Modern drone technology has brought powered, remote-control flight into the hands of hobbyists across the world. Drones can serve dozens of practical purposes, but they can also make for enormously good fun. However, they aren’t toys, so they should be treated with a degree of respect.
Flying your drone safely and legally requires that we take a few precautions and that we follow some basic rules of thumb. With that in mind, let’s run down 15 tips for safe drone flying.
How to fly a drone safely
Check the weather
Flying a drone in less-than-ideal weather conditions is going to increase your chances of a mishap. What wind speed is safe in which to fly a drone? It depends on the model. In most cases, it’s sufficient to use common sense. Drones are designed to cope with a little bit of wind and rain, but head out during a storm and, you may find it difficult to maintain control.
Check the Environment
When choosing an environment to fly, you might be thinking of aesthetic considerations like the beauty of the landscape and how it will look from on-high. This applies especially to drone photographers and videographers. More important is the ability of your signal to get to the drone and the potential consequences of a crash. If you’re in the middle of the countryside, then crashing your drone is unlikely to cause harm to other people.
All of the same rules that apply to driving a car also apply to flying a drone. If you’re under the influence of alcohol or drugs, then don’t fly. If you’re sleep-deprived or feeling unwell, then don’t fly. For much the same reason, you don’t want to split your attention, either — answering that WhatsApp message can wait until your drone has safely landed.
Be on the Lookout
You might need to quickly land at a moment’s notice if the situation changes. Be prepared to do so at all times. Threats might come from wildlife, sudden changes in the weather, low-flying aircraft, or even other drone pilots. This means keeping the drone low to the ground for a quick exit.
Keep the Weight down
Drones serve wonderfully as mobile platforms for cameras, and as packhorses for equipment. But every model comes with a rated weight limit, which should not be exceeded. If you aren’t yet used to piloting your drone when it’s under load, it’s worth spending a bit of time practising before attempting any ambitious manoeuvres. Bear in mind that your drone will be less fuel-efficient when it’s under load and that loading a drone might put it in a different class to the one you’re registered for.
Check the fuel
If your drone is going to stay in the air, it’ll need a source of energy. Consequently, it’s worth getting into the habit of checking the battery and fuel levels before you launch — both in the drone itself and in the controller you’ll be using to pilot it. Bear in mind that your drone will use more energy in windy conditions. Ideally, you’ll want more charge than you really need.
Don’t charge straight after a flight
You might think it’s a good idea to get into the habit of recharging as soon as you’re done flying. But this is not such a good idea, as the battery’s temperature will still be high. Many drones won’t accept incoming charge until the battery has cooled down. Check the battery once you’re home, and if it’s cooled down, begin charging.
Update your Firmware
Drones can still be improved, even after they’ve left the factory. Check the manufacturer’s website for firmware updates. These might confer a range of improvements in power-efficiency, navigation, and restricted airspace information. Check the patch notes to see what’s changed. Updates are usually easy to administer — just follow the instructions provided along with the patch itself.
Know your drone
Once you garner a bit of experience with your drone, you’ll be better equipped to pilot it safely. But there are a few pieces of information that you’ll want to bear in mind before you take to the skies in the first place. You’ll need to know how far you can take the drone before it runs out of signal or fuel. All drones are built slightly differently, much like cars; getting to know the quirks of a given model will make it easier to pilot.
Before you move on to more challenging environments, like canyons and abandoned warehouses, it’s worth putting in the hours practicing in safer places. Then, once the controls have become second nature (and you have the necessary permissions), you can progress elsewhere.
Check the Propellers
The propellers are what keeps your drone airborne. Any debris that has become attached to them or any damage to the blades themselves will make flight more difficult. Inspect your propellers before every flight, and clean them where necessary. If you determine that your propellers need to be replaced, make sure the manufacturer approves the replacements — you could be creating a hazard if you don’t. While you’re transporting your drone, it’s worth removing the propellers entirely — this will stop them from getting scraped and knocked while the drone is in transit.
Calibrate the Compass
If your compass falls out of alignment, you may have difficulty steering your drone. Drones rely on their onboard compass (and magnetometer) to navigate effectively. As such, you should regularly recalibrate, especially if you’ve moved your drone across a significant distance. In addition, some drones might not allow you to take off before the compass has been calibrated — which makes this an essential step.
Set the Maximum Height
Many modern drones will allow you to set the maximum flying height. You can think of this as a limit that’ll prevent you from pushing your drone too far without realising it. The higher you fly, the thinner the air will be, and the more difficult your drone will find it to stay airborne. There are other dangers to going too high: you stand a greater risk of running into low-flying aircraft, for one thing; another is that you might go beyond the effective range of your remote control.
Don’t Drop Anything
Most consumer drones are not designed to perform bombing runs or aid drops. If you deliberately drop something from your drone, you’re vastly more likely to cause harm than good — and you might be breaking the law. So don’t do it.
Clamp the Gimbal
Your drone’s gimbal should be prevented from rolling around when the drone is being transported. Damage to the gimbal might lead to knock-on problems with stability, and lead to costly repairs and replacements. Use the clamp to fix it in position.
Store Your Drone Safely
If you store the drone in a place that’s overly damp or vulnerable to changes in heat and cold, then you might find that its lifespan is reduced. The same goes if it’s exposed to strong magnets, which may interfere with the compass.
Most of the tips we’ve run through here aren’t all that demanding. Most of the time you’ll find that they lead to a more enjoyable experience, as well as a safer one. As such, there’s no reason not to follow them!