If you haven't read Part 1 of my Drone Flights series, check it out here!
This week, I’m breaking down my routine for when I go out and fly my drone. If you haven’t read Part 1 of this series, check it out here! I do a lot of preparation before I even leave for a drone flight, but that doesn’t mean I’m ready to fly as soon as I get to my shoot location. I’m careful to do these 9 things when I’m out for a flight, all to avoid the near-heart-attack-inducing feeling of Oh my god I’m gonna crash my drone! Seriously, it’s the worst.
1. Observe Surroundings
The first thing I do when I arrive to my flight location is make sure that the weather forecast I looked at earlier was accurate. Then, I look at things that might get in the way of a safe flight such as: mountains, telephone poles, trees, etc. I mentally log these obstacles in my head and get a feel for the area in which I’m flying.
2. Check & Prep the Drone
Next, I double check my drone and make sure that everything is in working order. I make sure there are no issues with the propellers and that all of the harnesses for the camera have been taken off (this way I can move it properly with my remote control). The portability of drones is one of their greatest benefits, but I never know what might happen during a drive, so I take a final look just to be sure.
3. Self Examination
The last thing I do before I turn the drone on is a check of myself. DO NOT underestimate this step’s importance. In the Part 107 exam it really stresses the necessity of the IMSAFE protocol.
Illness - Is the pilot suffering from any illness or symptom of an illness which might affect them in flight?
Medication - Is the pilot currently taking any drugs (prescription or over-the-counter)?
Stress - Is the pilot overly worried about other factors in his life? The psychological pressures of everyday living can be a powerful distraction and consequently affect a pilot's performance.
Alcohol - Although legal limits vary by jurisdiction (0.04 BAC, any consumption in the past 8 hours or current impairment in the USA), the pilot should consider their alcohol consumption within the last 8 to 24 hours.
Fatigue - Has the pilot had sufficient sleep and adequate nutrition?
Emotion - Has the pilot fully recovered from any extremely upsetting events such as the loss of a family member?
This is basically a self assessment of where I’m at as a pilot. Did I get enough rest? Have I consumed any alcohol? Am I ok mentally with stress? The same thing goes for a pilot on a commercial airplane.
- We’ve all been in that position where the airplane flight can’t take off because the pilot needed to get more rest. Although it can be an inconvenience, it means that the plane is being operated within the IMSAFE guidelines.
- The same should go for drone pilots We need to make sure that we’re in a clear state of mind, not just to operate the drone, but to also effectively react to anything that can might go wrong. Because again, harkening to Kyle’s words, something eventually can and will go wrong and I have to be prepared for it.
4. Authorization & Logging
The final stage before my drone flight begins depends on the area in which I’m flying. If it’s a location that requires authorization I make sure to call to the Air Traffic Control Tower again to confirm that I’m still authorized to fly and share the details of my flight.
After authorization (or after the IMSAFE check if I didn’t need it) I open up AirMaps and I log my flight. I enter the data required, which usually entails maximum height and distance, anticipated flight time, and whether this is a commercial flight or one for fun.
5. Safe Takeoff
Once the flight is authorized and/or logged I (finally!) start to fly the drone. I always try to find a spot that’s very flat, or I take along a cardboard box. Drone accidents happen most frequently at two points of a flight: takeoff and landing. It’s critical that I’m focused on the drone, checking surroundings, and maintaining a safe distance. I make sure that I have a strong GPS signal, there are no issues with the compass, and my horizon is level. Now the fun begins!
6. Initial Scout
I love to first do an initial ascent, followed by a couple circles to survey the area and get a feel for what I’m looking at through the camera. Are there any cool cloud formations? How’s the light from the sun interacting above and below the tree line? Is the wind affecting the grass at all? This is where I get ideas for my fun shots (more on that later) and provide structure for my planned ones.
7. Clear the checklist
The next thing I do is complete the checklist of shots I planned beforehand. Sometimes I have an extensive shot list, other times I have a mental checklist. The big thing here is not compromising. If I mess up at the tail end of a camera move I’ll take it back to square one and keep trying until I nail it. I never know how long I’ll need the clip in an edit to be, so I try to give as much buffer time for the beginning and end of my shots. Depending on how much I need to cover for video and photo, sometimes I can be done with this in 10 minutes, sometimes it takes the whole first battery (approximately 20-22 minutes).
8. Fun & Challenging Shots
Once my structured shots are finished I start to play around and get a lot of different, cool shots and really test my abilities as a pilot. One of my favorite maneuvers is a simultaneous turn, altitude change, and gimbal move (moving the camera up and down). I’ll usually fail at my initial attempts, but eventually I’ll start to get closer and closer, feeling for the right moment to make the subtle dial turns and joystick bumps. I always make sure that I take time do shots like this so I can keep my skills sharp.
9. Safe Landing & Pack Everything Up
When I finish all of my fun shots and my battery starts to get low I bring the drone back down. Depending on where I’m at I can land it either on top of my car, on the ground below me, or I can bring it directly into my hand. Once I finish doing this I make sure that I log my flight time, collapse the drone, package it away safely and return home.
Thanks for reading! Next week I’ll be exploring my post-production process and how I organize and edit my drone footage!