Tuesday, 21 June 2016

Droney McDroneface: Day 1

Well, the first day of the heliguy course is over and this means Alex and I have embarked on the first steps to becoming proper drone pilots.

Personal I think today was quite slow, but I gather tomorrow will be a lot more work as tomorrow is mostly on air law. Today was covering principles of flight and aircraft knowledge, and quite a lot on Lithium Polymer battery safety (with scary videos).

So hopefully in tomorrow's post I can explain a tad more about what is allowed and what is not, and what will be allowed once we get our PFAW (Permission For Aerial Works).

The process to get there means this course and a theory test which we have to pass, then producing an operations manual, and then passing a practical test, and finally an application to the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority). This week should complete the theory test part. We will need insurance as well.

One of the things we have to decide is what sort of aerial work we want to be able to do, and if we want to try and apply for some extended permissions rather than just the basics. The basics, for example, allow working outside 50m distance of people or property we do not control, but it seems there may be ways to apply for closer distances if we can present the risk assessments and mitigation in our operations manual. Hopefully we'll know more on that tomorrow as well. Other possible extended permissions are things like night flying, and flying beyond visual line of sight. I doubt we need to go for either of those to start with.

It seems the Phantom 4 is a good choice of drone - it is very capable with an excellent camera and a lot of safety features. It fits in the lowest weight category (≤7kg). There are other drones we could get, within that category, or go for the heavy lift (≤20kg). The only real concern expressed with using a Phantom 4 on commercial work was the customer perception issue (I could get one of them from Apple/Maplin, or my kid has one of those). Obviously the fact we have done a CAA course, passed tests, and got PFAW is what really matters, but customer perception can be an issue.

What would make a difference, if we wanted to do more work, such as in London, or over people, would be a hexacopter or octocopter which can survive a rotor failure. A quadrocopter like the Phantom 4 cannot. The CAA stuff is all about safety and mitigating risk.


  1. What rules are there around operating near aerodromes? Do you have to clear this with local ATC if within a certain area of the flight path?

  2. Can you only fly the drone you are tested on? I would imagine most companies would have a selection that they could use for different jobs.

    I have a DJI550 Hex with PixHawk for autonomous work and an EasyStar with PixHawk for endurance (>60mins)

    In Theory the PixHawk could do 15KM return trips :-) I've only ever had it fly in circles for 30 mins in auto (RTL)

    1. You can fly what your operations manual says, within the weight class for which you have passed the practical. But you can update the flight manual during the year if you need. So basically, anything in the weight class for which you have been tested.

    2. Oh, and height and distance limits, so 15km trips, no, unless you are following it and can see it the whole time.

  3. I did wonder what the point of a hexacopter or octocopter was. To me it just seemed like increasing the chance of a failure, like how a twin engine light aircraft has twice the chance of falling out of the sky since most of them can't fly on one engine.

    1. LOL, in the early days an airplane with 2 engines used the second one to get you to the scene of the crash when the first one failed.

      There hasn't been a twin built for 70 years that can't fly on one engine (even the Canberra)

    2. All twin engine light aircraft can fly, and indeed perform a shallow climb on one engine, it's a certification requirement.

      The problem is that shallow climb if the engine failures shortly after takeoff may not be enough to outclimb obstacles, and it requires prompt reactions and handling by the pilot - in particular if the airspeed is allowed to get too low the aircraft becomes uncontrollable as you don't have the rudder authority to counteract the yaw from the asymmetric thrust.

      For someone who is not that current at flying a twin, it is quite easy to not react promptly enough etc - this is why sometimes light twins are referred to as having a second engine "to take you to the scene of the accident".

  4. Interestingly it's why twins like the 787 climb better than 4 engined aircraft like the 747.
    A twin has to have twice the power required so that if it loses an engine at takeoff (V1) it can still climb away on effectively half power.
    A 4 engined plane only has to climb away on 3/4 power so it only needs a lower surplus when all engines are working.