How to fly a quadcopter

How to fly a quadcopter the easy way

A quadcopter is a type of helicopter that has four blades instead of two.   Some of the most popular personal drones on the market right now are quadcopters due to how flexible they are, including the ability to hover.   While not terribly difficult, learning how to fly a quadcopter takes practice and is not something most people will just pickup over night.

A really great quadcopter to use to learn how to fly a quadcopter is the The Hubsan X4 (H107L).  The X4 is inexpensive, and amazingly stable for such a low cost quadcopter.  The controller is also of high quality and easy to you.

How to fly a quadcopter

Below are some graduated steps to help you learn how to fly a quadcopter.  To get the most benefit from this process, try to master each step before proceeding to the next.  Also, remember that learning how to fly a quadcopter isn’t something that happens overnight.  It will take you days to weeks to fully get comfortable with piloting a quadcopter.

Use caution and fly your quadcopter in a safe location

A quadcopter must be flown with caution.  Doing so will help you keep control of the quadcopter to avoid any harm to people or objects around you.  If you need to crash it, you should turn the throttle down to zero, so as not to break the quad or worse injure someone.   Also, make sure you are flying the quadcopter in a wide open area, will minimal objects in the way.

Understand quadcopter flight terminology

Quadcopter controllerUnderstanding quadcopter terminology and the two sticks on the controller can really help:

  • The Rudder controls the Yaw, which is the direction the quadcopter is facing.  In the beginning, as you are learning to fly, ensuring that your quadcopter faces away from you so your right is the quadcopter’s right.  As you gain more experience flying your quadcopter, you’ll be able to adjust and fly the quadcopter in any direction.
  • Aileron controls Roll, which is the rotation from side to side. It makes the quadcopter move from right to left.
  • The Throttle controls Attitude, which is the height at which you fly the quadcopter.   A new flyer will want to fly at low attitudes to help maintain control, visual site, and reduce damage in the event of a crash.
  • The Elevator controls Pitch, which is the rotation moving from the tail to the end. It controls which end of the copter moves higher, and thus controls the direction of the quadcopter either forward or backward.

Depending on the controller you have, the buttons and/or levers will allow you to fully control yaw, roll, attitude and pitch.  The combination of these movements allow you to maneuver the quadcopter however you need.

Take off!

Position your quadcopter on a flat surface.   Make the throttle is at zero.   Turn the quadcopter on, and slowly begin increasing the throttle until your quadcopter is off the grown.  Depending on your model, and how stable it is, you may need to use the other controls to keep it in place.  But at this point, you’ll mostly be using the throttle and you should focus on maintaining a consistent altitude.

If this is very first flight, don’t be surprised if it’s short and very difficult.  The more you fly your quadcopter, the better you’ll get at flying it.

Hover with your quadcopter

Parrot AR Drone hoverAgain, at first you’ll want to focus on keeping your quadcopter at the same altitude, and in the same basic area.  Once you feel comfortable doing that, you can begin moving it forwards and backwards, using the elevator, and left and right using the Aileron.  Pratice this for a bit, all while doing your best to maintain a consistent altitude.  You’ll probably note that when you move in any direction, the quadcopter will drop in altitude.  You’ll need to learn to give the quadcopter more power when turning or moving.

Fly your quadcopter in a circle

One you feel comfortable moving your quadcopter around and maintaining a similar altitude, you’ll next want to try make it go around in a circle. this is accomplished by using a combination of elevator and aileron.   Try to keep the quadcopter opining away from you, as it will help you learn to use the controls a little more easily.    Flying in a circle will take lots of practice, as you’ll need to manage the throttle as well.

Spin your Quadcopter

The rudder will allow you to not only turn your quadcopter, but spin it as well.  When you spinning your quadcopter while making turns allows much smoother and faster movements.

Again, these complex movements will be a bit tricky at first, but as they say “practice makes perfect”.  So just keep trying, and you’ll get the hang of it.

What gets a bit tricky is when the quadcopter is facing you.  The quadcopter controller now must be used in the opposite direction.  Just keep at it, and your brain and hands will learn to adjust.

Fly your quadcopter in a figure eight

Once you have the circle movement with the rudder mastered, you’ll want to move on to a figure eight pattern.  Remembering all your previous moves will really aid you in making the copter make a figure eight.   The figure eight pattern will help you learn more controller dexterity and learn to switch the controller lever directions as needed, without thinking about it.

Free Flight

If you can do all of these movements confidently, you are ready to begin free flying your quadcopter and even maneuvering it.   You can also begin flying at various altitudes.

Enjoy your quadcopter and keep practicing!  The more you fly, the better you’ll get at controlling it.

Photos by: Lee, John Biehler

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