Why You Should Document Drone Flight Procedures!

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Being the person that “wrote the book” on how to fly their drone can never be a bad thing, right? Flying safe means documenting drone flight procedures!

May 2, 2016

Part of being good stewards of the sky, and giving UAV flyers a more respected name, starts primarily with flying safe.  Just as a manned aircraft pilot goes through pre-flight checklists and flight planning, so should drone pilots.  Granted, the possibility of the UAV pilot getting hurt during operations are slim, we cannot assume the airspace will always be free of low flying aircraft such as crop dusters or medevacs whom we can affect greatly.  Drone pilots should take every opportunity to put themselves in the shoes of manned aircraft pilots and even bystanders not involved on the UAV operations.

Safety is the first priority.

Documented drone flight procedures in the form of succinct “flip charts” not only take safety into account, they also ensure preservation of your pricey UAS systems.  Dollars may dictate many decisions, but flying safely should always be first priority.  As regulations evolve, we need to be alert as ever. Having flown many missions myself, I’m constantly reminded of steps I would have overlooked (and the disastrous outcomes that would have followed) if I had neglected to follow my flip charts step-by-step.  

Be comprehensive, but focused.

If you’re looking to document your own procedures, know that a good flip chart should be quite comprehensive, covering items needed before heading out the door all the way through set-up, pre-flight checks, mission, landing, and stowing.  Try not to make it too wordy; doing so may lead to avoidance of reading steps for the sake of time.  Folks that fly a particular UAV system more than few times a week might find themselves needing a pared down checklist that bullet points steps that trigger memory rather than reading through a lengthy chart.  In this case we recommend having a full list flip chart and another version for “expert” use.  

Test, test, and test!

Don’t laminate that chart just yet!  As you perform more flights, you’ll find yourself refining procedures, and in-turn, refining your documentation.  Software updates can throw a wrench into workflow too, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing, as I’ve seen complete steps removed as software developers and UAV manufacturers seek to simplify and improve UAS operations. It’s a good idea to keep and pencil handy to make edits, and when you think you have everything nailed down, throw a “last updated” date on and consider lamination to withstand weather and repeated use.  Punching holes in the upper left corner of the stack and placing a single binder ring through them seems to be the ticket for easy “flipping”.    
Enough talking about documenting drone flight procedures, let’s see an example of a checklist I often use when flying DJI equipment using DroneDeploy.  Feel free to use this “flipchart” as-is, or modify to your needs. Post your feedback in the forums – and let’s hear about the mission methods you use to fly safe!

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