Advice, Observations, and Tips From The UAV Experts Flight Instructors & Drone Repair Techs
1. DEPTH PERCEPTION
Why oh why do folks run into things while flying?
Exercise: Hold one finger up in front of your face and focus on that finger. While staring at the finger, focus on the background behind your finger. Now try to focus on both your finger and the background at the same time.
Just like the finger exercise, most people don’t take into consideration depth perception when flying a drone. It’s already difficult to look at the trees behind the UAV, and possible obstacles in front of it. When you have to focus on both while flying, it can be difficult to have the proper depth perception. I know some of you will argue that you are able to see both things because they are both right in front of you, and you are correct. However, the issue is your eyes simply cannot accurately gauge the distance between the two objects in a compressed state.
When you are focused on the aircraft, you may have a good idea of where it is in 3D space, even though you can see the trees behind it and you don’t know where they are relative to the aircraft. We teach this in our Part 107 test prep class at the UAV Ground School, especially in the night flight lessons. In the UAV Training classes, I have watched my students fly into the trees while staring directly at the aircraft less than 100 feet from them. Now, in all honesty, we never let a student get that close. We do, however, show them the depth perception issue and reach in at the last minute to save the aircraft from hurting our tree. The point is, once the student stops and focuses to see the trees, they realize just how close they are. In our teachings, we always preach “why would you even remotely put your aircraft in a position where an issue could occur?”
Post flight most students swear that they were much further away. This problem exists in all patterns of flight, including when you think you may be in front of, or behind something, and then you fly right into it. It’s worse with small obstacles, like the little limbs and things that stick out of a tree. Picture this – your standing on the sidelines of a football game, trying to fly circles around the goal post 200 ft away, tough and almost impossible even for an experienced pilot.
The real life has hidden “gotcha places”. These are the places that pose real problems, for example, creeks, narrow roadways through trees, or even city streets where the “money shot” is flying down the path with walls of some sort on both sides. These “walls” can be made up of just about anything, even wide open areas on a lake where it feels safe. In these situations, take the time to fly the path slowly, stopping to focus on the walls and the aircraft at many points through the shot, giving you an idea of what the shot looks like prior to flying it for the camera. Remember to practice and practice slowly. As simple as that sounds, it will point out things you may not have noticed, keeping you out of trouble.
Most importantly, try to align yourself so that you can see the length of the hallway from one end to the other looking straight ahead. Remember the line of sight rules, they will give you a better perspective of where the aircraft is in relation with both sides of your hallway. If you stand halfway down the shot and attempt to fly the hallway from one end to the other, you will find it very difficult to gauge the position of the moving aircraft and the speed. Always use a spotter or a second person to operate the camera, and practice your communicating skills between the pilot and spotter. Turn left does not really mean anything to a pilot who is a long way away. Is that roll left or Yaw left? The difference could put you in the trees!
2. DONT FREAK OUT WHEN “IT” HAPPENS
If and when you end up in a sticky situation, the worst thing to do is to freak out, panic and start giving multiple “spray and pray” type inputs to the aircraft. When you look at the problem, you tend to fly into the problem. What I mean is, thinking “OH MY GOD IVE GOT TO FIX THIS!” leads to over controlling the aircraft, and results in crashing into the said object you were trying to avoid.
Remember when you first learned to ride a bike or motorcycle? They tell you not to look at the one tree in the field. It’s because you will hit the tree if you do. In these situations, you have to stop (even if very quickly), release the controls (if in GPS mode the aircraft will stop and hover), take a deep breath, and survey the situation.
Remember that a GPS controlled aircraft knows where they are. If you stop touching the buttons, they will stop and hover where they are. If you are in a situation where personal injury is coming on quick ly, like a vehicle, a person or god forbid a manned aircraft heading for your drone, typically the best thing to do is kill the throttle, let it crash, or shove it into the trees nearby. These bail out areas should be chosen BEFORE you take off. That’s right, prior to each flight you should have a briefing, even if it is just you. Talk about what will you do if X happens, what will you do if Y happens, and while working X or Y, Z happens.
Have a plan and execute the plan. Even if it’s an expensive aircraft, stuffing it in the ground or a tree is better than running into something, or worse, hurting someone.
3. CHARGE THE D@#% BATTERIES
I can’t tell you how many time I’ve had customers in our repair center claiming “IT JUST FELL OUT OF THE SKY!”.
When this happens, our techs look at the flight logs and point out to the customer that they were flying with a partially charged battery. Even if you think “I’m only going to be up for a few minutes” it is dangerous territory to start with less than full packs. There are several problems that come in here. One is that your brain is programmed for the flight time of the full battery, so you don’t think about checking battery voltage often.
Second is that batteries have a tendency to lose power faster when they are run down. It may show 50% or 60% when you start it up but will drop to 40% or 35% quickly because the pack was showing a resting voltage prior to flight. Once you take off, it drops back to real voltage when a load is put on them.
Third, you are almost always at a heightened adrenaline state when you put in a pack that isn’t charged. Typically, you wouldn’t even consider doing this unless that ‘once in a lifetime photo opportunity’ appears, and your batteries are low. The spike in adrenaline causes you to forget how low your batteries are, so you get up in the air to take the first shot, and what happens? The aircraft descends into the trees. YES – It happens that fast.
Tips From The UAV Experts Techs
We see a lot of these things in our repair shop so…
- Think ahead and plan your flights prior to the operation.
- Have a good preflight checklist and use it.
- Batteries, batteries, batteries. Have lots of them and make sure they are charged.
- Fly with a spotter and or camera operator
- Always ask yourself why would you even remotely allow yourself to put your aircraft in a position where an issue could occur.