Setting up your drone project

If you’re ready to start flying and experimenting, check out the below flight guides and resources, developed with input from MLF and the Project Daedalus team, to help you carry out test runs.

Getting ready to fly

The exact steps will depend upon your drone and project aims; most drone manufacturers offer detailed flight support, so make sure you’ve familiarised yourself with all the documentation and guidance relating to your model. The below are general tips for good flight practice, assuming you’ve obtained all necessary permissions for legal flight in your area, and consent from owners of any property you may fly over. (See also Legal matters and Health & safety sections.)

  1. Inspect your drone system. Check for damaged propellers or parts, or evidence of wear.
  2. Fully charge all devices. This includes the flight battery, the remote controller and associated devices like smartphones, tablets, laptops and wifi extenders.
  3. Make sure the area in which you are flying is clear and open, far away from people, buildings or airports. Informing as many relevant parties as possible about the proposed activity and signposting where appropriate can help ensure your flight area remains clear throughout the flight. Never fly above people or animals and have a ‘Return to Home’ plan in place should your flight area be compromised.
  4. Wait for a GPS signal. Make sure the signal is clear and strong before takeoff.
  5. Make sure the weather is good, without winds or other interference.
  6. Make sure to stay within ‘line of sight’ of your drone. Never fly higher than 400 feet.
  7. Stay in physical contact with the UAV’s control unit. Even when using autonomous flight functions, keep hold of the control sticks so that you are ready to take control in case of any malfunctions.
  8. Practice and learn in increments. We recommend using a cheap, small UAV for your first flights, as crashes are so common. As you grow in skill and expertise, you can gradually add more sophisticated tricks and maneuvers. Learning gradually and upgrading in steps helps reduce the risk of accidents and potential damage to an expensive drone.


Live performance vs behind-the-scenes and virtual experiences

When considering the effect you want to achieve using drones, you may wish to consider the pros and cons of using drones before live audiences, versus drones to capture and share activity behind the scenes, or create compelling short films.

Drones used in live performance:

Pros: spectacle; shared event; first-hand experience; immediacy

Cons: increased risk of danger; limited flight times; audience size constrained by room size; drones may be noisy; security measures such as netting may interfere with view; cost against length of performance; complex technology high risk in a live environment.

Drones used to capture behind the scenes or create short films

Pros: more control over flight area; less risk; legacy – can continue to be shared online & via social media; FPV enables new experiences and views; extends audience – more people can view and experience;  more control over editing and final product

Cons: removes immediacy; drones are less performative and become more like tools or flying cameras

The first ‘drone circus’, AIR 2015, is being planned in Amsterdam, and the organisers promise it will wow audiences with ‘a variety of ballet and battles, races and lasers, circus, illusions and most of all magic from hundreds of drones’. Compare this to the Cirque du Soleil’s ‘Sparked’, which manages to capture some of the excitement and charm of a drone ballet in a self-contained short film, rather than through live performance. This short film of a scheduled flight through the New York Public library gives just a hint of the narrative possibilities achieved by combining FPV with cutaways of the drone in flight.

In deciding which route to take, you’ll want to weigh options, costs and challenges against the effect that you want to achieve. Thinking about how you want the audience to experience the event, and working backwards, may help you define which setup is best for your project.

Consider your audience when creating work using UAVs – what experience do you want them to have & where, what kind of aerial spectacle or view do you intend to create? How can the UAVs best facilitate that?  The below aims to help you consider the options and best delivery for your project. For more technical advice on carrying out the project, see our Piloting and pitfalls section.



Next page in toolkit: Piloting and avoiding pitfalls