I’ve developed a habit of making sure that I have 10 pre flight checklists crossed out before I fly my drone and I’d like to share them with you today.
Now if you are a fellow drone pilot, I’d like to ask you to also comment on this post and tell me what pre flight things you do before you use your drone because every pilot is different.
Now most crashes occur due to the pilot’s stupidity and while not everything a pilot does correctly will guarantee a safe flight, the following 10 things will reduce and even remove most of the reasons why drones crash in the first place. This will save you a huge headache and a lot of money, especially if you own an expensive model…
And even though there’s 10 things I usually do, they honestly take a few minutes to be completed and considering how they reduce the risk of a crash (or fine) substantially, they are worth doing.
11) Make sure your battery has time to warm up.
If you haven’t used your drone in awhile and start it up, give it a few minutes to warm up, especially if it’s in cold weather. And like I recommend in this article, when you turn off the drone and/or take the battery out, do NOT charge it again until it cools down (give it 20 minutes at least!).
10) Ensure the IMU is calibrated before takeoff.
The IMU on a drone is one of the most important pre flight things you need to ensure is working well. It is basically the “internal computer” of the drone that measures a lot of different things such as the temperature, the speed at which it flies and a bunch of other important components that lead to a safe flight.
If you have a good model drone that does a check up of the IMU when you start it up, it’ll usually let you know if it’s necessary to do or not. Some pilots prefer to calibrate the IMU every time before a flight. I typically do it whenever the I get the notification.
The point here is to NEVER ignore that notification if it pops up. If it does pop up, calibrate it, as it only takes a few seconds.
9) Ensure your compass is also calibrated.
The compass on the drone will usually pick up if there’s any metal in the area you’re seeking to take off from, which is why I NEVER suggest taking off near places which have a lot of metal such as bridges. These kinds of things typically mess with the compass of a drone and require that it be calibrated in order for it to fly accurately, lest you’re OK with flying in atti mode and risking a crash happening if you’re inexperienced…
Again, just like with the IMU: Ensure the compass is calibrated beforehand. My Mavic 2 Pro always gives me a compass calibration message when I try to fly in new areas and I always make sure it’s done.
Note: Don’t take off from a car, because that typically triggers compass calibration errors.
8) Ensure that you give your drone ample time to load up and show you that it’s OK to take off.
While lower end drones will typically not have this function, the higher end ones will. ALL of my DJI model drones take some time to load up and give me the green “good to go” sign that it’s fine to take off. Until I get that sign, I will never take off.
Depending on which area you wish to fly in, that “Green ok to go” sign may pop up quickly or take sometime to show up. I’ve had cases where even my best drones, took several minutes to show me that it was OK to fly.
What happens when you start up these kinds of drones is that they try to find a signal with the remote, satellites and so on and if you’re in a bad reception area, such as the mountains, that may take longer than if you were in an open field with a good connection.
Either way, let that load up time happen and don’t take off until you get the green sign that it’s OK.
And while it’s loading up, make sure the battery isn’t low!
7) Calibrate the gimbal just in case.
I tend to keep my drones in backpacks or special boxes that are designed to hold the model/s I own. But what I’ll usually do is I’ll drive to the area I wish to fly in, and during the drive, my car will hit bumps and turns. Now while my drone is safe in the case it’s in, the gimbal is very sensitive and will move around, even when it had a gimbal guard. That shaking may affect the health of the gimbal, which is why a calibration before takeoff is important. Do it.
This is also important to do if you haven’t flown your drone in awhile (several weeks and more).
6) Use the Airmap app to determine if it’s really safe to fly.
I always use this free app as one of my pre flight habits. The goal with this app is to make sure I am not violating any FAA rules in place, such as flying in national parks or near an airport and in my opinion, this is a great app for making sure this is fine.
If I see the OK sign from it (green), then I’ll continue with the unpacking and setting up of my drone. If not, I’ll ensure I move to a spot where it’s legal for me to fly.
5) Ensure your drone is on a flat surface.
A take off from an uneven surface may affect how the drone behaves and may increase the chances of a crash, so if it’s possible, find a flat surface. I don’t really recommend using your hand unless you’re an expert. It’s dangerous, so stick to a flat surface.
4) Check the surrounding area for wires, telephone poles, annoying people, ect…
I typically make sure that whenever I fly, I’m in an area where they are few or ideally NO people. I don’t like the attention I get from onlookers who are typically positive about the drone, but at the same time, I also look for things like telephone wires and most recently radio towers, as they can emit signals that can mess up my drone’s connection to the remote (see this near crash story).
My ideal take off area is in an open field (like a baseball sized field) with no people around.
3) Check the propellers.
I’m part of a drone community on Facebook and recently I received a notification someone posted about how they checked their propeller before attaching it onto the drone and noticed one of the parts that attaches to the model was broken. There were normally 3 attachments on the propeller, but with the broken piece, it was only 2.
This meant if the pilot hadn’t seen this and attached the propeller to the drone, it would likely have flown off and caused a crash.
This was a major pre flight thing I decided to start doing and recommend you do it too. Most propellers are made of plastic and with the speed at which they spin, and/or if they hit debree, overtime, this can cause them to get damaged and possibly broken. Make sure your propellers are in one piece and nothing is broken.
If anything seems off, don’t use the propeller and have extras in store just in case.
2) Make sure sports mode isn’t on.
High end models typically have this type of feature and it’s usually activated by switching on a button. Sometimes that button can accidentally get switched on when you put your drone in special case. It’s happened to me multiple times and once it’s up and flying, you may accidentally think you’re flying in one direction slowly, when in reality, it’ll happen quickly and this can take you by surprise. Crashes do happen because of this…
1) Do a pre flight examination of the area you’re going to fly in.
I typically use my drone in places I drive through which often happen on vacations when I visit spots I’ve never visited. When I see the potential to stop and take a great video/shot of the location. I first examine the area and see where I’d like to fly past and through.
This gives me a “game plan” of what I’d like to capture. Going impromptu is also an option but sometimes those few seconds or even a minute of examining the area may have you see or find something that could have jeopardized the flight and if you notice it before hand, you’ll be able to avoid it.