If you've been involved in the drone community for any length of time, you've probably seen pilots hand launch and catch drones. For many drone pilots, hand launching and catching is somewhat intimidating. Between the chances of getting injured to the chances of the drone rolling over and crashing, a lot can potentially go wrong. In reality, hand launching and catching is pretty simple, but there are some important considerations to keep in mind in order to execute this technique safely.
The purpose of this guide is to equip you with the knowledge you need to hand launch and catch with confidence. We'll go over the best practices for hand launching and catching for virtually any small to midsized drones.
When Hand Launching and Catching Is Useful
You might be wondering if hand launching and catching serves a real purpose or if it's just a way for drone pilots to show off. It's actually an extremely useful technique that can protect people around you, and your drone, depending on where you're flying.
Taking Off/Landing Around Groups of People
The most dangerous parts of any flight are takeoff and landing. During takeoff and landing, the drone poses the most risk to people in the area.
You've probably noticed that, when drones take off and land, they're prone to making random, erratic movements. This is most prominent during takeoff because as soon as the drone gets airborne, the on-board systems and computer have to quickly assess the situation, consider the wind speed and other environmental factors, and figure out how fast each motor needs to spin to make the drone stable. During this time, drones can move several feet in any direction, and this poses a real risk to bystanders in the area.
This is when hand launching and catching can be useful. The drone might still experience brief moments of instability, but by taking off from a lifted hand, the danger zone is raised above bystanders in the area. When you need to take off in close proximity to other people, hand launching can be the safest method.
In the same way, landing on an outstretched hand mitigates risk to bystanders at the end of a flight. In other words, launching and catching the drone by hand means the only time the motors will be spinning is when the drone is at a safe height above everyone in the area.
Taking Off/Landing In Harsh or Challenging Environments
Hand launching and catching is useful when you need to take off and land in an area with a lot of dirt, sand, or dust. When taking off from or landing on the ground, the drone's motors can blow this debris around. Over time, this can end up fouling the motors and causing damage to the drone.
If you don't want to go through the process of setting up a launch pad when flying in these areas, hand launching and catching is a quick and easy way to protect your drone from debris on the ground. With this method, you can quickly and confidently take off and land anywhere.
Launching and catching the drone by hand is also useful when flying in situations that make conventional methods difficult. For example, taking off from and landing on a boat can be challenging. In a situation like this, using the hand launch and catch method is the safest way to launch and land the drone.
Best Practices for Hand Launching and Catching
Now that we've talked a little bit about the situations that make hand launching and catching a good idea, we'll go over the best and safest way to execute this technique. This guide applies to virtually any small to midsize quadcopter regardless of the manufacturer and model.
Be situationally aware. As a drone operator, you must always be situationally aware. And when it comes to hand launching, you need to be more focused than ever. There's a degree of risk to the pilot involved in launching and catching a drone by hand, so utmost situational awareness is critical.
Prior to executing this technique, look around to see where bystanders are located. We recommend finding a spot that's at least 10 feet away from other people before doing a hand launch. Next, consider any environmental factors that could adversely affect the launch, such as wind speed. If you'll be doing the hand launch when it's windy, figure out which direction the wind is coming from and adjust your safety perimeter accordingly. Give the drone enough space to drift a few feet with the wind while the computer gets the drone stable.
Hold the drone up and out. When hand launching, place the center of the drone's body in your hand and hold the drone as high as you can and as far away from your body as possible. If your drone has landing gear like the DJI Phantom series, simply grab a hold of one of the legs. It's important to keep the drone level so that it flies straight up.
With your other hand, hold the remote flat against your stomach or chest. This will keep the remote stable as you manipulate the controls with one hand.
Then, using your thumb and index finger, push both sticks down and to the middle to start the motors. Double check that the drone is completely level, turn your head away from the drone as an added precaution, and push all the way up on the left stick as fast as you can.
It's important to push all the way up on the left stick with some authority; when a drone takes off from the ground, a phenomenon called ground effect gives it a little boost and helps keep it stable. Simply put, the downdraft from the props creates a cushion of air that stabilizes the drone for the brief period that it's close to the ground. With a hand launch, there's no ground effect. This means that the props have no help from that cushion of air. Due to the fact that the positioning systems on most drones are so advanced, the difference in performance should be minimal. Nevertheless, it's always a good idea to punch it upward as quickly as possible to mitigate the risk of a rollover. You can always use the drone's auto takeoff feature if you're still hesitant.
If you're with someone, we recommend working as a team to hand launch the drone. When possible, working as a team is the preferred method because it lets you focus on launching the drone without having to multitask. Have the other person manipulate the controls while you hold the drone. If you opt for this method, make sure you and your partner are communicating clearly throughout the process to minimize the chances of an accident. It's a good idea to rehearse the launch to make sure you're both in sync.
Now we'll go over the best practices to hand catch your drone.
Again, be situationally aware. Before you proceed, check to see where bystanders are at. Determine what environmental factors might negatively impact the landing process. If it's really windy, be prepared for your drone to wobble a little bit as it descends.
Take the drone down until it's 6-10 feet off the ground. Stand an arm's length away from the drone, extend your arm, and place your hand about 2 feet directly underneath the drone's body.
Don't try to just grab the drone out of the air unless it has protruding landing gear like the Phantom. Here's why- in order for drones with downward positioning systems to land correctly, the sensors must first detect a surface to land on. If the drone has a downward positioning system and it hasn't detected a surface beneath it, it will fight you and try to fly up when you grab it. In other words, if the drone hasn't registered a landing surface below, it will make the motors spin faster to try to escape whatever is holding it.
Placing your hand a couple of feet below the drone will allow it to recognize your palm as a viable surface for landing. Once your hand is underneath, press down on the left stick. After the drone makes contact with your hand, it will shut the motors off, just like it would if it had landed on the ground.
The most important part of the hand catching process is to place your hand far enough under the drone for it to recognize that your hand is as a viable landing surface.
If you're with someone, you can also work as a team to hand catch the drone. Again, this method is preferred because it prevents the person catching the drone from becoming too task saturated. Have one person manipulate the controls while the other person lets the drone land in their hand. Again, communication is critical. Make sure that you and your partner communicate effectively throughout the process.
Launching and catching a drone can seem intimidating. But if you follow these best practices, you'll be hand launching and catching with confidence in no time.