This article is written for all levels of pilots to follow as a guideline in your flying progression. With the many choices that UAV pilots have today for vehicle configurations, flight management and equipment it is important to remember that your vehicle can be dangerous and expensive if not respected and maintained. The importance of respecting regulations and the airspace system for UAV’s is the same as any aircraft, this may seem like a giant leap for RC pilots, to believe they are as important as a 747, but you are. There are many risks of flying within our complex national airspace system and operating “unmonitored” is an important responsibility to maintain no matter how you slice it, no pun intended. UAV operators that are not aware of local airspace procedures and abatement policies are a risk to our industry. Youtube Warriors and GoPro Cowboys are what will ruin the fun for everyone; if you know someone that fits into these categories please do the responsible thing. This article does not represent the views of anyone other than myself. Enough of my soapbox speech, the politics and red tape in our industry will work themselves out; we just want to fly our vehicles, here is how to get started.
Progression as defined is
“a movement or development toward a destination or a more advanced state, especially gradually or in stages.” Merriam-Webster
It is not defined as quickly advancing and inadvertently missing concepts and foundational learning to gain a goal. At one point in our flying we were all rookies or beginners let us always keep that in mind as we progress. Training for success from day one is the best way to progress, starting with a goal that is attainable and then envisioning the steps it will take to get to that point. Your goal should not be to just get to the end result, which is usually some money or fame, but rather enjoy the journey and as a by-product of that journey understand how you got there. Learn to, appreciate, respect, the innovation, dedication and intelligence of others it took to get to you to where you are now. Learning from mistakes is another journey…. for fools. We will all make mistakes, but stating you are going to crash or that you will probably crash a few times is a bad way of thinking to begin with, you are setting yourself up for failure. Retrain your brain for success and think to yourself “if I crash, I will…” and then proceed to move through the emergency checklist procedures you have set for yourself. This way of tuning yourself for a prepared mental state shall keep one fit for all occurrences and situations.
Types of Systems
There are many different types of vehicle systems to choose from today, please chose a vehicle within your given abilities that will allow for progression, however keep within your skill level. Automation doesn’t give you the right to cut corners on learning, what happens if something fails? Autonomous systems that have position hold can fail and leave the user in an undesired state of mind, it is important not to panic during these brief moments. Systems that are large take longer to slow down and control, this can be unforgiving to the untrained flyer in various forms such as legal, financial and emotional.
Simulators are a great resource and no one should think they are above polishing up their skills. Simulators provide the very best form of progression within UAV. Simulators allow you to fly other models and get a sense of the flight characteristics specific to that vehicle without buying the vehicle. They also allow you to understand where your limits are, what maneuvers you can control safely and how to complete certain procedures. Simulators can help you learn how to recover in unusual attitudes and prepare you for the visual aspects of knowing where the front of your vehicle is. The many types of optical illusions that will be displayed as your vehicles leaves you will be hard to interpret, the simulator can prepare you for these difficulties safely and without risk to your wallet.
The Importance of Flying a Basic System
This is the center of this article; flying a basic system is the best way for people to progress in UAV besides using a simulator. Basic systems are flown manually and give the operator the best sense of flying, maneuvers and operations. Basic systems let the pilot control every aspect of the flight manually without the assistance of automation. Automated systems however give the pilot a false sense of control in that they are not really giving accurate input to the control system. The automation dampens the movement of the control inputs, the vehicle flies to pre set destinations programmed into a ground station. Automation is great and in no way am I saying someone is superior by flying a basic system. The appreciation of the basic system is the essence of the article, flying basic systems teaches the student many things about the flight characteristics and prepares the operator to fly bigger systems manually in the event of a system failure.
Pre Assembled Vehicles
Pre assembled vehicles cut down the learning curve and provides a false sense of security that relies heavily on the safe operation of all on board systems. Without the use of flying a basic system, pilots gain an inflated sense of control and lack the progressive steps to fully understanding the vehicle. There is not an easy way to demonstrate this unless we compare it to aviation and the progression of licensed pilots. As a pilot I remember the many hours of training, learning and experience it took just to receive my first basic license of private pilot. Pilots rarely if ever train in a multi-engine aircraft in the beginning of the training, this is for a number of reasons such as costs, complexity and access to complex aircraft. It is however possible for someone with no experience to learn to fly a multi-engine aircraft, but most would say you are wasting your money and not really learning to fly, rather you are a monkey at the controls, preprogrammed to act accordingly, but without any thought to their actions. This type of progression is a badge of honor for pilots. We remember the shaky trainer aircraft we flew successfully and the many hours we spent learning about each aircraft. Learn to fly a basic system, people will respect you more and you will gain a deep understanding of piloting and vehicles.
Build Your Own
Build your own at least to save on the costs if not to learn every aspect of the vehicle. By building your own vehicles you learn what each part’s function and action are as part of the whole picture. You will also learn an appreciation to fixing your gear, unless you want to pay someone else to fix your vehicle. By building your own UAV you receive a world of knowledge as to how and when to replace parts, what upgrades to attach and which vehicle to upgrade to. Another benefit of building your own vehicle is the hands on time you will spend assembling the parts, by gaining this understanding you may inadvertently gain insight as to how to improve your vehicle and become an innovator, not just a follower of the latest and greatest technology.
Become a professional not a UAV “bro” “slacker” or “hero” pilot, people want to feel like they have a connection with someone who is a professional when the services become available. In other countries this is already a possibility. Operators should once again take a page from the aviation community and represent yourself as a professional. This means dress to impress, use appropriate language, and educate yourself and others on UAV. I knew a banner tow pilot who wore a tie everyday to work, even though there was no dress code and most pilots showed up in flip flops and shorts to fly planes. When the owner of a regional jet operation stepped in the hanger looking for new recruits for his company, (this is 1980) he specifically asked to see the boy with the tie on. This pilot now flies g5’s all over the world because of that chance meeting, he had already impressed the community with his sense of professionalism, I think we should all learn from this example.
Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself
This phrase from Ice Cube says everything about our industry, if we want to protect our rights, we should act safely and responsibly. Use a checklist, read my other article Play It Safe, UAV Operations Checklist For Beginners, Enthusiasts, and Professionals. Checklists are a way for people to have a resource of the procedures for the safe operation of the aircraft right in front of them, like following a recipe to cook the operator can refer to the checklist during any phase of flight. Everyone should also have an emergency procedures checklist so that in the event of a failure the operator can get the vehicle safely to the ground and hopefully not damage any person place of thing. A preflight checklist is also another good idea to inspect the vehicle before you fly for cracks and loose equipment.
In closing I would like to mention that this article is purely written from my opinion and is not the expressed concern of my work place Advanced Aerials, nor is it by any way a legal binding document. Advanced Aerials is a contributor to my learning experience within UAV and a great resource for the history of UAVs, pioneering gimbal mounted cameras and advanced vehicle design. This was written to protect others from harm and to preserve our industry of professionals and hobbyists.
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