|Aerial view in winter, from over Georgian Bay near Thornbury Ontario|
The Winter is Ending!
See what I did there - it's often said that 'winter is coming' but in fact we're almost out of it - technically in spring, but still expecting at least one more surprise dump of snow.
Flying a drone in winter is challenging
There are a number of additional challenges with winter weather that make drone flights that much harder. Here are a few extra things to be mindful of when flying in winter;
- Temperature. This is a post about drones in winter, so let's start with the factor that is a bigger problem in winter than any other time - sub zero temperatures. This can impact numerous aspects of the entire aerial operation.
Light. We got the big one - temperature out of the way, but how about something you don't think about like the light. A day in December, a day in July, all it means is you can shoot the same stuff different season, right? Well sort of. Where I am, and like most places with a cold winter, the length of the day will be dramatically shorter than in summer. And with that shortness also comes a lower sun at 'high noon' than you would regularly get in summer. So the day is shorter and you can fit less in but the light is also from a shallower angle, and so the projected shadows can sometimes be bigger than you'd like to have in certain situations. Just one more thing to think about.
Wind. Wind could fall into an overall weather category but I'll give it it's own bullet. I'm not a meteorologist, so I can't tell you why, but using this winter as an example - we had a lot more days with very high winds than we did through the warm season. Did you hear about things like Polar Vortexs, Colorado and Texas lows? I did, and I noticed they often came with increased winds - we even had warnings of 110km/h winds this winter. To put it into perspective. Once the forecasted gusting wind speed is near 30km/h is when I start to reconsider flying that day. If you got aloft in 50km/h winds, you'd lose your drone in a heartbeat.
Weather. Lets talk about the overall weather, and not just the wind or temperature now. When it comes to photographing real estate with a drone, it's no surprise that every realtor in the area would prefer to have a sunny day in pictures than a cloudy one. While we've already considered the challenges of low winter light, thats when you actually have sun - but how often is it overcast vs sunny in the winter? Not that often. What happens then is that you get one Wednesday in a week forecasted with sun, and then every realtor wants you to photograph on that day, and postpone when the forecast changes. A very challenging situation to deal with, and then have that happen every single week seemingly. In the height of winter, blue sky days generally mean it's so cold that clouds can't form which brings us back to the first bullet on temperature.
- Controller - I did one flight this year in -7 degrees Celsius - one of my coldest, a very short one, but in that time I learned that even my uav controller joysticks developed the slightest amount of stickiness in the greased components, and while not severe - I did have to adjust the way I was used to flying for that short time aloft.
- Drone Batteries - as with many of the higher end consumer drones now, the batteries are intelligent enough to know when they are within their operating limits, which are typically in manufacturers manuals to be posted around 0 degrees Celsius. As soon as it's cooler than that - even a long car ride in a cold trunk can dip the temperature low enough to impact your fly time.
- Operator Effectiveness - as humans, we're not really meant to be out in cold temperatures, we can be for periods of time, but our abilities generally diminish quickly or are hindered by cold weather apparel. Take gloves for instance - you'll want to be out in the cold with gloves on more than you'll want to be without them, but when you fly a RPAS usually in warmer months of the year, you like to have skin contact on those joysticks - even a thin leather glove would be too much of a barrier for a drone pilot like myself.
Anyways, that's maybe enough about flying in a winter - after all - it is warming up out there and I shouldn't have to deal with snowy flights for another several months now.
Cheers to spring and thanks for reading!
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