The Department of Homeland Security is reminding us over the PA to be mindful of our belongings and to not leave our baggage unattended. Nestled between the bottom of my elbow and propped on my knee rests a well-crafted pelican case. I’m guarding my possession very well. I’m nervous that I’m in over-my-head.
Sitting with my very-own DJI Phantom 2 packed neatly in its case, I sit in a cold and dark terminal destined to board a flight to the icy north.
Since I was a child, my daydreams have always taken me into the possibilities of warp-drives, food replicators and hoverboards. I never thought that I would sit on the verge of such an incredible industry, nonetheless that I would ever be trekking alongside a vision of things to come.
My name is Eric Davis, and I am Technology Manager at UAV Direct. This weekend I am flying to Iceland to surprise my close friends and attend their last concert… and to take advantage of having my own UAV… my drone; my silent b-cam.
Hello and welcome to our little drone blog on her inaugural flight!
Today we’ll talk travel.
It’s 6:57am in Keflavik, Iceland… and my rental car is somewhere between the ice and another fjord. Bjarni at the Avis counter has assured me that when the Reykjavik office opens at 9:00, that my little VW will be ready for me to abuse. I think Bjarni is lying to me.
I have traveled (between two layovers) for 20 hours to reach where I am, and now I’m missing some awesome morning light to capture sweet, sweet aerial shots with my Phantom 2. That’s okay, though… it gives us a little time to reflect on the time leading up to now.
You may wonder… what perils face the traveler taking one of these UAV’s… drones… cylons through the picket fences of the TSA, way-too personal Xray selfie machines and baggage mishandlers we’re all accustomed to when just trying to get from point-a-to-g?
Surprisingly, little… if you’re super-awesome.
To be super-awesome isn’t a great feat. You already own or want a drone if you’re reading this, so you’re at least somewhat cool.
That being said, know your aircraft and know these handy tips for traveling through airports.
- Lithium batteries have risks associated them due to the very real fact that they can be volatile in extreme pressure and temperature changes. As a result, the FAA mandates that you keep them stored in your carry-on possession.
Fire-bags can be purchased from many hobby shops for the storage of these batteries to double-up on the safety factor, and are relatively inexpensive.
-The case you choose to store and carry your aircraft is either going to be a forgettable experience for you because it goes unnoticed, or you will hate life. Buy a travel-friendly case if you like life… and the lack of bruises.
-You may only travel with so many batteries, as well… and that is dependent on individual airline policies… as well as import regulations determined by country (for traveling abroad).
-Know your drone! Be ready to answer questions honestly of where you purchased it, why you have it, and what you plan to use it for. Sounds scary, right? Nope. You will find that your delays in the security line will come from people curious to know more about something that they want; that you already have.
-Know where you are going! This one isn’t funny. Iceland is cool (ha ha) about UAV’s, but that doesn’t speak for the rest of the world. If your going to drop the cash on such an expensive tool/toy, don’t risk losing it to Customs-abroad because you didn’t research the laws-of-the-land.
These simple key-facts will insure that your experience traveling through airports and transit stations should be met with very little difficulty, so long that you are knowledgeable and honest when traveling with your prized little drone-buddy.
--In my next post, we’ll discuss what can be expected flying your wing-man in far-away lands.
I last left you on the end of the first chapter of my travel overseas to the Land of Fire and Ice. The journey has been easy, even with our little drone in-tow. I sailed past Customs inspection in Iceland this morning...Iceland being a nation that has few restrictions on anything, let alone UAV's for commercial or private usage.
Once my rental car was ready, my lady and I took off towards the black beaches of the southern coast for a day of droning in the high-Arctic. On the road I began to plan my 65 minutes of flight-time I would have today (across three batteries on a Phantom 2). As part of my pre-flight checks along the way, I jotted a few notes here and there:
- What will the weather be like where I am going?
- What affect will my high-latitude have on flight, or the compass on my aircraft?
- What do I do if my aircraft reacts badly to the first two concerns?
A pre-flightplan is a MUST for any flight, shoot, test, or adventure with your multicopter. Safety of yourself, others and property is the first and most paramountresponsibility of all pilots, especially when travelling to unfamiliar terra-firma. Ask yourself questions along the journey and develop an idea of what you want to accomplish and what concerns you have.
When you arrive, ascertain your surroundings, and take a bearing of the weather and landscape. What obstacles are present? Is the forecast calling for wind or rain? Check your local forecast before venturing out, and if you can... download a weather app for your phone to stay completely up-to-date.
In Iceland today it was bright and sunny, but Iceland is a land known for fierce and dramatic changes in weather over the course of minutes. Thankfully for me, the weather remained great for my first flights accross the lava fields and beaches this afternoon. In the mountains, however... I came into a situation that I had already written my concerns about - GPS-coverage.
Iceland sits near 66 degrees north latitude, which is considered sub-arctic. That being said, most of our GPS satellites follow orbits that do not reside closely within such a high-latitude and coverage can be less than the minimum my Phantom 2 needs to see for GPS-Lock. Such a situation can cause a Phantom 2 to unexpectedly switch into manual mode; free to drift and difficult to control.
Knowing this, and having written my thoughts I came prepared. I opened a weather application downloaded to my phone and double-verified that the beautiful sunlight wasn't about to depart. I checked a local report from another website just for redundancy and was about to ascend.
Ah yes, what's my GPS coverage looking like out here?
For that, I have an application for my Android smartphone called GPS Test. That app lets me check my coverage and strength in a simple-to-understand format at any time, anywhere; regardless of whether or not I have cellular service. I've got 9 satellites with strong signals, it's time to fly!
As I hike down towards the beach amazingly set against rolling waves and towering bird-cliffs my mind is now going through that one last little question I jotted down... what if I missed something and my little drone buddy does something strange up here?
-Stay tuned for the conclusion to our maiden journey! In the meantime, please feel free to contact me directly with any questions or even suggestions for future blog topics.
Thanks for reading,
Once upon a time, there was a tried-and-true UAV packed full of features packed into a simple package; ready-to-fly out of the box.
We've all been treated to the amazing world of the 3-axis Phantom 2 with H3-3D gimbal... and the upgraded Phantom 2 Vision +, but there still stands good reason to take another look at the Vision +'s older sister, the original Phantom 2 Vision.
As we move forward in cinema, our parts and tools have grown to include a slew of options that (for the most part) are left-unused by the casual flyer or die-hard photographer.
Yes, yes... the GoPro H3-3D and Vision + UAS offer an unimaginable amount of tech for users looking for those functions so essential the acetate lovers that can hide away in a dimly-lit editing bay, pouring through reels of video to find the right moments, but there still is good reason to go OG.
For the avid photographer that craves the still-life, there still reigns the champion of UAV... the robust 'take a beating and smile' quadcopter that shoots in 14 megapixels a thousand feet away and doesn't complicate the situation.Your flying Ansel Adams is a tried-and-true original that has proven to the world of flyers what can be captured where you can't be. So let's raise a glass and remember the original, and irreplaceable!
Oh, and while her young hipster sister is the cinema talk-of-town, the original and tough Vision quietly saw a nice discount, ready for the taking.
Thanks for reading, please feel free to contact me directly with any questions or even suggestions for future blog topics.
It comes without surprise that with travel and meeting many of you that I find myself in conversation with UAS pilots across the globe. All too often I become aware of operators that infrequently or improperly perform compass calibrations for their aircraft... be it the DJI Phantom UAV series, or any other. In each of these cases, the potential for disaster is significant (see the first two installments of my escapades in Iceland), and what makes this even more troubling is that getting drone compasses up to par is easy so easy to do, and really comes down to being a free insurance policy.
Going airborne with unmanned aerial vehicles with incorrectly-tuned compasses has been the single largest contributor to so called “fly-aways” and unfortunately in many of these cases the uninformed have just naturally tagged the drone manufacturer with blame of problematic equipment. Short of “fly-aways”, customers with poorly tuned drone compasses tend experience drift, varying unresponsive control(s) and exaggerated pitching during take-off.
Drone compasses can become detuned from any magnetic and RF source. Perhaps the most common cause is getting aircraft too close to speaker magnets as drones are often transported in vehicle passenger cabins and trunks. Vehicle radio speakers, that are within range of just a couple of feet is enough to throw a compass out of kilter. Aside from magnets, source of RF power such as mobile radios and base stations emit plenty of power to trouble drone navigation systems.
As an avid drone pilot myself and having experienced and overcome these issues, calibrating multirotor compasses is always on my preflight checklist. Short of calibrating a compass prior to each and every flight, here are top triggers that demand a compass calibration:
When performing proper UAV compass calibrations, here are the fundamental requirements:
With most drone aircraft, if you’ve followed compass calibration procedures you should see some type of visual confirmation that the calibration was successful and within a safe margin for flight. If for some reason no success confirmation present itself, then I recommend not-flying and using supplied software diagnostics to learn why the procedure failed.
In the case of DJI products such as the Phantom UAV drones, failed compass calibrations is typically because of compass has gone too far out range that a full compass reset is required. For instance, as shown below, the MOD value of a Phantom should always read in the range of 1400 to 1800. If this value is outside of the range by hundreds, then a simple calibration will solve the problem. If its off by thousands, then a full compass reset or replacement is required. For resetting your compass, please see the below video.
It’s my mission to make sure your successful in all your airborne missions with drones. Should you have any questions, please feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org Also, please sound-off with any comments or suggestions for future blogs.
Out of the box, Phantom 2 multirotor drones have locked, hidden features that many pilots have yet to discover, that improve safety and capabilities. Those features are tucked inside a mode called NAZA and we’ll walk you through how to enable to these features.
Firstly before we dive into the features, a common question we get is, “What is Naza?” Naza is an autopilot, or in other words, flight controller or main controller used to control the Phantom2. Like the Phantom 2 itself, the Naza autopilot is designed and manufactured by DJI, being so reliable and capable, many other drone manufacturers use it for building their own specialized drones.
When the NAZA, now NAZA MV2 is placed inside the Phantom 2, specialized firmware is loaded into the NAZA reducing some of the features in an effort to limit flight operations that beginners can perform. To unlock the NAZA features, connect your Phantom 2 drone to a computer using the latest DJI assistant software.
With the DJI assistant software enabled and a USB connection established, you will notice a button on the top, center of the screen labeled “PHANTOM”. Click on the button, and in the response you will receive warnings that these NAZA features are for experts and lastly an acknowledgement that you are now in the NAZA mode.
Once in the NAZA mode, the most popular features to enable is IOC (Intelligent Orientation Control). To enable IOC, click on the ADVANCED tab, then on the IOC tab and finally check the box for IOC. Once checked, you will now have the course lock and home lock feature which can be accessed by using SW2 (Switch Number 2) found on the upper left hand side of the remote control.
Now that your Phantom 2 is in the NAZA mode, the SW1 (Switch Number 1) automatically gives you extra functionality in position 2 and position 3. Position 2 provides for what is called ATTI mode, also known as ATTITUDE mode. When using the ATTI mode, the aircraft will maintain constant level but will it will not maintain lateral position. This is a very useful feature when the need occurs for an ultra-smooth flight.
Additionally, the ATTI mode can be very useful for stopping a flyaway that can occur if the Phantoms compass was not properly calibrated prior to flight and or erroneous GPS information has been received.
The third position of SW1 can have a user-determined function, ATTI, FAIL SAFE and MANUAL. If you are a seasoned pilot, the favorite selection is MANUAL as it allows for complete control and negation of any automated assistance from the drone autopilot that may have been compromised.
Thanks for reading, for further details about the NAZA mode, please view the video at the bottom of this post.
During the holiday season, many of our callers start asking for advice on which drone makes the best Christmas present. Hands down the answer is the Phantom 2 Vision Plus.
In comparison to the Phantom 2 Vision Plus, other drones on the market including ones that we provide typically require the addition of many other accessories to make them completely functional. The Phantom 2 Vision Plus comes complete and ready for near immediate use. Just add your favorite smartphone or tablet so that you can view the live video feed.
Before you purchase though, make sure you know what version of the Phantom 2 Vision Plus you’re buying. Currently, the latest available is Version 3 and it comes with some very important updates and hardware improvements which include:
If you think there is a chance, that the person getting the gift will be wanting to fly the drone as soon as they receive it, it’s a great idea to go ahead and open the box and get the batteries charges. Also, you should point them to our video page which has a plethora of tutorial videos that help new pilots avoid trouble and enjoy flying.
Thanks for reading. Please feel free to reach out to me with any comments, questions and suggestions for future blogs.
The saga usually begins like this: “There I was minding my own business and starting to fly my Phantom when suddenly it took off in one direction never to return”. Does this sound familiar?
The forums have been buzzing with reports of “fly-aways” for quite some time, but is this a real phenomenon that plagues the little DJI quadcopters as a manufacturing defect… or is there something more to this? Let’s be clear on one thing, straight-off… yes, fly-aways are real. Yep, I said it, they are real.
After (quite literally) years of tearing into the issue, I think I’ve been able to finally put this one to rest. Though it is true that better documentation could help avoid the issue from happening in the first place, there is no reason to believe that “fly-aways” are in any way a sign of defect, however. Let’s talk about what is actually occurring when what we’ll now just call an “uncontrolled flight” or UF takes place.
The Phantom Series of aircraft utilize a duo of sensors that are responsible for ascertaining location and bearing. In order to maintain flight-time, these sensors have to be small and run on minimal power. The duo consists of a GPS Receiver and Electromagnetic Compass. A small processor on-board the GPS board then provides the NAZA Flight Controller with location and heading information. Okay, nerdy stuff aside… that’s a pretty complicated dance that’s taking place in your little machine. If one component isn’t doing its job… or is encountering interference, then the dance becomes lesser a Waltz; moreso a “Carlton” or “Elaine”. Little kicks.
There are multiple forms of interference that can cause UF. The most common is going to be loss of GPS because one is flying underneath obstruction, or in a location devoid of clear-view of satellites (like Iceland, as read before). Another type of interference responsible for UF can be caused by storing, launching from, or flying near sources of electromagnetism (sidewalks, steel structures, transformer buckets) and can alter the polarity of the Electromagnetic Compass onboard the Phantom. There is also a loss of GPS situation that can occur when flying over deep water (which will be covered a bit more extensively in our next blog).
In all of these events, error codes are generated and cause UF to occur due to conflicting information being given to the Flight Controller. If your aircraft is triggered to go into failsafe mode… or even if you are flying manually and instruct the vehicle to travel in one direction – these commands have to have GPS and/or Compass bearing information in order to complete the task. Imagine that if you were hiking and you know that to go from one set of coordinates via GPS to the next one that you must travel north to get there. Now imagine your compass believes that North is actually East due to an error. Which way do you go? Uh oh… we’re throwing some error codes in your brain now, aren’t we?
The point is, I’ve never seen UF in an aircraft that was caused by defective equipment. In all cases, interference of some sort is to blame, and carefully monitoring GPS connectivity, always calibrating the compass, knowing and taking control in ATTI Mode (which requires NAZA Mode activation) will with every flight insure that Uncontrolled Flight never occurs.
For information about NAZA mode activation, please read my related entry by clicking here and for details on how to properly perform calibrations, I have a great video for you, click here.
Also, I certainly welcome your comments, questions and even suggestions. So please drop me a line by clicking here.
As winter looms and some of us are putting away our drones because it’s getting a bit cold outside, let’s remember a duo of quick tips that’ll eliminate some confusion that I occasionally receive calls about. It may be your first time flying or new Christmas present, or you’re waiting for the Spring thaw for your next flight… in any case take heed of these little reminders so that you’ll be flying in no time.
- Don’t forget, it’s a quick double-press on the power button of the battery to power-up and to power-down the aircraft. Be sure on the second press of the button to hold it down until the lights flash and the warm-up sound indicates the aircraft is initializing.
- Before every flight, do a compass calibration. It is very important to let the aircraft fully warm-up before entering calibration, so wait for the rear-arm lights to flash green before continuing. Don’t forget that you must quickly toggle the S1 switch more than five times on your remote in order to enter calibration mode. At this point, proceed to do your horizontal and vertical rotations. Now, verify that GPS connectivity is strong and you’re ready to go.
Happy Holidays, and Happy Flying!
We're outside and about to lift-off on an unprecedented flight to capture the most amazing imagery the world has ever seen. The skies are bright, cloudless, and blue; the afternoon sun is at just the perfect angle casting gorgeous shadows as they play across the landscape. We've calibrated our compass and just before we're up-an-away... a CRASH of thunder and we're running back to the car!
This is an experience many of us pilots can recall.Just when we're ready to fly, something changes at the last second and we're caught in a new dynamic we didn't prepare for.
It's for those moments that I met with our team of expert pilots and technicians here at UAVDirect to put together a list of our favorite downloadable apps to keep you prepared and ahead of the changes that could mark the decision of whether or not to take to the skies.
Weather, though a big factor isn't by itself that we might want to keep track of. You'll see that we've included a pretty good assortment of apps that you may also want to start thumbing through, as well.
Whether you’re a beginner or veteran pilot of multirotor aircraft, these apps are a great way to stay one step ahead of the curve and make your flights a fun and safe experience. Recording your flights and maintenance performed to your drone are good practice for any pilot, and user guides out in the field serve as a great tool for remembering the sequence of proper operation.,/
DJI Phantom Flight Helper – (Free) A Condensed “take anywhere” user manual with tips and guides for safe flight, LED charts, and even a handy timer for your DJI Phantom 2 series UAV.
UAV Logbook – (Free) Simple and easy management of UAV flights with exportable data.
RPAS Logger Plus – ($9.99) Pro-level logging of flights and UAV maintenance records. This powerful application is an absolute must for expert pilots. (Eric’s Suggestion)
There’s a saying down here in Texas: “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” Be prepared for changes in the weather by monitoring conditions wherever you are. Knowing what the sky is planning before your flights will save you a lot of heartache and make for getting the job done a lot easier. Consider a space-weather application as well. Being aware of geomagnetic activity is a must for safe and accurate UAV operations.
Accuweather – (Free) Real-time weather info with superior accuracy worldwide, radar and satellite maps, predictive charts that are accurate to the minute. (Eric’s Top Suggestion)
The Weather Channel – (Free) Real-time weather info with high-resolution maps, local forecasts, and more.
NASA Space Weather – (Free) Invaluable up-to-the-minute geomagnetic weather monitoring with Planetary Kp, Solar Flare / CME monitoring
K-Index Monitor – (Free) Condensed and simple application with real-time monitoring and alerts for geomagnetic storms that can affect UAV flight. (Eric’s Top Suggestion)
Knowing where you are and what’s around you is your first preflight check. UAV Pilots need access to maps showing flight-zone restrictions and contact info for airport towers in order to fly with security and safety. When travelling, knowing GPS connectivity in unfamiliar areas is paramount to safe and accurate flight. Consider the apps below.
Garmin Pilot – (Free) Expert-level Flight Planning, flight zone monitoring and weather info. Extremely handy for recording and reporting flight activity. (Suggested by Gary Holloway)
GPS Test – (Free) Easy and very useful tool for monitoring of GPS connectivity (Eric’s Top Suggestion)
With all of these applications, organization and prioritization is extremely important. Having all of your applications in one place and ready to run means you'll be up in the air sooner and better prepared for change.
Wi-Fi Prioritizer - (Free) If you have a DJI Vision or Vision Plus, this app is amazing! This simple app let's your smartphone quickly give preference to the networks of your choosing, namely the one created between your aircraft and Wi-Fi Range Extender.
Advanced Task Killer - (Free) Some applications refuse to go away, even when you've closed them. This simple program will free up memory and extend your battery-life while shutting down background tasks. (Eric's Suggestion)
Apps Organizer - (Free) Label and Organize your applications for quick finds when time counts.
The next time you venture out to the countryside, consider having an assortment of apps like these so that you stay prepared and ahead of the elements. Mobile hotspots and 4G access points can also help out in areas where data coverage could be sparse.
If you have a suggestion for an app not listed, please send us an email, and as always, please drop me a line with any comments, questions and even suggestions for future blog post.
Thanks for reading,