Quadcopter flight training for beginners

These beginner flight training tips will prepare you for your first flight with a quadcopter such as IRIS and give ideas on how to improve your flying skills. Most likely you will break something during your many upcoming quadcopter flights. Let’s try to keep this damage down to the vehicle itself and not any people or property around, by practicing how to fly.

While these instructions are geared towards an IRIS with a Pixhawk flight controller, they might just as well work with any other kind of quadcopter.  But I will make usage of the advanced flight controls of the Pixhawk to provide the student with “quick win” situations.

Basic rules for beginners

Before we get started with the lessons, some basic rules for beginners:

  • Get a liability insurance, which covers you flying. You can e.g. become an Academy of Model Aeronautics (AMA) member.
  • Try to fly without wind and gusts initially. Especially gusts might cause movement of the quadcopter that are hard to handle for a novice.
  • Fly in an open area without any building, trees, power lines, poles or similar obstacles. Try to find an area with soft ground – such as a soccer of baseball field. This way minor crashes won’t damage your quadcopter.
  • Do not fly over people or animals.
  • Yourself, stay away from the quadcopter.
  • Fly without spectators, they will only distract you.
  • Stay away with the quadcopter from objects, such as houses, trees, cars or alike.
  • Only start flying with a full battery.
  • Always keep your eyes on the quadcopter.
  • Don’t fly out too far. Stay within 20 m / 60 ft distance and below 15 m / 45 ft altitude at the beginning.
  • Don’t take off if any of the engines makes a weird noise.
  • Keep all your expensive equipment (Gimbal and GoPro camera) off at the beginning.
  • Don’t give up, even if you crash or break something.

A note on technology assisted flying

The Pixhawk controller in IRIS makes flying very easy, especially while using assisted modes such as the GPS-assisted Loiter mode. While we will get started using these modes to provide “quick win” situations for you as a flight student, you should still learn how to fly without assistants. The reason for learning to fly “for real” is that these assisted modes can fail. And in such a situation you want to be able to recover from this failure situation and save your property, but also the property and health of others. But for now, let IRIS help us get started.

Practice, practice, practice

Keep practicing each lesson until you feel comfortable with the learned pattern. Learning to fly a quadcopter will take time. Don’t get discouraged if it takes longer than you thought. You will get there eventually. Also be gentle with the controls, especially the throttle only needs gentle pushes.

Via the remote control place IRIS into Loiter mode (GPS assisted mode) and wait for it to acquire a GPS lock. You will have a GPS lock once the yellow blinking LED turns into a green blinking LED.

Lesson 1: Take-Off and Landing

Figure 1: Take-Off and Landing

Figure 1: Take-Off and Landing

For this exercise we will only use the left throttle stick and only move it up and down. No other sticks will be used. Also don’t move the throttle stick to the left or right.

Start with the throttle stick at the bottom and arm IRIS. You do this by moving the throttle stick to the lower right corner for a few seconds, until the propeller start spinning. Now move the throttle stick back to the lower center position. We are ready to fly.

Push the left throttle stick gently and carefully up, just slightly higher than the mid position. The moment you reach the mid position IRIS will take off. Once IRIS reaches an altitude of about 3-4 m / 9-12 ft. move the throttle stick back to the center position and hover a few meters above ground. Keep the throttle stick in mid position for now.

Next we went IRIS to climb to a higher altitude, let’s say to about 6-8 m / 18-24 ft. To do so, gently and carefully push the throttle stick higher until IRIS starts to gently and slowly climb. This should be the case once the throttle stick is a little higher than the 55-60% mark. Once IRIS is at the desired altitude, move the throttle stick into the center position again.

Now let’s try the opposite. Let’s make IRIS descent to about 2-3 m / 6-9 ft altitude. Gently and carefully pull the throttle stick to a lower position until IRIS starts to gently and slowly descent. This should happen at the 40-45% mark. Again, once IRIS is at the desired altitude, move the throttle stick into the center position.

Now it’s time to land. Landing is similar to descending the quad with the slightly added difficulty, that you don’t want to descent too fast – otherwise you’ll end up with a bumpy landing and you might damage your quad. But you also don’t want to descent too slow as IRIS will get into the air turbulence of its own prop-wash when being close to the ground.

Let’s start by carefully pulling the throttle stick to a lower position until IRIS starts to slowly descent. Again, this should happen at the 40-45% mark of the throttle stick. as soon as IRIS starts to descent, leave the stick in this position until IRIS is on the ground.

If you feel that IRIS is descending too fast, move the stick a tiny bit upwards towards the mid-position. This will decrease the descent rate, but could also stop the descent altogether if you move to close to the mid position.

Once IRIS is about 1 m / 3 ft from the ground you will experience the effect of the propeller wash. IRIS will start wobbling slightly and will move in the x-axis and y-axis direction. In these cases, carefully reduce the throttle a bit more to bring IRIS to the ground.

Once you have landed IRIS, you can either disarm or repeat the above lesson.

The advanced version of this flight lesson is to repeat the same in the non-GPS assisted Stabilize mode. In this mode you will notice that IRIS much more directly reacts to input via the throttle stick.

Lesson 2: Hover Left and Right

Figure 2: Hover Left and Right

Figure 2: Hover Left and Right

Leverage what you learned in lesson 1 and take off with IRIS. Make sure to stand behind IRIS and take off with the front of IRIS facing away from you. This will help you with the orientation as a beginner. Once you are about 6-8 m / 18-24 ft in the air, we can start with lesson 2:

Use the right stick and move it carefully to the left. Doing so you will use the so-called “Roll”. Your IRIS should follow your command and fly to the left. Notice that the moment you let the stick go, it will return to the center position. But also IRIS will stop the flight to the left and remain in position. In this GPS-assisted mode IRIS will not drift, when letting the stick go.

Now use the “Roll” again and move the stick to the right. IRIS will fly to the right.

Repeat these patterns a few time and get a feeling of how quickly – or not – IRIS will react to your stick input. Once you’re done, you can either continue with lesson 3 or leverage what you learned in lesson 1 and land.

The advanced version of this flight lesson is to repeat the same pattern in the non-GPS assisted Stabilize mode. In this mode you will notice that IRIS does drift off, once you let the stick go. You therefore have to be a bit more gentle with stick inputs and also will have to steer back.

Last but not least, wind will have an influence and make IRIS drift as well.

Lesson 3: Hover Front and Back

Figure 3: Hover Front and Back

Figure 3: Hover Front and Back

Leverage what you learned in lesson 1 and take off with IRIS. Make sure to stand behind IRIS and take off with the front of IRIS facing away from you. This will help you with the orientation as a beginner. Once you are about 6-8 m / 18-24 ft in the air, we can start with lesson 3:

Use the right stick and move it carefully and slowly to the front. Doing so you will use the so-called “Pitch”. Your IRIS should follow your command and fly to the front. Notice that the moment you let the stick go, it will return to the center position. But also IRIS will stop the flight to the front and remain in position. In this GPS-assisted mode IRIS will not drift, when letting the stick go.

Now use the “Pitch” again and move the stick carefully to the back. IRIS will fly back towards you. Make sure, that you don’t hit yourself.

The advanced version of this flight lesson is to repeat the same pattern in the non-GPS assisted Stabilize mode. In this mode you will notice that IRIS does drift off, once you let the stick go. You therefore have to be a bit more gentle with stick inputs and also will have to steer back.

Last but not least, wind will have an influence and make IRIS drift as well.

Lesson 4: Hover box flight

Figure 4: Hover box flight

Figure 4: Hover box flight

Now that you have learned some of the basic flight controls with “Roll” and “Pitch”, it’s time to combine them into your first real flight pattern.

Leverage what you learned in lesson 1 and take off with IRIS. Make sure to stand behind IRIS and take off with the front of IRIS facing away from you. This will help you with the orientation as a beginner. Once you are about 6-8 m / 18-24 ft in the air, we can start with lesson 4:

Use the right stick along both axis – thereby using “Roll” and “Pitch” to fly a box-shaped pattern. Start doing so by flying away from you, then to the left or right. Then complete the box shape pattern. Again make sure, that you don’t hit yourself.

The advanced version of this flight lesson is to repeat the same pattern in the non-GPS assisted Stabilize mode. In this mode you will notice that IRIS does drift off, once you let the stick go. You therefore have to be a bit more gentle with stick inputs and also will have to steer back.

Last but not least, wind will have an influence and make IRIS drift as well.

Lesson 5: Yaw flight

Figure 5: Yaw flight

Figure 5: Yaw flight

During the flight lessons so far the IRIS quadcopter faced the same direction as you, the pilot, does. This makes it very easy to put yourself into the perspective or IRIS: If you push the “Roll” stick to the right, IRIS will fly to the right which is also right from your perspective. Very simple.

All of this will change with the next flight lesson! Therefore you should be quite confident with lessons 1 through 4 before embarking on this next journey.

Leverage what you learned in lesson 1 and take off with IRIS. Make sure to stand behind IRIS and take off with the front of IRIS facing away from you. This will help you with the orientation as a beginner. Once you are about 6-8 m / 18-24 ft in the air, we can start with lesson 5:

Now use the left stick and move it carefully and slowly to the left. Doing so you will use the so-called “Yaw”. Your IRIS should follow your command and turn counter-clockwise around it’s own axis. Notice that the moment you let the stick go, the stick will return to the center position. But also IRIS will stop the rotation and remain in position. In this GPS-assisted mode IRIS will not drift, when letting the stick go.

Now use the “Yaw” again and move the stick carefully to the right. IRIS will turn clockwise around it’s own axis. Try to return to the position, where it faces away from you and repeat the lesson.

The tricky part comes now if you want to combine “Yaw” with the other modes like “Roll” and “Pitch”. As an example use “Yaw” to point IRIS to the 3 o’clock position towards the right.

If you now use the right stick and push it gently forward for “Pitch”, you’ll notice that IRIS will fly forward from it’s current position. But that forward isn’t forward from your perspective.

Putting yourself into the perspective of the quadcopter in this case will be a bit challenging.

Lesson 6: Hover box flight with yaw

Only start with lesson once you’re confident with lesson 5.

Figure 6: Hover box flight using "Yaw"

Figure 6: Hover box flight using “Yaw”

Leverage what you learned in lesson 1 and take off with IRIS. Make sure to stand behind IRIS and take off with the front of IRIS facing away from you. This will help you with the orientation as a beginner. Once you are about 6-8 m / 18-24 ft in the air, we can start with lesson 5:

Use the right stick along both axis – thereby using “Roll” and “Pitch”, as well as the left stick with “Yaw” to fly a box-shaped pattern. But in contrary to lesson 4 you will rotate the quadcopter along it’s axis at the corners of the virtual box, so that you always fly forward along it’s edges.

Start doing so by flying away from you. Once you are a few meters / yards away, use “Yaw” to rotate IRIS to the left or right. Next use “Picth” to fly forward along the virtual box. Then complete the box shape pattern. Again make sure, that you don’t hit yourself.

Putting yourself into the perspective of the quadcopter in this case will be a bit challenging.

The advanced version of this flight lesson is to repeat the same pattern in the non-GPS assisted Stabilize mode. In this mode you will notice that IRIS does drift off, once you let the stick go. You therefore have to be a bit more gentle with stick inputs and also will have to steer back.

Last but not least, wind will have an influence and make IRIS drift as well.