How to fly a drone for the first time (without crashing)

Much of the Fourth Industrial Revolution feels abstract – AI, data and smart cities are not something you can simply pick up and hold.

Drones, however, can be picked up, held, flown, and in unfortunate circumstances crashed, sometimes in big numbers. In Hong Kong recently 46 went down over Victoria Harbour during a public show.

Hong Kong isn’t the best place in the world for drone flights, partly because of all the skyscrapers and hills (it’s the most vertical city in the world), which is why I waited patiently, very patiently, to let loose for the first time my own drone – purchased from DJI’s flashy store in Causeway Bay – in a more spacious environment.

After several weeks, my Spark was debuted in Penang, Malaysia, an island almost like Hong Kong in appearance with its hills and Chinese culture, yet without all the towering concrete and thick crowds.

I chose a hillside spot surrounded by forest, the Bao Sheng Durian Farm. In case you’re wondering, a “durian” is a spiky fruit native to Southeast Asia that is so uniquely stinky that it’s banned in public places.

Despite the rural location, the young chap running the farm was surprisingly no stranger to drones himself: he was also a Spark owner. This was handy, as I was later to crash the thing.

Actually, I crashed it twice. The first time, I launched the drone from a slope (I’m still unsure why I did this) and it careered into a bush.

The second occasion was more serious, when I knocked the drone into a metal pole, sending it plummeting several feet into thick grass. A handyman retrieved the drone, now scuffed and with broken propellers.

This left me thinking. Flying a drone is harder than it looks. However, there are certain principles you can follow for a smoother flight:

  1. Read the instructions first. Seriously. It’s not a video game you can just pick up and play. There are very specific steps that you must follow before and landing the drone especially (think of it like flying an aircraft – taking off and landing are the most dangerous parts of the flight)
  2. It’s also not a toy. It looks like a toy and sounds like a toy, but it’s definitely not a toy. It’s expensive and it’s dangerous, so handle responsibly. That means keeping it away from other people and animals. Don’t fly while drunk; that’s definitely a bad idea.
  3. Exercise common sense. If you do ignore the instructions – like I did – use your brain at least. Don’t launch the drone off a slope, for example.
  4. If you can’t use your brain, use someone else’s. Airline pilots fly planes in pairs. Flying a drone is a lot easier and safer when you have someone next to you who can “co-pilot” or watch for hazards.

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