Flying Your Drone Safely in the Winter, Inclement Weather, and Less Than Ideal Conditions


Flying in the winter

Keeping your hardware functioning and your data high-quality takes a few extra steps in the winter months. In this article, we'll outline what you should consider as you continue to survey your site and process your data in the winter.

Temperature Operating Ranges

Before you fly, ensure that the outdoor temperature falls within your drone’s operating range:

Matrice 300/350 -20° to 50° C (-4° to 122° F)
Mavic 3 Enterprise -10° to 40° C (14° to 104° F)
Phantom 4 RTK 0° to 40° C (32° to 104° F)
WingtraOne Gen II -10 to 40 ° C (14° to 104 ° F)
Trinity F90+ -12 to 50 ° C (10.4° to 122 ° F)

If your drone isn’t listed here, consult the manufacturer for detailed specifications.

Battery care

Low temperatures reduce your drone’s battery performance and can shorten battery life by as much as half. You may need to keep more spares than usual and plan for more battery swaps than you typically perform in warmer weather. 

Never store your drone or its batteries outside in cold temperatures. 

Be sure to warm up your batteries by inserting them into the battery compartment and leaving the drone on for 1-2 minutes before starting the mission. 

Another way to keep your batteries warm is to set them on your vehicle's dashboard with the window defrost set to high. To get double-heating action, point your vehicle facing the sun so the batteries on the dash get two different heat sources.  

Drone performance and operation

Avoid contact with snow. Moisture can damage the motors. Using a landing pad for taking off and landing your drone is recommended.

A winter-friendly drone should be able to handle cold temperatures and high humidity. It should also be equipped with high-vis lights on the body of the craft so you can spot it in the sky, even with reduced visibility.

Mission and Camera Settings

You will need to adjust your drone’s settings to accommodate winter conditions. You should always have shutter priority mode toggled on. This fixes the shutter speed at the value you choose.

We typically recommend a shutter speed of 1/1000, but if your survey area is poorly lit, reducing the shutter speed to allow more light into the camera’s sensor can provide higher-quality data. 

On cloudy winter days, a shutter speed of 1/800 is recommended. Be sure to reduce your mission’s flight speed by ~1-2m/s to compensate for the slower shutter and prevent motion blur.

If you’re flying the Phantom 4 RTK, you can also adjust the camera’s white balance from Sunny to Cloudy to improve the image quality.

Plan to fly when the sun is directly overhead, except if there is significant reflectivity from snow cover, as this will provide the best lighting and reduce the chance that shadows will affect the terrain model that is produced. 

Monitor your ISO as you fly to ensure it is within the recommended range of 100–400. 

Seasonal changes in daylight

Your regular working hours might extend into complete darkness, depending on your latitude.

FAA regulations prohibit the flight of drones after sunset, so plan your surveys to occur during daylight hours—whenever those may be for your area. This could mean flying your mission much earlier than you do in the summer.

Wind

If it is windy on the ground, it will be even windier in the air. We recommend checking the weather one day in advance before you fly. 

You can check weather forecasts at UAV Forecast, which allows you to calculate wind speeds at the altitude you'll be flying. UAV Forecast also has a mobile app for Android and iOS that can be used in the field. 

If you must fly in windy conditions, follow this advice: 

  • Fly perpendicular to the wind. If this isn’t possible, fly upwind first, then downwind. 
  • Change the home point location to where the mission will end to minimize time in the air. 
  • Fly early in the day. It tends to be less windy in the morning. 

Precipitation

Avoid heavy rain and snow. Flying in fog is also not ideal. Fog can trigger the drone’s obstacle avoidance sensors, making it think there’s something in front of it and stopping the flight mid-mission.

Weather watching and navigation

Check the forecast diligently and schedule your surveys around the best possible conditions.

AeroPoints

AeroPoints can handle some mud and mist but will not survive heavy rain or snow. The lithium-ion battery in the AeroPoint will not operate well in temperatures below 32ºF/0ºC.

Precipitation or heavy cloud cover may also disrupt the GPS signal, resulting in poor data quality. 

It is important to keep AeroPoints charged, though this may be difficult via solar charging as the days shorten or at latitudes above or below 50º. Charge them as much as you are able. 


I still can't do it!

We wrote these articles to equip you with everything you need to get the job done on your own, but we understand that sometimes this isn't sufficient.

If you're stuck, the Propeller hardware support team may be able to help. You can contact our support team by emailing hardwaresupport@propelleraero.com.au, or you can contact your Customer Success representative. 

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