"The School of Hard Knocks"
When it comes to "The School of Hard Knocks", let's say I have an honourary PhD. From figuring out that the way to avoid flying into a tree is to, um, fly higher than the trees, to what can happen when you fly when it's too windy, there is no end to the list of mistakes a beginner pilot can make. Here are the top 5 to keep in mind:
1. To avoid crashing into things, fly at an altitude higher than those things.
Sounds simple, and obvious enough, but when I first started flying drones I lacked the confidence to go too high, and thought I could just whip that thing around, back and forth, and always be in control. The truth is, it takes some time for your brain to learn that when the drone is flying toward you, the controls are "backwards". In a panic situation (like when you're about to fly into a tree) your brain tells your finger to do the exact opposite of what it should do. YouTube is full of videos of drones flying directly into things, with pilots making this mistake. When you're learning (and really all the time), fly higher than the objects on the ground, and you will definitely not crash into them.
2. Just because it's not very windy on the ground, doesn't mean it's not very windy at 50m of altitude.
There is a fantastic app called "UAV Forecast". It's a drone pilot's best friend. You input some parameters (follow the specs in your user manual for maximum windspeed, min and max temperature, etc.), and it will tell you at a glance whether or not it's "Good to Fly". It also includes a "Wind Profile" tab, giving you the windspeed at various altitudes, along with the gust speed. All kinds of other great weather data too, but temperature and wind (and obviously precipitation) are the big ones to be aware of. One thing to note: it gets windier as your altitude increases (colder too!).
3. Be very careful landing on a dock, or when water is really close by.
Some drones do a little bouncy-bounce when they land. I have a great underwater video of the area of the lake beside my brother-in-law's dock - shot with a drone. Not too many things more heartbreaking (or embarrassing) than watching your drone sink to the bottom of a lake. Even if you retrieve it, it can no longer be considered reliable enough to fly. Land on high ground!
4. Always remove your gimbal clamp before turning on the drone.
We get excited to fly. We just want to get that bird into the air. So we get to our flying field, turn on the remote, then turn on the drone, and we're ready to go. But then we get a crazy error message about a "gimbal motor overload", and we panic. Is my gimbal done? Is my drone broken? Check the gimbal clamp. When most gimbals turn on, they run through a self-test / calibration sequence, and if the gimbal clamp is on, then motors are pushing the gimbal, but it aint moving. Not good for the delicate gimbal, or the drone owner's stress level! The corollary of this rule, by the way, is always REPLACE your gimbal lock when you're storing or transporting your drone. Gimbals are EXPENSIVE!!
5. Don't take-off before you have a GPS fix.
We get excited to fly. We just want to get that bird into the air. So we get to our flying field, turn on the remote, remove the gimbal clamp (!!), then turn on the drone, and we're ready to go. Two sticks to the corners and up she flies. But, why is it floating all over the place? Why isn't it holding its position? Why has my drone gone haywire? It hasn't. It just doesn't have a GPS fix yet. Sit tight before take off and get the GPS fix!!
It's a terrible feeling to watch your drone crash, or to lose it in a field. Being aware of these tips will reduce the chances of ever learning what that feeling is like!