The term “just send it” may not be familiar to all, but to those who have more than a passing interest in drone flying, it has a well-established meaning – that of “hang the consequences, just go and fly the thing no matter where or what the rules may be”.
Whilst on the surface, the consequences may not appear the same as say, someone who utterly ignores the speed limit and travels down the Hume Highway at 160kph. But what if they did the same thing in a school zone at 8:00am?
Most drone pilots I know fly well within the limits of the law as it stands, but many I come across on a day-today basis who are either contemplating buying a drone or have had one for a short period of time, are often unaware of the rules as put out by CASA, the Australian Air regulation body that looks after ALL air space in this country.
Before I go into a generalisation of what those rules are, if you think you don’t care about the rules as you have “your rights” (and there is an entire article or podcast just in THAT one phrase I may do later), just consider these examples – both very real.
A friend is a firefighter and SES on a volunteer basis and was telling me just today that during a particularly nasty bushfire where heli-tankers and water bombers were not just used but very badly needed to save life and property, someone sent up a drone to try and get some mid-air footage of the mayhem below.
Just imagine the damage that would occur if a helicopter collided with a drone and it got caught up in a rotor. Or a water bomber sucked one into an engine?
Consequently ALL the aircraft aiming to contain this bushfire had to be grounded until the drone was intercepted or it landed.
I hate to think what fate befell the idiot at the control as they would have certainly caught him. I just hope for his sake a copper did before any firie or ambo…
Another example or rank stupidity that this time cost serious money and inconvenienced tens of thousands – perhaps hundreds of thousands – occurred during a televised motor race in Queensland, Australia I believe.
A spectator at the event decided to “just send it” to try and emulate the footage shown in the official TV broadcast.
(Photo below courtesy Ross Gibb Photography)
The result was that the actual choppers carrying the cameras to capture the action for the host station had to land immediately, and I understand also as the incident occurred in a commercial flight path there were other consequences as well.
So what are the rules. Well the exact listing can be found at the CASA website and will differ if you are flying for fun or flying what is deemed as “commercially.”
Check out https://www.casa.gov.au/drones for all the info.
10 Steps to Safe and Fun Flying
But let’s also look at the plain old common sense aspects of flying a drone.
In order to make it as safe and enjoyable as possible, here are the things to consider and put into action.
- It might seem the bleeding obvious, but start before you have even turned on the drone for the first time – perhaps whilst charging the batteries / controller – and Read The Bloody Manual! Become utterly familiar with the drone controls, and pre-flight procedures it requires and safety measures it has in place such as restriction of certain flight aspects until you are familiar with them.
A biggie is the Return to Home facility. Whilst my drones from DJI have this function built in, allowing me to simply press a button to get the drone to return in a “Safe Mode” to the place it took off from, DJI also has an automatic procedure that resets this Home point every time I fly making sure Home is Home at that time, and not a previous flight which could have been anywhere.
There is a famous (anecdotal) story of a very, very expensive surf rescue drone that when being unveiled and shown to the press and dignitaries was purposely sent out of range to demonstrate it’s Return to Home smarts. Sadly, someone had forgotten to re-program it for the latest flight – or ever – and so it indeed decide to return home. Glasgow in Scotland apparently, never to be found again.
- If you have access to an online simulator, much flying skill can be learned from spending as much time as possible on it. There are quite a few around, and for DJI drones the company has its own which sadly is only available for iOS devices. But there are many more such as Liftoff, Drone Racing League and so on if you do a Google search.
- Better drones have built in obstacle avoidance via very clever infra-red and other sensing systems. But don’t think these are the be-all and end-all and will make you immune to crashing. Especially at high speed, stuff like telephone lines and rope whilst they might be spotted by those clever-clogs sensors, your sheer velocity might preclude avoidance and then it will get, well, messy.
- I did some investigations after a particularly harrowing incident whilst flying a drone watching some kids at a skate park do tricks (where I was accused of everything you can possibly think of by one parent, whereas the majority were quite happy and actually wanted some footage of their little darlings). It turns out – and this was according to the QLD Police – it is not an offence to photograph or video anyone in public. When it becomes a matter the Plod are interested in, is what you potentially DO with that footage. See the difference?
So whilst you can video or take stills of people, be aware that some will object and cause a fuss. This is one reason I guess why CASA say not to fly over crowds. Another is safety. If something does go wrong, a kilo of whirling props landing in the middle of a bunch of people could make a bit of a mess. I have a scar on my arm to prove this…
So keep away from groups of people and fly in open areas.
- Better drones allow calibration of many of their aspects such as the GPS, internal compass and so on. It’s smart to get into the habit of performing a pre-flight check of all these things before taking off. Also double check the props are still installed correctly and secure, and the battery(s) are fully charged in the controller and drone. Oh, and if your drone has one, don’t forget to remove the gimbal / camera protector!!
- It is tempting once you have done all the pre-flight checks, made sure there are no crowds, weather conditions are OK etc to simply take off and go for it. I learnt this is NOT a good idea many years ago with a boat (yes true, a boat). When my two brothers and I bought our first boat in 1976, a second hand 5 metre half cabin cruiser, we took it to the Deepwater Point launch ramp on the Swan River in Perth, dropped it off the trailer into the briny, parked the car, climbed aboard, pushed her off and tried to start her.
No dice. Flat batteries, so we were ignominiously towed ashore to retire back home with tail between legs much to the amusement and merriment of our fellow boaties. The next day with new batteries, we tried again, only to – again – be towed ashore as the hydraulic leg had no fluid in it so wouldn’t go down.
At the third attempt, we forgot to put the bungs in.
So at the 4th, we had learnt.
a) launch the boat
b) beach the boat
c) check the bungs
d) test the leg
e) start the engine
So it is with your drone; after the initial pre-flight checks, launch the drone and get it into the air at say 2 metres and let it hover for 30 secs or so and go over all the checks again just to make sure. It is a wise ½ minute investment in time from my experience.
- If your drone needs an SD card to store any photos or videos, check it is a) installed b) has sufficient space for this flight’s recordings and c) is formatted correctly. SD cards greater than 32GB NEED to be formatted as ex-FAT to take advantage of all the space available on the card and the write speed of the card. And when you have finished flying, don’t forget to transfer the footage to an external hard disk I recommend a WD My Passport Wireless SSD drive.
- Practice, practice and practice. Take small steps, learn each of the functions available to you one by one until you have them down almost automatically. Once you have one sorted – say Quickshots on a DJI Air2S or Mini 2 – then learn the next one eg Hyperlapse or Panorama.
- Do not, if at all possible, fly backwards. Driving in reverse on a racetrack is an almost guaranteed disqualification and so should reverse drone flying. You cannot see what is in front of you and most drones do NOT have reversing sensors!
- Above all have fun and stay safe. Keep away from obstacles such as power lines, TV towers, mobile phone towers and so on, and take the stepping stones to being a good pilot slowly. You’ll be better for it in the long run.
If you want a good read on these subjects in more depth, have a look at https://store.dji.com/guides/how-to-fly-a-drone/ – I highly recommend it for beginners.