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Drone Flying in Challenging Environments

Technological advances, automation, app customizations, and self-flying features have streamlined drone flying; however, flying in difficult environmental conditions can cause drone pilots to experience detrimental damage to their drones.  The worst conditions in which to fly electronic equipment are intense heat or cold, which can affect battery life and heat tolerance.

Under normal conditions, there might be a drone battery drop of one percent to two percent per 30 seconds of active flying, but in cold weather, that can jump 10 percent in 30 seconds.  Pilots should bring extra batteries and keep them warm in a glove compartment to avoid loss in capacity.  Also, changing out batteries when they drop below 70 percent is important to prevent a massive battery life drop and drone damage.

Drones can typically operate in hot temperatures, but they cannot tolerate extreme heat in cars and humidity.  Drone batteries should be placed inside a cooler for protection and it is recommended to keep flights as short as possible and conduct recalibration of drone parts regularly. 

When flying where there are a lot of vegetation and trees, anticipate anything that can go wrong, and bring propeller guards, spare props, and even a backup drone.  Have the GPS mode set up on the drone to navigate more easily and return to home (RTH) mode on to easily recall the drone before something happens.  Next, find the most open places for takeoffs and landings; set up a point of interest flight path on the building to be surveyed; and have object avoidance built into the software when the point of interest (POI) mode is on. 

If the drone crashes, first locate where it has fallen, and if it could possibly fall, secure the area below so that no one is injured.  Reclaim it yourself or call a tree climber.  Once retrieved, assess damages to propellers and the drone body; use a backup drone if necessary to finish any work.  The drone manufacturer should offer any technical support needed.

When flying in lighting that is either too bright or too dark, a drone pilot can still get high-quality images by using a Neural Density (ND) filter in full sun, which acts like sunglasses for drone cameras.  In low lighting, the ISO (the camera’s sensitivity to light) should be kept as low as possible.  Too high a setting can result in graininess.  Slightly increasing the ISO can help brighten images.

In wind conditions above 10-15 mph, it is best for beginners to avoid operating a drone.  Once a pilot gains experience, it is fairly easy to operate in winds as high as 20 mph.  Wind gusts are the real culprits – be sure to check the weather forecast for these type of winds that can toss around or knock down a one pound to three pound drone.  Pilots should also keep an eye on the drone’s battery life and be aware that wind speeds can vary widely at different altitudes.  Check wind speeds at different altitudes (via the Aviation Weather Center).  When the drone is up in the air, first stabilize the drone before taking photos.  If the drone is unstable, the photos may be grainy, blurry, and low quality.

These tips cannot solve every potential problem, but good practices by drone pilots can; and the key to success is always practice.  Experience with drones can help pilots handle tough climates and be safe flying.