Every drone flight I do is preceded by a great deal of preparation and research. This list is part of a new series where I’ll be highlighting the most important things I do before, during, and after my drone flights. Unfortunately, it’s never just as simple as arriving at a location and sending my drone up into the air, but simple preparation can make flying my drone fun and low-stress.
1. Find Where to Fly
This may seem obvious, but I wanted to include it because some of my favorite drone flights have been places where I wouldn’t have normally looked. If I’m out driving, I like to keep a voice recorder nearby so I can take down notes about interesting locations I pass. If I’m at my computer, I’ll pull up Google Earth and scroll around until I find something that jumps out at me, like an interesting lake or land formation
2. Consult the Maps
Once I have my location picked out, I use Airmap, a handy service that shows what regulations and restrictions are in effect at a given area. Are there any airports nearby? Schools? National Parks? Depending on the restrictions, I might have very little to do next, or I might have to...
3. Request Permission to Fly
If the area where I need to fly is within 5 miles of an airport or located in Class B or Class C airspace, then I’ll need to contact the Air Traffic Control tower for authorization to fly. Last year, I took the Part 107 FAA exam and became a licensed commercial drone pilot. When I speak with the Air Traffic Controller I have to give them my license information as well as coordinates of where I’ll be flying, what time I’ll be flying, and for how long I’ll be in the air. I’ve always been met with appreciation when doing this, as there are often drones being flown without any consideration to local rules or regulations.
4. Update Software & Charge Batteries
I use a DJI Mavic Pro for my drone work and before I fly, I always make sure to check for any updates. Making sure that the app and firmware are on the same page is important, as it helps my phone, the remote controller, and the drone communicate effectively. I also like to visit the DJI forums and see what other pilots have to say about recent updates. Sometimes, updates that are rolled out can cause more harm than help and it’s good to know what to expect with each new version.
- I want to make the most out of my flight time, so I make sure that I have all three of my batteries charged to full capacity as well as the remote controller. DJI batteries are lithium-ion and will gradually lose charge over time, so I always like to double check and charge.
5. Check the weather
The last thing I do before I leave is check the weather. I do this through Weather.com or through local Air Traffic Control (METAR) weather reports. Weather.com provides a general feel for what the forecast is, complete with humidity, dew point, and chance of precipitation--all important things to consider when sending a drone up in the air. The METAR report is incredibly extensive and is something I like to check on to keep my knowledge of the lingo sharp. Here’s an example of one of those reports:
KPWM 131624Z 01015G31KT 1/4SM SN FZFG VV009
- This translates to: At Portland Airport, March 13th at 1624 Zulu Time, Winds from the North (10 degrees) at 15 knots gusting to 31 knots, Visibility at a ¼ mile, With Snow and Freezing Fog, With an Indefinite Ceiling with Vertical Visibility at 900 Feet Above Ground Level. Like with any second language, if you don’t use it, you lose it!
Next in the series, I’ll be going over what I do when I’m out in the field flying my drone! Thanks for reading and stay tuned!