17 Tips for Travelling with a Drone
by David Murray | Jun 4, 2017 | Drones, Latest Posts, Photography, Photography Gear | 11 comments
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Having travelled with our drones for almost a year we wanted to share our tips and advice on carrying a drone to new countries, through airports and on airplanes and capturing the best possible footage on your travels. Travelling with a drone has opened up so many new possibilities for us as photographers and travel writers and has given us the ability to take videos and photos from new and unique angles. Our drone is now a travel staple and we’ve successfully navigated deserts, waterfalls, jungles and highways: here’s our guide and tips for travelling with a drone so you can do it too!
1 | Know and respect the drone laws
Drones are becoming more and more popular and, as a result, are attracting new rules across the globe. Drone laws are evolving in individual countries and knowing and understanding what drone use is allowed can be complicated. It’s your responsibility to know and abide by the local drone laws: not doing so could land you with a huge fine or liability for causing injury or damage. A good site for checking updates to laws is here but be aware that drone laws can change quickly so make sure to google any updates to laws before you travel
Tips for travelling with a drone: to give you an example of how drone laws can vary our recent travels have seen the following laws: drone use is permitted in Namibia but only outside of national parks, it is strictly forbidden and enforced in Botswana while simply owning one in Egypt is enough to warrant arrest!
2 | Travel with your drone as carry-on luggage
Drones are expensive and fragile so we avoid checking in our drones unless the airline rules require it: Emirates, for example, require drones to be transported in check in luggage. The lithium polymer batteries are a legitimate fire risk so be sure you follow the airline rules regarding their transportation as there are typically restrictions on the number of batteries and where they should be stored in your luggage. We use a fireproof charging bag for additional safety, like this one for the DJi Mavic Pro.
3 | Invest in a portable drone
The DJI Mavic is the most compact drone for travel and is the easiest to transport. We use both a DJI Phantom 4 and the DJI Mavic and, although the Phantom 4 is our favourite for footage, it’s the Mavic which accompanies us on trips requiring air travel or where baggage is restricted! The Mavic has many advantages: it folds into a small package, it’s a lot quieter than larger drones meaning it’s discreet and the DJI software is the best on the market which reduces the likelihood of a crash. While we take the Phantom 4 wherever we can the Mavic never leaves our side!
Buy the DJI Mavic Pro now!
Check out our list of must-have accessories for the Mavic Pro drone here
Hand catching the Mavic like a pro in Namibia
4 | Bring a good case
Travelling with a drone will likely mean your carry on bag will now become your drone bag so it’s essential to invest in a good bag. I usually carry the Mavic in my camera bag, a LowerPro Pro Tactic 450W and I recently picked up a smaller dedicated case which is great for throwing the Mavic into any bag. Depending on the trip we’ll bring it in one of these three cases:
Camera Bag: LowePro Protactic 450 – Check prices now!
Mavic Hard Case – Check prices now!
Mavic Portable Case – Check prices now!
For the Phantom 4 we use either the case it came with or our LowePro Protactic 450.
Our DJI Mavic Pro and Phantom 4 average around 20-25 minutes of flight time per battery and it takes about 1 hour to charge a drained battery. Extra batteries are essential to avoid losing flight time!
One extremely useful item to pack while travelling is a car inverter for charging the drones in a car. We use this one which sits in the cup holder of the car and charges a drone in the same time as a wall outlet. Don’t leave home without one of these.
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6 | Be friendly to airport security!
One of the biggest potential headaches you will face while travelling with drones is airport security. Be polite, offer to show them the drone and batteries when passing through screening and answer any questions they have.
Tips for travelling with a drone: It often helps to take the drone batteries out of your bag and put them in a separate security bin. This reduces the chances of delays as the large batteries can get flagged inside your bag.
7 | Use Neutral Density (ND) filters
Neutral density (or ND) filters are a must for your travels! Most drones have fixed aperture leaving ISO and shutter speed to achieve a balanced exposure – in bright sunlight, as the shutter speed increases, the footage quality decreases and can be shaky and filters will be your lifeline! These are simply a must have if you’re serious about drone video. The best filters we’ve used are made by Polar Pro:
Mavic Pro filters – Check prices now!
Phantom 4 filters – Check prices here!
Buy now on Amazon
Check out our other must-have drone accessories here
8 | Be friendly to spectators!
Drones are a relatively recent travel addition and inevitably attract a lot of attention. It’s a great chance to chat to the locals: we’ve found that most people are simply curious and want to see a drone in action. So be nice, say hello, offer to take their photo or video. Worst case you’ll make some new friends and followers.
Tips for travelling with a drone: try and be mindful to others when flying a drone. There’s nothing worse than ruining a romantic sunrise with the buzz of a drone!
9 | Try to avoid crowds
Most drone laws prohibit flying above people and, as a general rule of thumb, you should avoid flying over people, especially in places where crowds are gathered. Not only is this a common courtesy to personal privacy, you’ll also be liable if the drone causes injury to anyone. Drones can run into difficulty at any time and there is no way to guarantee that it won’t crash so avoid taking risks.
10 | Have a flight plan!
Before you send a drone up in a new place it’s important to have a plan for your flight. This will allow you to capture the footage you need and it also reduces the chances of crashing the drone and allows you to be more efficient. Take note of any large objects, trees, power lines or buildings and make sure to stay clear of them. Google Earth and the Photopills (Android / iOS) app are great for planning done flights.
Photopills: a fantastic location planning app
Magnetic Interference is one of the major issues which you can encounter when flying a drone in a new destination: it occurs when radio signals interfere with drone communications. The DJI drones all warn of magnetic interference before taking off so if you see this message do not take of – this caused us to crash our Phantom 4 drone on our first flight in Namibia! The best way avoid interference is to fly far away from any large antennae or industrial areas and, in order to avoid any crashes, make sure you have lots of wide open space for the flight so you can recover from any lost signal.
11 | Maintain line of sight and learn to fly manually
Direct video streaming from the drone is fantastic as you can see what your drone sees and can fly in first person mode. However, the video signal can die, and trust us…it does happen! This is where maintaining line of sight comes in: if you can see your drone you can manually recover and bring it home. If you can’t see it you’re in trouble! Keep your eyes on the drone at all times!
12 | Be aware of animals and wildlife
Animals, especially dogs and birds, really don’t like drones as the sound is stressful for them and can easily scare them. Make sure to keep a safe and respectful distance from them. The same goes for safari although many companies already ban the use of drones while on game drives.
Tips for travelling with a drone:Be very wary of larger birds such as seagulls, which will try to attack the drone if you get too close – not good for the bird or the drone!
Flying over a seal colony in Namibia
13 | Be careful in cold weather
Consumer drones are only designed to operate in temperatures above freezing so be careful if you’re visiting a cold country. If a drone gets too cold the drone can interpret this as being out of battery will literally drop from the sky. Be careful!
Tips for travelling with a drone: in cold weather make sure to keep your batteries warm as the cold will run the charge down. We find the best place to keep batteries is in the inside pocket of your coat where it’s nice and toasty.
14 | Take advantage of the best times to shoot
The best time for taking images in general is early in the morning, just after sunrise, or late in the evening, just before sunset and the same applies to drones too. Not only will you get the best light for shooting but you’ll also benefit from having very few people around.
Sunrise in Meteora – we had the place to ourselves!
15 | Allow extra time for flying
Flying a drone is a lot of fun but it does take additional time to setup a flight and capture footage. Allow extra time at a location for setup and flying or you might run out of time and miss the experience of your location: don’t let technology override actually being present in these incredible travel destinations.
16 | Carry repair tools and extra propellers
It’s relatively easy to crash a drone and the first casualty is usually the propellers as it is easy to damage them. Always carry a few extra propellers and some basic repair tools for your drone.
Tips for travelling with a drone: A basic repair kit (duct tape and a small screwdriver) and some extra propellers can have your drone back up in the air quickly after a minor crash. Priceless!
17 | Most of all, have fun!
Flying a drone is a lot of fun so do remember to enjoy yourself when travelling with one!
london firefighters used drone to battle grenfell tower blaze
After firefighters battled the blaze at Grenfell Tower in London early on Wednesday, they turned to a drone for help surveying the damage.
Kent Fire and Rescue Service, a department about an hour southeast of London, supplied its drone to the London Fire Brigade, the Kent department said in a statement. As of Friday at noon local time, at least 30 people had died in the fire in the 24-floor tower, and the number will likely rise, according to London’s Metropolitan Police. Authorities said they had found no evidence to suggest that someone intentionally started the fire.
A spokesman for the London Fire Brigade tells Newsweek that responders are using the drone “to help monitor the building.”
The Kent fire department acquired its drone in 2015. The aircraft carries a high-definition camera that provides a live video feed and can detect body heat through thermal imaging technology.
Drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles, are growing increasingly popular for use by fire departments in the United States and United Kingdom. The aviation authorities in both countries must grant permission for use.
In 2007, the West Midlands Fire Service, in Birmingham, a few hours northwest of London, was the first fire-and-rescue service in the United Kingdom to use drones, the department has said. It first used a drone to survey a warehouse site where a blaze had killed four firefighters in November 2007. As of last August, it had three drones, according to a response to a Freedom of Information Act request it published online. The department said it was using an Aeryon SkyRanger, with high-definition still and video imaging and infrared technology, and a DJI Phantom carrying a GoPro camera. It said it was using those for “operational incidents and training to support the on-scene commanders [with] decision-making.”
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Aeryon, the drone company, whose customers also include the Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service, situated about four-and-a-half hours northwest of London, said in January that fire departments worldwide are increasingly acquiring drones. Aeryon cited a report from last November that said some 43 fire and rescue agencies had tested its product. The Manchester fire department’s drone, which it acquired in 2015, can fly up to 50 minutes, as high as 400 feet, and as far as 3.1 miles from the controller.
Drones are useful when a structure is too risky for firefighters to access. “After a fire, a building can sometimes be too dangerous,” Adam Green, station manager at the Kent Fire and Rescue Service, told a local outlet last September. “But for investigation work, you might be able to see where it started from the burn pattern from the air.”
In the U.S., approximately 350 fire departments are using drones, according to Matt Sloane, CEO and co-founder of Skyfire Consulting, which helps departments set up drone programs. That number is still a tiny fraction of the 20,000 to 30,000 fire departments in the country, Sloane points out, but the amount is more than when his company launched in 2014. As for Federal Aviation Administration regulations, he says, “there is still a fairly complex process in place to be able to use them,” but they’re “definitely looking to help departments make this a reality.”
The fire departments in Austin, Texas, and Menlo Park, California (home to technology giants such as Facebook), have prominent drone programs, and one in New York City used a drone to respond to a fire for the first time in March. The city said the drone, which it used for a blaze in a six-story building, costs $85,000, weighs 8 pounds and has both a high-definition and an infrared camera. Unlike typical drones, New York’s is tethered with a small electric cable, which gives it unlimited flying time.
Firefighters are not the only first responders using drones in the U.S. and U.K. As of January 2016, in England and Wales, more than a quarter of the 43 police forces were considering using drones for operations such as monitoring protests and assisting in investigations and searches, The Times reported. Such uses have been controversial, including in Baltimore, where people have complained about law enforcement monitoring the public from above.
Sloane, of Skyfire Consulting, which has worked with 45 fire and police departments, says he understands those worries. “We definitely see some of that resistance, as far as privacy is concerned, on the law-enforcement side,” he says. “One of the things that we tell our clients right at the beginning is get public support on this.” He adds, “There is a lot less controversy when it comes to fire departments, because I think everybody realizes that the fire department is there to help.”
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A Day in the Life of a US Air Force Drone Pilot
By S.L. Fuller | March 16, 2017
MQ-1B Predator, MQ-9 Reaper
An MQ-1B Predator, left, and an MQ-9 Reaper taxi to the runway in preparation for takeoff . The aircraft are assigned to the 432nd Wing, which trains pilots, sensor operators and other remotely piloted aircraft crewmembers, and conducts combat surveillance and attack operations worldwide. Photo:U.S. Air Force by Airman 1st Class Christian Clausen.
The U.S. Air Force selected 30 enlisted airmen for the next phase of drone pilot training for the Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawk last week. Originally, only officers could fly the Global Hawk, and General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc.'s MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper (called “Predator B” by the manufacturer). Now, that has changed.
According to U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. James Klein, although some Global Hawk pilots were sorry to lose their position, most were not upset. The Global Hawk is the only one of the three drones that is not equipped with weapons, and has the most potential for an uneventful day at the controls. The flight plan is pre-programmed, so the main duty is to watch the live video feed. Currently, the U.S. Air Force's fleet of drones conducts combat and non-combat missions globally.
RQ-4A Global Hawk Primary function: High-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial reconnaissance system. Speed: 390 mph. Dimensions: Wingspan 116 ft. 2 in.; length 44 ft. 4 in.; height 15 ft. 2 in. Range: 10,932 miles. Endurance: 35 hours. Crew: Three pilots and sensor operator on the ground.
RQ-4A Global Hawk photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force
When replaced with enlisted airmen, some of the former Global Hawk pilots would then be assigned to a different drone. Klein says this is a welcome move as the Predator and Reaper have been undermanned. But there is a difference between flying a Global Hawk and flying a Reaper or Predator.
“On the Predators and Reapers, we deploy weapons, so that's probably the biggest difference. You do actually fly it,” Klein says. “You can put it on autopilot, but you do have a joystick, you have throttle, you have all that, so you do fly the aircraft. It's a pretty significant difference.”
Klein pilots the Predator. The Predator XP is the latest version of the family, which started with RQ-1 first flown by the Air Force in 1995. The Predator XP features both line-of-sight and beyond-line-of-sight data link systems, and can be integrated with multiple intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) sensors. This includes electro-optical infrared cameras and multi-mode radar; the latter features synthetic aperture radar mode.
The Predator drone also has a ground moving target indicator, and an automatic identification system. Its radar has a maritime wide area search mode. MQ-1B has a wingspan of 55 feet, is 27 feet in length, 7 feet tall and has an empty weight of 1,130 pounds.
Based in Las Vegas, Klein flies his drone over the Middle East. He describes his job at 99% boredom and 1% adrenaline rush, which is exactly how others have described it to him. Yes, the Predator is combat-capable. But its main job — and the only job of the Global Hawk — is ISR. Every now and then the situation gets intense and Klein is required to fire. But most of his time is spent monitoring.
Klein says the Predator has two cameras: one on the bottom of the dome and one on the nose. The one on the nose, he said, does not have great resolution so it’s used mostly to check the weather while the other camera stays focused on the ground. The two cameras can be pulled up on different screens in the control center.
The job, though, doesn’t come without its quirks. For example, there is a 1.5- to 2.5-second delay between manual control input and video feed. If a pilot commands the drone to turn right, it will do so immediately. But the pilot won’t see it until a second or two later. Klein says this is due to encryption, and it’s something that pilots get used to very, very quickly. Situational awareness can also be an issue for drone pilots, since they are not actually in the airspace with the aircraft. And a crowded airspace adds another level of difficulty. Although pilots are not involved with flight planning, they do have to make sure the drone stays on a course that does not conflict with anything else in the airspace.
There are three different shifts that drone pilots have, Klein says: days (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.); swings (4 p.m. to 12 a.m.); and mids (12 a.m. to 8 a.m.). This is how he describes a normal day as a Predator pilot:
Arrival is required 30 minutes to an hour before the shift starts, depending on squadron. During this time, a mass brief takes place. Topics including weather, changes in Special Instruction for the area in which the drones will be flying that day, and an overview in overall changes from the previous day.
Intel then briefs individual crews on the day’s specific mission. Crew readiness is also assessed with discussions including amount of sleep, current levels of stress and health. Any hindrances would then be mitigated.
Next, the crew goes to the Ground Control Station (GCS) to a final brief from the shift it is replacing. Personnel swap one at a time — sensor operator (who controls the cameras and the laser that guides the missiles) first, then pilot — and the mission continues. Crews can communicate with ground troops through phone, radio or Internet Relay Chat (mIRC).
Performing the mission usually calls for time spent staring at buildings or villages, looking for persons of interests. If one were sighted, the drone would follow along to keep track of any arising situations.
At the end of the shift, the crews commute home. In all, the workday lasts about 10-12 hours, depending on any work required outside of flying.
Going home at the end of a long day can be nice, but it also has its drawbacks. For example, if a pilot was required to fire at someone during the shift, going home to your family right after — unable to talk about what happened at work —can be difficult.
“In a deployed location, when you are in a traditional aircraft, there is time to decompress before you finally get back home,” Klein says. “The Air Force has done a very good job, though, in giving us a plethora of resources to talk to and work with for dealing with … and different techniques for de-stressing.”
Senior Airman Bethany Lamb and Tech. Sgt. Travis Wheeler load an inert missile onto a MQ-1 Predator during a load crew competition April 5 at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Load crew competitions are held on a quarterly basis to help build morale through friendly competition. Lamb and Wheeler are 849th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load crew members. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Michael Shoemaker)
Senior Airman Bethany Lamb and Tech. Sgt. Travis Wheeler load an inert missile onto a MQ-1 Predator during a load crew competition. Photo courtesy of U.S. Air Force by Airman 1st Class Michael Shoemaker
Piloting a drone was not Klein’s first choice — that slot goes to piloting manned aircraft. Unmanned aircraft was his second choice to pilot, but he recognizes the benefits that come with drones, like safety. Klein says there are stigmas both inside the service and outside, concerning the legitimacy of the piloting. Some manned aircraft pilots have been moved to the remotely piloted aircraft (RPAs) field, which is not always received well by the pilot. And the amount of publicity drones get when they do fire can be taxing. But Klein notes that the drone field is still growing, both in the military and in the civil sector, which leaves many possibilities.
“Outside the Air Force, a lot of jobs pay a lot of money for people with prior experience. It's a growing field, and the Air Force is one of the only places to get that experience,” Klein said. “As new RPAs come out, you have a really good chance to be at the forefront of new technology, too, inside the Air Force.”
NASA Embraces Urban Air Mobility, Calls for Market Study
Artist concept of urban air mobility operating within a city.
Urban air mobility means a safe and efficient system for vehicles, piloted or not, to move passengers and cargo within a city.
NASA’s Aeronautics Research Mission Directorate (ARMD) conducts research based on a deliberate and well-coordinated strategic implementation plan. This plan is being expanded to include research into an area emerging so quickly there’s no page for it yet on Wikipedia.
Ikhana in flight
Our research into how to safely integrate large drones into the national airspace will inform new work on UAM.
Credits: NASA Photo / Carla Thomas
It’s Urban Air Mobility, or UAM.
Our definition for UAM is a safe and efficient system for air passenger and cargo transportation within an urban area, inclusive of small package delivery and other urban Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) services, which supports a mix of onboard/ground-piloted and increasingly autonomous operations.
Several companies, both large and small, are starting to develop the infrastructure to make UAM a reality, and they are planning to do this much sooner than you think.
Fortunately, we’re ready to meet the increasing emphasis on UAM thanks to our decades of successful work on improving air traffic management and, more recently, the past six years of work on how to safely integrate UAS, more commonly known as drones, into the national airspace on a routine basis. We’ve created effective partnerships with industry, academia and the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to identify and seek solutions to the challenges unique to accommodating remotely piloted aircraft.
“NASA has the knowledge and the expertise to help make urban air mobility happen,” said Jaiwon Shin, NASA’s associate administrator for aeronautics. “We plan to conduct the research and development, and test the concepts and technologies that establish feasibility and help set the requirements. Those requirements then serve to make using autonomous vehicles, electric propulsion, and high density airspace operations in the urban environment safe, efficient and economically viable.”
Running tests on a drone in flight
The focus of our UTM project is a series of field demonstrations that test technologies to safely guide multiple drones through multiple scenarios.
Credits: NUAIR Alliance / Eric Miller
In 2011, ARMD started our Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the National Airspace System project, or UAS in the NAS. This project was designed to reduce the technical barriers related to safety and the operational challenges associated with integrating larger-sized UAS -- those that weigh 55 pounds or more and fly higher than 500 feet, including full-size repurposed Predators and Global Hawks, into the national airspace.
Then, with the explosive growth and popularity of smaller drones, especially like those that have flown off store shelves the last few years, we started the UAS Traffic Management (UTM) project in 2015.
The focus of UTM research is to identify the technologies and procedures that will enable these smaller drones to safely fly at lower altitudes in airspace not routinely controlled by the FAA.
Beginning with demonstration flights over a rural area, where ground pilots maintained constant visual contact with their drones, the UTM project is flying ever more ambitious tests that extend the distance between pilot and drone, and take place over increasingly more populated areas.
“Much of the work being done in these two projects will be directly applicable to the UAM research we anticipate we will be doing,” said Parimal Kopardekar, who is senior technologist for air transportation systems at NASA’s Ames Research Center in Silicon Valley. “And we will continue to deploy the same partnership approach from UTM that’s worked so well.”
UAM Challenges Require Collaboration
Some of the barriers to urban air mobility operations include safety certification of autonomous vehicle systems, community noise impacts from vehicle operations, cyber security protections, safe airspace integration with traditional airline operations, and many others. These issues are closely tied to NASA’s current research portfolios. We are well positioned to collaborate with the FAA, industry, and academia to identify the requirements for safe UAM operations.
One of the most important certification concerns is to ensure the vehicles are safe to fly and to land, especially in emergency situations in crowded urban areas.
An example of an operational challenge is ensuring that vehicles, piloted or not, are integrated into an air traffic system in which parts of that system must be fully automated to handle the high frequency and density of projected operations.
Community acceptance of UAM operations is another challenge. While demonstrating safe and reliable operations is critically important, it is equally important that vehicle operations don’t create unacceptable community noise impacts, and that they fit into the urban land and skyscape.
Artist concept of urban air mobility, showing 11 vehicles with passengers and 10 vehicles without passengers.
The concept of urban air mobility involves multiple aircraft safely operating within a city. (Yellow circles are vehicles with passengers; pink circles are vehicles without passengers.)
NASA won’t have a direct hand in providing design input for these vehicles, but we can provide technical leadership in areas that require the UAM community to work together, such as the safety, operational integration, and community noise challenges. For example, we and our industry partners can conduct joint flight tests to generate data that drive analyses to support the creation of industry standards, FAA rules and procedures, and even city ordinances.
That’s the type of role NASA is likely to play as the UAM-related work is laid out and begins.
“We believe our job is to create opportunities for the UAM community to work together toward the common goal of safe, efficient and quiet operations,” said Rich Wahls, NASA’s strategic technical advisor in the Advanced Air Vehicles Program for ARMD. “We have a unique role to play in leading collaborative efforts that leverage the knowledge, technologies and visions of everyone coming to the table.”
Study will Define UAM Market
We are starting our UAM journey with an objective look at the market potential in order to better understand the issues and gauge the speed with which it may develop.
ARMD recently awarded contracts to Booz Allen Hamilton of McLean, Virginia and Crown Consulting, Inc., of Arlington, Virginia to conduct thorough UAM market studies. These studies will spell out the policy, economic, social, environmental, and legal barriers to enabling UAM; and estimate how much potential demand there is for UAM now and in the future.
“The industry is working hard to develop these markets, but how long will it take? And how big are the challenges that must be overcome? The information they will gather will help us decide how quickly and how best to deploy our resources to help,” Wahls said.
The UAM market studies will help ensure that we’re developing the most relevant and appropriate research agenda and set us on the right path to creating high impact industry partnerships.
“With UAM’s potential to make such a huge difference in all of our lives in the very near future, we want to be sure we’re investing in the best areas of research that will help industry to make this happen,” Shin said.
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