How to Get Started in Quads - RC Groups

How to Get Started in Quads

A beginners guide to getting in the air


Getting Started in Quads

Quads are everywhere these days. From iPhone controlled toys to $20,000 copters, there is a wide range of ways to get started. I understand this will be a controversial topic as there are a lot of options and differing opinions. This post is my personal thoughts and based on years of experience. My suggestions are by no means the only way and you have the ultimate decision to choose your own path. Feel free to leave a comment below and give your suggestions as well. With that said, lets get started.

So you've decided you want to get a quad copter. It doesn't matter how you came to this decision, be it just for fun, or to take pictures, the learning process is the same. There is a lot to learn, from hardware to software to actually controlling the copter in the air, but we're going to stick to the basics for this article. Make sure to read the user manuals on the products you purchase to become familiar with them and to learn the terminology.


Sims are a great way to learn how to fly. You can take the controls and practice as long as you want without having to worry about charging flight batteries, without having to repair after a crash, and it doesn't matter what the weather is like outside. It's really great to practice flying in different orientations. The quad has a front and back, left and right. If the quad is facing away from you and you push forward on the stick, it goes forward away from you. If you spin the copter around and push forward on the stick, the quad now moves to its forward which is towards you. Left and right is also backwards when the front of the quad is facing you. This takes some time and practice to get used to. One day it just clicks, and you don't even think about it any more. Flying on the sim with the purpose to learn skills like that will greatly reduce the time it takes to reach that point. Aerosim is a good one that sells for around $100. You can read more about it on this RCG Thread.

Your First Quad

There are a lot of choices out there and many right answers depending on your budget and what you want to do with your quad. With no previous radio controlled aircraft experience, I am going to recommend the DJI Phantom which comes in at under $700. It's already built and comes with everything you need in the box. You don't have to worry about buying compatible equipment and making it all work.

GPS is key. Having never flown anything before, you are going to want the GPS function of the Naza flight controller that comes with the Phantom. In GPS mode, the quad copter will hold its position until you give it a command to move. This is perfect for training because you can get it into a hover without having to correct for the copter drifting around and it gives you time to focus on moving the sticks and watching how the machine reacts. If you get in trouble, just let go of the sticks and the quad will hover in place. It's great.

Where to fly?

These quad copters may seem small, but they can do physical damage to people or property. Do not try to fly near people, buildings, or roads. Your best bet is to find a nearby field with no obstacles. Bigger is better, a soccer field will work well (assuming no ones playing soccer). Once you've leaned to fly, you'll be able to fly in tighter spaces and even bob and weave around trees, but for now its best to stay as far away from objects as possible.

What to do?

When you get to the field there are some basic rules to follow:

  • Make sure your batteries are charged
  • Turn the transmitter on before plugging in the battery
  • Unplug the battery before turning off the transmitter
  • Put the quad on level ground or as level as possible
  • When plugging in the battery, hold the quad so that the props cannot touch you if they "come alive"
  • Keep the quad still for 5 seconds or so after plugging in the battery to let the sensors calibrate
  • Do not take off until you have a complete GPS satellite lock

Once you have a GPS lock, you are ready to fly. Make sure the front of the copter is facing away from you. On the new Naza firmware the motors won't speed up until the throttle stick is moved above half throttle. Once above half throttle, the motors will spin up and the quad will take off. Get up to 8-10ft and pull the throttle stick back to half. At half throttle the flight board is in altitude hold mode and should not climb or descend any more. Combine that with the GPS lock and the quad should be hovering in place without you touching anything.

Take it slow, but now is a good time to start moving the elevator and aileron stick. If at anytime you feel scared or uncomfortable, just release the stick and the quad will hover. Leave the throttle at half stick and lightly push the elevator stick forward. You'll notice the quad pitch forward and start to move away from you. Move the stick back to center and the quad will level out and then hold position. Move the aileron stick to the right and the quad will tilt to the right and move in that direction.

The throttle stick also controls yaw, by moving it left and right you can spin the quad left and right. For now, leave it alone. Once you get in a few flights safely you can play with it and eventually you'll use all the controls together to fly precisely. For the first flights though, just move forwards and backwards and left and right until you start to get comfortable with it. Think about how much stick movement you are giving in relation to how the quad responds. If you move the stick just a little, the quad moves slowly, push the stick all the way and the quad will move much faster. What you want to do is be in control. Your telling the copter what to do, not the other way around. At first it will feel like your are responding to its actions, but before long, you will be in complete control.

The most important thing to remember is to have fun. If you get stressed, take a break. Learning is a process and you won't become an expert on the first trip to the field. After each flight, think back on how it went. What went well? What went wrong? Learn from that and go at it again. Stick with it and you'll be rewarded with many great flights.

We'd love to hear your first flight experiences, good or bad. Share your stories below so others can learn.

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Jul 25, 2013, 04:41 PM
Wandering IT geek
ronin4740's Avatar
As someone who's flown fixed wing RC for many years now I'm interested in quads as a way to expand my skills and re-energize my love of RC but there's so much new information to try to digest.

I like the idea of a beginners guide to quads and think this article helped me and will help others establish a starting point from which they can learn. More detail would be welcome so that when I step into the multi-rotor forums I have a basic grasp of the vocabulary I need to speak in order to ask the right questions and understand the answers.

Anyway, my thanks to Jason.
Jul 25, 2013, 07:31 PM
Watching EKRAN
Micro quads are a great way to start. Cheap to buy, cheap to repair and replace. Also *relatively* safe and easy to fly.
Jul 25, 2013, 07:38 PM
Registered User
grumpy42's Avatar
Uh oh... Recommending the Phantom as a first quad... Me thinks there is going to be trouble.
Jul 25, 2013, 07:46 PM
Registered User
Is there a giant list of all of the acronyms? I try to read some of these posts, but I simply don't know what a lot of it means.
Jul 25, 2013, 08:13 PM
Registered User
Good article Jason. There is so much info to take in about multi-rotors. I'm building a flitetest simple quad for the frame, and I am going to be using the apm 2.6 with gps from 3drobotics. I have also heard lots of good things about the kk2.0 board from hobby king, but I really want the features that you get from a system using gps.
Jul 26, 2013, 10:39 AM
Bajora's Avatar
Very nice article Jason. Timely and valuable, well written.

FWIW, I have a Phantom but also built a 450 clone using a HK KK 2 board and inexpensive components. I am not as worried or nervous flying it due to the fact that I really do not have as much invested in it , as compared to the Phantom. I was able to glean most of the knowledge needed to build it online and by asking a buddy a few questions.
Latest blog entry: 2017 Reno Air Races
Jul 26, 2013, 10:53 AM
Team Legit pilot & DFWC Prez
represent's Avatar
I wouldn't recommend a Phantom as a first quad, due to the sheer expense of it.

I would recommend someone interested in flying multirotors, but who isn't sure or hasn't done it before, to buy a Syma X-1. If they love it, then get a bigger more expensive machine.

Recommending the Phantom right off the bat is scary!
Jul 26, 2013, 11:05 AM
Videographer/Product Reviews
daskim's Avatar
Originally Posted by VectorZ
Is there a giant list of all of the acronyms? I try to read some of these posts, but I simply don't know what a lot of it means.
Which ones are confusing?
Jul 26, 2013, 11:05 AM
Big FPV Balls
noobiznessflying's Avatar
DJI Phantom as a first quad? LOL....LOL
Jul 26, 2013, 11:58 AM
Registered User
Hi Jason and welcome to RCG...

Seriously..a Phantom as a first quad...$700 !...that would be like me (a glider guy) recommending a hi end RES glider like an AVA to a new pilot...sure it will be relatively easy to fly, but I'd also be doing the noob a great dis-service by recommending such a large initial buy-in.

Given the advancements in technology I'd start the new pilot with any of the current crop of nano / mini quads...I especially like the Blade Nano QX because of excellent parts support.

The new nano quads have long flight times, batteries are cheap, they're durable and can easily be flown indoors.

The Phantom might make an excellent step up, but I'd wait to see if the prospective pilot is still flying the nano after a few months before I'd recommend that kind of investment.

Just my $.02.

Jul 26, 2013, 12:02 PM
Team Legit pilot & DFWC Prez
represent's Avatar
Also, I wouldn't recommend AEROSIM- for the money, it is a rip off. Get Phoenix instead.
Jul 26, 2013, 01:21 PM
Lysdexic I'm
HeeBeeGeeBee's Avatar
Originally Posted by grumpy42
Uh oh... Recommending the Phantom as a first quad... Me thinks there is going to be trouble.
Trouble? As long as you go by the manual, it's the easiest thing I've ever flown (in GPS mode). It's a great starter if you ask me
Jul 26, 2013, 01:37 PM
Don't be popular, be right.
There are a ton a quality micro and mini quads out now that are all well under the US $100 mark. They are easy to fly, extremely durable and extremely cheap to repair WHEN you do break something. I think they are a MUCH better choice for a first quad. They are perfect for learning the all important orientation on. Better than any SIM by far imo but MUCH less intimidating than the 450+ size flying blenders and MUCH cheaper.
Jul 26, 2013, 06:26 PM
Registered User
Nice Jason

I think the Phantom is a great Quad for anyone looking for a completely built and setup unit. Either your new to RC's or even someone experience wanting to get your feet wet in multirotors. Everything is there in the box and you really don't have to do anything except read the manual and, charge the batter, and mount the legs and props. The Naza with GPS is a great combo. Easy to fly. Well some have had flyaway problems, but like all RC's everything has minor problems and we just hear more from the Phantom, because they were well advertised and sold more than any other units out there. And the great thing about it is you can mount a GoPro and later upgrade to the Zenmuse if needed. I think it a great value after you add up how much the individual items cost. I know I can built a much cheaper setup, but not everyone has the knowledge or skills to do it.

If your not ready for a $700 quad you can always get the 1SQ, Walkera Ladybird, or the other cheap toys to start off. I had fun with my Ladybird! I flew it almost everyday around the house when I was bored.

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