Although we have an existing section for beginners, I thought it would be nice to have an even easier and shorter guide to getting started in this hobby and pursuit. The below advice applies to those with NO flying R/C experience in the past.
Your first Quad
Note – this article is about 6 months old and things can change quickly! See the article about the 10 best quadcopters for this holiday season to learn about some newer models. The Syma, though, is still a fine first quad for those who actually want to learn the ropes (some newer models are more stable, but some pilots would rather learn to fly a more “manual” copter like the Syma).
Since this is a short guide, I suggest all new flyers pick up the Syma X1 or a similar quad as their first learning machine. Here is our flight test and an Amazon link:
Syma X1 4 Channel 2.4G RC Quad Copter – Spacecraft
The price will vary, but they are usually about $40-$50 delivered. It does not matter which body style you chose (spacecraft, bee, ufo), they are all the same inside and you can even remove the body and install a better looking one yourself (make it from a soda bottle, etc.)
Another popular starter quad is the WL Toys 929 – this model has a good reputation as well as availability of replacement parts, etc.
Why the Syma or similar 3-Axis Quad?
Unlike some other models, the Syma does not have 6-axis stabilization, which means it flies in a more manual mode. If you start with a super-stabilized platform, you may have trouble when you upgrade to a larger or other model. The idea of your first quad is to get a couple hours of flight time in so that your brain and your muscle memory start knowing how to fly.
HOWEVER, if you don't want to learn the harder way – you could consider a 6 axis quad – see below for links to MassiveRC, who stocks quite a few.
What else do I need?
The Syma comes complete with everything except the AA batteries for the Transmitter. It even comes with an extra set of propellers. You should purchase at least 1 extra battery for the quad itself. These can be hard to find due to the connector being mated to them – here is one source, although it is overseas and will take a couple weeks to receive.
Inside? Outside? Where to learn?
Unless you have a very large room (full basement, etc.), I would suggest learning outside on days with very low wind – less than 5MPH. If you have patience and dedication, learning inside is possible – but you will likely hit the walls, ceilings and everything else a number of time. Luckily, the Syma can take a beating.
If you want to learn and fly mostly inside, pick up a MICRO quad as opposed to a MINI (the Syma is a mini!)…..examples include the Blade Nano and the Hubsan X4 (new 107 model).
Can I fix it if I break it?
Parts are available – however, these things are quite small and if you are not handy you may find it just as easy to sell your unit for parts (many online forums have free classifieds) and buy another one. The difference is probably only $20. However, they are relatively easy to repair for those with basic skills – although a soldering iron is needed to properly replace motors.
To keep this article short, we will mention only the basics. First, once you have a little experience, you'll want to lift your quad off the ground almost instantly to 2 foot or so high – because there is a ground effect when it is close to the floor/ground.
Secondly, an important step is to start your practice by standing behind the quadcopter and having it face AWAY from you. This will allow the movements on your sticks (the Transmitter) to make the quadcopter go in the same direction as you push!
Other quadcopter options?
There are a couple similar models and some good micros (the Syma is a “mini”) which can be good first quads. Rather than go through the brands and models, I would suggest USA flyers contact the folks at MassiveRC – they stock a number of models right here in the USA and have flight tested each and every one. The nice thing about this outfit is that they also stock parts for all their models and ship quickly.
http://www.massiverc.com/ is their web site.
What about the Parrot AR Drone?
No doubt that the AR Drone is one of the most advanced machines you can obtain for about $300 at the time of this writing. However, it's operation differs from the standard (older) R/C type and therefore you may be better off learning on a more “manual” model. Better to crash the $40 model or leave it up in a tree…lessons learned…than to do so with your new AR Drone.
Once you learn the ropes – depending on what you then want to do, the AR may be right for you. Or, you may decide you want to head up in size in the more standard quadcopter ranges. There are dozens of options.
For many drone flyers, there may be no reason to lust after larger quadcopters. Larger units mean more expenses, just as with – for example – boats. Yet often the sailor with the small boat is having just as much (or more) fun than the large yacht. Unless there is a specific reason (payload, etc.), I'd suggest staying with smaller and mid-range quadcopters until and unless you have an actual reason for stepping way up.
But, hey, we can all talk about that later!
Thanks for reading!