aerial

Drones on a Construction Site? | Baltimore Aerials

Drones on a Construction Site? My Advice for safe sUAS flying

Last week (this blog post is three weeks late LOL sorry), I finished up with a film production crew covering the construction process of the new Guinness US Open Brewery and Taphouse. Compared to previous construction related shoots, this one took my concentration to another level. Four to five man-lifts were moving, a crane was operating, and the parking lot was being paved. All of this was contained within a five hundred foot square, so there was a shitload going on all at once.

Here are a few of my top recommendations for safely completing sUAS flights in an active construction zone. These tips are all equally important and are in no specific order:

Effective Communication

baltimore aerials guinness harp

With so many parts moving at once, communication is essential on any construction site. Before the flights started, we had a general safety meeting held by the head of safety. When the safety meeting was over, I pulled the safety coordinator, crane operator, and those bolting the letters and Harp to the building aside for a second to explain my intentions. After our discussion, all parties were on board, and most people were excited to have the drone document these lifts. 

Spare Equipment

First, I must say I was a little disappointed to find out my main board in the P4P RC was shot. While I use this equipment five days or more out the week, my Inspire 1 controller still works like the day I purchased it (it's another year a half older than RC for P4P). On the first trip down to Diageo, I realized my RC was not holding a charge, and battery life went from approximately four hours of flying to 45 mins. Once the last light on the RC was blinking, I knew it was time to plug in due to a possible RTH if the RC died. So for the rest of the shoot, I stayed plugged into a car charger.

DJI chargers can sometimes be touchy when it comes to power coming out of a cars AC adapter, for example. This brings me to my next recommendation of carrying multiple chargers at all times. I have an AC converter to plug in, regular plug-in chargers (120) and then another made by DJI which plugs directly into the car's AC outlet. 

Having an extra drone(s) also helps in a pinch when one is not performing correctly. I always carry another aircraft just in case. This is important if heavy winds or rain becomes an issue on the shoot. At this point, I have a drone for every circumstance such as rain or heavy wind.

The mid-Atlantic summer can be tough on equipment. Specifically on electronics. The hot and sticky climate is not as bad as the winter's low temps and wind, but I have heard of drone user's iPhones or tablets turning off due to overheating issues. I flew continuously for almost six hours an did not experience device failure, but my P4P batteries did take a while to cool down. The Intelligent Battery's firmware does not allow them to be charged above a specific temperature threshold, so I ran the A/C at 70 Degrees and left the batteries a few feet from vents to cool. I would not suggest cranking the air con entirely either because that could damage the cells. Just bring plenty of batteries :)

guinness-baltimore-aerials

Safety and Awareness

Understand the objective of your flying. Ask yourself:

  1.  Why have you been asked to be a part of this project? 
  2.  What else is going on where or over I'll be flying?
  3.  Have I completed my pre-flight checklist?

Safety and awareness are both critical elements in a day of safe flying. A few months ago, I was setting up my Inspire 1 and noticed one of the Torx screws was loose. This is the screw that connects the prop adapters to the motor, a failure of this part could result in an accident. This is only one example of why we need to check our equipment before taking off. Awareness is the real-time thought process of our flying. There are many moving pieces on a construction site, and as mentioned above, focus is highly necessary. 

Conclusions

Every drone operator is different, these are just a few tactics I use to decrease or eliminate risk. In addition to these recommendations, planning your shots is also important. Ask for a shot list if one if not provided, asking questions to help perfect your craft is never frowned upon. The client wants what they asked for, so give them that and something more. Be yourself, be creative and most importantly have fun while working. 

 

5 Reasons Why I Love the Manfrotto 3N1-36

Today’s post is about the Manfrotto 3N1-36 and why I believe it’s the best backpack for DJI’s Phantom 4 Pro. If you don't feel like reading this blog, then check the video review here. First, let’s discuss what I’m comparing this Manfrotto pack to. During the time I flew the standard Phantom 4, I used DJI’s hard shell backpack while traveling. In my opinion, that backpack screams “I am carrying a drone.” Its “turtle shell design” and large DJI branding made this pack’s contents easily recognized. This backpack was made for the Phantom 3 Pro but after a few modifications, the P4 fit nicely. While melting the styrofoam inside, a few alterations including making space for the large gimbal lock and increased Milliamp batteries were necessary. After those adjustments were made, I was able to use it successfully during my P4 use.

Then the P4P came out, we were quite excited at the time of the announcement- my GF gave me the approval to order it the first day available. I remember waiting anxiously for a couple weeks before the box showed up on the doorstep. With the P4P’s 20MP camera added to the equation, the hard shell was no longer practical. I also acquired a few more batteries and there so was no additional room in the hard shell for storage.

5 Reasons

Compared to DJI’s hard shell, the Manfrotto 3N1-36 allows for more space. Granted the pack is much larger, but only because it’s designed in a rectangle instead of an oval. Below is a list of everything I could carry inside or attached to the Manfrotto. Notice some items are in bold, these are my five reasons. DJI’s pack couldn’t handle the extra items. Manfrotto’s 3N1-36 is on the high-end of drone backpacks, but here’s why it’s worth the price.

There’s space for (in addition to the P4P & RC):

  • At least five spare batteries
  • ND filters
  • Extra SD Card holder(s)
  • A true 15” laptop
  • Medium-sized Pyrex Container for a meal
  • Two water bottles
  • Portable landing pad
  • Monopod or small tripod
  • DJI battery & RC charger
  • Space for a tablet- I use Apple’s iPad Mini

Manfrotto’s pack comes in handy during hikes too, it’s comfortable even after wearing it for a few hours. I sweat easily and the pack is usually soaked after a couple hours on the trail. However, this is made with nice synthetic material and doesn’t have an odor like some materials after perspiration has dried. I’ve been stuck in the rain with the pack twice and each time the interior is completely dry. Manfrotto includes a rain cover for the pack if you’re out in the elements for long periods of time, but in my case, the pack was only exposed for 30-45 mins.

In conclusion, Manfrotto’s 3N1-36 is by far the best pack on the market right now for the Phantom line. Although this backpack was made for serious photogs, Manfrotto has designed this pack in a way which easily converts to a drone bag. Originally designed to transport a camera(s), up to five lenses, laptop, and tripod, this bag gets it done. Check out my video that shows how much stuff I actually carry in the bag. Of course, each day is different and while I may not pack the bag to the brim, it’s always nice knowing the room is available.

Please contact us with any question about drones, the pack, or past blog posts. For more information about the Manfrotto 3N1-36, follow this link.

Baltimore Drone Blog- DJI Mavic Pro Product Review

Today I will be discussing the DJI Mavic Pro, its pros, and cons and why this drone may be a good or bad fit for your #dronelife. First off, the Mavic is a fantastic piece of equipment and the drone never let me down. There were times I’d be flying and a strong gust would roll through and the Mavic always remained locked in place. If you’re reading this and thinking “so is the Mavic right for me?” I’ll be getting to that later in the post. Please keep in mind, I am not affiliated with DJI or any of the other brands I will be bringing up throughout this post. I am a Remote Pilot with four years experience flying drones who enjoys giving my opinion with the hopes that it will benefit others in the future.

Are you a hiker? Mountain biker? Fisherman? Regardless of your hobbies, if you’re looking for a drone that’s compact and will withstand the wind and minimal precipitation this consumer UAS is for you. DJI designed the Mavic to be portable, that was their main concern it seems because the camera is so-so, (we’ll get to the camera a little later) but there are many attributes that make the Mavic Pro a spectacular drone.

Pros and Cons

DJI’s Mavic Pro drone is quite small once folded up in its “transport” stage. See the below pic:

The DJI Mavic Pro and an iPhone 7 Plus to the left for scale

The DJI Mavic Pro and an iPhone 7 Plus to the left for scale

Although not very well protected, the pocket of a normal sized hoodie fits the Mavic with no problem, and the controller I put in my back pocket. Just don’t sit down with the RC in your pocket LOL. I only carried the drone around like this in urban environments when it was best to be “low key” around town. I didn’t get a hardshell case or a protective sleeve like some pilots prefer, but I will say DJI’s original packaging did the trick while in transit.

The Mavic’s overall flight ability was astonishing. From unpacking to landing after a successful mission the Mavic got it done. Unfolding the drone’s legs while simultaneously opening the DJI GO 4 app and connecting the RC, the Mavic is in the air in under a minute. Obviously, if the operator would like to perform a compass calibration or gimbal calibration pre-flight duration will increase. One thing I have noticed from various Facebook groups and forums is this is the stage when most pilots go wrong with the Mavic, and subsequently, their content is sub-par. I am talking about the horrific terrors of having an uneven horizon. When new pilots post their content this is easily noticed, and most, not all, blame DJI. The issue is not the firmware like a lot of new operators think, it’s actually the pilot not following the Mavic’s instruction manual. Each time the drone is powered on, the Mavic (or any other DJI product for the most part) should be on a completely level surface. One of the worst things that can happen is you’re flying and you’ve framed up a beautiful shot, but the damn horizon is crooked. Performing a gimbal auto-calibration will correct this issue, but unfortunately, the Mavic needs to be back on the ground. Obviously the horizon issue can be corrected in post production but in my opinion, taking off with a properly aligned gimbal will save time in the long run.

After approximately ten hours of flight time (25 battery cycles), I have seen the Mavic operate in the sky near flawlessly. The range was impressive, no latency with the FPV feed, and flying in 30 MPH gusts was no problem for the Mavic Pro. DJI’s spec sheet for the Mavic suggests 27 minutes of flight, I never fly my batteries down to 10% or less but I do believe 27 minutes is possible. When I fly, I bring the bird back at the 30% threshold. It’s my belief that using the battery properly will decrease wear and tear on the li-po and will increase battery life while keeping cells intact. Each flight averaged 19-22 minutes depending on factors such as the wind and the mission objective(s).

Let’s talk about the camera - DJI has implemented the Phantom 3 Professional’s camera onto a small but powerful little gimbal, therefore, allowing users to shoot in 4k. Great, the camera can shoot in 4k at 24, 25, and 30 FPS but is the footage high-quality is the question. Simply put, no, I don’t think so. My reasoning for this is the 1/2.3-inch CMOS sensor within the Mavic’s camera. Compared to the Mavic’s big bro, the Phantom 4 Pro and its one-inch sensor, DJI’s Mavic media output is nothing to rave about. This is the main reason why I decided to sell my Mavic, this was not a drone I could use for commercial purposes at all. What’s funny to me is the number of new drone operators that think the Mavic is capable of delivering commercial grade content. There’s been a large spike in consumer drone purchases because of the Mavic’s positive attributes. However, if a novice pilot thinks they are going to buy a Mavic then pass the 107 Exam and start making hand over fist money they’re in for a rude awakening. Sure, the camera is awesome for shooting a couple HDR pics for real estate, but if you’re trying to become one of those “overnight aerial cinematographers” you may want to reconsider the Mavic as your drone of choice.

The Mavic and I - you can see how big the camera actually is. No larger than a dime.

The Mavic and I - you can see how big the camera actually is. No larger than a dime.

Usability of the Mavic is a positive feature too. DJI has designed the Mavic’s controller well, but it does have one flaw. I had to remove two plastic pieces from the RC that “grips” the smartphone being used. No biggie - but I prefer not to remove the phone from its case. Otherwise, the RC fits well in my or my GF’s hands, so it’s perfect for those female pilots too. I know the Inspire 1 RC is tough to handle for long periods of time without using a harness.

Overall the Mavic can hold it’s own in the sky and is a very stable drone, but media content output just isn’t at the level I need it to be for project deliverables.

Positive Features

  • Compact and very portable
  • Long battery life
  • Easy to fly - usability is A+
  • Stability in the air - the Mavic can withstand wind well

Negative Attributes

  • Camera is ok, but not great
  • Controller does not fit iPhone Plus with a case
  • RC doesn’t maintain battery life well
  • When the gimbal lock and protective housing are factored in, I am actually able to get the Phantom line in the air faster

If you’d like to purchase the DJI Mavic Pro here are a couple options:

DJI has pretty much caught up to consumer demand at this time, although during the months of December and January it was slim pickens unless you wanted to get gouged on Craigslist or eBay.

Please feel free to contact me at Robert@baltimoreaerialproductions.com with any question or concerns about my post or the Mavic in general. Happy flying!