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

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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 :)

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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.