You’ve gone and done it!
After loads of research, figuring out what features you want on your drone, getting familiar with local laws and rules, and even learning about drone flight mechanics – you finally bought your first drone!
So now it’s time to begin unboxing and setting up your new passion. Here’s a list of the basic steps to getting everything set up and so that you can fly your new drone:
- Unboxing your new drone
- Inspecting the main components
- Battery and charger
- Propeller guards
- Camera mount and gimbal
- Instruction manual
- Drone Assembly
- Charging Batteries
- Updating the software
NOTE: This setup will walk you through the unboxing and configuring of a standard ready to fly (RTF) drone.
Unboxing your new drone
Although your brand new drone is RTF, there will still be some parts that you’ll need to store away in a safe place. Hopefully, you’ve set aside a specific room, closet, or box for that purpose.
Your drone will provide many hours of entertainment if you take care of it properly. The best way to do this is to develop good habits from the start.
Inspecting the main components
The first step is to separate and set aside all the spare parts. When that is done, we are now ready to begin examining and inspecting the main components. This is important because if there are any discrepancies, now is the time to identify them while the warranty is still valid.
Don’t let your eagerness to fly cloud your judgment of identifying problems. While problems may delay your first launch, it will be well worth the effort in the long run.
Drones very rarely ever come with propellers attached. And there’s a good reason for this.
Propellers are one of the workhorses of your drone. Like airplanes in general, they’re pretty durable in handling the forces they were designed for but quite fragile against other forces. One of those forces includes shipping.
Inspect them carefully because flying with a defective propeller could destroy your entire drone. Keep track of how many hours of flying time your propellers have tallied. Keep a spare set of them on hand.
Drone propellers are typically connected directly to the motors. There’s no complicated drive chain or pulley on most drones. This design not only saves energy but also eliminates potential breakpoints.
These motors spin at very high speeds so that the propellers can launch the unit and get it airborne. The computer activates the motors and allows them to work independently – which keeps the drone stable. And when each motor varies its speed, it will enable the drone to rotate, climb, descend, and hover in place.
Your new drone comes already packaged with a motor that has been optimized for your specific drone model. But after some time, they will eventually fail. So be prepared to replace one sometime in the future.
Drone motors generally come in standard sizes but often have various power output and energy-saving options. Some drone operators opt for more powerful motors for greater speeds.
The drone’s body or airframe may be a simple and boring part of the unit, but it’s essential. Every significant component on the drone is connected to the airframe, and it serves as the protector of all of them. When crashes occur, your entire drone is at the mercy of the airframe.
Some drone airframes have completely enclosed every little aspect of the drone. Whereas the airframe of other models only protects the critical stuff – like the computer and instrumentation.
Airframes provide a protective shell over all the electronics, the battery, and the wiring in most cases. The landing gear is attached to your airframe and it also supports the mount for the camera and gimbal. When your airframe gets broken, it’s the same as totaling your car – and a terrible thing.
Battery and charger
All drones come equipped with a battery and battery charger. The batteries that are used by drones are very high-powered Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries. They store and release a lot of energy – thanks to the use of some extremely volatile chemicals.
Therefore, LiPo batteries can be quite dangerous and must be handled with care. Even a crash could cause a fire under the right circumstances.
The battery charger is explicitly designed for charging this type of battery. Overcharging a LiPo battery could cause it to burst into flames. Thankfully, many LiPo chargers have safety features like automatic shutoff when fully charged and a way to discharge them for storage.
We always recommend getting extra batteries, but you must ensure that they are compatible with your particular drone. Some drone manufacturers safeguard against this by making drones that will only accept their batteries.
It is also a good idea to have a battery charger capable of charging multiple batteries simultaneously.
We mentioned earlier how fragile a drone propeller can be. While they are light and thin, they also spin at ridiculously high rates of speed. This is what can make them dangerous. A spinning propeller can quickly cut a finger down to the bone.
A beginner must gradually learn to stay away from spinning propellers – sometimes, they painfully learn this lesson. Propeller guards are an excellent option for protecting both you and your drone from these little accidents.
Propeller guards are designed to provide protection from these spinning blades. Many expert drone operators even use them for this purpose. All it takes is a random gust of wind to push spinning propellers right into someone.
Camera mount and gimbal
Drones offer several options in regards to cameras. Some of them come with an integrated camera, while other models provide an option to mount your own camera. Either way, this is something that you most likely chose consciously one way or another when you bought the drone.
If you’re attaching a camera, then you’ll have a special mount for that purpose. Otherwise, your camera is already there for your use. Your gimbal is there to keep your camera stable so that you can shoot clear images and footage.
In the case of RTF drones, your unit comes with its transmitter already connected. This means that there is no specific setup required for your controller system.
All drone controllers are configured in pretty much the same manner. They have two sticks for precise directional control of your new drone.
Your biggest concern here is whether to use wireless communication for flying. Drones today can be linked to GPS, Wi-Fi, and even Bluetooth – so you have many options for controlling them. Among those are your Smartphone, computer, or tablet.
Your drone manual is vital, so ensure that you have one. Most likely, you have more than one owner’s manual, as each will address a significant component of your drone package. You must read your manual before assembling or operating your drone or any of its components.
Ensure that you have paid incredibly close attention to all the warnings that have been posted in your manuals. They have been labeled as warnings for a reason, and it’s a great time to learn from the mistakes of others.
Next, you need to follow the step-by-step instructions for getting your drone set up and flying. These instructions are usually written with beginners like yourself in mind.
Even though your drone is RTF, there is some light assembly involved. Some drone packages might require more assembly than others, but you will need to install the following items in most cases:
Propellers – Your drone will come with a set of propellers and probably a couple of extra propellers. Please pay close attention to the instructions in regards to which side of your propellers is up. Not all propellers turn the same way, so you must configure them properly.
Also, be sure that you are using the right nuts for each propeller. Tighten the nuts until they are nice and snug. Overtightening can easily damage either the propeller itself or the housing.
Landing gear – Many drones today come with the landing gearing unattached. The importance of adequately attaching the landing gear to your drone should be quite obvious.
It must be able to withstand hard landings. And don’t forget that it needs to have ample clearance for the camera mount as well.
If your drone has retractable landing gear, you will need to pay very close attention to detail during installation.
Camera gear – If you’ve never flown a drone before, then you might want to consider getting some experience before mounting your camera. This is not a bad idea because your first few flights will be focused on the mechanics of flying and not getting pictures.
When you’re reasonably confident in flying your drone, then you bust out your drone camera. Depending on your model, you will either be attaching the camera package it came with or attaching a separate mount for your camera and gimbal. These instructions need to be followed closely.
As we mentioned earlier, LiPo batteries are very volatile and need to be handled carefully. As a general rule, when storing or transporting your batteries, they should be no more than 50% charged. The more charged these batteries are, the more flammable.
This means that your battery will have less than a 50% charge when you bring it home. Charging these types of batteries takes some time, so you will want to get started. But at the same time, do not wander too far away when they are on the charger for the first time. It could be disastrous if either the battery or the charger were to have a defect. Read the battery charging instructions carefully.
Also, monitor any indicators on your battery and charger during its first charging. Ensure that everything is working as it should.
Updating the software
This step is crucial as much high-end hardware has gone into making your drone capable of flight. Drones today have internal computers along with software that guides everything from the controller to the drone itself.
Now consider the fact that your drone depends on outside signals for things like GPS and internal mapping. These external systems keep your drone flying where it should and out of restricted airspaces. High tech components like those found on drones are updated continuously – along with the software that drives them.
You must keep your software updated at all times. Never fly your new drone without first updating all software it uses. This is especially critical for new drones right out of the box because there’s no telling how many updates have occurred since it was packaged.
Just develop the habit from day one of always checking for software updates.
You invested time and money into your drone flying experience, so why not get everything started properly. Doing so only enhances your flying sessions and helps you become a skilled drone pilot.
For these reasons, we recommend that you follow the guidelines described here, as it’s an accumulation of expert knowledge and common rookie mistakes in the past. Why not take the opportunity to learn from both sources as they have valuable information to offer.
The idea is to minimize the painful lessons of learning from our own mishaps. Those can be costly and discouraging.