the drone who is there solely to maintain LOS the whole time. A spotter can be an especially good idea when you are involved in commercial drone piloting or drone photography but is always useful. If you are reading this guide and learning the terms for the first time it is likely you are a beginner so take a spotter with you on your first few flights!

Station

This is less used in the hobbyist or even civilian drone user, it is much more a military term. Basically the station refers to the base from which a (usually military) drone is controlled.

Toy grade

A very basic level drone which is usually very affordable but lacking is many features. A toy grade drone is often what gets people into the drone thing to start with and then the upgrade to more serious drones over time. Toy grade drones are know to be a unstable and but the low price means taking to the skys for the first time does not have to be a scary experience and if you crash the damage (due to the size and weight) is usually minimal as is the damage to your pocket.

Transmitter (TX)

This is another easy one, the thing you control the drone with that you hold in your hand.

UAV

An unmanned aerial vehicle drone, basically a fancy name for a drone.

Waypoint

This is like a stop off point between where you take off and your end destination, a trip could have several waypoints.