The media rumor mill this holiday season pegs U.S. drone sales at about a million. That stat is probably as puffed up as a mall Santa’s pillowed gut, but the grain of truth is there: drone sales will soar. (Like a mall Santa’s joy on December 26.) In light of this fact, here are some first-flight guidelines for all of the soon-to-be new drone pilots out there.
So: Giving the gift of flight this Christmas? Even to yourself? Then you might want to print this page and slip it in the box.
Well. This is pretty thorough. Check your paper tray.
The Solo app comes with a safety video that plays when you first open it. It’s quick, but packs important information. Here are the basic rules for recreational drone use in the US.
- Don’t fly above 400 feet (Solo has an adjustable flight ceiling out of the box that helps prevent this).
- Maintain line of sight as you fly.
- Avoid other aircraft and stay five miles away from airports.
- Don’t fly over crowds or stadiums.
- Don’t fly near people.
- Don’t fly over roads, bridges, hospitals, schools, prisons or other sensitive or trafficked structures/infrastructure.
- Don’t fly over “no-fly zones” — these include certain metropolitan and government areas (NYC, Washington, DC, etc.) as well as national parks and other jurisdictions as determined by the FAA. Check out the fresh and reliable airspace information near you in Solo’s app-integrated AirMap software.
- Adhere to local laws and ordinances, such as privacy or flying over private property.
- And always, please exercise common sense.
Read the manual
At the risk of stating the obvious, Solo’s manual contains just about everything you need to know about setting up, flying and operating Solo. It also contains valuable precautionary information that might spare you a crash. We can’t say this enough: Please, please read the manual, especially if you’re a first-time pilot. Plus, it’s a weirdly good read: We’ve made it all clear and easy to understand, and most of its bulk consists of diagrams and illustrations — it’s not a tome of technical text by any means.
PS: Please read the manual.
For your first flight
Please take advantage of Solo’s safety information. We want our drones to be as safe to fly as they are easy, and part of that involves educating users — that makes us all better and more responsible pilots.
When you first open the Solo app you’ll see the aforementioned safety video. Watch it. It’s quick, it’s informative, and it is dope, my friends.
Next you’ll see the first of our Solo tutorial videos; it automatically plays the first time you open the app. To learn more, several other Solo tutorials are available in the app under “flight school,” accessible from the main menu. These videos walk you through your first flight all the way to more advanced flight with Smart Shots.
So you’re ready to get in the air? First make sure all batteries are charged (Solo’s battery should come about half-charged; the controller should be good to go).
Always fly Solo in a clear, open area — this will ensure the most robust GPS connection to Solo.
Wait — what is GPS? And how does it work?
All consumer drones, Solo included, use GPS technology to determine their location and hold their place in the air. At the risk of telling you something you already know, GPS is an acronym for “Global Positioning System,” an American satellite-based navigation system that provides location information anywhere on (or just above) Earth — provided you have a clear line of sight and are connected to enough satellites.
Solo has to talk to several satellites at once to get a good “GPS lock.” This is critical for Solo to maintain self-control. With GPS, Solo will stay right in place, remember where its home is and can stop and stay still in the air when you let go of the sticks. You also need GPS to use features like the pause button and Smart Shots.
Without GPS lock, Solo automatically switches to manual mode, at which point the user will be responsible for its position and direction at all times. It goes without saying that if you’re a new user, it’s much more preferable to fly with GPS. In turn this means that you should always fly in a clear, wide area with no structures or trees around that might obstruct your satellite connections.
Wait again — what if I mess up flying?
We want you to fly with confidence from day one, so we’ve outfitted Solo with a bunch of safety features. Here’s a quick rundown.
AirMap integration: This month the Solo app will incorporate real-time flight safety zone information from AirMap. If you’re flying somewhere you probably shouldn’t be, Solo will let you know. You can dig deeper and scope out the area to find out why you can’t fly there and where you need to go to enjoy your drone.
Pause button: Under the controller’s right joystick you’ll find the pause button. If you ever get turned around or nervous in flight, just hit pause and, at any speed, Solo will yank itself to a stop and hover until you get your bearings. It’s an emergency airbrake.
Return Home and Land: Still a little nervous? Just hit the button on the controller with a house and Solo will pop up a few meters in the air, fly back to where you took off and land itself.
Battery failsafe: The controller will alert you with haptic feedback and a message if you run too low on battery power. Get down to 10% and, sorry, but Solo’s coming home whether you like it or not.
Okay, ready to fly, for real this time
First power up the controller. Then power up Solo itself by hitting the button on top of the battery. Next, open your mobile device’s settings and connect to Solo’s Wi-Fi (for airtight security we recommend you change the Wi-Fi password soon as you can). Now open the app.
If you’re using an out-of-date version of the firmware or app, you’ll immediately see a notice on your app screen. If you have to perform an update, do it now — the app wirelessly updates all of Solo components. (You’ll also want to make sure your GoPro has the latest firmware update; this is so your Hero 3+ or 4 camera will be compatible with Solo’s GoPro control software.)
All good? Have the controller and the app connected to Solo? Okay, turn on your GoPro and place Solo on a solid, flat surface a few yards away, the camera facing away from you. Tap “Fly Solo” on your app screen to get that live HD feed from the GoPro and you’re ready to take off. Hold the controller’s “fly” button and watch the green bar on the controller’s screen boost up. Hit and hold “fly” again — the props will spool up and Solo will fly up to about 12 feet off the ground. You’re ready to go.
When you’re learning to fly, always keep Solo facing the same direction that you are. If you turn Solo around to face you this is called flying “nose in” and is the mirror-image orientation of typical flight. As a result, the directions become inverted: Your left is Solo’s right. (Exactly the same as “stage left” being the audience’s right.) This means if you press the stick to send Solo left, it will move to your right. If you try to send it forward, it will go “backwards,” i.e., straight at you. Flying nose in can confuse even experienced pilots, so when you’re learning, always keep Solo turned “nose out” and away from you, so that you and Solo are facing the same direction.
This will be the best part of your first flight. You’ll go from tentative manual flying to capturing complex professional aerial video with the touch of a button — once you experience Smart Shots, you’ll feel like they’re a cheat code.
Cable cam: Tap the clapboard icon on the lower left corner of your in-flight screen to access the Smart Shots menu. Select “Cable cam.” This lets you lock Solo onto a virtual cable between specific visual frames that you set. (With Solo locked on a track, it’s also a really safe way to fly — just make sure no obstacles are in your way.) Now, find a couple of cool shots that you’d like to connect, a narrative to set up from beginning to end.
It’s this easy: Use your controller and screen like a camera, guiding Solo to set the exact frames you want. Solo’s photographic memory saves each frame and connects the two dots for you with a virtual cable. Now engage with Solo: Have Solo fly itself on the cable while you take complete control of the camera. Or flip it: You control Solo on the cable, with Solo’s computer handling full camera control or tilt-assist. Or hit “play” and let Solo do both, smoothly controlling the camera as it flies, nailing every frame just as you envisioned it, with something approaching magic in between.
Orbit: Get an iconic wraparound shot automatically by locking your GoPro onto any object with the push of a button. Orbit puts Solo on a circular track with an adjustable radius; fly either direction and Solo keeps the camera locked on your subject. Or push “play” and let Solo do it all. However, this Smart Shot can take your shots way beyond a flat circle…
Even cooler — adjust the circle’s radius and altitude in real time using the controller. This means you can create 3D spirals, corkscrews, ellipses — even improvise as you go. Create jaw-dropping 5-axis shots without ever worrying about copter direction or camera position. Try that with any other drone.
It’s this easy: Once Solo is in the air, point the camera at the object you want to film. Press the assigned “Orbit” button and the camera stays fixed on the object. The copter is now locked into a circle around the object. Control the speed and direction of Solo’s orbit and capture perfectly smooth wraparound shots with no uneven or jerky movements — or tap “play” and Solo will do it all. For those crazy, dynamic spirals, just use the sticks to adjust height and radius while Solo keeps itself on track.
Follow: Go completely hands-free
Whether you’re taking the road less traveled with your friends, cruising your boat around the lake or just out exploring the world, Solo will automatically follow along in the air. Follow keeps the camera centered on you at all times, capturing your every move.
It’s this easy: Launch Solo and choose Follow. Now Solo is locked onto your mobile device — which must remain with your controller — and you’re ready to film all the action, as both director and actor in your story.
Selfie: Put yourself in the center of a scenic aerial reveal
Automatically put yourself in the middle of a scenic aerial reveal. As Solo flies itself up and back, your surroundings expand, building and revealing more and more of the world around you — it’s a portrait and a landscape all at once. Record the clip directly to your phone for easy saving and sharing.
It’s this easy: Put Solo on the ground in front of you with the camera facing you. Tap Selfie, press Fly and Solo will take off with the camera pointed at you, then fly back and up. When Solo reaches the peak of its flight (which you can customize), it will return to land right where it took off, getting an aerial zoom shot on the way back down. Now immediately save and share this unique selfie with others.