Solo isn’t all Smart Shots and pushbutton flight. It’s also a powerful and fun drone to fly. Here’s a look at some of Solo’s manual flight characteristics, as well as a few pro tips for how to apply them to video.
What do we mean by manual flight?
First we need to make a distinction between two types of “manual” flight. First, there’s “Fly” mode: flying and shooting with Solo without the assistance of its automatic Smart Shots, but with GPS connection. This is Solo’s default flight mode. The other manual mode — “Fly:Manual” — is more advanced. It’s largely a flight failsafe, but offers some unique benefits to shooting aerial video.
Solo’s default mode. In Fly you use the joysticks to control Solo, and its position and altitude are maintained with the assistance of satellite-guided (GPS) flight. When you let go of the sticks, Solo’s GPS lock brings the copter to a quick stop and holds it in place. GPS also enables Solo’s other flight features — Smart Shots, Pause and Return Home.
Solo comes pre-configured in “beginner” mode, meaning the copter reacts to your joystick commands smoothly and gradually. As the name makes clear, it’s a good way to learn how to fly.
However, you can go into Solo’s settings in the app and change these performance characteristics so Solo responds more aggressively. This means Solo both accelerates faster and hits the brakes faster. And with top speeds of 55 mph in manual mode, Solo’s a beast, more powerful than any other consumer drone.
We’ve made these high-performance characteristics so robust that even at its most aggressive Solo responds to your inputs immediately. Let go of the sticks at any speed and Solo will bring itself to an immediate halt. With GPS lock steadying it when you let off the sticks, it’s the ultimate RC copter.
We call this performance Solo’s “tune” — basically meaning its responsiveness, or its ability to rebound from deflections. “Deflections” include wind as well as extreme moves or simply letting go of the sticks. This responsiveness also applies to Pause, which yanks Solo to an immediate and impressive stop.
With low performance settings, Solo responds to inputs with gradual acceleration and deceleration. We recommend using lower performance settings for shooting video, because your shots will be smoother. We’ve also built a little bit of drift into these lower settings, so your video has a smoother finish when Solo hits its final mark. With a jerky stop, your video audience might similarly be jerked out of their suspense of disbelief and realize that there’s a drone involved.
As for some tips, first you’ll want to go soft on the sticks. This means making continual incremental adjustments. When you let go, Solo wants to use GPS to lock itself into position. But with continual soft inputs (we call this “feathering”), you have more control over the copter’s movement.
It’s probably helpful to think of the joysticks the way you would an accelerator pedal on a car. Typically you don’t suddenly apply and release pressure on the accelerator, you ease off it to slow down, and, unless you’re punching hard to accelerate, you’ll also apply gradual pressure to speed up. To maintain speed you apply a little pressure, and to change speed smoothly you regulate that pressure accordingly. Joysticks work the same way.
You don’t need GPS lock to fly Solo — you can also fly completely manually with Fly:Manual mode. When you flip Solo into Fly:Manual you fly it like you’d fly any RC vehicle. And if you’re in an area with limited GPS availability, you can still fly in Fly:Manual.
First you should know that Fly:Manual is Solo’s failsafe mode. If you lose GPS lock in the air, Solo flips into Fly:Manual so you can maintain control. If this happens we recommend you land Solo and wait for it to acquire GPS again.
But the more fun stuff. In Fly:Manual, Solo automatically maintains its altitude for you, but you’re totally responsible for controlling position. (You can of course adjust altitude, but when you let go of the left stick Solo holds its altitude.)
Because your inputs determine Solo’s position, when you let go of the right stick (position) Solo will drift on a flat plane according to its momentum. Think of this like ice-skating in the sky: Without the GPS brake, it’s like Solo’s on a slippery surface, a plane with less “friction,” so the copter will continue to drift in whatever direction it’s deflected in. Again “deflections” could be your inputs and Solo’s momentum, as well as outside factors like wind.
Advanced tips for Fly:Manual video
The cool thing about shooting aerial video in Fly:Manual is that gradual “skating” drift. Because Solo stays level as it drifts, your video will have a smooth and straight aerial “dolly” effect.
To achieve this dolly effect, you want to give Solo a gradual input, then ease off of that input and let Solo’s momentum carry it smoothly through your shot.
Unlike Fly mode, in Fly:Manual Solo doesn’t want to stay in place. This means that when you’re shooting, you might want to consider letting Solo’s momentum be your baseline speed. This will make for the smoothest video, rather than continually starting and stopping. Again, it’s just like interacting with your car’s momentum. Ease on and off the sticks, feathering them like you’d feather your accelerator, without worrying about Solo immediately slowing itself to a stop to acquire GPS hold.