Lipo Batteries

A word about Lipo Batteries, when your you are buying your shiny new drone no one will say “little bit of advice…about the lipo batteries” So I am going to share what was my ignorance.

Lipo Batteries are volatile and can explode when charging !  This is the very first piece of advice that you get at ground school, which alarmed me as I had been charging mine hooked up to the charger, in the dining room on the carpet.  Whilst I went out!

The remedy is a lipo bag, these cost less than a take away coffee and are designed to minimise a lipo battery fire, should you be very unlucky to have one.  I have a friend who has been flying model airplanes and now drones and he had a lipo fire in his kitchen. He knew about the bags and so did not loose his house to a fire. He was present and removed the bag from the kitchen with barbecue tongs.

So its not an urban myth. If it was an urban myth wouldn’t you want to have limited the chance even by a small margin? But on an internet search “drones and lipo fires” will have you buying these bags in bulk! I bought mine on amazon but you find other suppliers.

 

lipobag

You just hook the battery up to the charger in the bag, check its charging by its indicator light and then seal the bag, put on an non flammable surface and don’t leave un-attended. They are not children so don’t need watching whilst they charge who has time for that.  what I mean is don’t go out to the pub and leave on charge even if in a bag.

 

Here’s one of the many youtube videos that demonstrate a lipo fire. You won’t need to watch it for the full 5 minutes.

 

So you are not going to hit your drone battery with a nail and thats all good. Drone batteries look very different from the ones featured in the fires, as they have been sealed and encased in a nice design but they are the same construction.  What happens if you drop it ? Then it could be broken inside.  If you are suspicious about a battery?  Is it bulging? Is getting hotter than normal?  After use they do get warmer, but is it hotter?  Then discard it. Take to your local refuse and recycling plant can take them, but also there are specialist companies that will take them. Leave in the lipo bag that can be replaced.

I was recently at a drone event where an experienced drone pilot flies regularly for a major broadcaster and he said he had suspicions about battery 3 as it was bulging and he still flew his drone with it! What could have been, doesn’t bear thinking about the drone could have exploded.   Don’t get blasé.

Lipo battery short for lithium-ion polymer battery, you can do and internet search for further reading.  I have and I now know how they are constructed, how they work, when they were designed.  I will let you decide how much you want to geek this bit up, for yourself.

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Wind measurement and drones

In this post I am  going to explain how wind speed effects drones, and everyone knows by now that drones should not fly in wind and rain. In this country (U.K) this is the most difficult part of getting up, up and away.  It can be one of the reason why you end up with your drone becoming a fly away drone.

You need to find out what is the maximum wind take off speed your drone can fly in, your manufactures tech specs will give you this information.

Then you even if you are not planning on becoming a professional drone pilot you need to use a wind aneometer to test the wind speed.  Then with other information you will be able to establish if its suitable wind speed to fly in.  When you use an aneometer you need to get it up high in the air as physically possible, arm up-stretched, now within the legal guidelines you could be flying up to 400ft high, the wind could be stronger up that high.

All this wind will affect your drone.  When I bought my aneometer I made a mistake and bought one online from an airline pilot store when it arrived it was smaller than my mobile!  In this instance size does matter and buy one like in the left of the photo. This one on the left was purchased from amazon.

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Wind aneometers not all are equal

The model I bought, measures temperature as well as this is important as your drone will have limitations to minimum and maximum temperatures for flight and for your batteries. It was recommended on the course to find one that tested humidity, just to note I could not find one that did all three!

Windspeed measurements

In the tech specs for your drone you will find it listed in Kts – Knots per second, or in the instance of DJI they provide measurements m/s  which is meters per second.  Which then causes more confusion as the weather forecasts and apps demonstrate miles per hour windspeeds.

So a quick internet search will bring you up a quick converter.  Your weather forecast and apps just give a guideline, the wind speed should be tested when you arrive at your chosen location.  Then with your meter you can test in any measurement.  For example the phantom 3 professional maximum windspeed is 16m/s in Mph that is approx. 35 mph. This speed would be difficult to control the drone and so there for I would not fly it even in GPS mode. Especially if I measured 35mph wind higher up as the potential to be a lot faster.  I have flown at windspeed of 20mph and the drone flew well.

The bigger the drone the stronger wind it will be able to take off in, the pilot will understand its limitations. What affect that has on the gimbal which directly affects the stillness of the shots, paramount in filming with the drone.

Soon I will be writing about the meteorological and geographical factors that affect wind.

 

 

 

Legal flights

I did promise you a blog post on wind but feeling at this point I should be pointing out to you what is legal when flying.

This short video is aimed at anyone flying for recreation but does give you a simple reference. Please watch.

Just to point out no one currently has a licence to fly drones, all commercial operators have a permission for commercial operations CAA PFCO

To obtain this you need to attend a course with an approved training supplier. They have demonstrated to the Civil Aviation Authority that they will test a commercial operators competency.  Further blog posts about this very soon.

First of all you will hear at lot about Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO 2016) and this is the legal document that as a professional you will be bound by in the UK, this is the Civil Aviation Authority’s legal set of standards.  You will also hear about the Air navigation order and the rules of air navigation. This is what the training companies cover in detail.

You are bound by laws and limits even if you are not professional but flying a drone for recreation.   Your ignorance is no defence in a court of law if you fly outside the law.

Another good starting point is

https://www.caa.co.uk/drones/  

then for more info see

https://www.caa.co.uk/Commercial-Industry/Aircraft/Unmanned-aircraft/Unmanned-Aircraft/

Basic legal flight is :-

To fly at a height of a max 400ft,  max 500 Meters distance from the operator.

The aircraft must not be flown:

  • over or within 150 metres of any congested area
  • over or within 150 metres of an organised open-air assembly of more than 1,000 persons;
  • within 50 metres of any vessel, vehicle or structure which is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft
  • within 50 metres of any person except during take-off or landing, the aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres of any person except for the person in charge of the aircraft.

Also you need to obtain permission from the land owner

There are exceptions to this and I will explain further on another blog post, at another point in time

 

 

Drone components for flight

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There is a drone in flight, you may need to look closely!

The more you know about how drones take flight and stay in the air will make you a better remote pilot and a greater understanding these basic principles it will make flight safer, smoother and by  better flying this will equal better aerial footage.

In the previous blog post I explained, very basic technology and components.  So now I am going to go further into the technology behind these amazing flying machines.

The platform frame contains the technology to give the flight and this will include an onboard computer the IMU, a gyroscope and an accelerometer, along with GPS.

The gyroscope and accelerometer are a key part of how the multi-rotor drone can stay stable and fly.

Think of the drone as being a plate balancing on top of a very, very tall stick. The accelerometer tells the drone how fast it is falling off the stick, and the gyro tells the drone which way it is tipping over. The drone then applies just the right amount of power to the motors spinning the rotors to balance the drone. All of this happens several hundred times a second processed by the IMU. Obviously there is no stick this is just an image for explanation.

IMU (inertial measurement unit) is an electronic device that measures and reports the force, angular rate, using a combination of the accelerometer and gyroscope,  IMUs are typically used to manoeuvre the drone.   In consumer drones like the DJI products use  IMU-enabled GPS devices. An IMU allows a GPS receiver to work when GPS-signals are unavailable, such as in tunnels or inside buildings.

props

Props,  are typically made of plastic but can also be made from carbon fibre.  One of the simple but critical factors that keep multi-rotor UAVs airborne is to have opposing motors spinning clockwise (CW) and counterclockwise (CCW). Without this, the drone will  ‘roll over’ straight into the mud.  Don’t underestimate how important the props are, if the props are damaged, in any way. You need to replace these, they are classed as a consumable item.  If your props are damaged and you fly this could make your flight unsafe as it will no longer be balanced.

The engineers have taken great care to make sure the props are balanced to give you rock-steady stability.  When you buy your drone buy some extra props, and always carry spares. Buy the official props don’t buy some cheap ones they won’t be balanced!

Next Blog post will be about the principles of flight, about the right kind of wind and lift!

 

 

Basic Tech

Basic Tech info

Each drone system needs to have the following basic items. I am only going to explain in the most basic form, as I am not an engineer.

The platform – this will be the Multi Rotor frame, on this will be motors, props, a gyroscope and onboard computer this will carry the camera and gimbal, into the air, powered by a battery.  Multi rotor can be 4,6, 8 and sometimes 12!

8 multi rotor x fold Drone
8 Multi Rotor by X Fold
12 Multi rotor
12 Multi Rotor – Dragon

The gimbal – this is what the camera is attached to and its what keeps the shots steady whilst you are whizzing the drone around in the sky.

The Camera – now this can be integral part of the drone, incase of most of the DJI products or something that you are using to attach to the drone i.e. Go pro or DSLR.

 RC Transmitter –(remote control transmitter RC ) to give your drone flight commands to control it in the air, and control the camera.

 

From this you operate just as you as the single operator or you may have another RC that a flight assistant/ camera operator/ gimbal operator uses to operate the camera and gimbal. You may then as remote pilot want to have a FPV – First Person View, camera that shows you where you are flying. This depends on the size of your Drone and the size of your camera and what you can control whilst flying, and helping you remain safe in flight as pilot it means your are just concentrating on where you are flying.

Control Screen  For out of the box you will also require some kind of tablet or phone so you can see what is being shot and the camera controls or for FPV. Make sure its the OS is compatible with your drone software

Please search fixed wing UAV if you wish to have more info on drones other than multi rotor . As a general rule these are not used for filming and photography.

 

Choosing my platform

Choosing my platform

 You thought we were talking about drones we are!  Platform is a term you will come across a lot . UAV’s Unmanned Aerial Vehicle is  another of the official names. When writing your documents you may use RPAS – Remote Piloted Air System.   There is a lot of terminology and this is probably what will confuse you for a while and so I make no apologies it seems the UAV industry are big on this.   Each one I will try and explain as I go along.  This is more about my thought process really and more technical stuff later.

Drone is the term I am using, people know what that means. Even my Nan who is in her 80’s understands the term.

Money is my major stumbling block, working in TV the pay is not as great as everyone thinks it is.  So for a budget buy I was looking at something easy to fly that would produce great shots that could be used by production companies.  This was at the very end of March 2015. I made my decision and as I know BBC and ITV use Go Pro 4 to obtain 4k footage, I would get one of those and a Phantom 2.

I had my credit card at the ready then just by chance, I saw on twitter that DJI were launching the Phantom 3!  So obviously I tuned in to the live press internet feed.  So this is how I chose my drone.   When I say that I was very confused as the price was going to drop significantly on the phantom 2 and I would not have to wait for the Phantom 3.  I emailed one of the speakers – DOP Philip Bloom he spoke at this event and to my surprise he responded and said go for it, get the phantom 3 and wait. His other advice was learn fine control!

Thanks Philip, you  were the only one  that responded to my request for advice.  (http://philipbloom.net/)

The phantom 3 pro is an excellent drone and for getting started it’s been fantastic.  If you come from any tech back ground, or camera background you will know that as soon as you purchase anything its out of date and superseded.

I have never even flown a toy helicopter or a operated a remote controlled car. I am bound to crash this thing.   After looking on youtube  top 10 drone crashes scared me and still does!

Worst case I could afford to by a new replacement phantom 3 pro out right! ?!

phantom3
DJI Phantom 3 Professional

1st of March 2016 DJI has launched the Phantom 4. (more in a later blog post)

What I have learnt in my time is to not be too blinded by new shiny things, embrace the technology, but there will always be bigger and better.  It’s important to keep up with the industry but also use the equipment you have to the best of your ability.   The geek within says I need something new but I resist as I have to live as well!

If I had the money, I would have purchased the DJI Inspire it’s a fabulous platform and has lots of features that the phantom 3 doesn’t its slightly larger and therefore more robust, it can fly in slightly stronger winds, it can fly in colder conditions and its is a touch faster.  All good for getting those fantastic at speed shots in Sport or Snowy landscape shots.   Also options to change the camera.

inspire1
DJI Inspire 1

 

I the end, I just asked myself these really simple questions

What is my budget?

Will I be able to fly it?

What will my potential new clients want from the footage – 4k?

If I had wanted to fly a go pro 4, I would have selected the 3DR Solo.  You will find more details on the tech specs on their website.  www.3dr.com/solo-drone

3dr solo
3DR Solo Drone

There are a lot of drone manufactures out there,  I went for the market leaders DJI, but that is because it had everything I wanted. A more technical blog post follows very shortly.  There is lots of specs on the internet but to be honest I did not understand any of them except the camera specs!  So I am going to explain them from the simple through to the other technical specifications.