A drone controller, often called the transmitter, is used by a pilot to fly and control the drone. In most cases, the controller uses radio signals to communicate with the drone or quadcopter. RC controller technology hasn’t changed much over the years, and neither have the controllers themselves.
Most drone controllers have:
- 2 sticks, for controlling the channels
- An LCD display
- On/Off switch
- Trim adjustments
- Rate adjustments
Controllers provide a number of channels that allow separate transmissions to the controller. For quadcopters, the most popular personal drone design right now, the controller will have 4 channels. Each channel refers to a directional control for the quadcopter:
- Yaw – Flight term used to describe the drone’s rotation around its center axis. Controls which way the drone is facing.
- Pitch – Flight term used to describe the flight’s angle along an axis. Controls what end of the drone that moves higher.
- Roll – Flight term for turning along an axis. Offers a side-to-side motion.
- Throttle – Controls the rotors speed. Provides descent and lift.
Most controllers support 2 modes of drone control:
- Mode 1 – The left stick controls Pitch and Yaw and the right stick controls Throttle and Roll.
- Mode 2 – The left stick controls Throttle and Yaw and the right stick controls Pitch and Roll.
Mode 2 is hands down the most popular and generally the default setting for drone controllers. The instruction manual that comes with your drone will tell you how to switch modes if needed.
Which mode is best? There isn’t one single answer, and this is a commonly debated topic in various forums on the internet. The right answer is use the mode that works best for you, but consider the following:
- Once you get used to one, switching is very difficult.
- Most modern pilots use Mode 2.
- Mode 1 is generally an older mode, but used by competition pilots.
- Mode 2 replicates real world helicopter and quadcopter controls.
All drone controllers, even controllers found on low-cost models, come with trim adjustments.
A common problem with drones, especially on lower cost and older models, is that they tend to drift. You’ll notice drift when you fly your drone, and it seems to “pull” in one direction when the controller is in the centered position. Drift is very similar to when you are driving a car that is out of alignment. The car will pull into one direction or the other.
There are two primary reasons for drift:
- The gyro sensors aren’t perfectly adjusted
When flying outdoors, the wind is the most common cause of drift. While you can adjust the trim to compensate, doing so is difficult as the quadcopter’s flight direction is always changing. Adjusting for one direction makes the drift worse in the other direction. The best way to handle wind is to understand the direction it’s coming from and adjust your flying to compensate.
When flying indoors or even outdoors with no wind, if your quad is drifting, chances are the gyro sensors are a little off.
The first thing you should do is land your quadcopter, and force a gyro calibration. It will cause the quadcopter to reset its “level” settings. The way this is done varies from drone to drone, so check your manual or do an internet search on how to calibrate your model. We recommend calibrating your unit before each flight and always after a recharge.
If, after the calibration, your quad is still drifting a bit, then it’s time to adjust the trim settings. Trim adjustments vary from controller to controller, but generally, there is a way to adjust trim up or down for each channel. So if your drone is drifting left (roll), then you’ll want to trim the roll to the right some until it stops drifting.
Rate is generally found on more advanced controllers and allows the pilot to adjust the maximum settings for the channels. For example, if you’re flying indoors and want to control the throttle to a max level to keep your quad from smacking the ceiling, adjusting the rate would allow this.
Expert flyers can also adjust the rate to allow more control of the drone and make it more responsive. On the flip side, beginner pilots can adjust the rates down to make the drone less responsive and easy to fly.
A few notes on rate:
- Many quadcopters come with beginner and expert modes. These modes are essentially adjusting the rates for you.
- A gyro-stabilized quadcopter will only allow you to adjust the rates but so far and will keep you from adjusting it to the point that the quadcopter will flip over. Although, many drones come with special “trick flight” features that will cause your quad to do flips.
We hope you found this post on drone controllers helpful. Be sure to read over our complete set of Drone Guides as well!