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You Got a Drone for Christmas, Now What?

Professional Aerial Photography

You Got a Drone for Christmas, Now What?

NOTE: The author’s experience is with the DJI line up. These instructions are not meant to be taken literally for all drones on the market, please carefully read all materials from the manufacturer of your drone.

You’re gathered around the Christmas Tree with your family and you got the fanciest toy out of any other family members. Where do you begin?

Before you act too quickly let’s start from the beginning. Open the packaging of your drone, take out all of the items in the box and set them all aside. First, we’re going to learn what each item is.

  • The drone itself, some have fixed arms, other models will require you to unfold the arms before flight. A guard is installed to keep the gimbal and camera protected during transport. Leave this on until you begin flight.
  • Spare propellers, most drones now come with half of the propellers already on, or all of them on. Otherwise, you might find two sets of propellers which will require you to take the propellers on and off before and after each flight. 
  • Battery(ies) come half charged, charge them before flight, because you will need to go through some setup before the first flight.
  • Controller, this allows you to connect your phone with your drone. A wireless signal is transmitted to and from your drone with your controller, then you plug your phone in to the controller to see what your drone is seeing.
  • User guides and FAA warnings. Read these, you don’t want to face jail time for being ignorant.
  • Now that we’ve covered all of the components that come with your drone. Let’s get started setting things up. Begin by unwrapping all of the plastic protectors from the various components and throw them away in the proper trash barrels. After everything is unplugged, get all of your batteries charged and install the propellers if you have a drone that allows you to keep the propellers installed at all times.

While you let the batteries charge up, now is also a good time to install the app for your drone on your phone. The app connects your phone to your controller and your controller connects to your drone. You can find the app by either scanning the barcode in the user guides or by searching for “DJI GO 4” in the App Store for Apple and the Play Store for Android. Also, now is a good time to read over those FAA warnings. Before you go fly, make sure where you want to fly is not restricted airspace (usually within five miles of an airport).

While those batteries are still charging, in the United States of America and many other nations throughout the world, it is required by law to register your drone as this is a flying machine that is entering airspace. In the United States, visit faadronezone.faa.gov or find the appropriate websites for registration in other nations at uavsystemsinternational.com.

Great! Your batteries are charged, lets pair the drone with your controller. Turn the controller on by pressing the power button lightly, then release, then hold it for about three seconds. You’ll hear it turn on with a little fanfare sound. Follow the same procedures with the battery placed in the drone and turn it on. Plug your phone in to the controller with the DJI GO 4 app open to ensure that everything is connecting. If it is, you will likely be prompted to update the firmware on both the drone and the controller. Do this to ensure that all proper flight restriction areas are known by the drone and that any bugs that may be lingering since the drone was manufactured have been fixed.

Is all that done? Great, charge your batteries again. You’ll want them fully charged before your first flight.

Now, you’re outside and everything is charged up, ready to go. Actually, everything except the GPS sensors on the drone. You have everything plugged in and ready to go and you get a message saying the GPS needs to be calibrated. In the drone world, this is called the GPS dance, take your drone in your hands, face the drone forward and away from you and slowly turn around once. Do this same thing again, holding the drone face down. If the app says the process has failed, check to make sure you’re not by electrical lines and large bodies of metal, because these things can interfere with GPS signals.

Now the time has finally come to launch the drone. Using the app, press the launch button (usually a button on the left-hand side of the app with an arrow pointing up). A notification will appear with a yellow slider, slide the button to the right and the drone will launch four feet in to the air. The left joy stick controls elevation and navigational direction of the drone while the right joy stick controls which way the drone moves whether forward or backward or left or right. Take a few minutes and learn how the joysticks work while the drone is right in front of you.

Feeling comfortable with how the drone flies? Great, let’s fly. Remember to always keep your drone within sight and only fly during the day, beginning 30 minutes before sunrise and ending 30 minutes after sunset. Never fly near airports, and be careful around hospitals (you may need to check with your nearest control tower before flying near hospitals), don’t fly over prisons, and don’t fly over people. Enjoy the experience and share your footage with the DJI community on Facebook at Official DJI Owners Group.