By Brandon Guillot, RPC, MAS
Okay, so you did it: you put down $1500 or so and bought a nice, shiny new drone that is capable of High Definition photos and video right out of the box. You also paid $150 and passed the FAA Remote Pilot Certificate test, probably after a period of studying those sectional maps pretty thoroughly.
So you’re ready to go!
Or are you?
Have you ever given any thought to a few items that might extend your capabilities or even help keep you from getting into a costly accident while in the field? The great thing is that many of these essential items can usually be sourced locally, and they are without any significant cost. Here are a few suggestions from someone who has learned the hard way over the years:
1. Battery Meters ($5-15 each): When you look at a Lithium Polymer battery, it is physically impossible to tell which batteries are fully charged and which ones are empty. Without full batteries, you run the risk of either cutting down on your billable flight time or, worse, the possibility of an in-flight failure due to low voltage. Battery meters are a cheap and easy way of making sure you do not take off on an empty battery. They have the side benefit of helping confirm that your battery charger is doing its job.
2. Spare Propellers ($25-50): The most common item I have replaced while in the field is quadcopter propellers. I have had rocks kick up and chip propellers or a gust of wind tip the aircraft over while hovering in the ground effect, and more than one student had just sworn that tree jumped up and bit them. At the same time, it is quite embarrassing to explain to a customer that you have to cancel the rest of the photo flights you scheduled because you are missing that one type of blade. Carry at least one extra set of propellers, as insurance. These are your wings-woe be unto the pilot that chooses poor quality ones!
3. AeroWeather Lite App (FREE): As a newly-minted Part 107 pilot, you know that you have weather requirements you have to fulfill. Three miles visibility at the control station, at least 500 feet below the clouds, and 2000 feet horizontal. Sounds easy, until you realize the Weather Channel App does not provide a lot of that information. The good news is that the AeroWeather Lite App is completely free and provides FAA weather from airports near to your location using your smartphone. The app will use the METARs to provide visibility and cloud heights, all without having to decipher the METAR codes yourself.
4. Yellow Safety Vest ($15-20): This item tends to be overlooked amid the buying of cool gadgets and gizmos for your new sUAS, but a safety vest can help you in several ways. First, you need to look after your own safety in the field, particularly if you are flying missions near vehicle traffic. Drivers will look at the drone and not at you, so make yourself more visible for your own well being. Second, since many people are concerned about privacy issues from drones, if you appear to be professional and highly visible, it makes the general public less concerned about what you are doing. I’ve even had some good conversations with homeowners, passers-by, and even potential new customers as a result of “looking the part.”
So, keep in mind that there are a few cost-effective items that can help enhance your effectiveness as a commercial drone pilot, as long as you use them correctly. Above all, remember to plan well, make good decisions, and fly safely out there!
Brandon Guillot has a Masters of Aeronautical Science in Aviation Management and Aviation Safety Systems from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. He holds an FAA Private Pilot and Remote Pilot Certificate. Brandon has 13 years of experience in the Operations, Security, and Emergency Management and sUAS fields. He also serves as an Adjunct Assistant Professor for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University teaching UAS Management. Brandon owns Unmanned Aerial Solutions of Arkansas and assists the FAA Safety Team with educating sUAS pilots.