Learning to fly – First flight
With the Inspire one updated to the latest firmware it was time to take it out for it’s first flight. There are however some really important things to consider before doing so and just to clarify those I’m going to run through them.
Know how to fly
This seems a bit obvious but it would be all too easy to get to this stage and think you can just figure out the flying part as you go, I highly advise against that as any mistakes are likely to be very costly indeed. Having not owned a drone before I spent a lot of time using simulators, theres an app for IOS called Quadcopter FX Simulator which I used a lot in the weeks before getting the Inspire. Although using the app is a long way from handling an actual remote control unit it does give you a really good understanding of how to control a quad. If you enable Smart Control and Pos Hold it’s closer to working with a DJI device in GPS mode as when you let go of the controls the aircraft will stay in place.
Using the app you can practise things like flying the quad around an object whilst maintaining camera position, it also has FPV and stabilised Gimbal views so you really can get a feel for basic operation. Of course using an iPhone screen to make control inputs is far from ideal and is actually a lot harder then using the joysticks on an actual controller but it definitely helps you to form some muscle memory and start making inputs using the correct thumb.
Once you’ve purchased an Inspire there’s a simulator built in to the DJI Pilot app that allows you to use the actual remote control to practise. In order to use the simulator the Inspire needs to be powered up and connected to the RC, although DJI do recommend removing the props first. It’s a shame really that the simulator can’t be used without the Inspire on as practising would be a lot less hassle.
The DJI sim is great because you can begin to work with the controller and almost every feature works the same in the Sim as it does when flying the actual Inspire. The only drawback to the DJI sim is that there’s no way to switch to an FPV view and once that little Inspire moves away from it’s yellow landing circle it become very difficult to see it’s orientation. While it is possible to control things like camera orientation and settings you can’t see the results of doing so which is a shame.
The sim is great however for familiarising yourself with things like the startup sequence, the RTH (Return To Home) feature and monitoring your flight data. Automated functions like Auto Takeoff and landing all work as they do on an actual flight, although I tend not to use those.
So lets move on to the exciting part of flying the Inspire for the first time. Actually, before that there’s a couple of things to consider.
It’s important to have an understanding of what you can and can’t do with your drone before you head out flying. The latest guidelines for drone use in the UK can be seen on the CAA’s website , the basics are as follows :
- Check your drone for damage and air worthiness before every flight
- Keep the drone in sight at all times – The first person view is great for filming but you must also maintain visual control of the aircraft.
- Stay below 400 ft and watch for collisions – Other aircraft can operate down to 500ft so there should be a 100ft altitude safety margin between your flight and other aircraft but ultimately it’s your responsibility to avoid any collisions so be aware whats happening around you, both in the air and on the ground.
- Don’t fly over built up areas – It’s illegal in the UK to fly a drone over towns, cities, streets or any built up area, it’s also very important for obvious reasons to stay well away from any airports and airfields.
- Keep your distance – Don’t fly within 50m of people, vehicles, or buildings, and you cannot fly over large groups of people at any height.
Whilst these apply to both personal use and commercial activity you must have a permission for aerial work ‘PFAW’ from the CAA before carrying out any type of commercial work . Visit the CAA’s website for more details.
It’s very important to make sure you have some liability insurance. If something were to go wrong and a person was hurt or property damaged as a result of you flying a drone you would be held personally responsible. It’s very hard to find any insurance for your drone itself unless you have taken a course and have a PFAW from the CAA but it is possible to get yourself some liability cover whilst learning and flying for pleasure. One thing worth doing is joining a national model flying association. In the UK the national body is the British Model Flying Association or BMFA. One of the benefits of being a member of the BMFA is that you are covered by their Insurance policy. Joining as a county member is only £32 so it’s great value too. Of course tt’s very important to read the guidelines they set out for Multi-rotor use.
The First Flight
For my first flight with the Inspire I popped over to see my friend Peter Naylor. Pete has been flying a DJI Phantom for around a year now so it was good to have somebody with experience flying a drone there to help.
When flying the Inspire it’s good to have a pre-flight checklist to run through at each flight. I know it sounds nerdy but it’s extremely easy to forget something in the excitement to get in the air and missing any of these steps could prove to be very costly. The check list I’m currently using is as follows:
—————————- INSPIRE 1 Pre Flight —————————–
- Check battery levels, controller (RC) and iPhone
- Connect iPhone to RC, confirm volume up and out of silent
- RC antennas parallel and 90 degrees to aircraft
- Confirm correct RC flight mode
- Switch on RC and DJI Pilot app
- Cache maps
- iPhone Airplane mode
- Place Inspire on flat surface that allows gear to slide
- Power on Inspire
- Exit travel mode (toggle landing gear switch 4 times)
- Power off Inspire
- Attach Camera
- Select appropriate ND filter
- Attach props
- Check Micro SD card inserted
- Confirm props secure
- Power on Inspire
- Calibrate Compass
- Check IMU mod levels
Accel: 0.99 – 1.01
Comp: 1400 – 1600
- Confirm full GPS – Green blinking light & Ready to fly
- Confirm RTH location update – audio feedback & icon on map
- Check camera settings
There’s a few details in there that will need some explanation but I’ll come back to those in time. With the above completed the motors are then started by holding both sticks on the RC down and in towards the centre. The Inspire bursts in to life and is then ready for flight. For my first flight I enabled beginner mode on the DJI pilot app which stops the Inspire travelling further than a distance you set in the menu.
I started by lifting the Inspire a few feet of the ground and gently manoeuvring it around. I was quite surprised at how gentle the experience was. I was expecting a lot more noise and drama but the Inspire just raised itself off the ground, lifted it’s own landing gear and sat perfectly still waiting to be told what to do next. I only had a single battery at the time and spent the whole 10 minutes or so just exploring the field and getting used to the way the Inspire responds.
Whilst doing this Pete had a go at controlling the Inspires camera using the iPhone screen and we were both impressed at how easy it was to achieve interesting camera moves that way. I made a few landings during the flight, there was barely any wind and I found I could drop the Inspire down very gently without much effort at all, it really is an amazing machine to fly.
Next up, first shots from the Inspire 1.