Introduction:

You just received a brand new drone - but you're not sure where to start! Or, even if you are, you still might not have a systematic process for setting up new drone units for operation.

This checklist is designed to run you through the first-time setup of a new drone, from visual inspections to instrument calibration.

Let's get everything out of the box and prepare your drone for its first mission.

Preparation:

Record basic details

Let's start by recording some basic data for both the drone and the technician who will be performing the setup.

Everything you need to provide is set out in the form fields below. Just fill them in and proceed to the next task.

Provide any further information in the next field. This isn't necessary, but it might be useful to note certain special instructions or details about the specific model you're setting up.

Parts inspection:

Unpack all components

Remove all components from their storage boxes and set them out in an orderly fashion, so that each component can be clearly distinguished and identified.

This step is quite self-explanatory, but essential before moving forward.

Check the parts listed on the box to make sure you're clear about what should and shouldn't be there.

Check all components

What you'll find inside of your new drone package depends on exactly what model and specification you're dealing with. Check the parts listed on any packaging and make sure everything is present.

Be aware of spares or alternate parts provided, and be sure to read the manual in order to understand the function of each component.

Once you're sure everything is unpacked and that nothing is missing, give everything a look-over to make sure there are no faulty components.

Check each component in the sub-checklist below to confirm you've inspected it and declare whether or not anything needs to be repaired or replaced.

  • 1
    Chassis
  • 2
    Propellers
  • 3
    Motors
  • 4
    Gimbal
  • 5
    LEDs
  • 6
    Screws
  • 7
    GPS
  • 8
    Landing frame
  • 9
    Batteries
  • 10
    ESC
  • 11
    Compass
  • 12
    Wiring
  • 13
    Camera

Replace broken or missing components

If there are damaged components, they will need to be replaced immediately before the drone can be properly set up.

Contact your vendor about replacing broken parts if you're still under warranty.

Specify which parts are broken with the form field below.

  • 1
    Chassis
  • 2
    Propellers
  • 3
    Motors
  • 4
    Gimbal
  • 5
    LEDs
  • 6
    Screws
  • 7
    GPS
  • 8
    Landing gear
  • 9
    Batteries
  • 10
    Electronic Speed Controller
  • 11
    Compass
  • 12
    Wiring
  • 13
    Camera

Charge batteries

One of the first things you should do, after verifying the components are not faulty, is begin charging your battery packs. 

This includes packs for both drone and controller units, as well as any spares.

Remember not to overcharge your packs. Ideally, you want to make sure each battery is at about 75% charge before continuing on with the tasks.

Complete the subtask checklist below to indicate batteries have been charged sufficiently.

  • 1
    Charge drone batteries to 75%
  • 2
    Charge controller batteries to 75%
  • 3
    Charge spare batteries to 75%

Assembly:

Read the manual

This may seem obvious, but especially for new drone setups, reading the manual should be one of the first things you do before attempting to assemble any components, least of all perform a test flight.

There really isn't much to this one - just make sure you read the manual thoroughly enough to have a good understanding of what it is each component is supposed to do, and what you're supposed to do with it. 

If you don't have time to read the whole manual, then at least make sure you have a firm grasp of the main components and their functions.

Unfold drone

Unfold the armature of the drone outwards so that the frame is locked and the propellers are ready for mounting.

Make sure you aren't applying too much force as to damage the armature. How many armatures you'll need to unfold will depend on exactly what model you're setting up.

Once you've unfolded all arms, proceed to the next task.

Remove gimbal clamp

The gimbal clamp is a protective cover that fits over the lens of the drone camera.

New units will often come with these pre-installed, and the function is primarily intended for when the drone is being transported.

Before you perform calibration, you'll want to remove the gimbal clamp so that the camera has a clear line-of-sight for video capture.

This video details a few quick tips for getting started with DJI's Phantom 2 Vision, including a visual demonstration of gimbal clamp removal.

Install propellers

Be aware of the orientation of the propellers. It will be clearly stated in your manual, but each propeller has a preferred spin direction and a right-way-up for proper installation.

Motor direction will also affect normal propeller behavior, but since motors almost always come pre-installed, you're more likely to run into a problem with an incorrectly installed propeller.

Follow the subtasks below and install each propeller accordingly.

  • 1
    Ensure drone batteries are removed
  • 2
    Ensure controller batteries are removed
  • 3
    Place drone on a level horizontal surface
  • 4
    Install propellers

Insert batteries

Check on your batteries from the earlier task - they should be sufficiently charged by now.

Once they're all at 75%, you're ready to tackle the subtask checklist below.

  • 1
    Check drone batteries are charged to 75%
  • 2
    Check controller batteries are charged to 75%
  • 3
    Place drone on a level horizontal surface
  • 4
    Insert drone battery
  • 5
    Insert controller battery

Activate control application(s)

Before configuring the instruments on your drone you need to power on and link control station software.

Follow this sub-checklist in preparation for calibration.

It's highly likely your unit will need to be updated once you fire up the control application(s). For this step, you'll need a secure and consistent internet connection.

  • 1
    Power on drone
  • 2
    Power on remote controller
  • 3
    Power on additional control modules
  • 4
    Launch control software
  • 5
    Update firmware

Calibration:

Calibrate Global Positioning System (GPS)

The first reading we'll be calibrating is the Global Positioning System (GPS).

The GPS system in your drone provides critically useful coordinate data to many other internal navigation systems, including the Return to Home (RTH), position-hold and autonomous flight, so it's important you set this one up early.

This step also requires an active internet connection (wired or wireless) so be sure that you are connected before you start.

Follow the sub-checklist below to check your GPS readings, and reset them if necessary.

  • 1
    Place drone on level horizontal surface
  • 2
    Connect control application to internet
  • 3
    Check GPS reading
  • 4
    Check secondary GPS reading
  • 5
    Reset drone GPS (if necessary)
  • 6
    Check GPS reading

Calibrate compass

Whilst the GPS is a veritable engine in your UAV navigation system, the compass is doubtless one of many wheels.

Calibrating your compass is often as easy as accessing an in-app command and waiting for the software to do its job. Make sure you consult your model-specific manual and follow the sub-checklist below for the calibration process.

  • 1
    Refer to manual for calibration instructions
  • 2
    Ensure battery has sufficient charge
  • 3
    Perform compass calibration
An example of compass calibration performed on DJI's Phantom 3 model.

Calibrate Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU)

The Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) is a system which uses a combination of accelerometers and gyroscopes, sometimes also magnetometers, to calculate angular velocity and linear acceleration.

Refer to your model-specific manual for the exact steps required for IMU calibration - but it will most likely be a simple configuration within the control application settings.

Complete the calibration by following the sub-checklist below.

  • 1
    Place drone on level horizontal surface
  • 2
    Refer to manual for calibration instructions
  • 3
    Ensure battery has sufficient charge
  • 4
    Perform IMU calibration
  • 5
    Check IMU readings

Calibrate Return to Home (RTH)

Your Return to Home (RTH) is a failsafe in place so that the drone unit remembers the spot from where it took off from and will automatically return to this spot when prompted.

This usually happens when the unit loses connection to the remote controlling pilot, and so must navigate back on its own (via the use of GPS).

Complete the sub-checklist below to configure the RTH failsafe.

  • 1
    Place drone on level horizontal surface
  • 2
    Refer to manual for calibration instructions
  • 3
    Check battery has sufficient charge
  • 4
    Set RTH coordinates
  • 5
    Set maximum flight altitude

Check storage card is inserted

Drones utilizing camera functions will need a storage card to record footage onto. Other units may also incorporate data such as local GPS information.

Whatever the case, you should make sure the storage card on your new drone is properly inserted.

If your unit did not come with a card pre-installed, remember to insert the card and test it is working before the first flight.

  • 1
    Check storage card is inserted properly
  • 2
    Insert storage card (if necessary)
  • 3
    Perform drone video capture
  • 4
    Transfer data from storage card to computer
  • 5
    Check drone video was captured correctly

Testing:

Perform test flight

Now that all instruments are calibrated, you can perform a short flight to check that everything is working as expected.

Complete the sub-checklist here to test out each of the drone's main systems and you should be all set for your first real operation!

  • 1
    Check all batteries have 75% charge
  • 2
    Launch the drone
  • 3
    Perform position-hold at low altitude
  • 4
    Check compass readings are normal
  • 5
    Check GPS coordinates are correct
  • 6
    Check IMU readings are accurate
  • 7
    Test RTH system is working
  • 8
    Capture video footage
  • 9
    Land the drone safely

Sources:

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