What Does It Mean to Be an Expert Drone Pilot? Flight Proficiency and the Zephyr Drone Simulator
BY Zacc Dukowitz5 September 2017
We talk to UAV pilots every single day, and a discussion that’s been coming up a lot lately centers around what it means to be an expert drone pilot. A related topic is what proficiency means, and how a pilot can measure his or her proficiency.
Becoming an expert at flying a drone presents its own unique challenges, because drones can be prohibitively expensive in some cases, and also because there’s the chicken-and-egg problem of not wanting to fly an sUAS you spent a lot of money on before you know how to fly it well.
So how do you learn?
Drone Flight Simulators
Drone flight simulators are a great way to train toward proficiency without any risk of damaging your drone.
One simulator we often recommend to drone pilots is the Zephyr Drone Training Simulator, created by Little Arms Studios.
The Zephyr Simulator was launched one year ago at InterDrone. We thought now a fitting time to take a look at flight expertise and proficiency since InterDrone is upon us once again (if you’re going to be at InterDrone, make sure to stop by the Little Arms Studios booth #126 to see a demo of the Zephyr Drone Simulator).
We’re going to tell you about the Zephyr Simulator, and also discuss flight proficiency more in-depth, but before we go any further we want to make sure you know about this:
About the Zephyr Drone Simulator
The Zephyr Drone Simulator stands alone among other drone simulations because it was purposefully designed around drone pilot education and training.
Zephyr comes with a built in classroom management and student progress tracking tools, allowing the educator to track the progress that students make while they use the simulator. An instructor can leverage these tools to see how often a student crashes his or her drone, and to track student progress in order to know whether students have improved over time or if they need more instruction.
The Zephyr is an advanced simulator for drone training that takes into account factors such as FAA guidelines and real-world physics, in order to deliver a comprehensive learning experience that promotes safety and skill retention.
It comes with a constantly expanding library of both training modules and drone platforms, carefully created with accurate flight characteristics.
It’s also worth noting that Zephyr’s drone training modules can be customized to deliver a specifically tailored learning curriculum to fit the needs of individual learning institutions.
We think it’s pretty great—if you’d like to learn more, make sure to check it out here.
What Do We Mean by Flight Proficiency?
Now that we’ve covered simulators, let’s take a step back and look closer at proficiency, and what we actually mean by the term.
In most industries, and with many skills, talking about proficiency might be pretty straightforward: you’re proficient when you’re good at the skill in question and can perform it in a variety of scenarios. End of story.
But when it comes to flying drones, expertise and proficiency can take a few different forms these days.
Of course, many of the comments we see in our community in the proficiency discussion focus on the number of hours logged, years flying, types of scenarios faced, and so on. And these benchmarks are certainly a good and accurate way to assess a UAV pilot’s chops, there’s no doubt about that.
This hours-based perspective has a deep history in flying, and dates back to World War II, when being proficient as a pilot meant you had strong stick and rudder skills, and you could repair the machine itself. At that time an expert pilot knew everything about the aircraft.
But these days a commercial pilot for a big airline like Delta will barely touch the stick and rudder.
And the same thing is happening with drones. Flying drones doesn’t mean you have to build them any more, and you may not even have to know how to use your remote control for every aspect of the flight.
If you fly a Syma or UDI drone you do have to work a lot with your thumbs, but when you fly DJI drones it’s much more about mastering the user manual and understanding what happens when you lose your failsafes.
This is all to say that new technology is expanding our understanding of what proficiency means, and making us look not just at the amount of time a pilot has put into learning the craft, but how well he or she knows the particular machine being flown.
So How Do You Become an Expert?
By learning how to use your machine.
There are some really great YouTube videos that walk you through the 12 intelligent flight modes that come with DJI drones, but even when using intelligent flight modes practice is important—after all, these aren’t machines you can just turn on and trust to fly themselves (and besides, what fun would that be?).
In general, we recommend basic flight patterns for practice—practice flying in a square, in a circle, and doing repetitions of simple flights like these to build confidence, understanding, and muscle memory, as well as a full understanding of each different flight mode, how it feels and how it works.
In addition to flying, it’s important to read the user manual all the way through (unlike most manuals, these manuals could save your drone, and are crucial to proficiency). It’s not about actual flying, but about monitoring and understanding the automation, which is essential for achieving proficiency.
That being said, simulators can do a great deal to help you learn the basics of flying, and nudge you up from being a novice pilot to an intermediate one, and even help you push through into real expertise.
Stop by Booth 126 to Learn More about the Zephyr Drone Simulator
The Little Arms Studios team will be at booth #126 this week at InterDrone with the Zephyr Drone Simulator—make sure to stop by to check it out!
Even if you’re not attending InterDrone, don’t forget that you can be entered to win a DJI Mavic Pro if you purchase access to Zephyr Drone Simulator any time before the end of this month.