We made Solo smart not only so it can do more, but also so you have to do less. “Less,” however, doesn’t mean “nothing.” Flying any drone can be tricky — and Solo is, both because of and in spite of its smart technology and advanced autonomy, one of the most complex consumer products ever made. This means that while getting the shots you want has truly never been easier, there’s still a lot to learn, especially for those of you who are first-time flyers with Solo.
With that said, here are some tips for new users who are just learning to fly and shoot on Solo.
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 user. 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 huge hunk of technical text by any means.
Get to know the Solo app
When you open the Solo app, you’ll find you have three options: Fly Solo; Flight School; and a settings menu. If it’s your first time flying — and even if you’re a relatively experienced pilot but it’s your first time flying Solo — I’d like to persuade you to put your excitement on hold for just a few moments and try to resist tapping Fly Solo first.
Tapping Flight School brings up a host of Solo’s tutorial videos, which you can watch right in the app — or here. These videos walk you through everything from unboxing to your first flight to using Smart Shots like a pro. It’s a great way to get to know Solo before you get in the air, and the series makes an excellent companion for getting you through your first flight.
Tapping the menu icon (upper left corner) brings you to the settings menu.
In the settings menu you should first check “Software Update” to see if you have the latest and greatest software version — if not, “Software Update” will automatically walk you through the process. Always fly with the latest software for the most advanced features and bug fixes: Updates are easy to download, and the app updates every Solo component wirelessly.
You’ll also see an “Advanced Settings” selection, where you can enable Solo’s advanced flight modes. If you’re new to flying, or feeling even a little apprehensive about flying a new drone, don’t enable advanced flight modes. Solo comes pre-calibrated in “beginner” mode, which means its flight characteristics are set so that it’s super easy to control. (You can, however, adjust speed in performance settings; you’ll get the best video quality at lower speeds.) When you start getting more familiar and confident, you can explore these more advanced aspects of Solo, which will open a new world of possibilities.
At the top of the settings menu, you’ll see an option marked “Solo.” This is an important menu when you’re out in the field and connected to Solo because it helps you calibrate Solo. New users should only focus on “level calibration” and “compass calibration” in this menu — they’re important for ensuring smooth and stable flights; the other options here are for making advanced adjustments. If Solo recognizes it needs to calibrate these settings, the app should prompt you and walk you through the process; however, it’s good to know how to access these directly.
Level Calibration — When level settings aren’t calibrated, Solo might drift when you let go of the sticks. This option calibrates the autopilot’s gyros. Just place Solo on a hard, level surface, and the app will walk you through the process.
Compass Calibration — Calibrate Solo’s compass so it knows where it’s pointing and you and Solo agree on which direction is which. This involves turning the copter a bit. But just like with the level calibration, the app will walk you through it.
Return Home — It’s important to set a high return home altitude to ensure Solo doesn’t hit any obstacles when flying itself back when you hit the “home” button on the controller. We’ve now made it possible for you to adjust the altitude that Solo will climb to when it returns home. If you set a high enough altitude, Solo will be more likely to fly over any obstacles (within reason — not the Burj Khalifa or anything) on its way home. The default return home altitude is 25 m. Here’s how Return Home works.
Make sure you always fly Solo in a clear area away from tall trees or other structures. You want to make sure Solo has the best GPS connection possible.
What is GPS, by the way? 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.
If Solo loses GPS lock while flying, 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. If Solo doesn’t have GPS lock on the ground when you’re trying to take off, it won’t take off — you can get off the ground by switching into manual mode yourself.
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 the right. If you try to send it forward, it will go “backwards” straight towards 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.
And when you first take off, it’s a good idea to bring Solo up to a height of about twenty feet — don’t fly at eye level.
Ready to get started? Here’s the Solo tutorial video playlist.
Stay tuned for some tips for new users on shooting great aerial photo and video with Solo.