Lessons learned from my quadcopter

I’ve always kinda wanted a drone, but assumed they were all big and crazy expensive. I didn’t want to fork over that kind of cash on something I know I’d crash immediately.

A little over a week ago I purchased my first drone, the Hubsan X4, for $36 thanks to some encouragement from a friend of mine (who still owes me a race). And it’s effing awesome. I’ve become pretty decent at flying it around and thought I’d share some lessons.

The controls are wacky

The thing comes with an Xbox-like controller with dual joysticks and a bunch of rando buttons. This makes it feel familiar and comfortable for those who’ve played a few video games. But feeling familiar would be a mistake. A huge mistake.

The left joystick controls the amount of lift and the direction the quad is pointing in. It has no vertical resistance. This makes it really strange and difficult at first to use.

The right joystick controls tilt which equates to forward, backward, left strafe, and right strafe movement. It’s not too hard.

The instructions also tell you a bunch of Konami code-ish commands to flip into expert mode, calibrate stuff, etc.

Flying is hard

When I first got it all plugged in and ready to fly, I slowly (or so I thought) increased the lift. There is a slight lag (due to gravity and a little turbulence) so it shot straight up to the ceiling. I also learned that when it’s on the ceiling, it suction-cups itself to the ceiling until lift is dropped drastically… which shot it straight to the floor. Then, the next ten minutes looked alot like I was dribbling a basketball on the floor. Except it was a little quadricopter. Once I figured out how to hold it kind of level, I started messing with moving it in various directions which leads to my next lesson:

Crashing is kinda fun

I have crashed the shit out of this lil’ bugger. It’s hit walls, the ceiling, pillars, chairs, couches, a tree, some plants (don’t tell my roommates), pillows, tables, carpet, hardwood floor, cement, and my neck. It’s even fallen 16 stories (without any lift) and survived. Twice.

And all of that was hella fun. Some crashes were lame (me flying it into the floor or wall or something). Some would make Michael Bay jealous with cartwheels at super high speed across the room.

How to panic

Instead of jamming the throttle up or trying a crazy turn when you see a crash is imminent, just drop the throttle all the way down to prevent the props from spinning on impact. This is important. When in doubt, drop the throttle immediately and just let the thing fall. It’ll survive.

The X4 is hella tough

Most of the time, it survives the crashes with very little to no damage. I’ve only busted two or three propellers. As of now, I’ve replaced three motors (two died mysteriously, though I have my suspicions). The motors (and LEDs) are the most difficult pieces to replace as they require soldering which I had never done.

Soldering isn’t hard, just hot

When I broke my first motor (16 story epic crash), I realized I needed to solder. I rode my bike over to Radio Shack (which somehow still exists) and picked up a cheap soldering iron, some solder, and renewed hope that I could replace the motor somehow with zero training.

I learned, it’s kinda tricky and to practice on something non-flammable. Once I got the hang of it (doesn’t take long), I popped out the busted motor (by ripping it off like an amateur) and soldered the thing on. Sloppy, but effective.

You’re going to need the crash kit

I had extra motors because after the amount of crashing I was doing the first day, I had the foresight to see that I was going to need spare parts. The crash kit was only 13 bucks and well worth it. Lots of extra props and stuff.

And probably the rotor guard

I have yet to receive the one I ordered, but I’m hoping it will slow the damage to my props and reduce the number of epic crashes. We’ll see.

Start outdoors

I did not. You probably should. On grass. Not tall grass. It’s a small drone and easily lost. Also, stay away from trees. It’s light and easily gets stuck.

Dogs hate/love drones

They either want to run and hide for a few hours after seeing it or they want to eat the drone. The size of the dog in relation to the drone is not a factor. (I’m not chasing or harassing dogs in any way with the drone. Dogs just tend to wander by in a city.)

Start cheap

I feel pretty confident in saying that if you have never flown a drone, start with the X4. It’s cheap. Parts are inexpensive. It’s a little hard to fly, but you’ll figure out how to avoid crashing your next fancier drone.

Watch a video or two

There’s a few rando “how to fly a quadcopter” videos out there. Watch one or two. They’re goofy, but helpful. I watched this one after a bunch of crashes between batteries.

It gets super fun

Once you get the hang of it, the sky is the limit (har har, ugh)! It’s fun to try to fly around obstacles. Parking garages are fun. Racing it around is super fun.

Go get one. Crash it a bunch. Then let’s race!

I’ll do a followup with some pro tips maybe once I get pro enough.


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