Updated: Jun 8
Witten by Ryan Higginbotham
In this article, I’m going to go through fifteen different Tips on Safe Drone Operation to help you to become a better drone pilot. Whether you’re a beginner or you’ve flown drones for years, there’s a lot of information in this that we are going to cover that will to help you on all of your future flights. Some of the topics we’ll be touching on will be general functionality and operation. I plan on putting together another article that will cover tips to produce good looking video footage and photos. Our drone manufacturer of choice is the DJI lineup so most of the content will be applicable to them although many of these tips and tricks can be applied to any drone manufacturer.
Let’s dive in.
Tip #1 - Learn You’re Drone Inside and Out
Learn how your drone operates, how the propellers go on, how the gimbal works, and all the physical aspects about the drone itself as well as the controller. Just as important, the app you’ll be using to control your drone is an area that you will want to become familiar with. You’ll need a good understanding of the app and what all the buttons do because when you go out to fly. Make sure that when you’re in the air and you’re trying to get some unique photos or a cinematic video, you know what everything means and what the satellites mean. Knowing what each icon on the screen represents is fundamental. Icons such as signal strength and the different on-screen pop-ups such obstacle avoidance warnings. Learning the different components is not hard or complicated but there is a decent amount to learn to be able to know what your drone is doing up in the sky.
Tip #2 - Have a Stationary Launch and Landing Location
Do your best to ensure the area is clear of dust and debris so that when you take-off or land you don’t get dirt in your motors or gimbal. A budget friendly and useful item you could purchase is a is a launchpad. They just fold up and they go in your in your bag or backpack. This way you have a launchpad anywhere you go.
Tip #3 - Practice, Practice, Practice
Find somewhere to test out your drone such as a park or a large empty parking area. Use this time to learn the controls. This will establish a solid understand on the controller and how the drone moves in the air in a safe controlled environment.
Tip #4 - Establish a good GPS Connection
When you have a strong GPS signal before you takeoff, your drone is going to know where it is on the earth.It uses Global Positioning System (GPS) coordinates from satellites orbiting the earth to know exactly where it is. Ensuring you have a strong connection between before you just go fly will set your home position.The home point is set on a DJI drone when enough GPS satellites connect. It’s important to know exactly where the home point is because if there’s an issue it’s going to automatically return to that location. An issue that may arise could be happen if the drone disconnects from the controller.The drone will then automatically return to home, but only if the home point is set.
Tip #5 - Inclement Weather
Drones are not generally waterproof. Although they will work in certain conditions, why would you risk damaging an expensive piece of equipment or worse. Before your next flight, check the forecast for what the weather holds. Additionally, precipitation should not be your only concern. Wind is also a factor that should be recognized. A good rule of thumb for flying on windy days is to always start by flying into the wind. The reasoning behind this has to do with battery life. If you begin by flying with the wind rather than against it, the drone will have to work that much harder to return since it must now fly against the wind to return. This opens the risk of not having enough battery life left to return to the home position.
Tip #6 - The 20% rule
Always leave yourself enough battery life to return the home point and don’t fly to the end of your battery. Through experience, I have found that beginning your return flight once your battery reaches 20% remaining life. In cases where you have flown a significant distance away from your start point, you may want to increase that percentage to 25 or 30%. Additionally, there are outside factors that can have a negative effect on battery life such as extreme environmental temperatures. Always give yourself a little cushion so you can bring it back safely. It’s better to have a few spare batteries than trying to push your battery as far as I could possibly go.
Tip #7 - Landing on a Solid Flat Surface
Do your best not to catch/land your drone with/in your hand unless it’s necessary. If you’re still new, I suggest finding a solid stationary location you’re able to take-off and land your drone safely without needing to use your hands. I can’t say I haven’t done it, but trust me, I’ve learned my lesson. Last year I was at the beach and didn’t want to get my landing pad out of my backpack, so I tried catching it with my hands. Bad idea. As I was reaching my hand up toward the drone, a strong gust of wind shifted the drone just enough for the propeller blades to clip several of my fingers. Thankfully this isn’t a loss of a limb type injury, but it didn’t feel good. It gave me a few scratches, but worst of all, the drone immediately fell to the ground. Remember, I was at the beach, so this wasn’t some grassy field, it was sand. It took me a couple hours to get all the fine particles of sand out of all the crevices. All in all, I got off easy. It could have been much worse.
Tip #8 - Screen Cover
It happens all the time, you go outside to fly on a nice sunny day and the sun glare makes it hard to see you screen. When you’re flying your drone and can’t see your screen, there is an increased risk of crashing or injury. Find a nice shady spot out of direct sunlight. This will keep your phone (if your screen isn’t built-in) from getting too hot and dimming and your able to keep good situational awareness. Another option is to pick up a screen shade. Like the launchpad/landing pad, sun hoods and screen covers are fairly cheap.
Tip #9 - Pre-Equipment and Gear Check
Check each battery, your memory cards,
controller battery and anything else you need before you leave. There’s been times where I’ve driven two hours away to a project and forgotten to put the SD card back into the drone from the last flight. Try not to rush yourself because it will almost always lead to issues. Take a few minutes to go over all of your gear before the trip ensuring you’re good to go.
Tip #10 - Return Altitude
Don’t forget to set your ‘return to home’ altitude. I know of a local Fire Department in West Virginia that had a $20,000 drone and one day when they were using it the controller lost connection with the drone. West Virginia is full of mountains and if they would have set the return to home altitude, that wouldn’t have been an issue. Instead, it was still set extremely low from the factory and as the drone was returning, it flew right into the side of a mountain. As a good rule of thumb, set your return to home altitude to the same height as your max altitude for that flight. Generally, this won’t exceed 400 feet Above Ground Level (AGL).
Tip #11 - Quick Flight Test
When you take-off, hover just a few feet off the ground and double check everything is working correctly. It only takes a few seconds. This gives the drone a chance to establish a strong GPS signal and give you a chance to check the propellers and gimbal is fully operational.
Tip #12 - Rules and Regulations
Know the rules and regulations for the area before you start flying. Each location is different, and you should always make sure that you’re flying within the rules that are set in place. There are regulations in place within the USA that we must abide by, but if you’re in another country it might be a different set of rules. Wherever you’re flying, know exactly if you’re authorized to be flying there and what the rules are.
Some of the rules and regulations established in the US include:
- You must fly within visual line of sight
- Altitude must be below 400 feet
- Each drone must be registered with the FAA
- You can only fly for recreational purposes unless you have your part 107 license
- Ensure you’re not interfering with any manned aircraft
- You can only fly in class G airspace unless authorized to fly in controlled airspace
Tip #13 - Want to Make Money?
Get your part 107 license. This allows you to use your drone for commercial purposes (i.e. make money). This could be through selling your photos on your personal website or one of the many stock footage websites. You can’t legally sell your drone footage unless you have your part 107 license. Obtaining your license isn’t tough and you’ll learn many of the fundamentals of flying along the way. If your wanting your part 107, gather the study material and dig in. The test isn’t hard, but you will need to study before the test in order to pass.
Tip #14 - Active Track
This goes along with a couple earlier tips about knowing your drone, the controller, and the app. Active track is part of the app and one of those things to know and practice before you attempt to using it for a project. Find an open area and just play around with active track and learn everything about how you’re active track works depending on which drone you have. The tracking will be different as well as different limitations on these drones. Some drones only have sensors on the front, back, top and bottom while some have sensors all the way around. If you were to be using a drone that doesn’t have sensors all the way around, there is a chance it could be tracking you and fly right into a tree. Learn each function of your drone in a safe open area.
Tip #15 - Drone Limitations
Understand how your obstacle avoidance works. As I mentioned above, some drones such as the Mavic Air 2 doesn’t have obstacle avoidance sensors all the way around and could fly into something. Unlike the Mavic 3 that has omni-directional sensors providing 360º of obstacle avoidance. While these sensors are extremely handy, when you switch to ‘Sport Mode’ these sensors are no longer active. This means you could end up flying straight into a brick wall if you’re not careful.
Hopefully these Tips on Safe Drone Operation Until the next Flight...
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