Using a flight log to keep track & build up your flying hours

Take a moment and ask yourself, what if the authorities or one of your big time Hollywood clients ask you to hand over your flight logs. Can you provide them with such?

In this blog post, I am going to explain to you why keeping track of your flights is vital to any UAV pilot. Whether you will remain a hobbyist or with the goal of becoming a professional aerial cinematographer/commercial UAV pilot.

We are going to look at five things;

1. Why you need to use an ‘analogue’ flight log and not rely on DJI’s or equivalent.
2. Four reasons why this is a vital part of your equipment.
3. What does a proper flight log include & how to use it.
4. How this will help you when you want to go professional.
5. I’m giving away my personal flight log template for you to use!

#1. Why you need an ‘analogue’ flight log and not rely on DJI’s build in one or similar.

I have spoken to a lot of UAV pilots over the years that are relying heavily on DJI’s build in flight logs. These are indeed excellent. Sadly I have also spoken to a lot of DJI Pilots that have lost all of their flight log data on certain updates. I’m not saying this happens often and it will be pretty unique if it happens to you, but do you want to take that gamble with your most valuable drone asset?

Or what if you decide to switch from DJI to 3DR or Yuneec, are you going to split your logs? What if you fly multiple systems already or upgrade to a Freefly ALTA?

The point I’m trying to make is you can not rely on a 3rd party company to store the ONLY copy of your flight data. Keeping track of your own flight log is much more responsible and makes you more professional.

Update 16/04/2016: to illustrate the importance, DJI has just released a new version of their app and many users are reporting missing flights and weird stats. With many of them making it look like they did illegal flights.

point proven

It serves as proof how real this problem is. As one of the Facebook commenters says, if the CAA (UK’s FAA) ever needed to see his flight records for a legal matter, he would have serious problems. (the max. distance is 500m from the Pilot in Command. VLOS [visual line of sight] needs to be maintained at all times)

#2. Four reasons why this is a vital part of your equipment.

  • Tracking your flights keeps you accountable & shows your competence.
  • Tracking your flying hours will allow you to schedule maintenance on your UAV.
  • It allows you to debrief after each flight.
  • It can be immensely beneficial if you want to go professional

Let’s break them down;

  • Tracking your flights keeps you accountable & shows your competence.

It is very simple. Your flight log will show people how many hours you have under your belt. It will show people you know what you are talking about, that you are a competent UAV pilot with experience. It can help in many cases, e.g. Asking permission from a property owner will become a lot easier as you can physically show your flight logs and experience. Or you might have a crash and legal matters get involved. You now have physical evidence that you are a competent pilot that knows what s/he is doing.

  • Tracking your flying hours will allow you to schedule maintenance on your UAV.

At least as important as the above. Keeping a flight log will enable you to keep track of the hours you have flown with a particular airframe (model). Doing so gives you the ability to very accurately plan required maintenance to your UAV/drone.

Not many people know this, but your UAV/drone requires regular maintenance servicing, for example, a commercial (and hobby) DJI Inspire 1 Pro has to get serviced every 50 flying hours. Bet you didn’t know that, did you? 😉

  • It allows you to debrief after each flight.

Also vital to be aware of, you will have an excellent opportunity to debrief yourself after every flight. Nothing is more important than learning from every mistake you make and evaluating what you can do better. A flight log gives you the perfect chance to do so, right after you fill in all the details.

  • It can be immensely beneficial if you want to go professional

This is a big one, so big in fact that we will talk about this a bit further down the blog post. Think about what I have said in the beginning about keeping track of your flying hours gives you accountability & shows competence. I want you to think about how everything I’ve said will help towards becoming a professional aerial pilot. We’ll visit this again after I tell you what a flight log looks like and how you use it.

#3. What does a proper flight log include?

An excellent question, the short answer is: “almost everything that is on a regular pilot’s flight log”. Let’s break that down in a bit more useful information and strip off all the excess info we, as UAV pilots don’t need.

A UAV pilot flight log looks like this:

Screen Shot 2016-04-16 at 19.17.37

Above you see my very own flight log template. I have based my flight log layout on flight logs that have proven themselves in over 100 years of aviation.

I maintain & store my flight logs by month. When the next month arrives I create a fresh flight log so I make it easier for myself to keep track. I store all my flight logs in 3 locations, I have one physical hard copy with me on the road, this is the one I enter all the data in (analogue with a pen). As soon as I return from a location, the first thing I will do is digitise this into an Excel document on my computer. This document is then automatically uploaded to my Google Drive where it sits safely.

By having my flight logs in 3 locations, I prepare myself for the worst. If (god forbid) my house burns down with my physical copy inside it, I still have a digital copy both in the cloud and on my local computer. If both my hard copy and computer go up in flames, I still have my online cloud copy. If all electricity in the world disappears, I still have my physical copy. You get the picture. I take it that serious.

All flight logs include the following information:

  • PIC Name (Pilot in Command)
  • Month
  • Flight number (of that month)
  • Date (e.g. 07/04, dd/mm)
  • Mission (client name, or shoot name)
  • Airframe (model, e.g. 3DR Solo)
  • Location (e.g. Port Meadow, Oxford)
  • Weather (cloudy, clear skies, scattered clouds, etc.)
  • Windspeed (e.g. 4G7knts, 4 knots Gusting 7 Knots)
  • ‘#’ number of batteries (e.g. 6 batteries flown)
  • RCT Type (Recreational, Commercial, Training. written down as R, C or T)
  • Flight duration (total flight duration with all batteries)
  • Altitude (specifically, Max altitude or standard work altitude in feet)
  • Notes (Debrief moment! What could have gone better from a operators perspective)
  • Concerns/Issues (Debrief moment! safety/Flight OPS changes.)

All pretty straight forward. Filling all this information out is very simple and easy to do. Make sure that you always fill in your flight log when you arrive on location as much as possible, pretty much everything up until “number of batteries”. Then after you are done flying, you can proceed to fill in the rest. If you don’t do it straight away, you will forget things. So just get it done.

# 4. How this will help you when you want to go professional.

I hope you have thought about why keeping a well-maintained flight log will help you when you want to transition from a hobbyist to professional. If you did, you should have come up with something like the following;

  • A flight log will hold you accountable and shows your competence.
  • A flight log will help me towards getting special exclusions/permissions.
  • A flight log will show my clients how experienced I am and that I work to professional standards.
  • A flight log will allow me to maintain my drone with regular servicing/ maintenance.

All of this is 100% accurate, getting exclusions/special permissions can sometimes be hard, especially when you can not show how competent you are. Let me explain this by an example here in the United Kingdom.

When you want to become a commercial pilot in the United Kingdom you need to pass something call the Pfaw (Permission for Aerial Work) this is a certificate that is granted to pilots that finish a theory course & practical exam like ICARUS (by my good friends AerialMotionPictures.co.uk) for example. This certificate will give you permission to fly commercially under a set of rules. One of these rules is that airframes under 7kg can fly no closer than 50 meters to congested areas. You can get around this by getting a special exemption which you can apply for to the CAA. It is very hard to get this exemption, but if you can show the CAA that you have over three years worth of flights logged in your logbook, there is a good chance you will get this special exemption way faster than UAV pilots that have not kept track of their flying hours. Another rule is that you can not fly within the Greater London Area without special permissions. Again if you can show you have years of logged flights, this will count as evidence towards getting a special permission quicker than others.

Also, for professionals, keeping a clear and concise flight log is part of the requirement for a Pfaw. So the earlier you start, the better.

#5. I’m giving away my personal flight log template for you to use!

As I wrote at the beginning of this post, I have decided to share my personal flight log template with you. You can decide what you want to do with it, use it, copy it and create your own, anything. I hope to get all pilots under the same mindset that keeping flight logs will make you a better pilot.

Summery

Hopefully by now, you understand the importance of keeping a dedicated flight log for yourself, we have looked at the benefits of having one, why not to go for DJI’s build in flight log, what a flight log includes, how to use it and finally, I have given you my very own flight log template for you to use and become a better pilot.

As always, if you have any questions, comments, suggestions or otherwise, leave them in the comments below!

Safe flying.

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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