If you are an experienced drone operator, you have probably have had your drone crash and learnt along the way from your mistakes. If you are new at flying drones, you probably have the latest DJI model that has a sensors al around and crashing them is not easy. However, still, you must have come close to crashing one, or perhaps relied too much on sensors and return to home feature and eventually resulting in a crash.
With my 15 years of experience in flying Drones and RC Helicopters, I have written down these ten most important steps that will make crashing a drone almost impossible due to human and most technical error.
- Battery Check: Day before you intend to fly your drone ensure all batteries are sufficiently charged and are free of any damage or wear and tear. If there is any irregularity or any error, do not use it, mark it clearly and investigate later thoroughly. Drone crash due to the faulty battery is typical. Also, check all firmware are up to date.
- Risk Assessment: Once you are at the location of drone flight, look around and make a mental check of things that can cause you to crash. Could be lamp posts, road signs, electric wires, or construction crane. When flying below the obstacles and tight spaces, pay extra attention, and when you are flying above all obstructions, you can relax. Always fly at 70–80% of your ability. More complex locations more planing you must do.
- Return to Home: Do not depend on a return to home button. Always land back yourself. Based on your location surrounding program return to home altitude for an emergency. For example, if you are flying in an area with the most obstacles at 80 meters, your drone will crash if it is programmed at 70 meters to return home.
- Line of Sight: Unless you are flying FPV, you must maintain the line of sight 80% of the time when flying dual operator. You can look at the screen to see a composition or to get the orientation of the camera and drone when is it safe to do so. But if flying sideways or in tight spaces, the light of sight should always be maintained. Do not fly more than 500 meters in a built-up area and 700 meters in open areas.
- Rule of Hover: When working on a mid to large production there will be more than 30 to 50 people on set, and there is a chance someone will cross or stand in between you and the drone and block your view just when you are about to take off or land. To avoid this you need to ensure someone from your team is securing the area to make sure no one enters 5-meter radius of drone, and then take off and hover at 5 meters to quickly check if the drone is ok and all motors functioning well, and start flying. When landing, hover above the landing zone at 5 meters, ensure the area is clear to land and land. This procedure has helped me avoid crash many times while working on an unorganized or hectic set where everyone is running wild.
- Planing: Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail. Like any aspect of life, communication is the key and is essential in delivering what is expected from the Drone team. Meet the director and DOP understand the shots and raise red flags if there are shots that can not be done or are too risky. This should mostly be done prior to shooting during planing and location scouting stage and even on location. This will help you in saving batteries, you will look professional, and shots will be achieved faster. No not take off unless you know what shots client wants you to capture.
- Safe to Say No: It is expected that during every project you will be pushed to your limits and learn to say know if the client is asking you to do something unsafe or out of your capability. It is better to turn down a shot than to walk away with a crashed drone on a set.
- Overconfidence: In my experience, overconfidence is the no.1 cause of the drone crash. When you are overconfident that nothing will go wrong and you do not plan your shoot and trust your drone too much. Expect the best but prepare for the worst.
- Fatigue: Flying drone can be stressful depending on where you are flying and especially if you are flying for a client. Make it a point to take adequate rest before your flight. If you are well rested you will give your best. If you are tired and sleepy chances of making mistakes will be higher.
- When to land back: Set your drone to give you battery warning at 25% and start landing process when the battery is at 25%. This works in any number of situations, you could be flying far, and this gives you enough times to land back, or your drone disconnects or remote dies it will have enough battery to fly back to you.
If you are here and have read the above points means you are serious about safety and want to excel at your drone piloting skill. I wish you all the best and always remember safety first. If you have any questions, please write in comments below, and I will reply to any questions.
(Hatim Saleh is Founder of CHOPPERSHOOT Drone Company based in Dubai and Abu Dhabi )