Multirotor Top Tips
Learning to fly a multirotor can be a fun experience if done correctly but can be rather frustrating if done the hard way. These Top Tips have been compiled from the lessons learned by others so you won’t have to learn the hard way. Following these tips does not guarantee a smooth progression just as not following them does not guarantee a disastrous experience but rather the odds are in your favour if you don’t try to re-learn others' mistakes.
1: Expect a steep learning curve.
If you have no previous RC experience expect a steeper learning curve. This is not to say you will fail, but rather expect things to progress slower. Multirotors can be harder to fly than RC planes due to their inherent instability and having no previous RC knowledge can make things harder. There is also a big difference between the "building" and "flying" learning curves, and doing both at the same time can make things even harder.
2: Consider a micro quad for practice
There are many fantastic micro quads that run on a 1S or 2S battery which are cheap, easy to fly and much more crash resistant than a larger multirotor. Learning on these will help you progress quicker and require much less fixing to get there.
3: Expect to crash
This is a given. You WILL crash. You WILL break things. How much it costs to fix and how often is up to the multirotor you buy and the decisions you make as you learn. Factor in the cost and availability of spare parts.
4: Study study study
There is HEAPS of info on the internet and in forums like here at FliteTest so spend you’re time wisely while deciding what to buy and soak up what info you can while you wait for your parts to arrive. Any problems you can’t answer can be answered on here. That what we’re here for.
5: Select a proven design and motor setup
Although scratch building can be rewarding, there are so many variables that go into a multirotor that for your first one it is best to go with a proven design. This also goes for the motor/prop choice. Getting the wrong setup can be frustrating and expensive. Choose either a setup recommended by the kit manufacturer or go with a setup many others have proven to be a good choice for your multirotor.
6: Select the correct ESC (speed controller) that will work with a multirotor
Multirotors require a certain type of ESC (Electronic Speed Controller). Some work well and some require fiddling. Some need to have new firmware flashed onto them for them to work at their best. Some will never work well. Find out what is best for you before you commit to buy.
7: Ensure Your FC (Flight Controller) firmware is up to date
Some FC’s are sent with old firmware and in some cases this can make the multicopter harder to fly. Check with experienced pilots whether you need to update your firmware.
8: Leave the GoPro and FPV gear on the work bench for now.
Yes! I’m talking to you...
I know you’ve seen all those amazing video’s posted on YouTube but forget about that for now. LOS (line of sight) flying and FPV are not the same thing. Wait till you have basic skills before strapping on that camera and attempting FPV. Just because you're good at one, doesn't make you good at the other. Learn to fly first, then strap on the camera. Learn to crawl before you walk. Doing so will probably save you from breaking your FPV gear and GoPro before you get to really use it.
9: 4S (and up) battery powered multirotors are for the experts.
3S battery setups are for everyone else. Start out on a basic system and move to high power setup once you are a competent pilot. You can still do most things on a 3 cell battery setup. The electrical system and setup in a multirotor has a bigger effect on the performace than a fixed wing aircraft. Pick out a battery that suits your learning needs in power (Volts), capacity (mah) and discharge rating (C rating). Failure to do so and you will end with a battery that is either too powerful for you, too heavy to learn on or will "puff" and fail on you after only a couple of flights.
10: Keep it simple, keep it light
The more simple and light it is, the less likely you will crash it and the more likely it will come out unscathed when you do. Following the above tips will help ensure this. Right now you do not not need the complication of GPS and Return To Land functions etc.
11: Balance your props and motors
Vibration is the enemy of a multirotor. It adversely effects the flight controllers ability to fly and can cause general badness on a multirotor. You need to balance both your prop/prop hub and your motor. Doing so will greatly improve the flight performance of your multirotor.
12: Start with plastic propellers
Leave the carbon fiber propellers for later. Although the carbon props do give better performance, the plastic props hold up much better in a crash and are very cheap to replace. Carbon Fiber props are also a category above nylon/poly-plastic props in terms of danger. A nylon prop will hurt you but a Carbon Fiber prop will injure you. You will break many props trying to learn. Remember to replace your chipped propellers! You may be able to get a few more flights with them but it won't be worth watching your multirotor crash when they fail.
13: Resist the urge to unnecessarily fiddle with your flight settings
If you are lucky and have setup everything correctly, the multirotor will hopefully be flying pretty well. If so, then resist the urge to fiddlle with your settings too early. Adjusting the settings incorrectly can make the flight characteristics far worse. If something is not right with the settings then don’t be shy asking the forum for advice. A movie posted on YouTube can sometimes make thing easier for us to diagnose the problem.
13: Time to hover so take things slowly
Find a nice grassy and open area to start with little to no wind preferred. Your concrete driveway is NOT a suitable place to learn to fly a multirotor. The hard driveway, the garage door, your boundary fence or neighbor's roof will confirm this.
Think about how much space you will need to fly your multirotor and double it . . . Then double it again. Rotorcraft really need area when you make mistakes. In fixed wing they talk about the number of mistakes high (how many sequential mistakes can you make from an altitude before it will crash). In multirotors, usually you will run out of lateral distance before you can't recover it.
Stay close. Don't try to fly too high or get too far while you're learning. Distance is the enemy of orientation, height will need to more broken bits and you need to learn that quickly.
Start by hovering into wind with the multirotor’s tail facing you. It may sound boring but keep doing this until you get confident at it. Maybe try going forward and back or maybe in a little wind but keep the tail facing you and don’t go too high. Once you’ve mastered that then try a hover with the multirotor sideways to you. This may not seem like much but you need to learn to hover at different angles before you can fly circuits. Once again try forwards and backwards and maybe side to side but not too high. Holding the hover in some wind will confirm your getting good at it. Now your ready for some gentle circuits. Try to do figure eight patterns so all your turns are away from you.
Lastly you need to master the nose in hover. With the multirotors nose facing you, your controls are backwards and things get confusing very easily. Practice practice practice and some patience will get you where you want to be.