UAV pre-flight check list#
To ensure safe and successful UAV operations, it is crucial to run a pre-flight check list before each flight. This list covers physical equipment checks and validation of required documents that UAV pilots need. By following this checklist, the risk of physical damage to property, injuries, flyaways, costly lawsuits, and failed acquisition campaigns can be reduced. Neglecting to follow the pre-flight check list could mean the difference between a successful operation and a failed campaign.
6-point UAV pre-flight check guide for pilots#
Before flying an UAV, pilots must conduct pre-flight checks to comply with regulations and ensure that the equipment and flying conditions are optimal. The checklist will also outline potential issues and steps to minimize risk and make the flight process more efficient.
Here we suggest a 5-point guide UAV pilots can refer to for conducting effective UAV pre-flight checks:
Local UAV operation laws and regulations
Physical state of the UAV
1. Check the flying conditions and the flightplan#
Checking the weather is crucial, especially in areas with unpredictable weather like Svalbard. Before flying UAVs, it is important to assess the conditions on site. Avoid flying in high winds, very low temperatures, low clouds, fog, or precipitation. Visibility should be consistent throughout the expected range of operation and pilot certificate.
Discuss the flight plan with your co-pilot and have a clear plan in place. You will be limited by the number of batteries, battery life of the controller, memory card space, etc. Therefore, having a predefined flight plan is crucial for efficiency and ensuring complete coverage of the area.
If the weather suddenly changes and disrupts UAV operations, land the UAV as soon as possible to minimize risks.
Always respect your pilot certificate regulations. Never fly over stadiums, crowds, near emergency response efforts, and within the restricted zones of airports.
Suggested questions you should ask yourself before flying
Is wind speed within an acceptable range?
Is visibility sufficient for area of flight?
Is precipitation within an acceptable range?
2. Secure the necessary documentation before UAV operation#
To ensure compliance during UAV operations, it’s important to keep your UAV pilot certificate and identification tag with you at all times. You have to be able to show it in case of an inspection.
The operating UAV needs an identification tag and has to be insured.
Clear records of flight objectives are important for compliance, and a process which factors in this information can lead to useful datasets further down the line.
If you’re applying for a specific flying permit, you’ll need to have a waiver or document of authorization with you at all times, and you can only perform the flight operation if permission is granted.
Pilots operating UAVs for commercial use should secure a commercial UAV license (or remote pilot certificate).
If you use a pre-flight template, make sure to state: Pilot name, Registration number, Date of flight, Location, Drone model, Drone ID number, Flight purpose, Additional authorisations (if required).
3. Know and comply with specific UAV operation laws in the area you are flying#
To fly in restricted areas governed by Air Traffic Control (ATC) regulations or other operations, you need to obtain airspace authorizations. It’s important to research the specific UAV laws in the area where you plan to fly and comply with them.
When flying in Longyearbyen you have to be aware of certain rules that apply around town.
4. Ensure that the UAV is fit for flight#
Before launching the UAV, it is essential to carefully inspect every component for any signs of damage or obstruction. This includes checking the chassis, propellers, motors, gimbal, indicator lights, screws, batteries, and other parts for cracks, dings, or other visual damage. After inspecting the entire unit, make a note of anything that needs to be repaired or replaced.
Dirt and debris can cause malfunctions, so it is important to clean specific areas carefully after the structural damage inspections.
To avoid power-critical mission failure, ensure that the batteries are adequately charged with a minimum of 75% charge per battery. It is also recommended to have spare batteries on hand for each unit to reduce time lost to charging. Make sure that all battery packs are securely fixed into position before launching.
Finally, check the camera settings and ensure that the memory card has enough space for the mission.
It is recommended to have spare components always with you in case of damage or malfunctions. Our recommended list includes:
Spare batteries. A battery lasts typically 20-30 minutes (15-20 minutes in cold conditions). We recommend taking between 3 and 10 to the field, depending on how much flying is anticipated.
Memory cards. In addition to having enough storage space, recommended to change cards after flights to prevent loss of data collected earlier in the day in the event of a crash or flyaway.
An external battery pack with a cable to charge the controller/phone/tablet.
5. UAV Calibration#
5.1. Check and update firmware#
To keep your drone connected, navigate correctly, and behave properly, it’s crucial to update its firmware regularly. Plus, firmware updates help ensure your drone follows no-fly zone regulations.
It is very important to check the UAV firmware in a place with Internet connection to be able to download and install the proper software upgrades. Not checking this in advance could result on not being able to take-off in the field and cancelling the whole UAV data acquisition campaign.
If you’re changing locations, your compass may experience interference and cause problems. Luckily, calibrating it is usually a breeze - just access the in-app command and let the software do its thing. Be sure to check your model-specific manual for the exact steps.
Instruments must be re-calibratied when observed to be working incorrectly. Instruments may also be re-calibrated prior to every flight to reduce the propagation of small errors over time.
Your drone’s Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) is a complex system that calculates angular velocity and linear acceleration using accelerometers, gyroscopes, and sometimes magnetometers. Despite its complexity, calibrating the IMU is a simple process that can be done using software on your drone or control station modules.
This is an example of a DJI UAV calibration in the field, also called Drone Dance!. To begin, select the “Calibration” option on the controller and follow the instructions that appear on the screen. Start by rotating the UAV horizontally, then move it 90 degrees and continue rotating it in the same plane until the controller indicates that the calibration is complete.
6. Pre-launch check#
After completing all necessary checks, it is crucial to carefully survey the launch area and select the optimal spot for takeoff.
The drone should ideally be placed on a flat surface with plenty of space around it.
In case of unfavorable weather conditions, missing documentation or any discrepancies in the pre-flight checklist, you will need to reschedule the flight.