Civil Aviation Authority – Drones

The outline of the CAA guidelines:

The regulations for recreational drone flights are contained within the Air Navigation Order 2016 (ANO) which is the primary document for all aviation regulations within the UK. In order to keep the regulations at a proportionate level for these small drones, a set of specific, simpler, regulations apply to aircraft that have a mass of 20kg or less (which are termed ‘small unmanned aircraft’ within the ANO).

In simple terms, these regulations state that:

  • you are responsible for flying your drone in a safe manner
  • you must keep the drone in your direct sight at all times while it is flying so that you can ensure that it does not collide with anything, especially other aircraft
  • you must not endanger anyone, or anything with your drone, including any articles that you drop from it
  • if your drone weighs more than 7kg, additional rules apply if you fly in certain types of airspace and you must not fly above 400ft above the surface

If your drone is fitted with a camera, there are also a number of additional limitations surrounding where you can fly it, and how close you can fly it to other uninvolved people or objects. In order to be able to fly within these areas, or closer than the minimum distances that are in the regulations, you must obtain prior permission from the CAA to do so.

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Phone mount

Another accessory that came through the post is the new phone mount.

As you well know the one that comes with the drone is simply terrible. It shakes, wobbles and doesn’t hold your phone firmly enough, you can’t even sneeze without the phone flying away.

Another issue I have is the positioning of the clip. Why is it on the side? It’s like Tesla Model 3 with the speedo on the centre console.

The one I bought attaches (as the majority of third-party ones I’ve seen) to the centre of the remote control – to the tip that is used for the neck strap. The attachment mechanism is made of metal and is easy to install, especially as it comes with all the screws and tools.

The actual phone holder is made of plastic even though it’s made to look like aluminium. I honestly thought that the whole thing would be made out of metal.

In all other ways, it seems perfect. To test how well the phone is attached to the mount I performed a very scientific test: attached the phone to the remote control using the new mount and threw the controller to my sofa from around 3 metres away. It survived the impact and the phone stayed in the original position.

I give it a score of 4/5 (would have given it a solid 5, if the whole mount was metal), it’s an almost perfect mount, but it would have been better if they made the whole thing from metal without any plastic parts for the sake of durability.

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Phone hood

Another accessory that I bought is the phone hood. It covers the phone from most angles, putting the phone in allowing you to better see the image on the screen.

 

The hood is made from a leather-like material and is of excellent quality. It snaps on very easily, covers just the right portion of the phone and is easy to adjust.

It seems to be perfect for my Galaxy S7. I would give this product 5/5 as I honestly can’t think of anything they could have done better.

If you want to buy it, either go to Amazon or eBay and search for Pgytech phone hood. It comes in different sizes, I believe 3, mine being the smallest one.

Again I have no association with the makers of the product and have nothing to gain by advertising it.

Landing gear extensions

Got another accessory for my drone: landing gear extensions. They are made from black plastic and make it less likely that the drone would tip over during rough landings by widening its stance. The plastic is a little bit flexible so the whole mechanism when installed offers a bit of dampening. Another advantage is that it raises the gimbal away from the ground, allowing for landings on rocks, sand and other uneven surfaces.

The installation is dead easy. The skids just snap on and snap off when needed. Hopefully, they don’t unexpectedly snap off, but if that happens I have propeller guards that the drone should lean on and stop the propellers from touching the ground.

Landing skids
Landing skids

Once installed, I discovered that the extensions snap off if the drone is dropped from a height of approximately 3-4 inches, as shown in the video below. This can be easily fixed with undoable cable tighteners, by tightening the extensions to the main landing gear.

Because of this issue, I can only give this product a rating of 3/5. I still think they are worth having on the drone though.

Again I have no association with the makers of the product and have nothing to gain by advertising it.

Litchi – Godsend for drone owners

If I had to choose one thing I could change on my drone for the rest of its life, without any doubt I would go with Litchi for DJI Phantom 3. The application unlocks the true potential of the drone and turns it into Phantom 4. It supports pretty much every single feature that I want my drone to support from the software point of view. For me the most important ones are:

  • Ability to plan your flight missions on your PC using waypoint navigation. No more fidgeting with your mobile phone, especially with my fat fingers. You do it as nature intended – with a mouse and a big screen. You then specify which path the drone has to follow and which objects the camera should be pointed at. At each waypoint you need to specify the altitude, the speed and optionally the number of other things: whether to start/stop recording, take a picture, turn, tilt etc. If you specify 10mph at waypoint A and 20mph at waypoint B, the speed in between will be linearly interpolated.
  • If you are signed-in, the mission is automatically synced with your phone! You can then export the flight, analyse it into Google Earth, check elevations, make sure that the drone while flying automatically doesn’t crash into anything.
  • At the end of each mission, you can tell the drone what to do, whether to return to home, reverse, go to waypoint 1, land at the destination (the latter one is a great feature)
  • It also has a bunch of other features:
    • Object tracking, which by default is currently available on Phantom 4 and above.
    • Panorama shooting
    • Orbiting
    • Support for VR without the expensive goggles!
    • More

You can literally uninstall the DJI software, it’s useless, in fact, I only used it twice, once to fly and another one to upgrade the firmware (so actually keep it for that reason alone)

The fact that the application is £19.99 is a good thing. Meaning that the company can afford to employ proper developers, improve and maintain the software on a continuous basis. In fact, I would have paid more for this software!

If you go to Google Play, make sure you search for Litchi Phantom 3 as there are different versions available for each drone. The rating of the application is surprisingly low, even though it’s rated extremely highly by drone user community. I guess it’s primarily because people don’t take time to learn such a feature-rich application.

I will post tutorials of each feature on my blog and YouTube channel as soon as I have some time. The application is a Godsend!

Propeller guards, why I think they are a must.

Phantom 3 series drones use brushless motors for propulsion. At full speed with sharp blades, especially the carbon fibre ones, they have enough force to chop yours or somebody else’s finger off. If your drone hits someone it can seriously injure the person. Having the propeller guards should at the very least mitigate the injury caused.

Safety issues aside, they could stop you from crashing and destroying your drone. Say your drone touches a wall. Now those high RPM propellers would break to pieces sending your drone to the ground. If it was high enough chances are you would need to get a new one or at the very least spend hundreds of £ replacing the gimbal, camera and possibly the shell.

With the guards attached it would simply bounce off and carry on flying.

I understand that the guards add to the total weight of the drone and mess a little with the airflow, shaving off valuable 10-30 seconds of the flight time. Now imagine what you could have done with all that time? Personally, I have never used more than 75% of the battery.

There are two types of guards available: permanent ones and detachable ones. There almost zero difference between the two and the obvious choice is to go for detachable ones.

They cost few quid and take about 10 minutes to install, only because you have to deal with 16 screws.

My personal view is that DJI should have included that accessory by default. I see no reason why you shouldn’t install them on your drone as they don’t affect the flying characteristics of the drone and encourage everyone to do so. I have mine the same as in the picture above, they are nothing special but they do the job.

Reason for the blog

My name is Elliot Balynn and I live and work in the UK.

I’m passionate about my drone and anything to do with it: flying, apps, mods, you name it even though I only had it for a week and one day! I thought it would be a good idea to start a blog together with a YouTube channel to keep a diary of my flights and anything I find useful for my drone.

I purchased Phantom 3 Standard and intend to learn everything there is to know about it. I have a huge list of things I would like to do:

  • Modify the remote for a better range. I was thinking of using Argtek kit for that. Maybe even throwing in some amplifiers and upgrading the antennas on the drone itself.
  • Attaching an additional FPV camera to the drone so I can use cheaper goggles. I know I can do it with software along, but where is fun in that? 🙂
  • Buying and reviewing a bunch of accessories. There is going to be a lot of that coming, I have already placed orders for various accessories. I will review each one as they come
  • Styling the drone. Now the easy option would be to buy a pre-cut wrap but I want to do a full hydro dipping design: glossy flame texture on the drone with matte carbon fibre legs. Something like this:

  • Investigate various applications to use with the drone. Many don’t know, but there is so much you can do even with Phantom 3 Standard: way point flying, object tracking and even creating 3D models. Some features that are only available with Phantom 4 and more expensive models can be unlocked in Phantom 3 Standard.
  • How to shoot proper cinematography quality footage with the drone. That requires proper configuration of the video as well as the correct usage of ND filters. Then how to edit the video, software for video editing.
  • Explore what a drone can be used for apart from taking pictures and video. A good example is creating 3D models
  • Keep up to date with the laws in the UK with regards to flying drones. Not just some lame guidelines that come in the box with the drone, but the actual law, something that can help me out if I ever have to deal with the boys in blue.
  • Shoot nice footage and share with everyone (or a better known term as “showing off”)

Bear in mind that it’s January now and the weather in the UK is [censored] but I will try to fly my drone every weekend.

I have my professional blog where you can find out more about exactly what I do: https://elliotbalynn.blog

May the force be with you!

Mastering DJI Phantom 4 Advanced