12 Essential Tips For Safe Drone Flying In The Lake District
Know how to have fun whilst being a safe and competent drone pilot
- The Law.
Make sure you know the law and regulations. There is a difference between "the law" and “guidelines” from the CAA. Falling foul of the law will land you in trouble and you may well have kit confiscated or worse. Flying in a no-fly zone, for example within a certain distance of an airport, military installation or in parts of London is asking for trouble and is obviously dangerous. Although the CAA guidelines are not “law”, they do make sense. Maintain a line of sight at all times, avoid flying within 50m of other people. Laws relating to trespass, copyright and privacy, amongst others, may all be relevant when flying. Flying over roads and traffic has potentially drastic consequences. It doesn't take much imagination to see what could happen if the drone loses power or control over, say, a motorway.
Always check and double check all batteries are fully charged before setting out. This includes batteries for the drone itself, FPV monitors, remote controllers, cameras, GoPros, timers – a host of kit can fail quickly on weak batteries, especially in outdoor cold. There’s only one thing worse than getting to a location and finding you can't fly, and that's climbing a mountain first with all the kit, then discovering it. Trust us on this.
Most drones can cope with winds of up to 15mph relatively easily, many will cope with a bit higher – but you lose manoeuvring control as wind speed increases. In winds over say, 20mph it’s near impossible to get the drone to do what you want and not simply worth the risk. Be very aware that wind can dramatically alter flight times. If your flightpath back to the landing spot is into the wind, you must allow more time / battery. Yes you probably can fly a drone in 25mph gusty winds on top of a mountain, but you have to accept the chance that you may be retrieving the pieces of it after a long, difficult walk. When in the Lake District, be aware of updraught and downdraught, as wind flows up and down mountain sides. This almost certainly won't be apparent when launching.
- Weather / Rain
Drones may be able to fly in light drizzle, but cameras, controllers and other kit don’t like rain – and it’s not fun to stand in such weather holding a controller. Wait until rain has stopped.
- Return With The Wind
Always head out against the wind and return with it. Battery level readings are not 100% accurate, returning against the wind will take longer, perhaps much longer, than returning with the wind and you may lose battery unexpectedly. If you head out with the wind behind you and then turn back against it at 50% battery, you are going to crash. Or have to land some way away...
- Landing Timings.
Start returning “home” at 50% flight battery. Once battery has dropped to 40%, it’s time to land. Right now, stop what you’re doing and land. It can often take longer than expected descend as descent speed is often regulated. During this time it can be quite alarming how much further the battery has dropped. Never EVER be in the air with less than 30% battery. Descent speed is restricted on many drones to prevent a phenomenon in which the drone is moving downwards into a downwards moving column of air (from the props), causing sudden dropping.
- Check Kit.
Before setting out, when arriving at launch site and when packing up from launch site. Check rotor blades, fixing of transmitters to drone body, antennas, screws, bolts – anything and everything that could come lose or get damaged. If kit fails in mid-air, it’s unlikely to be good news. Our rule of thumb is Check the kit, then check it again. Then check it another time. Then get someone else to check it, then check the kit. Just to be safe, check it again.
- Plan for emergency – every single flight.
Regulations aside, before launching you must know where you’re going to land. What will happen if flight battery fails mid-flight, can you crash safely into trees? Are you prepared to lose "the bird" in water, what is your disaster plan? The worst crash scenario is injury to a person or damage to someone else’s property or vehicle. If the drone must be crashed destructively into a mountainside or lost in a lake to avoid this – then so be it. Rather lose a drone than be sued for the cost of repairs to a house or car. Rather lose a drone than someone lose an eye. Plan – are you likely to be distracted during flight, is anything likely to prevent you from landing as you intend?
- Don’t Be An Idiot.
It sounds harsh, but the majority of Youtube drone crash videos are not failures of kit, but of common sense. Only an idiot would fly over a motorway and risk causing a massive pileup if the drone distracts a driver or worse, crashes on the carriageway. Only an idiot would disable a drone’s built-in safety firmware to fly near an airport, risking the drone itself and the legal consequences. Batteries can, and DO fail. A battery which reads 85% can (and in our experience, HAS) dropped suddenly to 9%, resulting in emergency landing. If the drone is low enough, this can work out ok. If it’s too high to decend under power, it’s going to come down on top of whatever is beneath it, landscape, water, person, building, car… etc. Increasing regulation and restriction on the use of drones is all down to people being idiots when flying them.
- Practice The "Mid-Air Catch".
Sometimes wind can pick up significantly between take-off and landing or there aren’t any ideal flat landing spots. The mid-air catch takes a bit of practice: Descend and hover ABOVE head height, holding steady. Then reach up for and hold the drone whilst simultaneously shutting off the motors. It’s not ideal as the risk of breaking the drone or hurting yourself is higher, but it’s like the emergency stop in a car. Practice it – then when you absolutely need to do it, you know how.
- Think Like A Pilot.
A good helicopter pilot always approaches a landing into the wind. On take-off, he’ll hover low for a few moments to check that all controls are responding correctly, then proceed on course. A drone pilot would be wise to follow the same practice. When launching, hover at about 2 meters height for a moment, check that the controls all work, then if anything’s wrong, it’s easier to bring the drone down. Upon landing, return and descend to about 2 meters then slowly land from there. At 2 meters, you have a greater chance to catch a runaway and slower landings prevent bounce or tip-over.
- Emergency Height.
When below a few meters in height, the chances of hitting something (the ground, a person, yourself, a passing dog etc.) increase. Be prepared to suddenly gain 20m of height to get out of harm’s way if a cyclist unexpectedly comes past. This is one of the very good reasons to keep a large battery reserve. If something does happen at ground level, you can shoot up to 20m or so VERY quickly and get out of the way, hanging there until you can resolve the situation. In these cases, height is your friend as it’s clearer space than at ground level. UP always gives you more time to react and think than down.
And finally - remember two very important things which are sometimes overlooked
1 - If you're new to drone flying, remember it's like being a learner driver. Chances are pretty good there'll be a bump, a scrape or some sort of close call at some point. Don't worry, it happens (yup - me included!). How bad the damage will be depends a lot on how good your common sense has been. You won't win a gravity argument with a planet, but you can walk away from it unscathed if you're smart.
2 - HAVE FUN :-) It's immense fun to fly drones. You'll get to see spectacular views, get some awesome video and never look back. Be safe, use common sense, enjoy yourself, practice, get better - rinse, dry, repeat.