Do you have a pre-flight procedure?

Almost any drone operator has a pre-flight procedure; you have one too. You might not know it, but it is in your head. It might go something like this; You open your bag and grab your airframe, twist the props on and put in the battery. You take your transmitter/controller, slap on your iPad and connect it with your lightning cable. Turn on the iPad, then the transmitter and finally your drone. You’ll do the same thing over and over again every time you fly. That right there is a pre-flight procedure.

A pre-flight procedure consists of pre-defined steps you take every time before you fly. It should be something that is very systematic, step one is always step one, step seventeen always step seventeen and so on.

The example above would look like this when we put them down by steps:

1. Setup airframe.
2. Attach propellers.
3. Slot in the battery.
4. Setup transmitter.
5. Attach iPad & connect.
6. Turn on the transmitter.
7. Turn on the airframe.
8. fly.

The pre-flight procedure above is very basic, but not necessarily a bad one.

In this post, we are going to take this the above procedure and build it out to a pre-flight procedure that a professional or commercial operator would use. Plus we are going to look at how a checklist can help us go through this procedure while keeping a clear overview.

Here’s what we want to find out;

1. Why is a well thought out pre-flight procedure necessary?
2. How can we improve our pre-flight procedure?
3. How do we remember all this when we are in the field?

Before we continue, If you do not want to wait, you ought to grab the pre-flight procedure we are making in this post for yourself right now.

1. Why is a well thought out pre-flight procedure necessary?

It may seem like something you can easily ignore. Why would you use a procedure like this? “I am just flying for a hobby; It is not rocket science.” Yes, that is true. Unlike rocket science, who have extensive pre-flight checklists and launch sequence checklists, you are indeed not shooting for the moon, but that does not mean there is nothing at stake.

What about your precious $1000.- or $5000.- + drone, people in the area or just your reputation? What nobody wants is become the next person on the 6 O’clock news for drone drama #1.000.000. A pre-flight procedure can help to identify anomalies and problems you would not have spotted if you would have followed your short 8 step procedure.

That is more than enough reason to follow a proper pre-flight procedure don’t you agree?

2. How can we improve our pre-flight procedure?

Let’s take a look at our basic list again;

1. Setup airframe.
2. Attach propellers.
3. Slot in the battery.
4. Setup controller.
5. Attach iPad & connect.
6. Turn on the controller.
7. Turn on the airframe.
8. fly.

Here are some things I would like to add added in between the list we already have;

– Software/Firmware up to date.
– Batteries charged.
1. Setup airframe.
– Inspect airframe for defects
2. Attach/install propellers.
– Inspect propellers on defects.
3. Insert/Attach battery.
4. Setup Controller.
5. Install/Attach iPad & Shade.
– Antenna is up.
6. Turn on the transmitter.
7. Turn on the airframe.
– Check correct flight mode is enabled.
– Micro SD installed & formatted.
– Install camera (drone type dependent).
– Compass calibration.
– Return to home set.

As you can see, we did not add that much to the list. Ten steps in total and some of them are (critical) double checks.

All these extra steps seem straightforward and they are. However because they are straight forward, they are also easy to forget. Yes, I have also managed to take off just to realise there was no MicroSD inside my camera. It sucks, takes time, and costs battery that is why we have this procedure.

As some might have spotted number #8. Fly is not on the list. That is because there are a few more steps non-airframe related that we need to do before we take off;

– Scan for bystanders/people.
– Notify them and clear the area.
8. Fly

The reason I have put these separate is simple; I would like to emphasise that you need to be mindful of your surroundings. The general public needs to know you are about to fly and you need to make sure they clear the area. For bystanders, it is the same. You need to make sure they are well clear of your craft, preferably behind you before you take off.

Bringing all this together will give us our final, complete pre-flight procedure;

1. Software/Firmware up to date.
2. Batteries charged.
3. Setup airframe.
4. Inspect airframe for defects
5. Attach/install propellers.
6. Inspect propellers on defects.
7. Insert/Attach battery.
8. Setup Controller.
9. Install/Attach iPad & Shade.
10. Antenna is up.
11. Turn on the transmitter.
12. Turn on the airframe.
13. Check correct flight mode is enabled.
14. Micro SD installed & formatted.
15. Install camera (drone type dependent).
16. Compass calibration.
17. Return to home set.
18. Scan for bystanders/people.
19. Notify them and clear the area.
20. Fly

example

3. How do we remember all this when we are in the field?

Good question, my favourite and by far the best way for me to remember a process is by using a checklist. A checklist helps me remember, keep track and go through a process systematically. Using checklists is also something that makes you a lot more professional as you make sure you do not forget any steps.

The pre-flight checklist I use is very similar to the list we have just made. You can download it below. It should serve as an excellent base for your checklist. Feel free to use it, share it or copy it.

Summery

Whether you are operating a drone as a hobbyist or a commercial operator, it is important you follow a pre-flight checklist that takes everything into consideration. Most people will have the procedure pretty much in their head already and writing it down on paper will help immensely to make flying safer. You would not want to risk your expensive drone due to a chip in a propeller, do you?

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Written by Rik Roukens
Rik created his personal blog to help people prevent the mistakes he made in the 5+ years he has been flying. His other passions are Photography & videography. Email him anytime @ rik[at]sesh[.]tv or tweet him at @rroukens