A few local drone operators have contacted me about flying drones in sub-freezing temperatures recently on social, email, etc. So, I decided to write a blog post about flying in the cold. Here in Maryland, we’ve seen two weeks of daily highs temps in the teens. Winds have been moderate, but there have been gusty days, too. Here are my top five suggestions when flying when it’s cold AF outside.
Flying Drones During Winter Weather
1. Cold hands?
Personally, my most common issues are my hands becoming cold. I feel like my hands move in slow motion after only 30-45 minutes in the elements. Over the last few years, I’ve tried a few different remedies, but only one has worked for me so far. These gloves from REI are my favorite option for now. When it is windy though, I add a pair of Nitrile Gloves as a base layer to cut the wind.
2. Device battery life
Cold weather and electronics don’t mix well. Low temperatures decrease battery life in electronics and slow performance. A significant share of drone users uses apps on either iOS or Android devices which are rated to operate efficiently at specific temperatures. This article states iOS devices perform best within 32 and 95 degrees while Android can run between -4 and 122 degrees Fahrenheit. If your app crashes, DON'T PANIC! Restart the app and fly home. If a worse case scenario occurs, you may have to hit the return-to-home button if your drone has this feature built it. I only suggest using the RTH button in a emeregency situation such as your device completely dying, do not rely on this every flgiht.
3. Inspect your drone before and after each flight
During flight ice can build on props and condensation could form around electronics. Usually, I find ice only forms on my Inspire 1 props, but it’s possible this could happen on any drone. However, the Phantom series easily builds condensation around the gimbal and the underside of the drone. There are many variables which affect flying conditions though so make sure it’s safe before buzzing around.
4. Let your craft warm up before taking off
Once you’ve arrived at your launch destination, assemble your drone and power on. I let the drone and controller warm up while I verify all settings are correct in the app. Furthermore, I will allow the motors run for a minute or two to increase the battery temp. In recent DJI GO App updates, new notifications have been included to remind the operator that the battery is too cold for flight.
5. Keep your batteries warm
Sometimes keeping batteries warm is tough. For example, the Inspire 1 batteries were notorious for issues in cold weather. DJI released a battery warmer to help but once out on a hike it was still hard to do. To combat the problem further adding a small hand warmer into a lipo safe bag will help keep batteries warm outdoors.
Plan B: Fly from inside your car. I would recommend sticking your head out of the sunroof to maintain VLOS though.
Feel free to contact me with questions or concerns about flying in the winter weather. Happy flying!