Recently we had the chance to take a drive to the ghost town of Bents, Saskatchewan. Bents is home to a relatively famous and oft-photographed grain elevator which has really suffered a lot of damage over the last few years and is very likely to collapse before much longer.
Bents is located on private property so the only legal way for us to check out the townsite was to fly the drone in. Normally this isn’t a big problem as the townsite lies quite close to a public road, however our visit was on a very cold day with the temperature hovering around -27 C and -40 C/F with the windchill. According to DJI, the lower range of the Mavic Pro’s safe operating temperature is freezing so we were well below that threshold.
This gave me the chance to work some cold weather drone tips into the video. I’ll elaborate more on them here than I do in the video.
#1 – Look after yourself first. You can’t safely operate a drone if you, as the pilot, are hampered by the cold. Dress warmly, and take precautions to prevent frostbite. If possible, operate the drone from inside your vehicle — while keeping Transport Canada happy by maintaining visual line-of-sight, of course.
#2 – Launch from a landing pad or other dry surface. You want to prevent snow from being sucked into the internals of the drone when it spins up.
#3 – Keep your batteries warm. Store batteries in your vehicle until you are ready to use them. If I am going to be outside, I’ll keep the spare batteries in the inside pocket of my jacket next to my body to keep them warm.
#4 – Allow drone to hover after takeoff. Not only will this ensure the drone accurately records the Home point, but operating the drone will allow the battery to come up to operating temperature before you put the drone higher into the air or further away from you.
#5 – Plan your shots in advance. Cold weather greatly reduces battery life so you may find your flight time is greatly reduced. You need to be ready to take advantage of your time in the air if you want to capture all the shots you want.
#6 – Bring your drone back with more battery life than you would normally. Cold weather can cause sudden unexpected drops in battery voltage and low voltage can lead to odd operating behaviors or a complete loss of function. If you experience a sudden drop in battery power, you want to have enough “left in the tank” to bring your drone home. Instead of landing with 20% battery capacity remaining, I’ll aim for 40-50% instead.
Some bonus tips which didn’t get mentioned in the video:
Bonus #1 – Weigh the risks. The manufacturer sets safe operating temperature limits for a reason and, while I am sure they build in a healthy margin of error, ask yourself if operating outside those parameters is really worth it. Is the shot you want worth possibly sacrificing your drone?
Bonus #2 – Watch the weather conditions. You do not want ice build-up on your propellers. Ice building up on the props is a sure-fire way to crash. If there is precipitation or ice crystals in the air it is best to wait for a better day to fly.
Bonus #3 – Keep your flight movements gentle. Cold weather puts additional strain on all the components such as the gimbal. Sudden harsh movements in the cold air can lead to failure or damage. Move slowly and gently — this is good advice at the best of times but especially when the cold makes plastic brittle.
Bonus #4 – Watch for condensation. When you bring your gear in from the cold back into the warmth of your vehicle, condensation can form on surfaces inside your drone. Water and electronics are a bad combination. If might be best to not operate the drone for a while after coming in from the cold to allow any condensation to evaporate.
What other advice do you have when it comes to operating your drone in the winter? Let us know!