The Importance Of Flying A Basic System, How To Progress In UAV

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. 

Be Professional

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, ... 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.

 Please follow me on Twitter @learntoflyva

Questions, comments, amendments and concerns please email me 


Views: 1955

Comment by John Githens on June 24, 2014 at 7:34am

Every now and then a DIYD blog post is worth adding to the 'New to making a UAV or drone system?' page so it is easier to discover by newbies who don't spend their hours constantly tuned to DIY Drones. This one is now at the top of the list of links. Very good advice and nicely packaged. Thank you.

Comment by John on June 24, 2014 at 7:59am
Very well done. I started in the hobby by flying rc airplanes and you have no choice but to learn the correct way with an instructed with a buddy box. I did the same with rc helicopters and I thought the heading hold gyro was pretty advanced. Now with the advanced flight controllers and rtf multi rotors anyone can take off and land (the main barriers to entry into rc flying in the past). However tey don't know how to fly them and the basic rules... Especially where to fly them.

I also strongly agree on your advice to build your own. That is the only way you will truly learn how these machines work, how to maintain them, and how to detect problems early on.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on June 24, 2014 at 8:40am

But we don't fly UAVs

Comment by Muhammad Al-Rawi on June 24, 2014 at 8:52am

Brilliant article, Rob.

Comment by Antonie Kruger on June 24, 2014 at 9:01am

Yeah, mate - amen to that. Good article.

Comment by Rob Thompson on June 24, 2014 at 9:30am

Thank you for the kind comments. If you liked this article please read and comment on my other article about checklist usage. 

Comment by Gary McCray on June 24, 2014 at 2:13pm

Hi Rob,

I agree very much with your primary message - start with a basic system.

I also think that those who have sufficient interest and capability to build their own definitely benefit from doing so.

However, I think the build your own mandate will leave over 90 percent of the people getting into quadcopters this year totally out of the picture.

The fact is that consumer quadcopters are gaining popularity and selling like hot cakes and many of them are going to people who have never flown anything more airworthy than a folded paper airplane before.

Telling them to build their own ignores the reality that it simply will never happen.

Of course we can choose to ignore "them" and distinguish ourselves as us and them but that isn't going to work very well when there are a lot more of them than us.

I personally advocate starting with a small, intrinsically safe consumer RTF toy quadcopter and learning how to fly with that, actually learning how to fly well with that.

Several things are gained.

At least when they get something potentially dangerous they will have sufficient skill to fly it and maybe some gained knowledge of the hazards as well.

it will actually save them a lot of time and money because the little RTF quads are cheap and very resiliant (nearly unbreakable actually.

And they aren't going to hurt themselves, anybody else or even property in the process.

It also gives them the opportunity to see if this is something they want to pursue with more time, effort and money.

Better to have them get out now before dropping their Phantom on somebodies head.

Even after this introduction, the choice of whether to pursue prebuilt or mostly prebuilt solutions is an individual one.

Some people, just like with modern RTF or ARF RC airplanes will just want to fly and maybe take pictures with their copters.

There is still certainly much that needs to be learned to do that well.

And they may be as mechanically inclined or capable as my son in law - in which case I truly don't want to be in the vicinity of a copter they have built.

Also, it is no small feat to build these things from scratch, if your designing it as well, you really need to know a lot of stuff before your going to put anything together that actually works well.

It's kind of like requiring your kid to be able to build his car from ma random pile of parts before you will let him drive.

You - me - we can do that, its the other 99.9% I'm concerned about.

Might check out a few pages at my or websites if your interested.

This one for rank beginners:

And this one for learning how to fly:

Best Regards,


Comment by Alex Wong on June 24, 2014 at 3:15pm

Great article but don't forget tat RTF can also be a good way to see how to go about building your own. It also gives the user advance to fly a well setup machine and have something to aim for if they choose to continue on to building their own system,

I agree with most of what had been said but with Gary's comments added. I think education not regulation is the key. Those that are genuinely interested in the UAV scene will progress and the weekend warrior pilots will eventually disappear. If not all together they will certainly thin out. Once the hype has worn off and people realise there is a lot more to flying RC than just buying an off the shelf system.

Comment by Rob Thompson on June 24, 2014 at 3:23pm


Thank you so much for you insightful post!! It is hard to create a good written article for all people to agree on, however I try to dance as much as possible around the sensitive areas that get people arguing or getting into debates. Yes there are many difficulties in building a vehicle, this was a great way to keep people out of our community, much like your son in law. I totally agree no way to stop the pre assembled vehicles form taking over a large share of the users for a time being. Entry level vehicles like Ar-Drone, Ladybug, AirHog Toys or Blade Qx are great ways to build confidence and skills. The best part of building your own is to find out how hard it really is to assemble and tune your machines. I am looking for new topics that will interest new users, any suggestions for topics? Great reply once again, safe skies! 

Comment by Gary McCray on June 24, 2014 at 4:03pm

Hi Rob,

I really think your article is excellent and will be mining it for concepts to include in my own introductory page.

I also think you are wise to avoid controversial topics, this like many others is a very volatile site, I should pay more attention to your wisdom in that regard myself.

And as far as this site (DIYDrones) is concerned, your approach is perfectly reasonable.

My site is definitely more oriented towards the general public and as such has the unenviable task of trying to minimize the damage.

And there is nothing either one of us can say that will make any difference to those who are sure they already know it all.

I think that we are in for a tumultuous next few years.

BTW I personally think that a frame or frame ARF kit like the DJI Flamewheel ARF kit is a great way for those with limited mechanical ability to get started building one of their own, both DIYDrones wiki and my site have construction articles for the Flamewheel ARF and for a Hoverthings FLIP Sport Frame up build.

From scratch is complicated and not for everybody, even here.

I'm building my first scratch built now, a CF tube based H - Dead Cat with 14" props and KDE 515KV motors.

It does however make me think you asked about a topic, how about a start to finish article on a small simple scratch built CF tube X quad copter.

You know hobby king has a very interesting set of square 10mm tube modular components for multicopter construction.

Best Regards,



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