How Drones Work: A Beginner’s Guide To Understanding Drones

Flying a drone, especially if you built it yourself, can be an exhilarating experience—whether you are just buzzing it around the neighborhood or using it to capture amazing photography. Drones are becoming increasingly popular. However, trying to fly one without any prior experience can be a bit overwhelming for everybody. Understanding how drones work can make your first time a little less erratic. You need to know the essential parts for drones and how they perform their functions. This will also help when doing repairs on the drone.

Parts of drones

It is important to know the drones’ parts so that you know the materials to look for when building your own drone. Even if you are buying a ready-to-fly drone, this will help when you eventually crash your drone and need to repair it. The main parts of drones include the following:

  • The frame
  • Battery and Charger
  • Propellers
  • Motors
  • Radio Transmitter and Receiver
  • Flight Control Board, and
  • Electronic Speed Control (ESC)

The frame is usually x- or t-shaped for quadcopters. It connects and holds all the other components of the drone. The size and weight of the frame will affect the drone’s flying capabilities.

Drones are usually powered by batteries. Always remember to carry the battery charger with you so that you are not forced to ground the drone when it runs out of battery. It is always advisable to have multiple batteries so that you can keep the drone flying as you recharge the drained ones.

The propellers determine the direction of the drone’s flight. For a quadcopter, there are usually 4 propellers—one on each wing of the X. 

The propellers are spun by motors, a single motor for each propeller. How fast the motors spin will depend on the number of electric volts that is supplied to them. They are connected to the battery through the ESC, which dictates how fast the motors spin. Each motor can spin at different speeds to let you change direction and maneuver the drone.

The flight control board is the center of operations, controlling the gyroscopes and the accelerometer, which in turn determine how fast a given motor spins.

The radio transmitter is used to remote control the drone, with the receiver relaying signals between the remote control and the drone.

Parts of a radio transmitter

The transmitter, already discussed above, is used to remote control the drone and determine its flight paths. They come in different sizes and shapes, all with individual unique features. However, the following parts are found on most transmitters:

  • The right stick
  • The left stick
  • The trim buttons

The right stick is in charge of controlling the roll and the pitch. The left stick controls the throttle and yaw. The trim buttons are used to adjust the natural intensity of the controls and keep the drone stable when using the throttle.

The functions of the right and the left sticks are discussed below.

How to control a drone

There are 4 factors to control as you navigate your drone: pitch, roll, throttle, and yaw.


This refers to the forward and backward movement of the drone. Forward push of the right stick results in a forward movement of the drone and vice versa.


Roll is used to move the drone to the right or to the left. For example, pushing the stick to the left forces the air to move to the right and make the drone fly leftwards. 


The throttle is constantly engaged to keep the drone airborne. You engage the throttle by pushing the left stick forwards. You can disengage the throttle by pulling the stick backward. It is always advisable to only completely disengage the throttle when you are a few inches from the ground.


Yaw rotates the drone either clockwise or counter-clockwise. The purpose of this is to enable the drone to make circles and, for example, follow objects even if they change directions. You use the left stick on the transmitter for this.

It is important to note that how strong the drone moves in the specified direction depends on how hard the sticks are pushed. Start gently until you are comfortable enough to make sharp movements.

How long can a drone stay in the air?

Some drones can fly for as long as 30 minutes while others can only go for a maximum of 10 minutes before needing a recharge. It all depends on how advanced your drone is. Even if you’re using your drone just for recreational purposes, you don’t want to constantly have to stop the fun to recharge the drone. Here are the factors that influence how long your drone flies that you should know about:

1. Battery Life

The more powerful your battery is, the longer you will take before needing a recharge. Lithium batteries are known to last longer and are also more durable. 

2. Weight of the drone

If you are making your own drone, it is advisable to use light material so that the battery isn’t drained as quickly. Larger and heavier drones need large batteries for extended flight time. 

3. Weight of the add-ons

Commercial drones usually have other attachments such as cameras, sensors, and recorders on them. These attachments add to the weight of the drone and drain the battery much faster. 

4. The weather

Unfavorable weather conditions reduce the flight time of the drone. Extreme weather conditions such as cold and heat make the batteries discharge much faster. It is not advisable to fly the drone in strong winds. It not only has to spend more energy in fighting the winds, but also risks getting off course and crashing.

Drones don’t get along with water. It is common sense to avoid flying the drone when it is raining. However, you should also avoid humid conditions as the precipitation can damage the battery and the motors. Since an occasional crash is expected, you should always have somewhere to acquire the essential parts for drones. If it is a DIY drone, then you can even use a 3D printer to design the drone’s replacement parts.


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