Drones are exciting-- I'm totally enthusiastic about them too! However, every pilot (and soon-to-be-pilot for that matter) needs to be aware of how to properly maneuver their aircraft through manual mode incase orientation is ever questioned.
While flying a drone, it's easy to get disoriented when focusing on the monitor and flying through the camera. Maintaining VLOS (Visual Line of Sight) and observing telemetry (battery levels, height, distance, speed), on top of adjusting camera framing is a real juggle of awareness. Not to mention maintaining SEE & AVOID practices (see & avoid other aircrafts, people, animals, structures, objects). VO (visual observer) is a real crew member position for drone service providers just because of this reason.
The truth is, being a safe UAS pilot requires a good grasp of situational awareness.
First, start with workload and task management for a sterile cockpit; it begins in a pilots mind, so consciously know there are only one of two alternatives to managing so many tasks: shed the unimportant tasks or perform all tasks at a less than optimal level. It's the ability to strategically manage this juggle that separates the professionals from the novice pilots. Think of entering a "sterile cockpit" before every flight, and consciously focus your mind on topics that only pertain to flying and that particular flight in general.
Ideally, a pilot first learns to manually perform to practical test standard maneuvers and procedures. After successfully demonstration proficiency in the basic maneuvers, the pilot is then introduced to the available autonomous and stabilizing features like GPS. The purpose of this is to ensure the pilot can handle flying and maneuvering manually when necessary. This is why it is best to start practicing on a microUAS (such as a Blade NANO or Hubsan X4) or with armchair flying (discussed more below).
Second, know that orientation is key here. Consider the OODA Loop: Observation, Orientation, Decision, Action. While flying in real-time circumstances, this decision-making loop is happening in milli-seconds. As a foundations level pilot, it's important to slow it down and rest assured that as your skills get more proficient, it will naturally speed up.
- Slow down, and then
Third and lastly, Mr. Max Trescott, Master CFI and Master Ground Instructor and winner of the 2008 CFI of the year has published numerous safety tips that new pilots don't think about and that every pilots should know:
- The word "probably" should be purged from our flying vocabulary. If you ever think your course of action will "probably work out," you meed to choose a new option that you know will work out.
- Statistics have shown that accidents are correlated more with the number of hours of experience a pilot has in a particular aircraft model and not with his or her total number of flight hours.
- Armchair flying is a type of flying does not cost a dime and will make you a better prepared and more proficient pilot. Sit and pretend to have your hands on the RC controller and visualize a flight maneuver you would like to implement (i.e., ascending while orbiting a drone around a point of interest). Consider what stick inputs are needed to complete this, and in what order.
Remember the "OODA Loop": Stop, Slow Down, and really think about your orientation.
After a fair session of armchair flying, you're ready to test out your flight skills in manual mode!