Drones 101



By 2020 the Federal Aviation Administration projects that drone sales will grow from 2.5 million to 7 million.  That is a lot of things in the air.

Here at Last Minute Productions we have been flying a drone since the beginning of 2015.  We’ve flown it all over the country in a variety of geographies.  Launched over forests in Australia and New Zealand and documented harvests up and down California’s Central Valley. In urban areas, peering down on college campuses, major hospitals, and shopping centers drones can provide a stunning visual perspective. But even with all this experience I still approach every flight like I approach my table saw – always mindful of how powerful it is, and, if not careful, dangerous it can be.

So, if you just bought a drone, or looking at buying one here are some things I’ve learned along the way:

1.  Read the directions before flying.  Hope I don’t have to explain this one any further.

2.  Update the firmware.  Drones are flying computers.  Ours locks into six GPS satellites before it takes off.  There is a good chance that the firmware installed prior to packaging and shipping is dated.  When ours was delivered we took it to an open field (after reading the directions, of course), powered it up and….nothing. The display read, “Unable to fly.  Firmware up-dated needed.”  Be aware that both the Drone and the controller(s) will require firmware updates.

3.  Calibrate the compass.  Before each flight we calibrate the compass of the drone.  For ours, we pick it up and hold it parallel to the ground and spin counter-clockwise.  Then turn it so it is perpendicular to the ground and, again, spin counter-clockwise.  We do each action until the display tells us things are good.  If we don’t get a “clear for take-off” we never assume things will be OK.  We’ve repeated the above steps multiple times until we are positive that the compass has been correctly calibrated.

4.  Practice.  Head to an open field when no one is around and just practice.  Get a feel for the controls, and how responsive the drone is to your movements.

5.  Know your surroundings.  Obviously trees and power lines are bad for the life of your drone, but so are birds.  Search YouTube if you don’t believe me.  Is there a hospital near you?  Does it have a helipad? We shot for a hospital where that was the case.  Fifteen minutes prior to shooting we called Med-Flight to make sure no arrivals were on the way and to give them our contact number if the situation changed. Once our flight was complete we called them again to let them know all was clear.  Most drones will not take off if you are too close to an airport – that’s good to know before you bid out a job.

6.  When in trouble go up.  Again, these are flying computers and sometimes things don’t go as planned.  I’ve had two occasions were the drone decided to listen to me just like my 17 year old does – slow to react and ignoring some commands.  You will know right away if the drone and you are “one.”  If not, go high with it.  The higher you go the less there is to crash into.  On both those mentioned occasions I was able to gain full control of the drone after a few minutes of uncertainty.

7.  Too much is too much.  I’ve seen videos where every other shot was a drone shot.  I remember the marketing manager beaming and say, “did you see those drone shots?”  Yes indeed. I also saw all the HVAC on the roof, and too much of the parking lot.  Aerial shots can add a lot to a production, but consider it a spice – too much and you ruin the meal.

8. Get to know the FAA.  The Federal Aviation Administration, I believe, took a while to get involve with drones and operators – but, now they are full speed ahead.  It’s good to check out their site ever six months or so – FAA Website.

9. Insurance.  We were asked to have a minimum of five million in liability coverage by a client (shopping center owner).  Normally all you will need is a one million.

10.  Safety first.  This should be the overriding theme to any drone outing.  Sure our drone is light, but it can travel over 55 mph in the air.  Lose control and crashing is easy.  If you only destroy your drone your lucky.  You can be on the hook for property damage.  If it lands in a crowd of people it can get much worse.  If you’re old enough to remember Hill Street Blues, live by the immortal words of Sergeant Phil Esterhaus, “Let’s be careful out there.”

Here are some examples of drone footage we have taken – LMP Drone Footage.

Thanks for reading – J



Leave a Reply