Learning to fly a quadcopter can be pretty intimidating. There are so many choices that it can be overwhelming figuring out where to even start and what you need to learn. While it may be tempting to go out and purchase the latest and greatest from DJI or a fully kitted out racer, cutting your teeth with a micro quad will make the learning period significantly cheaper. Part of learning the ropes will involve lots of crashes, lots of broken props, and likely a few dents and dings to your quad. Destroying a micro quad, and in turn learning the basics, is a much easier pill to swallow than demolishing a Phantom Pro on your first flight. Best of all, when you graduate to the next level, the controls are more or less the same!
The goal of this guide is to provide a handy reference to use when preparing to go to the field, locations to think about practicing at, as well as exercises that you can use at the field to get you comfortable flying as quickly as possible. To make things more approachable, I have split this guide into three separate parts (links and such are below).
First things first, if you haven’t already, go check out Chococopter’s guide to micro quads (click here). This entire guide is structured around the assumption that you are starting out using a micro quad. I personally recommend the Hubsan X4, as that is what I personally learned using, but you cant go wrong with the Syma X11 either.
Other parts in the series
Part 1 – Planning and prep (you are reading this one!)
Part 1 – Planning and Prep
Before you head out to fly, it’s best to make a plan and have everything prepared to go. Nothing sucks more than going to the field and realizing that you forgot something at home. The goal here is to maximize flight time. If you subscribe to the notion that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, time going back home to charge batteries or grab gear you forgot probably won’t help whittle down those hours.
To that effect, I am assuming you have four key things (I also included links to Amazon as necessary):
- A micro quadcopter (obviously) – see Chococopter’s guide, but in essence, I recommend grabbing a Hubsan X4 or Syma X11 for a cheap way to start learning the hobby
- Multiple batteries
- A multi battery charger
- Extra props (Hubsan link) (Syma link)
These things are imperative to learn the basics quickly. Working with just the one battery that came with your micro quad will mean only 5-10 minutes of flying and then 30 minutes of charging. Similarly, once you get all your batteries, the last thing you will want to do is babysit a charger. For an extra few dollars, you can make the learning process significantly easier with grabbing the items from the links above.
I also recommend getting some extra props and a prop guard (if your kit didn’t come with one). You will break props. Lots and lots of props. You will bend them, you will snap them, or they will fly off and you won’t find them. Save yourself the hassle and pick up a pack of extra props.
Now that we got those things covered, let’s go over the other items that you should consider when putting together your first kit. At this point, you don’t need to lug around pounds and pounds of gear (don’t worry, that will come soon enough) but having a basic bag of tools and equipment will make things much easier when getting ready to go to the field. Hopefully most of these items can be found around the house. Unlike the items listed above, these items are more suggestions to make your life easier and are not required.
- A backpack to put all of your stuff in. Dig that old Jansport out of your closet and put it to good use. Similarly, a cheap drawstring backpack works great for carrying around a micro quad.
- Quart sized Ziplocs. I love having Ziplocs in my bag. It makes things like sorting props and storing general items significantly easier (more on that in a bit)
- Camera bag. If you have a DSLR camera bag lying around somewhere, it is actually the perfect size for a micro quad. I liked storing mine in one of these since I would usually bike to the location I would fly at and didn’t want to risk breaking my Hubsan against all of the other stuff bouncing around in my backpack
- Pouch bags. Much, much, much more durable than Ziplocs and great for storing things a bit more securely. I used these for storing my batteries when starting out and highly recommend these for general storage.
- LiPo Safe Bag. Even though the microcopter batteries are small, they are still LiPos and should be treated with respect. While I did not use one when I was starting out, I would definitely recommend them for safety reasons.
- A small Philips head screwdriver. You will eventually need hex drivers and all sorts of other goodies for your next quad, but for now a small Philips head screwdriver will do. A small eyeglasses style one should work, and can be picked up at the pharmacy for a few dollars. If you are super lazy like me and do all of your shopping on Amazon, this looks like a nice set.
- Prop wrench. Your microquad probably came with a small prop wrench to allow easy replacement of props. Toss this in your bag when you go.
- Electrical tape. If a wire splits, something needs to be fastened, etc. Cheap, lighter, and smaller than a big roll of duct tape.
- Epoxy / superglue. For fixing cracks, broken arms, prop guards, etc. We managed to superglue Chococopter’s frame back together after a nasty crash and continue flying within 30 or so minutes. Again, Amazon links for the lazy.
- Sunscreen / hat / sun protection / other weather protection. May not be applicable to all, but being in sunny Southern California comes with the requirement of slathering on a good amount of the stuff before going outdoors. Protect your skin! I suppose a jacket would fit here for people that live in colder conditions, as supposedly snow can be cold.
- Water / snacks. Again, the goal is more flying time. Throw a water bottle in your bag (sealed well of course) so that you don’t get dehydrated out at the field.
- Manual for your microcopter. Do you know which order the props go on? Do you know how to turn on the camera? What do you do if one of the arms seems way out of place on the Hubsan? Hopefully you have already poured over the manual, but having a quick reference in the field is super helpful. Either have this downloaded on your phone, or throw the manual in your backpack. Trust me, it is no fun after losing your first props having to walk around the field searching for mobile reception so you can download the manual. All because you left your paper manual at home and can’t remember which order the props need to be in. Not that I am speaking from experience or anything…
- Headphones / portable speaker. Flying is just so much more fun with music! Looking for something to listen to? Check out our Spotify playlist for flying here!
- Portable chair to sit in. James and I love our G4Free collapsible chairs. Seriously, this thing folds up to about the size of a collapsed umbrella and easily fits in your backpack. I can’t recommend this product enough, especially for when you get into FPV later and need a place to sit while flying.
- Agility disc cones. Especially helpful if you are going to a field or area without well-defined lines to fly in. You can set these up in all sorts of patterns to make an easy to follow course. Another item that will come in use later when you get into FPV
- Transmitter batteries. Likely AAA batteries for most micro quads on the market. Throw a couple extra of these in your bag in the event that your transmitter dies while you are at the field.
Hopefully the list above gives you some ideas for putting together a bag to take to the field. Since I am a lists and double check everything sort of person, I put together a checklist that you can print out and check off before going to the field.
Other tips and tricks before going to the field:
- Number your batteries. This makes things so much easier at the field. Instead of having to remember to separate the discharged from the charged, you just grab the next battery in the sequence. A sharpie will work nicely for this task.
- Separate your props. Use Ziplocs to separate your props out into normal and reverse (A and B) as needed. This will make life so much easier when making a prop change rather than digging through a big bag of assorted props.
- You don’t have to register most micro quads with the FAA, but I would recommend putting a label or engraving contact details on the frame. In the case that you do lose your quad, hopefully someone will be nice enough to contact you and return it if they find it.
- Do a super quick test flight before leaving the house. Make sure that the quad starts correctly and is pairing with the transmitter before leaving. Similarly, check that the batteries and the wires on the quad are all in good condition.
Alright, so you have all of your equipment packed, batteries charged, and you are itching to fly? Awesome! In the next part of this series we will talk about choosing a location for your first flight.