Category Archives for "UAV Flying"

DJI Phantom Flight Training

DJI Phantom 1

The original Phantom 1. Still popular and available.

A question often posted in user groups and forums by those who are considering their first Phantom is, “Is there any DJI Phantom Flight Training?” or similar. The answer is, “Yes, there is“, and there are several ways to go about earning your wings, maintaining your skills, and becoming professionally qualified.

Ab Initio Flight Training

If you’ve had any previous experience with radio controlled aircraft of any type then you might tempted to skip the preliminaries and dive straight in to more advanced maneuvers, but is this wise? A Phantom quadcopter is more complex than conventional RC aircraft and although it’s easier to fly in many ways it has a lot of features that are common to multirotor UAV and less common or non-existent in radio controlled aircraft, so perhaps it would be better to approach it as if it’s something completely new.

If you have had no previous model aeroplane flying of any kind then you can still buy yourself a Phantom and learn step by step how to master the skills required for successful and enjoyable flights. On the other hand, some people prefer to start with something a little smaller just to get a feel for applying power and practicing flight control and one popular choice is the Hubsan X4 which can be flown indoors or outdoors. It therefore makes a good substitute for practice when the weather prevents outdoor flying.

However, at £60 for the Hubsan plus another £80 for the transmitter you might prefer to put that £140 towards your first DJI Phantom.

Pilot Training Guide

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

RTFM. Read The Fantom Manual.

If you visit the DJI website and check the download section for any of the Phantom models you’ll see a link to the Pilot Training Guide. This pdf document is both an introduction to flying exercises as well as a reminder of what to practice from time to time. You can download a copy for free if you’re curious, before deciding to buy your first quadcopter.

This guide begins by reminding us that the DJI Phantom is not a toy and that it’s not suitable for anyone under the age of 18 years old. This may seem a little over cautious but it is a valid point when you consider the height, range, and potential speed of a device that weighs over a kilo. It may be unmanned but it’s still an aircraft and it has the potential to fly into airspace where it could conflict with other aircraft.

In the next sentence the guide reminds us to read three documents; the Quick Start Guide, the User Manual, and the Disclaimer. It also suggests that the reader watches the video tutorials. Hard copies of some of these are included in each new Phantom box but it’s recommended that you visit the download page to retrieve the latest copy containing important updates. There is a lot of information in these three documents and in the videos combined so the learning curve may appear steep to begin with but time spent on these steps will pay dividends later in time saved, and may save you from costly (and embarrassing) mistakes.

There then follows some reminders of essential pre flights checks and guidelines before the document describes various flying exercises. I suspect that many Phantom owners will use this document one, try the exercises a few times, and never refer to it again, but the maneuvers it describes are the kind of flying exercises which, when mastered, will hone your flying skills. If you find yourself flying near obstacles, going under or through an object, or flying indoors then keeping these skills current will help a great deal. If you’ve had a break from flying for a couple of weeks working through these exercises is a good way to freshen up and get the rust of those skills.

UAV Pilot Training

UAV TrainingThere are two options for anyone considering using a UAV (DJI Phantom or any other type) for commercial purposes in the UK. There is the BNUC-s run by EuroUSC and the RPQ-s run by the Resource Group. Both licences are recognised by the CAA and are the means by which an individual can obtain the PFAW (Permission For Aerial Work). Both involve studying some ground school subjects and undertaking flight tests in order to meet the required standard. The ground school subjects include basic studies that will be familiar to conventional aircraft pilots, but which are tailored for UAV flying e.g. Principles of Flight, Meteorology, Navigation etc.

There is a lot of interest in UAV and it’s growing, so demand for these courses is high. If you intend to follow this route you will need to book and schedule for them months in advance and be prepared to wait a further one or two months for the CAA to process your application even after you’ve passed the theory and practical exams.

UAV Insurance

There are two aspects of UAV insurance to consider:

  • Insurance against loss or theft. If you lose your Phantom for any reason then it might be possible to claim against your house insurance, but it’s best to check that this is the case before you start flying. Some policies include cover for personal items outside the home. It would come as a nasty surprise to find that you’re not covered as your Phantom sinks into a lake because you flew it too high or too far beyond your or the Phantom’s abilities.
  • Public Liability Insurance. If you make a mistake or something goes technically wrong and your Phantom causes damage to property or injury to a person then you will need cover for any claims made against you. This type of insurance can be obtained through the BMFA or or FPV.org.

If you fly commercially then you’ll need both types of insurance but they’ll be tailored to suit your choice of UAV and operating areas and environments – with premiums to match!

Stay Safe, Stay Legal

Part of learning how to fly a DJI Phantom or any other type of UAV is knowing what your legal limits are, as well as the technical limits and those of your own skills. On the rare occasion that flyers get into difficulty it’s because they cross one of these boundaries.

CAA Publicaton CAP 722, section 6.7:

The aircraft (UAV) shall not be flown

• in controlled airspace, except with the permission of the appropriate ATC unit;
• in any aerodrome traffic zone except with the permission of either the appropriate ATC unit or the person in charge of the aerodrome;
• at a height exceeding 400 feet above the surface;
• at a distance beyond the visual range of the Remote Pilot/RPA observer of the said aircraft, or a maximum range of 500 metres, whichever is less;
• over or within 150 metres of any congested area of a city, town or settlement; or
within 50 metres of any person, vessel, vehicle or structure not under the control of the Remote Pilot; during take-off or landing, however, the aircraft must not be flown within 30 metres unless that person is under the control of the Remote Pilot.

You also need to pay attention to NOTAMs that may advise you of temporary restrictions to any aerial activity in an area in which you may be planning to conduct flights.

DJI Phantom Flyaway – Checklist

DJI Phantom flashing redIn previous posts I have written about possible causes of flyaways, what checks to carry out should a DJI Phantom flyaway occur, and the importance of maintaining GPS lock.  I believe that if the correct procedures are followed then the number of occurrences of flyaways would be minimised and they would be a tiny amount compared to the number of Phantom flights ongoing around the planet every day.  However, the truth is that some Phantom owners either choose to skip essential checks, forget some of the fundamental procedures, or they just push the envelope and take a risk.

In this post I want to elaborate on what can be done after a flyaway without apportioning blame on anyone nor judging their skills or professionalism.  Consider this nothing more than objective accident investigation.  Let’s assume that the Phantom has flown successfully and without incident previously but one day it is lost in a flyaway.

The following checklist is a combination of two.  It could help to find the lost Phantom and at the same time in could assist in determining why it didn’t behave as expected.

  1. What was the exact location of take off?
    Try to pin-point the coordinates using Google Maps or at least use a post code.
  2. What was the location the drone was in when you last saw it?
    Try to pin-point the coordinates using Google Maps or at least use a post code
  3. What was the exact direction of travel when you realised you’d lost control?
    Use a compass bearing e.g. North East, or state the direction in relation to a landmark or area.
  4. What was the wind direction and strength at the time?
    Wind directions are expressed as the direction in which it is coming from, not to.
  5. How much battery power was there left?
    If you forgot to check, estimate the amount of time flow up to the point you lost contact.
    Once you have established the above five points you can use Google Maps to calculate the distance it might have flown and in which direction, taking the wind direction and speed into account.  Right click on the take-off point in Google Maps then left click a distance away.  Extend the measuring tool that appears to draw a flight path   It’s no guarantee of success but at least it makes the search area a bit smaller.  You will have to take possible obstacles into account and remember to check for flights near Controlled Airspace in which the Phantom may have been triggered to land automatically.

  6. How many satellites were on the GPS icon?
    This is an important clue.
  7. Was your software set to Phantom or Naza-M mode?
  8. Where you flying in GPS or ATTI mode?
    Was Switch 1 fully up or down to the second position?
  9. Had you set a Home Point separately from the HP set automatically?
    Some people reset the HP using Switch 2 after take-off.
  10. When and where did you last calibrate the compass?
    Calibration is sometimes overlooked.
  11. What was the exact location of your previous flight?
    This tells us where your last Home Point was established.
  12. What colour lights was it showing? Green, Red, Amber?
    The front lights were presumably red, but what about the back lights?
  13. Is it possible that you inadvertently knocked Switch 1 or 2 without realising it?
    For example, was your transmitter touched by clothing or anything else hanging around your neck?
  14. Was your software set to Phantom (default for new Phantoms) or Naza-M mode?
    If you changed any settings, what were they and what did you change them to?
  15. Was all your firmware up to date?
    When did you last check your firmware status?
  16. When did you last calibrate the IMU using the Phantom Assistant software?
    You may have only done this once when the Phantom was new.
  17. Did the ‘Lost Connection’ message appear on the app?
    If it did then it should have initiated Return To Home but which home?
  18. What was the height of the drone when you lost connection?
    Specify metres or feet
  19. How far away was the drone when you lost connection?
    Specify metres or feet
  20. How many successful flights had you completed with this particular Phantom?
    Was this its first flight?
  21. Has this Phantom had any crashes, hard landings, or has it been exposed to moisture, dust, or dirt?
    Is it possible that it had been damaged in some way?
  22. What would you consider to your level of experience to be i.e Beginner, Intermediate, Expert?
    Be honest. It helps to understand all the above.
  23. Are you certain that you flew in accordance with all instructions in the manual?
    Be honest. It’s not to ascertain blame but to identify what could have been missed.

Prevention is better than a cure

  • Know the legal limits for UAV flying. The rules and regulations have been published by the CAA. Ignorance of the Law is no protection from prosecution. It’s up to you to keep yourself informed of current rules and further developments.
  • Know the technical limits of your UAV. Aside from the legal limits there are the technical capabilities of the aircraft as explained in the manuals. Do not push the envelope out of curiosity or in an attempt to impress anyone.
  • Know your own limits. Develop your skills over time and remember to maintain currency i.e. keep practicising to stay fresh and if you have a break from UAV flying don’t jump straight back in at the deep end. Ease yourself back into it gently.

DJI Phantom 2 GPS Lock

DJI Phantom 2 GPS LockOnce your quadcopter is airborne how often do you check your DJI Phantom GPS lock? Do you know you’ve always had enough satellites or have you left it to chance and been lucky so far?  Today I received a reminder of the importance of that little satellite icon and how it’s not just the weather that can vary in a given place, but GPS coverage too.

I was flying a DJI Phantom 2 Vision Plus in a field in which I had flown a DJI Phantom 2 Vision previously and in that visit I had tested the Ground Station function.  It worked very well then, and that is an indication of the fact that there must have been adequate GPS lock on enough satellites in this location.

I had flown the Vision Plus in another location earlier in the morning and it had performed as expected.  This drone has had a recent IMU calibration and is updated with all the latest firmware as of August 2014.  The weather at this second location was cooler than earlier in the summer when I last visited, but with a similar strength to the wind which varied from calm to a gentle breeze.  The field slopes away into a natural dip where there is less exposure to the wind but if the drone rises above 60ft then the full strength of the wind is felt.

DJI Phantom 2 LEDs

Flashing greens. We like flashing greens.

After all the usual pre flight checks and compass calibration I prepared for take-off.  I noted on the app that the satellite icon was grey and indicated a connection to only 5 satellites. I applied power and the Phantom took off.  I left it at about 7ft just to give it time to pick up enough satellites, but as it didn’t have an accurate fix it began to drift in the breeze.  Eventually it picked up a sixth satellite and held its position, but a few seconds later it lost that connection and began to drift again. This sequence was repeated several times before I decided to land it and walk a hundred metres or so to the centre of the field to try again.

On the next attempt the results were the same at first; five satellites when on the ground and six after take-off.  With six locked in I flew the drone up a little more.  Now there were seven satellites indicated, but my gut instinct was not to push my luck. Good choice!  After a few more seconds it lost lock on two satellites and now began to drift rapidly in the stronger breeze.

DJI Phantom flashing red

Red light spells danger, can’t hold on much longer

Imagine what that would have looked like at 300ft up. It’s hard to see and you’re not sure of your quadcopter’s orientation.  Your Phantom has lost signal to several satellites and it’s moving rapidly in the stronger breeze up there.  Home Lock and Failsafe won’t work without six or more satellites.  Do we have a flyaway on our hands?  Only manual control will work but you have to be quick because if your lose signal with it you can’t rely on Failsafe to get it home (unless it picks up enough satellites again).

While all this was going on the Phantom was giving me the warning signs.  I had flashing greens on the tail lights but flashing reds too, indicating that there wasn’t adequate satellite lock.  The status on the icon confirmed this but it’s hard to see on an iPhone, and if you’re distracted by anything else it’s easy to miss the warning signs.  Curious passers-by who stop to chat, your companions, something happening within your field of vision which captures your attention for a few seconds and in that time your Phantom has flown several metres.

The lessons from this experience are:

  1. Checking GPS lock is something that should be done continuously, not just at take off
  2. Don’t assume that the GPS lock will be as strong each time at the same locations
  3. Concentrate on your flying and be ready to fly without GPS
  4. Concentrate on your Phantom’s orientation, particularly at altitude and at a distance

Tips:

  1. Keep an eye on the Kp-index.  It’s  measure of solar flare activity.  If it goes above 3 on any day it can adversely affect compass reliability.
  2. Memorise what the lights mean.  When things go wrong they tend to do so fast and you won’t have time to reach for a manual.