Published December 15, 2016

First-time drone pilots without training will almost certainly crash their vehicle. Depending on the damage to the UAV, it might be unfit for further use. Nothing can turn off a budding interest in the hobby faster than a broken drone.

To avoid this tragedy, stick with cheaper models (less than $100) or get training before piloting a drone. While learning to pilot with an inexpensive model, an unfortunate side effect for some users is that they become less enthusiastic about the hobby. Pricier UAVs offer more features, better camera footage, and are usually easier to control. However, new pilots often fear damaging their new investment. This raises some questions about the benefits of drone training.

How much training is necessary to prepare a new pilot? Is it worth the cost, or are newbies better off learning through experience — a literal crash course?

For some purposes, training is a necessity. As of August 2016, if drones are used for work-related purposes, pilots must acquire a Remote Pilot Airman Certificate and pass Transportation Security Administration vetting. In fact, some colleges and universities offer courses in UAV piloting skills. A few schools even allow students to minor in “Unmanned and Autonomous Systems Engineering”. Many drone pilot training programs require about sixteen hours of flight training to be certified, in addition to training on simulations. Drones are serious business.

For recreational uses, however, all of this is excessive. Certifications and classes are not legally required. Most training courses are simply intended to help new users learn how to pilot.

Companies offer a wide price range when it comes to training. Though some locals might offer lessons for as little as $50 an hour, most professionals will charge an hourly rate somewhere between $100 to $150. Some programs are broken up into eight hour class sessions and can last one or two days. This type of training usually costs around $600 a day. A few businesses offer premium sessions that can cost several thousand dollars, but they usually include a high-end drone for each student. Given the number of options out there today, those who are interested should be able to find an opportunity within their price range.

Is training worth the investment?

That depends on a person’s budget and needs.

According to surveys, most users get relatively comfortable with piloting after about four to six hours of airtime. If users get two hours of experience, then practice in an open field for several sessions, they should be experienced enough to avoid amateur mistakes. On average, this means that preparation would cost about $200.

Those who are interested in getting into the hobby should assess their budget before plunking down cash for training. If the cost of training would exceed the cost of the drone, it is probably not worth it. Many users will be better off simply buying a cheap drone to learn, since the cost of training can easily outstrip the cost of an intermediate drone. A user who want to start off with an intermediate to high-end drone should consider investing in training, since it will prevent them from seriously damaging their vehicle.

First-time owners should consider what they want to do with their drone

Owners looking to use drones to take photos or videos, take note: Simply owning a drone will not transform anyone into a professional photographer. In order to take great photos with a drone, a basic understanding of photography is needed. Tips on drones and photo composition can be found here. Users should focus on learning how to carefully pilot in tight spaces, since many shots are taken close to the ground. A basic understanding and feel for controls should suffice for most pilots.

Those who want to use drones for racing should get plenty of practice before tackling any difficult flights. Newbies can learn a lot about drone racing by looking for local FPV meetups. Since FPV is often used in racing, it may also be useful to read up on tips for new FPV pilots. Getting to a competitive level in this field takes a lot of time and commitment, but it can be very rewarding. Owners must learn how to navigate sharp turns, controlling pitch, yaw, and roll simultaneously. Extensive training is recommended.

The question of whether or not training is worth it truly depends on each person’s needs. While the prices for training might be steep, it could save money in the long run by preventing the need for costly repairs. On the other hand, one can learn to drive a cheap drone with confidence, since the potential loss is less severe. Those looking to get into the hobby should determine what option is right for themselves and plan accordingly.

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