Drones and chasing for 2018

Discussion in 'Sky photography' started by Dan Robinson, Jan 6, 2018.

  1. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    I finally joined the ranks of drone ownership last fall, and plan to try using it this upcoming season. The drone world has really changed dramatically since I first started looking at the first-generation Flame Wheel kits back in 2010. A fully gimbaled and realtime-video capable drone setup back then cost more than $3,000 (the reason I never gave in to the impulse buy then). Now, the cost for equivalent capability at even greater resolutions is well below $1000. I paid $650 for my Phantom 3 SE.

    The downside to the low costs and higher capabilities of drones right now is offset by them being regulated and restricted more than ever before. I thought this might be a useful thread for anyone thinking of using drones for storm chasing purposes. Feel free to add your thoughts.

    - All drones must be registered with the FAA if they are between 0.55 lbs. and up to 55 lbs. See: https://faadronezone.faa.gov/

    - Commercial use of drones is now allowed by the FAA, but you must pass the Part 107 sUAS remote pilot certification exam. The exam is more difficult than you'd expect, and requires a thorough knowledge of the material. See: https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/part_107/remote_pilot_cert/

    - Without a waiver (and in some cases ATC clearance), drones cannot be flown:
    * at night
    * above 400 feet AGL (or over 400 feet above a structure)
    * directly over people or cars
    * in clouds
    * out of visual line-of-sight
    * faster than 100mph
    * within 5 miles of an airport
    * within FAA flight restricted areas
    * within local flight restricted areas (like NYC and National Parks)

    - The FAA is aggressively enforcing these regulations. Arrests and fines have happened to operators.
    See: https://jrupprechtlaw.com/drone-ope...eational-commercial-drone-operators-need-know

    - Currently, there are not many landmarks left where you can legally fly without prior FAA and site authorization. The no-fly-zone list keeps getting bigger and bigger. For example, New York City has banned all drone flights except for at a few designated parks. The National Park Service also has a blanket ban on drone flights at all NPS-managed sites (they are aggressively enforcing this too).
    See:
    http://www1.nyc.gov/nyc-resources/service/5521/drones
    https://www.nps.gov/articles/unmanned-aircraft-in-the-national-parks.htm

    - If you plan to sell any photos or videos from your drone (or even post a monetized Youtube video), you need to get the Part 107 certification.

    - The first known collision of a drone with manned aircraft occurred last September in New York involving a Black Hawk helicopter:
    https://app.ntsb.gov/pdfgenerator/ReportGeneratorFile.ashx?EventID=20170922X54600&AKey=1&RType=HTML&IType=IA

    As for chasing, some possible uses I can envision include things like getting a look at a distant storm in an area with no open views, and of course aerials of storm damage and tornado paths. I'm not expecting to use mine during chases all that often, but will keep it as another gadget in the toolbox.

    Bottom line, these look like a promising tool for image acquisition, but you really need to know and abide by the FAA rules.
     
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    #1 Dan Robinson, Jan 6, 2018
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2018
  2. Todd Lemery

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    I’ve also got the phantom drone. Brought it with last year, but never had a decent opportunity to let it loose. Without double checking, I think I have the same one you do Dan. It won’t allow you to fly over 400 feet and also won’t let you fly near an airport when the GPS is turned on. You do want the GPS fully synced though so it comes back to you if the battery starts getting low.
    I thought it would be neat to fly it into a funnel (I have a range extender on mine and it can be controlled well out of visual sight) and then hope to hell when I call it back it’s still able to fly back to me. I figure if I fly it in high enough, I can avoid the majority of the debris.
    My only advice for flying it is to let it land itself or let it hover and have someone grab it while you power it down. It can land itself way better than I can. Good luck with your new drone!
     
  3. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    The Phantom (or any drone) could probably be flown into/close to a tornado, but with their top speed of 35mph there'd be no way you'd fly it out! Once in the air, you would probably not have much control and even mild RFD would rapidly push the aircraft into the ground. Theoretically you might be able to get fairly close to a smaller tornado, but I doubt the visuals would be much different from a gimbal-stabilized zoomed view from a helicopter. FAA regulation wise, the VFR requirement to stay 500 feet horizontally from any clouds would make that the closest you could legally get, and you'd have to maintain line-of-sight and not be over any roads or people (other chasers). The prospect of flying into a condition where you would likely be losing control of the drone may also raise the ire of the FAA.

    I seem to remember another chaser (Timmer maybe) trying to get FAA approval to do something like this and getting denied. Maybe someone else knows more detail about that.
     
  4. Alex Elmore

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    What attracted you to the Phantom, Dan? The Phantom lineup seems to be the more popular brand for drones, but I've heard some pretty good things about the Yuneec Typhoon H though too.
     
  5. Warren Faidley

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    I worked with DJI (Phantom) as a test pilot when they released their first few drones because they wanted to see how they flew around storms. There was a plan to fly an advanced unit into a tornado, but the project was cancelled due to logistical and legal issues. If you hit someone with a drone or cause property damage, it's a serious problem. Nor did I want to hassle with LEO and the FAA over a host of issues. The other issue is that it's illegal (or soon will be in your area) to fly a private or news drone over a working disaster site because of possible helicopter traffic and S&R drones being used for emergency services. It's already illegal to fly over wildfires. Basically not worth the effort except for stormscapes possibly, but with the flood of drone stock footage... you know the story. The Phantom is an excellent drone.
     
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    #5 Warren Faidley, Jan 9, 2018
    Last edited: Jan 9, 2018
  6. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    I went with DJI since they seem to have the best combo of reliability, good track record/support and price. The few competitors out there are gaining ground (with the exception of GoPro), but IMO aren't at DJI's level of reliability yet, at least based on the aggregate of reviews I've read.
     
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  7. Todd Lemery

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    I just picked a the Phantom cause it’s easy to fly and if I destroy it trying to get fly into the twisty video i’m Not out a lot of money
     
  8. michael beard

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    No

    Sent from my LG-LS997 using Tapatalk
     
  9. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    Warren, that's a good point about a damage scene. I'd feel more comfortable doing something like a path through a wheat field instead of a Greensburg type situation, the latter I think would be definitely problematic.

    A relevant FAA advisory page for Hurricane Harvey that I expect would be similar to a major tornado disaster: https://www.faa.gov/news/updates/?newsId=88705&omniRss=news_updatesAoc&cid=101_N_U
     
    #9 Dan Robinson, Jan 10, 2018
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2018
  10. Bill Hark

    Bill Hark EF5

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    For tornado damage, I think the best approach is to get in the area very quickly and get shots before any flight restrictions are issued. One would have to be careful of news helicopters. Spiral damage to wheat fields or forests might actually be more interesting to image. I have a DJI Phantom 3 which works very well but I have so little time to get out and fly it. It would be too much to worry about on a chase though might provide some unique angles of non-severe storms approaching the city.
     
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  11. Dan Robinson

    Dan Robinson WxLibrary Editor
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    The nice thing I discovered is that in most places, you don't have to go very high to get a good view of something. When I was in California, many locations limited me to 100 feet, but that was more than enough to get a decent overview of a scene. Most of my flights were under 5 minutes long, just enough to go up, pan around and come back down. I didn't need to do much lateral maneuvering.
     
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  12. Tim Bejster

    Tim Bejster Lurker

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    I attempted to use mine last year in the few storms I was able to see. It does not do very well as soon as it gets windy. In fact I had a difficult time keeping it in place, and even landing it. A 10-15mph surface wind really caused more headaches than anything.

    Besides the wind being an issue, it seems almost everywhere is some sort of airport out in western MO. Farmer Joe’s grass strip counts as an airport and the DJI interface will continue to beep if you fly there.

    That being said, I really do enjoy flying it (and even my airplanes) but it does get tricky with storms if you’re close or if it’s just plain windy!
     
  13. Joe B. Dorn

    Joe B. Dorn Lurker

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    Texas Parks and Wildlife just received their first drone (a DJI Inspire II) stationed in Temple, about ten miles from me. I expect they will be getting quite a few more for events like Harvey. I watched the Texas Law "Harvey" last night and I could well see how much faster drone searches would be. We have the Cajun Navy, maybe now we need the Red Neck Air Force... I expect spectral permission to fly could be granted for wide spread emergencies.
    I am waiting for the Phantom 5 announcement...
     
  14. Dan Wallace

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    I've had my Part 107 Remote Pilot license for about nine months now and really haven't had an excellent selection of storms since purchasing my first UAS in May 2017. I chose the DJI Mavic Pro for a couple of reasons, its small footprint when stowed and ability to be deployed very quickly. The onboard camera delivers quality video and the aircraft is stable in fairly windy conditions. Depending on your distance from a thunderstorm and your altitude, you'll want to always confirm you have control and don't get caught in inflow winds. Those little motors will fight and chop the air, but an altitude adjustment might be required. It's also a good idea to fly with anti-collision lights, I have the Firehouse Technology CREE LED strobe lights which are effective. Before the season starts, plan where you might be chasing and apply for airspace authorization for controlled airspace in those areas. Authorizations will be issued usually six months at a time. I currently hold blanket wide-area authorizations for KDAL Dallas Love Field along with KDFW Dallas/Fort Worth int'l Airport airspace, and there are several still pending. This will let you legally launch where operation could be prohibited. As for DJI's NFZ and Geo Lock, there's a way to apply for the unlock here... https://www.dji.com/flysafe/geo-system/unlock
     

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