The Ultimate Guide to Quadcopters for Beginners
Here at Heliguy we wanted to help our new customers understand what quadcopters are, why they make a great hobby or business asset and which one is best suited to their needs. This guide to quadcopters contains all the information you require to purchase and safely fly your drone in a range of circumstances. You can navigate this page using the menu below.
1. What Is A Quadcopter & What Are They Used For?
2. Which Quadcopter Should I Choose?
3. What Are The Best Quadcopters For Each Price Bracket?
4. What Else Do I Need To Get Started Flying?
5. How Do I Fly My Quadcopter?
6. Where Can I Fly My Quadcopter?
7. What Do I Do If Something Goes Wrong?
8. Where Can I Learn More About Quadcopters?
A quadcopter is a small unmanned aircraft which is reliant on four rotors to fly. Two of these rotors turn clockwise while the other two move counter-clockwise. Attached to the rotors, there are two sets of identical propellers to help get the quadcopter airborne.
Pilots control quadcopters (commonly referred to as drones) using remote controllers containing transmitters which change the velocity of the craft’s rotor discs and allow for aerial manoeuvrability.
A receiver on the aircraft processes instructions and the pilot’s signals are combined with outputs from the quadcopter’s altitude sensors. Once this data has been collated, the inbuilt flight controller signals the ESCs (Electronic Speed Controllers), which relay instructions to the motors.
Quadcopters combine the functionality of both pitched and coaxial helicopters. The unity between pitched and co-axial characteristics ensures agility, stability and wind resistance. There’s also the bonus of three-axis gyroscopic tech to further ensure a stable flight experience. The quadcopter’s four rotors, (both clockwise and counterclockwise), work to reduce the effects of outside force or torque on the aircraft’s fuselage.
Despite the huge growth of the quadcopter market in recent years, there are still some misconceptions about their usage; with some seeing them as little more than expensive toys. While it’s true that there is a large hobbyist community built around the flying of unmanned aircraft, professional usage is on the rise. Many modern quadcopters come with cameras attached, often with an image quality of up to 4K and even 5.2K or DNG RAW for post production which makes them perfectly suited for use as tools for aerial photographer and videographers. This is only one potential use for quadcopters however as you can see in the list of potential applications below:
Research: Quadcopters are a highly useful tool for researchers with an ever-growing list of available peripherals which allow terrain scanning and mobility allowing new perspectives on everything from archaeological digs to wildlife migration.
Emergency Services: Police forces, fire brigades and rescue teams are increasingly turning to quadcopters to help with site management, the tracking of suspects and disaster relief. An aerial perspective offers new strategic options for emergency services and can make all the difference in the timely resolution of a challenging situation.
Agriculture: Using available solutions such as thermal cameras and scanning software coupled with a suitable drone, agricultural companies can monitor their crop yields remotely and without having to operate costly manned aircraft.
Mapping & Surveying: 3D mapping and modelling have become available at the touch of a button thanks to quadcopters and their ability to rapidly take and stitch together photographs (using compatible software).
Inspections: Already lowering maintenance costs for large companies, quadcopters are being used to inspect bridges, offshore rigs, wind turbines and other large structures. This lowers the risks involved with sending in human operators and is often a much more comprehensive overview thanks to high-quality imagery and live feeds.
This is by no means the extent of their potential applications, with everyone from real estate agents and holiday companies to delivery firms and retailers using quadcopters for promotions, immersive campaigns and new experiences. Now that we’ve established what a quadcopter is and how they’re being used, it’s time to think about which model is right for you.
So, you’re looking for a quadcopter? The good news is that you’re spoilt for choice as a range of high-quality options are available. The first thing you’ll need to consider is what you want to do with your drone. Are you buying it as a hobbyist, or to make yourself some money and develop your business?
There are plenty of options available to prospective drone hobbyists depending on your price range (see section 3). Above all else, you’ll want something that’s fun to fly and easy to get to grips with. If you’re concerned about crashing, there are affordable options to help you get the hang of flying such as the Hubsan quadcopter range. These models start at as little as £34 and are perfect as practice aircraft before stepping up to something more substantial.
The next step up for hobbyists is the DJI Phantom range with the Phantom 4 and Phantom 3 Advanced always proving exceptionally popular. These quadcopters are simple to fly and are full of features and autonomous shot modes which can improve your flight experience. There’s also the option of a transformable quadcopter in the form of the DJI Mavic 2. This highly portable aircraft offers industry leading functionality as well as the ability to fold down small enough to fit in a large jacket pocket.
If you’re looking to add drone services to your business model, the first thing you will need to consider is achieving the necessary qualifications. You can learn more about this on our training page.
Once you’re ready to make money with your quadcopter, you’ll almost certainly be looking for something that offers superior image quality. At the very least you’ll want to look at the Phantom 3. However, the majority are now turning to the newer model, DJI’s Phantom 4 which offers 4K video, 12MP stills and a huge host of features (including improved shot modes) which make it simple to use, with great results. There's also the Phantom 4 Pro V2 which have really pushed the limits of aerial cameras.
The next step up is the ‘workhorse’ of DJI’s product suite, the Inspire 1 series. A favourite of aerial photographers, videographers and industrial professionals, the Inspire 1 has cemented itself as the go to quadcopter for businesses. We have made a comparison article which delves the specifications, pros and cons of each of these models which you can read here.
Then there's the Inspire 2 which looks set to become the ultimate choice for professionals. The new X5S camera is incredibly powerful, while the advanced obstacle avoidance features, twin battery redundancy and extended flight time make the DJI Inspire 2 even more versatile that the old Inspire 1.
As you can see, there’s plenty to choose from. Hopefully, you’ll have more of an idea of what’s available for both hobbyists and professionals and started to have a serious think about which model is right for you. Now it’s time to look at the figures, read on to discover the best drone within your price range.
Now you’ve settled on a quadcopter and you’re ready to head out on your first flight. However, there are rules you must adhere to if you want to guarantee safety. You can read more about drone regulations around the world and what pilots in the UK think of them in the heliguy™ blog.
There are also numerous pieces of safety equipment that we recommend having on hand before you fly your quadcopter:
Cones, Signs & Landing Pad: This basic safety gear can make all the difference when you’re getting ready to fly. It enables you to mark out a designated area and keep people at a safe distance.
Hard Hat, High-Visibility Jacket & Protective Goggles: Once you’ve taken steps to secure the flight area, the next thing you’ll need to do is ensure your own safety. Wearing a high-vis allows you to be easily identified as the pilot, while the hard hat and protective goggles reduce the chance of accidental injury.
Fire Extinguisher / Fire Blanket & First Aid Kit: Accidents do happen, so being prepared is always recommended. Having a fire extinguisher or fire blanket to hand is sensible when dealing with LiPo batteries and having a fully stocked first aid kit will certainly come in handy.
Spectrum Analyser: This useful gadget assists you in measuring the local electromagnetic and RF congestion levels in the 2.4 GHz or 35 MHz frequency range, ensuring that your flight will not encounter any interference.
Anemometer: It’s crucial to measure wind speed before taking off with your quadcopter. This makes sure you won’t be taken by surprise and can be confident of a smooth, issue free flight.
Once you have all the necessary equipment, if you’re a hobbyist, that should be everything you need to enjoy your new quadcopter. However, if you are looking to become a commercial operator; you must be qualified before using your drone as a means to make money.
In the UK, to operate commercially you must achieve your Permissions for Commercial Operation (PfCO) from a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) approved National Qualified Entity (NQE) like Heliguy. You can find out more about all our training courses and how to get yourself qualified by visiting the Heliguy training page.
Most quadcopters have the same basic controls, although depending on the drone you end up purchasing, some advanced controls may be slightly different. In really basic terms:
The two joysticks on the remote control of the aircraft control movement.
The vertical axis on the left stick is likely to be the throttle. This controls how much power is sent to the motors on the drone. The higher the throttle, the faster the drone will move. Half throttle will generally hover the drone, while anything more than that will increase the altitude.
The horizontal axis on the left stick will control the yaw. This is how the drone will rotate left or right.
The vertical axis on the right stick will control the pitch. This is how the drone will move forwards or backwards through the air.
The horizontal axis on the right stick will control the roll. This controls your quadcopters strafing movement from left to right.
When you first start flying a quadcopter we recommend getting yourself into a wide open space and spending at least an hour or so familiarising yourself with these controls and keeping the drone very close to the ground. The closer your quadcopter is to the ground or nearby obstacles, the less likely it is to be damaged while you’re learning the controls.
With more and more people taking up flying quadcopters both as a hobby and professionally, the CAA has provided lots of advice on when, where and how you can fly your quadcopter.
Pilots in the UK can find out everything they need to know about safe flying regulations in the CAA's 'Dronecode'. As a general rule, you're looking to avoid busy public areas and events i.e. city centres and sports stadiums. Always be sure to research your local area before flying as specific restrictions may be in place. The basics are as follows:
Ensure that your drone is always within your line of sight when out flying.
Do not fly your quadcopter over or around streets, any kind of property, houses or people.
It may seem like obvious advice, but you must stay well away from Airports and Airfields.
Do not fly within 50m of people or property to ensure safety and reduce the risk of crashes.
Most of all - use your common sense! Would you be happy with a third party drone flying into your back garden? Probably not - so don’t do it yourself!
The best advice we can give you is to not panic! Generally, there will be a reasonable explanation as to what’s happening with your drone. First of all, stop giving inputs on your remote control and get your bearings. Where is your quadcopter? What is the status of the battery? Are there any errors on the screen you’re using?
Most DJI quadcopters have a Return to Home (RTH) function. This will definitely help you out in lots of situations. Just press the RTH button and the UAV will return to the home point by itself. You don’t need to press anything else on the remote.
In the case of loss of signal, the craft will return home, if the battery's charge reaches a critical level the craft may not have enough power to return home and therefore will land wherever it is. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to keep your drone within your line of sight.
Once your drone is on the ground, or if you have a crash, make sure you power down the quadcopter as soon as you can. From there, you can inspect the craft. The most common issues are things like:
One or multiple motors failed.
Issues with the camera.
It may simply be a case of purchasing some more propellers or a new battery, however, if you’re still not sure what’s gone wrong or you can’t see any visible damage on the drone but it still isn’t operating correctly, give us a call!
Our tech team have repaired almost any issue you can experience with a quadcopter, so don’t hesitate to get in touch.
Still want to find out more? Here at Heliguy we have a large bank of resources for you to draw from. First off, we have our frequently updated heliguy™ blog, which covers everything from advances in drone technology to the regulatory frameworks that govern them. There’s always something new to read and it’s the best place to keep up to date with news from across the drone industry.
For more information about drone regulation in the UK, visit the CAA’s ‘Dronecode’ page which will run you through the basics.
If you’re looking to find out more about the companies which are manufacturing quadcopters (as well as hexacopters and octocopters) you can take a look at our DJI or Freefly pages, allowing you to view their product ranges and find out a bit more about them.
Alternatively, if you have more of an idea what you’re looking for but want to check out all the models in the quadcopter ranges we have discussed in this guide you can find what you’re looking for here:
- DJI Drones
- DJI Mini 2
- DJI Mavic Air 2
- DJI Mavic Mini
- DJI Mavic 2 Pro
- DJI Mavic 2 Zoom
- DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise
- DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual
- DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced
- DJI Inspire 2
- DJI Matrice 300 RTK
- DJI Matrice 210 RTK V2
- DJI Matrice 210 V2
- DJI Matrice 200 V2
- DJI Phantom 4 RTK
- DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2
- DJI Phantom 4 Multispectral
- DJI Matrice 600 Pro Drone
- DJI Agras T16
If you need any more information, our dedicated UK customer support team are available Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. Whether you’re looking to buy your first (or possibly even second or third) quadcopter, learn more about Heliguy and the companies we work with or simply chat about the drone industry, you can reach us with the details below.