Drones – the Key Legal Issues

Since the weather is absolute crap over here in the UK I decided to do a bit of research when it comes to using drones in the UK.

Flying in congested areas

There are restrictions on operating drones in congested areas, at certain heights or directly over people and vehicles. UK rules say that drones of specific weights must not be flown within 50m of people, structures or vehicles. Additionally, drones cannot fly within 150m of a congested area. Certain permissions must be obtained before the drone can be flown commercially.

What they fail to say is that the restriction is only 30 metres when the drone takes off or lands and doesn’t include the operator of the drone or the person under drone operator’s control (i.e. the person helping you out)

Insurance

European law requires certain operators of drones to purchase third party liability insurance. Insurance like this will need to be sought from specialist brokers. Failure to obtain suitable insurance cover may prove costly in the event of an accident.

I will go further than that and say just get a drone third party liability insurance. This will not only protect you in case you cause a damage with your drone, but will help present you as a responsible drone operator. The police might ask what would you do if your drone damages something your drone is flying over, showing them that you have an insurance would be a very good answer and the police will have very little to go on.

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Planning a Long Range Flight in Litchi

Disclaimer: if you are planning on doing a long range flight with your drone make sure you follow local regulations, such as CAA in the UK.

In this tutorial, I will use waypoint navigation in Litchi app together with its online mission hub for creating waypoint flights. I could, of course, create the whole flight in Litchi app but it’s much more convenient to do so on a PC using Litchi website https://flylitchi.com/hub.

Few things to bear in mind when planning such flight:

  • Make sure it’s no longer than 15 minutes including the flight back, such that at the end of the flight you have at least 30% of battery available. This is in case you have a strong headwind.
  • Use UAV Forecast website or their app to check for weather conditions, especially for the wind direction. You want to begin the flight into the wind so that on the way back you fly with the wind. Use many of the apps available for checking the wind direction in the area you want to fly (such as MyRadar, WINDY or tens of other similar apps).
  • Litchi is capable of completing the mission even if there is no signal from your controller. However, there are some limitations such as it will fly at the last commanded speed and the gimbal pitch will no longer be pointing to the POI.

Registering with Litchi

If you haven’t already got an account with Litchi, go to https://flylitchi.com/hub and create a new account. By doing so all the missions you create on the website can be synced with the mobile app.

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How Not to Crash Your Drone

  • Don’t use the motor switch off command while the drone is in the air (combination stick command – when you pull both joysticks inwards) . It will turn off the motors and your drone will go down. Even when you have landed the drone don’t use that command either. It’s way too easy to do it incorrectly tipping over the drone (happened to me). Just hold the throttle down for 3 seconds.
  • Use propeller guards. If your drone happens to hit a wall or a tree without the propeller guards one of the the propellers will most likely break off, that will definitely make the drone uncontrollable and it will end up on the ground. With the guards the most likely scenario is that the drone will simply bump into the obstacle without breaking the props and will carry on flying.
  • Don’t fly stupidly low. I’ve seen videos of people flying their drone 1 metre off the ground (3 ft). You are just asking for trouble. Any mistake and your precious drone will hit the ground and somersault most probably damaging the propellers. But the damage could be more serious depending on the speed and the surface it’s flying over. (Water = total loss, grass = damaged props, asphalt = possible damage to the camera)
  • Don’t fly when it’s windy. Even though the drone is extremely good at battling wind there is a limit to everything. Also the higher you fly the higher the wind will probably be. And I’m not aware of any app that takes wind into account when calculating the time remaining (DJI GO or Litchi). So while you might be able to fly away the drone might not be able to return due to high wind.
  • Set the return to home home altitude to 100 metres (330 ft) to make absolutely sure when it comes back it won’t hit anything. Don’t rely on the drone landing itself, unless you’re on a field, return to home function is notorious for being quite inaccurate, the drone could end up landing itself up to 10 metres away from the point it took off. As soon as you can see the drone, take over and land it manually.
  • When you take off let the drone hover at low altitude for about 30 seconds. This will give you a chance to notice any potential issues with the drone (such as a battery malfunction).
  • Fly in GPS mode and avoid ATTI mode, especially in an area with a lot of obstacles.
  • Keep the drone in sight at all times

Argtek Phantom 3 Controller Mod

Finally, I had some time yesterday to perform the mod. Together with all the recording, it took me around one hour and it’s actually quite easy. You just have to take your time when removing the glue around the existing connectors and it’s a bit tricky to connect the new wires.

Here is how the controller looks when open

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When hooking up new connectors you have to make sure that they are absolutely parallel to the board, then apply pressure and you would hear a click. I have also used a glue gun, which I picked up for around £7 and I think it’s a must.

I have also removed the old 2.4 GHz antennas, which are actually very small. No surprises here, in my case the video feed would cut out after 100 metres.

The kit comes with two directional 2.4 GHz 7dBi antennas for the video feed and one 10 dBi 5.4 GHz antenna for controlling the drone.

The mod promises significantly longer range – up to x4 times! I’m hoping to have the video feed up to 0.5km and control range of around 1km.

The best thing about the mod is that it allows using any standard WiFi antennas and further extend the range by using WiFi amplifiers.

Here is the recording of the job, compressed into 5 mins

The Importance of Shutter Speed in Cinematography

As a keen photographer I know all about the shutter speed and it’s importance when taking a still picture. If you want to have a sharp picture make sure it’s high enough on the contrary if you want to convey the movement in a photo you should slower the shutter speed to anything below 1/30 depending on what you are shooting.

In cinematography it plays an important role as well. Naturally we want crispy looking videos, so the logic would dictate that the greater the shutter speed the better.

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Functions of Phantom 3 Standard Controller

Return to Home

If you are finished flying and want the drone to land itself from where it took off, you need to activate the return to home function (RTH).

To activate the RTH, quickly toggle the S2 switch back and forth. The controller would then start beeping and the return to home procedure will be initiated.

To cancel RTH toggle the S1 switch back and forth and move the S2 switch to the uppermost position. The controller should then stop beeping and the drone will simply hover until you take over.

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DJI limit drones’ range if you are not in the US!

On DJI drones the GPS location is used by the aircraft/remote control to adjust the power output of the signal transmission to meet the local regulations. In the US, the governing body is FCC (Federal Communications Commission) in Europe it’s CE (Conformité Européenne). Doing that allows DJI to sell the same device in both markets.

In case of Phantom 3 Standard, when I say “power output” I mean both the 2.4GHz link – the bi-directional communication between the aircraft through the remote control, and the 5.8GHz control signal – one-way link to the aircraft.

FCC seem to be far more generous and allow for higher levels of power output by consumer devices. CE, on the other hand, are more strict in that regard. What this means is that, if a DJI drone detects that it’s outside of the US, it automatically applies the CE standards, even though you might not be in Europe. It either goes by FCC or by CE regulations. How and when exactly this limitation is applied is somewhat of a mystery to me (I’m still researching this topic, so please do let me know in the comments if you know the specifics). This lowers the power output of the transmission on both, the aircraft and the the remote control from 27 dBm to 17 dBm – almost by 40%! Inevitably that results in reduced range for those of us operating our drones outside of the US.

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Mastering DJI Phantom 3