Fly your drone like a pro: 5 tips from Waterloo's Aeryon Labs

The CEO of Waterloo company Aeryon Labs is encouraging anyone who received a drone for Christmas to master the basics before attempting risky aerial manoeuvres.

CEO Dave Kroetsch says there's more to flying a drone than turning it on

Drones like this are becoming more common, and Rozalind MacPhail says one is buzzing her home in downtown St. John's. (CBC)

Aeryon Labs is encouraging anyone who received a drone for Christmas to master the basics before attempting risky aerial manoeuvres.

The Waterloo company builds commercial drones that do everything from plotting hydro towers on a map to photographing complicated crime scenes.

"If you got a drone for Christmas, you're actually working under very different rules than a commercial operator," said CEO Dave Kroetsch, "but that doesn't mean you have any fewer obligations for safety."

Kroetsch has this list of tips for anyone planning to take a drone into flight: 

1. Don't underestimate

Kroetsch says the first mistake people make when they take their drones out of the box is to assume that, because they look simple, they must also be simple to operate. 

If you assume you know what you're doing, he says there's a good chance "you'll find yourself in a circumstance you can't get yourself out of." 

2. Know your drone

Because they can be complex machines, Kroetsch suggests getting to know what your drone can do before you launch it into the air. 

He says you should understand how far your drone can travel away from you, how long its battery will last, and how "smart" it is.

"The $30 drone doesn't have a whole lot of smarts in it. If it loses communication with the joystick, it could fly away," he says. "The more expensive drones can start using GPS and things like that to turn around and come home." 

3. Get a lay of the land

When it comes to operating a drone safely, Kroetsch says it's important to pick a launch site carefully. 

Failure to do this could put your drone in danger, and he says it can also get you in trouble with the law. 

"A really common misconception is that, just because it's up in the air, I can fly anywhere," he said. "Really, you have to have permission from the landowner of the land you're operating over."

4. Maintain your drone

Kroetsch says you should always inspect your drone before and after flight, paying particular attention to the moving parts. 

"They're actually mechanically very simple," he says. "Things that move are usually the first things to break."

Cracked propellers, bent motors and broken battery connections and are the most common mechanical failures. 

5. Start small, go big

Although you may dream of doing aerial acrobatics with your drone, Kroetsch recommends starting with the basics. 

"Start by learning to just take off and hover a few feet off the ground and do that for a few minutes," he says, "then try moving it a little bit further away."

He says another useful exercise is to practice turning the drone left and right while it is facing you, remembering that the drone will always move to its left or right, not yours.