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5 Steps to Become a Drone Pilot

Plenty of people start the New Year by making a change, taking on a challenge or giving something up. Running, eating less cheese, that kind of thing.

If you’ve never flown a drone before, the idea of starting it up as a hobby - let alone a profession - can be daunting. So where do you begin? Which drone should you go for first? And how easy is it to get comfortable behind the controls?

Here are five simple steps to help get you started.

Choose a drone

If you want to be a drone pilot, you’re going to need a drone. But choosing one is a big and often quite expensive decision.

You have two sensible options. First, you can find yourself a cheap model, something more toy than aerial camera. You could start by learning the controls and working out the basics, without risking an expensive crash.

But there are a couple of obvious drawbacks. Although your cheap model will most likely have a camera, you can bet that the quality won’t be that good, and that you won’t be able to appreciate the full potential of drone photos and videos.

There’s also a chance that buying a small, unstable drone to start with will actually put you off for good. More often than not, you get what you pay for in this business. Cheap drones can actually be more challenging to fly because they don’t have the sensors and safety features that come as standard if you are willing to pay more.

So we’d recommend starting off with an entry-level drone from a leading manufacturer like DJI. Both the DJI Spark and Mavic Air are small and portable but still powerful enough to have plenty of safety features and decent camera quality.

Alternatively, the Tello, made by RyzeTech with help from DJI and Intel, is a cheaper, more family-friendly option.

Learn the rules and register

Flying a drone does not mean you are suddenly operating in the Wild West. There are rules that you’ll need to learn and stick to.

They mostly cover speed, altitude, and where and when you can fly. But they are constantly evolving as the industry progresses. So make sure you are familiar with the FAA's latest regulations.

There are also different rules depending on the purpose of your flight: business or pleasure.

Commercial pilots need to comply with the Part 107 ruling - which you can learn more about in our Part 107 Guide. The ruling also requires that you stay up-to-date with the newest changes, such as LAANC integrations and BVLOS changes.

Why not check out our post on Drone Privacy Laws, while you’re at it?

Practice

If you want to get comfortable behind the controls, the obvious thing you need to do is practice.

The more hours you spend building that muscle memory and getting familiar with the features your new drone has, the more you’ll be rewarded with awesome footage in the long run.

Your best bet is to take your drone out and fly as often as you can. Ideally in a spot that’s quiet, free from distractions and away from potential obstacles. That’s to start with, at least.

When you’re ready, practice capturing different scenes and shift your mindset to being an aerial cameraman, not just a drone pilot.

But sometimes the weather and other constraints mean you can’t fly as often as you’d like. If that’s the case, why not try a simulator? The Drone Racing League has a fun simulator that will quite literally get you up to speed. DJI has an enterprise level simulator for perfecting professional manoeuvres.

Explore

Once you’re feeling confident, it’s time to explore the potential of drone technology. This is the fun part.

Start by getting your head around all the different camera settings and features you have available. Then, think about how you can make the most of the many accessories out there.

From there it’s up to you to find the right locations, to experiment with different lights, times of day and angles, and most of all, to be creative with it.

Looking for inspiration? You’re in the right place. Take a look through our blog. There’s our recent collection of winter aerials from around the world, and our examples of Christmas and drones combining with mixed results.

DJI, UAV Coach and more have regular articles with tips and advice of how to get the best from your new hobby.

Sign up on DroneBase

When you’re ready, why not sign up to be a DroneBase pilot? For many hobbyists looking to take their skills to the next level, it’s an ideal step forwards. Take a look at our Pilots page for more information on Client Missions and how you can earn as you fly.

Tags: Drone Pilots Drone Tips Training
Malek Murison
Malek Murison

Malek Murison is a technology journalist based in London who covers drone industry news and product reviews for DroneLife. He's written features for the Financial Times and words for some of the drone world's most exciting startups.

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