This is all going to sound very obvious and like common sense. Well, it is. Unfortunately though, sometimes common sense can go right out the window when someone is excited about testing out a new vehicle. Being overly nervous can have the same effect. So, here are some basic guidelines to follow for reference:
- Never test a new setting around people: This is true with all types of drones. It doesn't matter if you're at a designated flying field, RC car track, or missile testing range. Choose a time when there are as few observers as possible. If things go wrong, you don't want to hurt someone.
- Take baby steps in testing: Did you just build a new drone? Don't go full autonomous. You never want to go full autonomous. At least not right out of the gate. First, run at full manual control to make sure all of the linkages are working properly. Then, step it up to some small autonomous maneuvers, and work your way up to flat out speed, or takeoffs and landings.
- Leave the propellers off: When you're making sure that power gets to the system and programming the system; remove the propellers on any air vehicles. Put any rovers up on stands to get the wheels off the ground. Elevate any boats to keep the screws off the table. If the throttle suddenly goes wide open, you don't want any personal or property damage.
- Always remember that your drones are experimental: The drones you build yourself are not full production machines. They don't have an entire team of engineers and quality assurance technicians, and they certainly aren't made by a corporation that can be held responsible for faulty assembly in the case of an accident. You are responsible for anything that may go wrong. Therefore, be responsible. These things can hurt or even kill people. A large 20 lb drone falling from the sky into a crowd of people is not going to make for a pleasant day for anybody.
- Have a spotter with you: Testing drones is a team effort. As you'll probably have your face buried in a screen monitoring telemetry data, or have target fixation on your drone trying to keep your financial investment in the air, on all four wheels, or skitting across the surface of a pond; have someone with you to advise you of obstacles and problems you may face. They can also help keep onlookers that happen by back from the danger zone. In the event of something catastrophic, they can also help you find all the pieces.