Quadcopter Trick Flying Basics
So, you’ve put in the time and mastered the basic flight skills you need to fly your quadcopter or hexacopter confidently. You can take off and land like a pro and you can literally fly circles around things without losing orientation. You are now officially an intermediate drone pilot. Well done! You should be proud. Its taken many hours of practice to get here.
But, now you find yourself wishing for more. There are only so many times you can draw circles and squares with your quad before it becomes deathly boring to do. This is the time to start considering trick flying. The maneuvers you do during trick flying have little or no practical value, but they are fun and challenge your existing level of skill. In any RC flying discipline, aerobatics are one of the things to which pilots aspire – to wow onlookers and excite you in new ways.
In order to start your journey into trick flying there are some things you have to do in preparation. Since you are presumably already an intermediate pilot, you may have moved on from cheap nano and micro-sized quads to larger, more expensive drones for camera work or maybe even racing.
In order to learn tricks however, I’d recommend that you dust off the cheap quads or go out and buy a few more, because you will be totaling some aircraft in the process at some point. Even the best pilots slip up some time, so make peace with it. You may also want to invest in a simulator to get in more practice time. There are quite a few on the market and some are even specifically for drones. Most, however, are simply general RC aircraft simulators that have added multirotor models to their selection.
This isn’t a bad thing and may even give you the opportunity to try other types of RC craft like helicopters and planes, which can also be satisfying. You may actually find out you like more than just flying quadcopters.
If at all possible you should try a trick in a simulator first. In order to practice these tricks on site you should find an open space where you can gain enough altitude. An indoor basketball court for small drones, or a park, as long as you respect local laws, are both good choices.
Do A Barrel Roll!
One of the most basic tricks is the roll. This is when the copter does a full rotation along the roll axis and comes out upright again. Like many of these tricks a roll will cause a significant loss of altitude, so make sure you have enough space between the copter and the ground!
Lots of quadcopters have an automatic roll function. This is not it! This is you manually rolling the craft, so keep your head on a swivel.
To do a barrel roll give full throttle until you are high enough. Then simultaneously give full left or right roll and drop the throttle to 50%. Keep the roll axis on full until you have completed about half of the roll, at the point where the copter is turning upright again. At that point give full throttle to keep altitude and level off on the roll axis.
This works the same for all the different flips you can do. All that changes is the axis you use. For left and right flips you use the roll axis. For front and back flips you use the pitch axis. You can also do something known as a cross-axis flip, where you push the stick diagonally to give both full pitch and roll. This will flip the copter diagonally.
You can easily do a more advanced version of this trick by making more than one flip consecutively, but be aware of how much extra altitude you need to do this right. A higher control rate may also be useful so that the copter flips faster and therefore loses less height.
These tricks are considered basic or beginner level moves, but they sure will look impressive and set the stage for even better stuff to come. Keep at them until the stick inputs you need to pull off a flip are automatic.
Another simple, yet pretty great, move is known as “doing funnels”. The funnel is just what it sounds like – the copter does a nose-down spin that looks like something going down the drain.
To do it you basically need to give full left or right yaw and full forward pitch. You also have to regulate the throttle so that the copter doesn’t funnel straight into the ground and your bank account.
Here is a video, from the always great Quadcopter 101, demonstrating funnels:
Advanced Flying Techniques
Apart from relatively simple flip tricks, you can also step up your game with some more advanced flight techniques.
One of the best looking flight maneuvers is the banked turn. The copter doesn’t stay level while turning using only yaw, but banks laterally. Not only does this look cool, it also makes for a much faster turn.
A normal left or right turn would be done by giving forward pitch and then yawing left or right. A banked turn works the same, except you also add roll in the same direction as your yawing. This opens up a whole new world of nimble flight maneuvers.
Have a look at this video by Quadcopter 101 for a demonstration:
Another pretty tricky maneuver you’ll want to master is the figure eight. Like the basic circle using only roll and pitch, the figure eight requires that you reverse your motions on the (Mode 2) right stick halfway through to complete the second half of the “8”. The eight can be either sideways or upright – both are equally challenging and equally fun.
You should also try and do these tricks and maneuvers “nose in”. That is, with the “front” of the quadcopter facing towards you. This is a great way to hone your orientation skills.
Leaving on a Jetplane
These more advanced quadcopter techniques should keep you occupied for quite a while, but you’ll probably want to join some online forums to really get on the edge of what’s possible. Enthusiasts are always trying new things, and the copters themselves are getting better and better.
There are also now quadcopters with reversible speed controllers, which means that they can fly inverted. Some are also collective pitch quadcopters that allow for true 3D flight, for the pinnacle of advanced flight skills.
It seems that with quadcopter flight the sky really is the limit. That’s right, always end off with a lame joke kids. That’s how cool people do it.