Know Your Limitations
Understanding your own limitations is critical for any drone flight. Recently I was hired to fly a one-day event located in the heart of the city. Since this was a one-time thing, there was no ability to cancel and shoot another day. We had to make use with what we had. On this particular shoot the crew consisted of a spotter/camera operator and myself (PIC).
Preconditions leading up to this flight:
It was HOT! On the surface of the black pavement temperatures were hastily rising past 100 degrees. All our electronics could and were naturally overheating. The iPads felt like a little fireball attached to the controller and the batteries themselves could have been used to cook eggs. Not to mention the spotter and I looked like we had jumped into a pool with the amount of sweat accumulating on our shirts.
What we did:
We made sure to allow as much time as possible between every battery switch so that all the parts to the system had time to cool down. This simple mindset was crucial to the operation. If the controller were to overheat, the drone was set to go into lost link mode and utilize its “return home” feature. This feature can be great, but not in the city because most drones do not have obstacle avoidance. Without obstacle avoidance, the drone would have flown to a predetermined altitude then flown in a straight line back to its “home point.” When you are flying in the city, that straight line will almost certainly lead into the side of a building. If you can find an opening with limited buildings, light posts, and heavy traffic, you will want to set that as your home location. It is also very important that the operators stay hydrated; being dehydrated is essentially being drunk, and the last thing you want is to flying a drone in a crowded area while disoriented.
It was WINDY. At the surface the wind was minimal but about 30 feet up the rising heat created a strong wind. With wind comes trouble. Again this was a one-day event so we had no choice but to fly. To mitigate this risk we found it important to set boundaries.
We decided to give a wide birth to all obstacles allowing us ample time to recover from any gusts that could snag our drone. Unfortunately, by doing so, we were not able to get the exact shots that the hiring company was requesting. At first, I felt like a wimp; that my skills were not at the level they should be. However, my self-pity was quickly withdrawn when another drone operator hired for the job crashed into a light pole, sending his drone plummeting to the ground. Fortunately, the drone didn't hit anyone. The other drone operator fell prey to the hazardous attitude on invulnerability. Before every flight, you should assess the situation and know your limitations. If the drone has hit someone or something, the operator would be 100% at fault and in for a very expensive lawsuit.
The Crowd Factor:
People both young and old are still shocked by seeing drones in public. Some people have absolutely no idea what they can do while others believe themselves to be professionals on the subject. Regardless, everyone wants to talk to you about them!
Be prepared to deal with people in all situations. Whether the drone is on the ground or in the air, there will be a ton of questions thrown at you. Although it might be rude, most of the time you will not be able to answer these questions. They will be distracting and take your attention away from flying. Be prepared to tell people to wait until your drone is on the ground. Also, in crowded situations you are going to need to be able to set up a take off and land location. Orange cones seem to do the trick! It is preprogramed into all of us to notice traffic cones. If you set them up in a square, it will help keep the majority of people out of the way.
It is very important to know your limitations before every flight! If able, take your drone to an open area and practice, but not just in good weather. Fly your drone on windy days, hot days, and cold days to see how you function. This will help you be prepared for more extreme situations in the field.