FLYY releases “how to” guide for building, expanding a drone program

FLYY releases “how to” guide for building, expanding a drone program

By Scott Simmie

 

Thinking of starting a drone program? Perhaps you have one already, and are thinking of expanding. Or maybe your existing program grew organically on an ad-hoc basis and you’d like to ensure you’re following Best Practices.

There’s a solution for that.

Kate Klassen, InDro’s Training and Regulatory Specialist (who’s also a flight instructor for crewed aircraft),  has written a comprehensive manual specifically for this purpose.

Klassen is widely respected in Canadian RPAS and traditional aviation circles. In addition to her extensive experience as a pilot (multi-engine rating, IFR, night), she was an early adopter in the drone world. Her regulatory expertise is top-notch, and her online RPAS instruction courses have trained more than 10,000 pilots in Canada (you can find her current courses here). She’s been on the board of the Aerial Evolution Association of Canada for years, and was co-chair of Transport Canada’s CanaDAC Drone Advisory Committee. So she knows her stuff.

Now, she’s pulled together that knowledge (in addition to what she’s learned working with InDro Robotics and consulting with other companies with RPAS programs) into a single, comprehensive document that covers everything you need to know to build out a safe, compliant, cost-effective drone program.

“The goal with the book was to put in one spot all of the information that you should know,” she says.

She certainly achieved that.

Below: Kate Klassen, in one of her many elements.

 

Drone Training

SOLID KNOWLEDGE BASE

 

The e-book is entitled Remotely Piloted Aircraft Program Development Guide for VLOS and BVLOS Operations. And it covers pretty much every aspect of running a drone program – including maintenance, staffing, recency, risk assessment – and much more (we’ll give you a peek at the table of contents shortly).

There’s also, of course, a meaty section on the regulations – including the anticipated Transport Canada changes on the horizon that will permit routine, low-risk Beyond Visual Line of Sight flights (which will require obtaining an additional TC RPAS Certificate). And while the book covers high-level operations suitable for companies with mature drone programs, it also covers the basic meat and potatoes.

“This book could be used by individuals looking to use their drone in a professional capacity or as a really serious hobby – but it’s geared more for someone who is either starting, expanding or improving a drone program within their organisation,” says Klassen.

 

DECISIONS, DECISIONS, DECISIONS

 

A well thought-out drone program involves a lot of decisions. How do you choose your crew, including flight lead? When is it time to replace an aircraft? What’s a good maintenance schedule – and how do you track that? What’s the best way to manage data? And what about insurance?

You’ll find all that and more. Klassen has packed a lot (including links to references and resources) into the 55 pages of this manual. And she’s taken special care to pore through the finer details of dense Transport Canada regulatory language and write the key takeaways in clear, concise terms.

“There was a lot of digging through Transport Canada documents to gain insights into where the drone industry is going from a regulatory perspective – and put that into plain English,” she says.

Below: The cover page

FLYY Kate Klassen drone program manual

LOGICAL, ORGANIZED

 

Whether you’re a seasoned pro or someone just starting a drone program, Klassen has constructed the manual in a highly organised fashion. The progression of sections builds logically from the basics, through to complex areas such as Specific Operational Risk Assessment (SORA).

Here are the sections:

  1. Regulation Roadmap
  2. Certification
  3. Operational Considerations
  4. Budgeting
  5. Program Structure and Operation
  6. Training
  7. Equipment
  8. SORA Process

And within each of those sections? Let’s just say Klassen has it all covered. Take a look:

Kate Klassen Drone Program Manual
Kate Klassen Drone Program Manual
Kate Klassen Drone Program Manual

EXCERPT

 

It’s one thing to tell you this manual is clear and concise. It’s another to let you see for yourself. So we’re going to paste from the very top of Section One – Regulation Roadmap – to give you a better idea:

The Canadian Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) industry took a major leap forward in June of 2019 with the publication of drone-specific regulation in the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARs). These regulations enable route visual line of sight (VLOS) operations for small RPAS (250g – 25kg), with additional guidance for aircraft above that weight range, through a Special Flight Operation Certificate (SFOC) process, and below, with reduced prescriptive microdrone regulation.

With the release of a Canada Gazette draft of lower risk BVLOS regulation in the summer of 2023, we have an idea of the direction Transport Canada is heading and had an opportunity to raise concerns and encourage positive direction with the drafted version.

While formal regulation, once in place, will provide a clearer path to certification for BVLOS, there will still be many of the similar requirements to what’s currently in place, through the SFOC process, including training, mission planning, procedure development and technology.

  • NOTE: While BVLOS with a microdrone is not explicitly prohibited by the regulations, the onus would be on the operator to prove it was done without being reckless, negligent, risking or being likely to risk the safety of a person or aviation safety. (CAR 900.06) Throughout this document, the aircraft and operations we’ll be referring to are those with small RPAS, that is those between 250g and 25kgs, unless otherwise specified.
  • As it stands as of the time of publication, flying an RPA heavier than 25kgs or BVLOS is not permitted in Canada except if specifically authorized in a Special Flight Operation Certificate. (CAR 901.11) This document will address considerations for a BVLOS program in anticipation of BVLOS-specific regulation being introduced in 2025 and the structure, operational considerations, components of an SFOC and training.

This is a rapidly changing space. As the industry continues to develop new technology and applications, and new regulation is announced to accompany these advancements we’re going to see a lot of refinement to the processes described within this document. It’s what’s so exciting about working in this area! The information here should help you in that pursuit.

As you can see, it’s really clearly written. It’s also filled with helpful graphics like these:

Kate Klassen Drone Program Manual
Kate Klassen Drone Program Manual

INDRO’S TAKE

 

Kate Klassen is widely acknowledged as both a regulatory expert and a phenomenal communicator/instructor. She combines those skills well in the production of this manual, which we believe is a “must-have” for anyone serious about their drone program.

“Kate has tremendous expertise in this field – including personally overseeing some 150 RPAS flight reviews,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece. “This manual ticks all the right boxes, and includes material that will benefit even the most mature drone program. We’re pleased to see this published, and believe it will truly help those running serious programs make the most effective and efficient decisions.”

And the cost? You can download the manual here for $49.

That’s less than a dollar per page. And, in our opinion, a bargain.

Blue Books offer crucial guides for First Responder RPAS programs

Blue Books offer crucial guides for First Responder RPAS programs

By Scott Simmie

 

There are two important tools available for First Responders who use RPAS in their work.

No, they’re not drones. Instead, they are guides for developing safe and effective RPAS programs – and for carrying out low-risk BVLOS flight in the near future. These “Blue Books” are intended for fire departments, Search and Rescue organisations – and more.

These guides came about because the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs, the Civil Air Search and Rescue Association and the Search and Rescue Volunteer Association of Canada identified a need for clear and credible reference documents. InDro Robotics received the contract to pull these books together, under the expertise of Kate Klassen and with a generous grant from the Government of Canada’s Search and Rescue New Initiatives Fund.

Kate was an early adopter in the drone world and already had a solid background in traditional aviation. She’s a flight instructor with multi-engine and Instrument Flight Rules ratings, as well as ratings for flying at night. She loves nothing more (with the exception of her two young daughters) than poring through regulations and working with bodies like Transport Canada to help safely advance the use of drones in Canadian airspace.

In other words, she was perfect for the job.

That’s Kate, in her element, below:

 

DRONES AND FIRST RESPONDERS 

These days, you’d be hard-pressed to find a First Responder organization that doesn’t have some kind of drone program. RPAS have been particularly helpful in Search and Rescue operations, including night searches using thermal sensors. Many people have been rescued quickly and safely as a result. The use of drones has also helped keep First Responders out of harm’s way. For example, it’s much safer to locate a person lost on a frozen lake with a drone and then dispatch a rescue team to precise coordinates rather than having that crew roaming around on potentially hazardous conditions.

They’re also a tremendous tool for firefighting operations. Not only do they supply immediate situational awareness that can be securely shared with decision makers down the line, but thermal sensors can also detect hot spots invisible to the naked eye. Police departments and even paramedics routinely use drones in operations. (In one example from Renfrew County, a drone was put up immediately following a tornado for damage assessment and to search for any injured people.) So drones are here to stay.

 

A REVOLUTION 

It’s not an exaggeration to say that drones have truly revolutionised the work carried out by these organizations. But it’s easy to forget that this has been a recent development.

DJI released its original Phantom drone back in 2013. At the time, it didn’t come with a camera and you had to attach a GoPro. Smart tinkerers figured out how to modify those GoPros so that the pilot could stream real-time video. Another company, Draganfly, was producing basic drones even earlier and selling them to law enforcement and other First Responders.

But drones weren’t widely known, and many of the use-cases now so common had not even yet been conceived.

A few early adopters began purchasing drones for First Responder work. It was largely trial and error, as people experimented with using drones for SAR, strategic monitoring of fires, photographing accident scenes – and more. Results started to be shared by word of mouth and at conferences. Drones were gaining traction.

Yet it wasn’t so easy to just pop up a drone in those early days. Transport Canada at the time was rightly cautious about these new devices, and pretty much any flight back then required a Special Flight Operations Certificate, even if you were flying within line of sight. Unless you managed to get a blanket SFOC, it was against the regulations to simply put a drone without that long SFOC process.

 

AN EVOLUTION

As the technology improved and the utility and safety was recognised, things began to shift. More and more First Responders started adding drones to their tool kit. And Transport Canada eventually modified (and continues to modify) its regulations to safely integrate drone operations into the national air space.

If that sounds like progress, it was. But still, there was a hitch. Organizations were creating their own ad-hoc drone operations. They were doing their best, but there was really no Best Practices guide to help inform First Responders on how to create an effective program. Yes, there was piecemeal information if you wanted to endlessly surf the internet, but there wasn’t a single repository of knowledge that could be used as a guide. What qualifications are required? What type of drone is best for the job? What scheduled maintenance is necessary and why?

And that’s how the idea for the Blue Book series came about.

Below: One of the early DJI Phantoms, with an integrated camera and gimbal system.

Canada Drone Companies

THE BLUE BOOKS

The first Blue Book was released in November of 2022 and is available for members of First Responder, Search and Rescue and Fire Departments here. Kate Klassen worked extensively with the various interested parties to ensure that the book was specifically tailored to the needs of these organizations. It quickly became the reference guide for those implementing or improving their drone operations.

“I think it prevents a lot of trial and error so that folks don’t have to learn all the lessons the hard way,” explains Klassen.

“A lot of fire departments are poorly funded, and I’m sure that goes for SAR as well. So you want to be smart with the dollars that you put towards tools like this. The guide supports making sure you’re not wasting money on poor aircraft decisions or poor personnel decisions.”

That initial Blue Book is entitled “Remotely Piloted Aircraft Program Development Guide, First Edition.” It’s a comprehensive blueprint for starting an operation from scratch, or improving an existing operation. Sections in the book include:

  • Training and certification regulations and resources
  • Airspace operations
  • Aircraft budget considerations, maintenance, payload and staffing
  • First Responder deployment

There’s much more, but you get the idea. And while it’s called the Blue Book, it’s really the gold standard of guides for First Responder operations.

 

BLUE BOOK II

The newest edition was launched last week, with Kate Klassen conducting a webinar to go over the highlights. This edition is geared toward routine, low-risk Beyond Visual Line of Sight flight. Obviously, particularly in Search and Rescue operations, being able to dispatch a drone over long distances can be critical in locating missing parties. And while Transport Canada does offer some leeway for First Responders in this regard, BVLOS is going to become more routine.

Transport Canada plans to deploy new BVLOS regulations. While SFOCs were previously required, the new rules (anticipated in 2025) will permit BVLOS flights in lower risk scenarios. Specifically, within uncontrolled airspace and outside of populated areas.

But even lower risk BVLOS is higher risk than Visual Line of Sight flights. And so Blue Book II takes a deep dive into the coming regulations. These regs include a new type of RPAS certificate required for low-risk BVLOS operations called a Level One Complex Certificate. Obtaining this certificate will require obtaining additional ground school education, as well as a more complex in-person Flight Review. Operators will have to maintain specific skillsets and recency in order to take on these BVLOS flights.

Among the contents of Blue Book II:

  • Defining BVLOS
  • Policy developments, procedures and checklists
  • Detect and Avoid, Mission Planning, Human Factors

There’s also an entire section on Specific Operational Risk Assessment (SORA), including Ground Risk Class Assessment (GRC), Air Risk Class Assessment (ARC), Tactical Mitigation Performance Requirements (TMPR) and Specific Assurance and Integrity Level (SAIL).

“This manual is a guide for preparing your RPAS program in fire or search and rescue organizations for Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS) operations,” states its introduction, co-written by CAFC President Chief Ken McMullen, SARVAC President Janelle Coultes and CASARA President Dale Krisch.

“The book is designed to be relevant to both fire departments and search and rescue (SAR) organizations, all hazard, emergency operations or fire suppression. Whether your fire department or SAR organization is expanding their use of RPAS into beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations or whether it is advanced in the domain, we hope will find useful information in this manual.”

“We would like to take this opportunity to thank every member of the committee that worked on this manual and its predecessor Blue Book I which addresses the development of an RPAS program. We would also like to thank Kate Klassen at InDro Robotics who managed the process and held the pen to get the committee to their overall goal. This manual is in great part due to her substantive and process expertise.”

Although the Blue Books are specifically intended for those who are members of Search and Rescue organisations and Fire Departments, some exceptions are made for those in related First Responder fields. You can request a copy of the Blue Books at the bottom of the page here.

Below: A paramedic deploys a drone

Paramedics Use Drones

INDRO’S TAKE 

Kate Klassen has been a tremendous asset to the Canadian drone space for a decade. Her regulatory expertise and willingness to assist in shaping sound practices and policies are widely known. Her online RPAS courses have trained more than 10,000 drone pilots in Canada, and her online portal FLYY continues to help new pilots obtain their Basic and Advanced RPAS Certificates (including Flight Reviews). Kate has served as the co-chair of Transport Canada’s Drone Advisory Committee (CanaDAC), is on the board of the Aerial Evolution Association of Canada, and has previously served on the board of COPA – the Canadian Owners and Pilots Association.

“These guides were pretty labour-intensive, but I’m pleased to have worked closely with these various associations and individuals to pull together what we believe to be a Best Practices manual that truly reflects the needs of these specific organizations and use-cases,” says Klassen.

“We are also always willing to work with any company that has a drone program to produce a guide tailored specifically for their operations, ensuring consistency and safety across all operations. We are also building out specific Micro-Credential courses in areas like thermal/hyperspectral imaging, surveying, precision agriculture and more. These are highly-focused, hands-on courses that quickly bring operators up to speed on new and complex skill sets.”

In addition, InDro Robotics manages the Drone and Advanced Robot Training and Testing (DARTT) facility at Area X.O in Ottawa, which includes both classroom space and a netted drone enclosure.

If you’re interested in discussing your RPAS program needs, whether for training or a company/industry-specific manual, you can get in touch with Kate right here.

InDro’s Kate Klassen gives briefing to lawyers on drones and AAM

InDro’s Kate Klassen gives briefing to lawyers on drones and AAM

By Scott Simmie

 

Want a quick overview on drones? One with a specific emphasis on the state of Canadian regulations and where things are headed – including Advanced Aerial Mobility?

Well, the bad news is that you missed an excellent presentation by InDro’s Kate Klassen February 7th. Klassen was invited by the Canadian Bar Association, BC Branch (CBABC), to present on precisely that topic. The event was a meeting for the CBABC Air Law Section and was titled: Drones, Robotics and Advanced Air Mobility Confirmation. CBABC Members gathered in Vancouver, and broadcast the meeting live to an online audience.

The good news? We watched it. And, because Klassen works for InDro Robotics, she kindly passed along the deck used in the presentation. By simply reading this story, you’ll get the high-level low-down on the following topics:

A BIG TOPIC

 

That’s a lot of information to go through, but Klassen is a pro. Plus, we’re not going to dive into absolutely everything she talked about – just the highlights for a busy person like you.

Kate Klassen was one of those people who could see the potential of drones quite early. That’s not surprising, given that she was already a professional in traditional aviation. She’s a Flight Instructor and commercial pilot with ratings for multi-engine aircraft, as well as flying by instruments only (IFR) and at night.

That’s a lot of experience, and her expertise is widely recognised in the aviation and drone worlds. In fact, Klassen has has been consistently active in the sector-at-large: She’s been on the Board of Directors of the Aerial Evolution Society of Canada (formerly Unmanned Systems Canada) since 2018. She’s also served as co-chair of Transport Canada’s Drone Advisory Committee, also known as CanaDAC, as well as with COPA (Canadian Owners and Pilots Association).

“I got into drones about 10 years ago, and it was a pretty traditional route into drones,” she said. “At the time, you were either a really excited hobbyist, you came from (a sector) like defense, or you were working in traditional aviation and then made the jump over to the ‘unmanned’ – that’s what we called it at the time – side. 

“I like to joke that everything that I’ve flown has been unmanned,” she quipped.

She also promised “There are some really exciting things on the horizon for the drone industry.”

And when it comes to that…she’s definitely not joking.

Below: Kate, just after completing her seminar

 

THE BASICS

 

Klassen quickly jumped into the current regulatory space, outlining the existing rules in Canada. She explained that regulations covering Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS, or drones) are covered in legislation under Part IX of the Canadian Aviation Regulations.

“It’s really regulating three things: The pilot, the product and the procedures,” she explained, adding “Drones are regulated based on risk…it’s the weight of the drone and where you intend to operate it.”

There are currently three classes of drones: Those weighing 249 grams and less (micro-drones), those from 250 grams to 25 kilograms (small drones), and 25.1 kg to 150kg (medium).

Under current regulations, a Transport Canada-issued RPAS Certificate (an operator’s license for drones) is not required if you’re flying a micro-drone. They can be flown over people and even in dense urban settings (pending local bylaws) – providing you use common sense.

“So really there’s only a few rules for micro-drones. There’s the Part VI regulations that apply to all aircraft that say ‘don’t fly in restricted areas like over forest fires’. And then in Part IX there’s only one regulation, and it’s the ‘don’t be an idiot rule’. Don’t be wreckless or cause a hazard to other airspace users or people below you. And those are really the only rules that apply.”

Operating anything 250 grams or heavier requires either a Basic or Advanced Certificate from Transport Canada. A Basic certificate allows you to fly in uncontrolled (Class G) airspace up to 400′ above ground level (with some restrictions that keep you a safe distance from people on the ground). An Advanced Certificate permits flights to the same altitude in controlled airspace – where aircraft are subject to NAV Canada’s Air Traffic Control system – albeit with fewer restrictions. For example, you can fly closer to people.

Under current regulations (subject to change in the not-so-distant future), special permission from Transport Canada is required if you want to fly your drone Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS, or farther than you can see it with the naked eye), or if you are flying a drone weighing more than 25 kilograms. If you’re flying anything heavier than a micro-drone in controlled airspace, you also need to notify and receive the green light from NAV Canada, which is a snap with the NAVDrone app.

There’s more, of course. If you’re interested in learning the rules in greater depth, we recommend you take a read of RPAS 101, created by the Aerial Evolution Association of Canada in conjunction with Transport Canada. Klassen was one of the key contributors to the document, which you can find (in both official languages) here.

Below: Kate Klassen, in her element.

 

TRENDS

 

Remember those micro-drones? They’ve become not only exceedingly popular, but also increasingly powerful. With extended flight times, high resolution cameras – and the ability to fly pretty much anywhere, including dense urban environments without additional permissions – Klassen says they’ve rapidly become an unexpectedly important part of the drone sector.

She specifically pointed to how a company called Spexi Geospatial is leveraging this technology – along with the ability for pilots to fly without a Transport Canada RPAS Certificate – with a specialized software platform. The Spexi software allows pilots to fly pre-programmed flights that capture imagery at scale. The software carries out the flight, including capturing photos at precise intervals so they can be stitched together into a hexagonal ‘Spexigon’. This ability to capture imagery at scale has already been used to create orthomosaics of entire cities in just days. Depending on the mission, pilots who complete certain missions can be paid cash or points (which act as credits for their own Spexi missions) – with potential plans for crypto tokens down the road. In fact, Spexi just announced plans for what it believes is the largest ever drone imagery capture attempted (details here).

“They’re kind of maximising this regulatory structure, the ability to operate micro-drones in environments that would be a lot more challenging if the aircraft were heavier,” explained Klassen.  “Someone can take an $800 drone and turn it into a business.”

 

AI AND MACHINE VISION

 

With the growth of powerful software, including AI and Machine Vision libraries (where objects can be detected, identified and classified), Klassen said drones have been finding new use-cases. For example, a drone can be sent on a mission where it’s looking for change detection in infrastructure. Do these power line insulators look the same as they did on the last flight? Is there corrosion or cracks in critical infrastructure like bridges? Are any of those bolts sheared or damaged? Is that component too hot?

Drones with the right software and sensors can now detect such anomalies automatically. They can even forecast routes that a missing person is most likely to have taken during Search and Rescue missions based on last known location, heat signatures, path detection, etc. There’s also the business of building inspection, where a drone can automatically detect everything from poor insulation to missing shingles or other damage. There are even specialized drones equipped with sensors for Non-Destructive Testing, where a probe is physically applied to a surface during flight to detect for rust, paint thickness, weld integrity – and more.

So as AI has increasingly been applied to drones, their capabilities and utility have greatly expanded. They’ve also made the job simpler.

“So erecting scaffolding and shutting down sidewalks and preventing work from happening while the inspection’s taking place – you can cut down on a bunch of expenses that way as well,” she says.

 

MULTI-STAGE ROBOTICS

 

This is where ground robots and aerial robots work in concert. And it’s one of the coming trends identified by Klassen.

“This is where you see ground robots and aerial robots working together to achieve different tasks. You can even have a drone…moving through a warehouse scanning tags and giving you live inventory management of that warehouse, which is a job that it turns out humans really hate to do,” she said.

“So it’s a great way to increase the retention of employees they want to keep, and give those dull, dirty, dangerous jobs to a robot.”

Below: Ground robots, like the InDro Robotics Sentinel, can work in conjunction with drones as a force multiplier

THE FUTURE

 

The ability to routinely fly Beyond Visual Line of Sight without the need for a Special Flight Operations Certificate from Transport Canada is something the industry has been focussed on for years. Such flights (and there are many carried out with SFOCs currently), permit drones to take on long-range tasks like delivery, inspection of railroads and pipelines – and much more. There’s great demand for such services, but the SFOC process slows things down.

Transport Canada understands this. But, as the federal regulator, it’s rightfully concerned about avoiding conflict with traditional aircraft, as well as people and property on the ground. But newer technology, including specialized Detect-and-Avoid sensors and software (along with parachutes), is paving the way for such flights to become routine.

In fact, Transport Canada is looking at revising Part IX of CARs in 2025 to permit many BVLOS flights without the need for an SFOC. There will also be provisions for drones up to 150 kilograms, meaning significant cargo could be delivered.

“I think it will be a while before you get your pizza delivered or Amazon deliveries via drone,” she says. “But routine BVLOS will be included in a regulatory package that we’re anticipating in 2025.”

 

AAM

 

Another big piece of the future of aviation – globally – is the coming world of Advanced Air Mobility, or AAM. This is where transformative and largely carbon-neutral aircraft will be capable of shuttling people or cargo between locations that have until now been poorly served (or not served at all) by traditional aviation. For example, there are remote communities that do not currently have airports because the economic model just isn’t there. AAM could change that; the goal is for such services to be accessible and affordable – and the vast majority of these aircraft won’t require runways or the other infrastructure (fuel depots, control towers) typical of small airports.

Perhaps the most well-known coming application is that of an air taxi – a Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) aircraft that can transport people (or equivalent cargo). Such aircraft (many are currently in development and testing) would transit between Vertiports, small pads that will start appearing in major cities and nearby regions in the years to come. Though the regulations have not yet been ironed out, it’s anticipated (and the US Federal Aviation Administration is planning for) such vehicles to fly within specific corridors that keep them safely separated from the routes of traditional aircraft (including helicopters). Initial flights will be carried out by a human pilot actively piloting onboard (Human In the Loop), followed by a human pilot monitoring the flight onboard (Human On the Loop). Eventually, it’s anticipated that these aircraft will be fully autonomous (Human Out of the Loop), with a person simply monitoring the flight – still with the ability to intervene should a problem arise – from the ground.

In fact, we wrote recently that BC’s Helijet has placed the first orders for some of these aircraft – a signal that we are definitely on the cusp of this future. So remember that AAM acronym; it’s coming.

“This is a huge term…and it’s going to be very much the future of aviation,” said Klassen.

Below: The ALIA 250 eVTOL (electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing) aircraft, manufactured by US-based BETA Technologies, has been ordered by Helijet International. The vehicle transitions to forward, fixed-wing flight for greater efficiency once a sufficient altitude has been reached

BETA ALIA Helijet

THE PRESENT

 

We should mention that AAM is not solely about these larger aircraft; drones will be part of the AAM world, with a high degree of automation coordinating flights between these various automated aircraft.

In the meantime, the drone sector continues to grow, with many successful businesses across the country – ranging from large service providers like InDro Robotics right through to smaller one- and two-person operations. There are plenty of opportunities, with proper training and even a small investment, to start a company.

And that’s where FLYY comes in. Though Klassen only mentioned it in passing, she runs a successful online training operation that takes potential pilots with zero or minimal background with drones or aviation through all of the knowledge requirements to obtain their Basic or Advanced RPAS Certificate (including arranging the Flight Review required by Transport Canada to obtain that Advanced certification). We’ve previously written about this program here.

Klassen is the instructor of the course, which is arranged in logical, bite-sized steps (interspersed with her trademark humour) to keep aspiring pilots engaged. Klassen is passionate about sharing her expertise, and it shows in these courses. If you’d like to take the next step, you can check out her many course offerings here.

There are plenty of online offerings out there. But there’s only one we’re aware of where the person behind it has trained more than 10,000 drone pilots in Canada. Though Klassen doesn’t like to promote herself, we can state with authority that she is immensely respected in the field – both by professional drone operators and by the many people who’s worked with at Transport Canada.

“Our zero to hero package is $599 and includes both ground school, prep for your Flight Review, and the Flight Review itself. A DJI Mini 3 Fly More combo is like $850,” she said.

In other words, it won’t break the bank to gain the right knowledge and get flying. Plus, Klassen is currently working on Micro-Credential courses for students to pick up skills using specialised sensors and data analysis – the kind of skills that can land a job, but are difficult to obtain without one.

Below: Kate Klassen in a screengrab from her FLYY course

Kate Klassen Drone Training

INDRO’S TAKE

 

Kate Klassen is the Training and Regulatory Specialist at InDro Robotics. So you’d expect we’d have good things to say about her. The reality is, we’d have good things to say about her regardless of where she worked. She is a the very definition of a subject matter expert, and she loves nothing more than sharing her knowledge and helping to shape the future of aviation in Canada. (Well, that’s not quite true: She has two young children and a husband who collectively make aviation and drones her second love.)

“As expected, Kate covered a lot of ground in her presentation – and did a fantastic job of providing a clear look at the state of the industry, along with where it’s headed,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece.

“Klassen is a true professional in every sense of the word. We feel fortunate that she’s on Team InDro, where her vast regulatory knowledge of both traditional aviation and drones is immensely helpful both to our team – and the drone sector at large.”

If you’d like to download Kate’s presentation, you can do so here. And if you’re an educational institute, or a business considering training with multiple students, Klassen is always happy to discuss a break on price. You can contact her directly here.

Women leaders in Smart Mobility discuss the future

Women leaders in Smart Mobility discuss the future

By Scott Simmie

 

Some of the leading women in the Smart Mobility space got together to discuss progress, and even roadblocks, as the interconnected world of intelligent devices that will make up Smart Mobility moves ever closer.

The gathering was a live, virtual event entitled “Women Driving the Smart Mobility Revolution.” It was part of International Women’s Week and it brought together leading experts from Canada, the US and beyond. The event was hosted by Invest Ottawa, with sponsorship from Area X.O, BDC, MDK Business Law, Rogers and Women Automotive Technology.

Before we hop into some highlights of the discussion, it’s worth taking a look at what the term Smart Mobility means. Is it electric vehicles, capable of eventual autonomous operation? Is it drones, dispatched over 5G to deliver goods and services? Is it Uncrewed Ground Vehicles (UGVs, or ground robots) delivering food, pharmaceuticals and other supplies to homes and businesses? Ride sharing networks? Infrastructure that helps enable these technologies?

The answer is all of the above – and more. Smart Mobility, according to one succinct definition, “integrates all modes of transportation via wireless communications and applies real-time data analytics and machine learning to make transportation safer and more efficient.”

We think there would be widespread agreement that making transportation safer and more efficient is a worthwhile goal. And while there are some examples of Smart Mobility devices out in the world already, we’re heading toward an era of more widespread adoption.

But how long will that take? How will we get there? What will it look like?

All good questions. And there were some great answers from the three panels that took place during the event.

PROMISES, PROMISES

 The event kicked off with a ‘fireside chat’ with one of the top experts in the field: Selika Josiah Talbott.

Selika is the Founder and CEO of Autonomous Vehicle Consulting. She’s a lawyer who practiced for 18 years as a product liability defence attorney, representing OEMs in automotive cases. From there she was appointed Deputy Administrator of the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission, with 1800 employees and a $200M annual budget. She was first introduced to autonomous vehicles in 2010, and is an expert on regulatory and policy implications of EVs and Smart Mobility.

Like the rest of us, she’s heard the hype. Moderator and automotive journalist Petrina Gentile kicked things off with a basic question: Where are we now?

“That’s the $64,000 question,” said Selika. “The industry has been saying for the better part of 10-plus years that ‘It’s just around the corner.’ There’s now frustration – this thing you’ve been promising us isn’t here and it doesn’t appear to be around the corner.”

But that doesn’t mean we can’t at least see the beginnings of that corner.

“Autonomous Vehicles (AVs) are being much more widely used across the globe,” she said. “There are thirteen ports around the world – mostly in China, of course – that are using some sort of Autonomous Vehicle expertise to meet port needs.”

She also pointed out that AVs are also making inroads in industries such as mining and farming. Robot deliveries have started, and she anticipates great inroads here “as we start to deliver groceries and medicines to people who are not able to go and get it themselves.”

 

Below: Moderator Petrina Gentile listens during the ‘fireside chat’ with Selika Josiah Talbott

Selikah

EQUITY

Selika clearly thinks about this field a lot. And she’s very passionate about the big picture beyond the nuts and bolts of the technology. Specifically, any successful Smart Mobility strategy must be equitable and accessible for all. Her mantra, she says, is “Transportation is mobility; mobility is freedom.

“Transportation is the real equaliser,” she emphasises. “If I don’t have an opportunity to get to school, to get that education, if I live someplace where transportation is limited, how do I access medical care? … Whether it’s your home, your food, education, your job – every single thing that we do requires some form of transportation. So my work is centered around the movement of people, goods, and most importantly information.”

She continued: “What happens if I’m differently abled? Or if in the community I’m in there’s a shortage of labour, or I can’t afford the maintenance, upkeep, care and purchase of my own private vehicle? … An autonomous vehicle can fit those needs.”

Accessible public transport, she says, must be part of any successful Smart Mobility strategy, and must be an integral part of a Smart City in the future.

 

AND AN ASIDE

Selika Josiah Talbott is an African American woman. Moderator Gentile asked her about her experience as a Person of Colour during her career – and if there had been any ways in which she had been treated differently as a professional.

“I don’t dwell on them,” said Selika. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t sting. I’ve represented OEMs, vehicle manufacturers, back in the 90s. When we had conferences and board meetings, I was not allowed to sit at the table. I had to sit at the back wall. I might have been representing you…but I was not at the table for what we have deemed as cultural reasons.

“We didn’t (push back). We accepted it, and we moved on. I made sure that I was the best that I could be in that space.”

Below: The next panel on the agenda

International Womens Week

PANEL ONE

After Selika’s presentation, it was on with the program. Specifically, a panel called “Driving the future of advanced technology in logistics.”

This was a broad-ranging discussion, starting with a question from the moderator: How do you see drone technology evolving over the next five years?

Stacey Connors, InDro’s Head of Strategic Innovations, offered some examples of where this company has been – and how those set the stage for the future.

“Some of the neat deployments may exemplify where the industry is going,” she said. “We participated in a pilot where we delivered defibrillators.” That trial took place in conjunction with Renfrew County Paramedics in Ontario. Rural locations were chosen to stage a cardiac incident, using a medical dummy. A mock 911 call was placed, and then an InDro drone carrying an automated external defibrillator was dispatched. At the same time, a paramedic crew raced to the location in an EMS vehicle.

The goal? To see which could deliver the product more quickly in a scenario where every minute that passes following a cardiac event diminishes the possibility of survival. The result?

“We were seven minutes faster,” said Connors. In fact, that was the average over multiple runs.

Connors went on to predict routine contactless delivery of medical supplies to hospitals, as well as the rise of connected inventories – where the supply chain is transformed by automation, AI and Big Data working in synergy.

“This concept of connected inventories will dramatically change supply chains and open a lot of opportunities,” said Connors. “InDro Robotics specifically is leaning into this and building out some solutions for inventory management, cycle counting. Because that inventory accuracy is absolutely critical if you want to open up a connected inventory or connected supply chain.

“The other interesting application definitely connected… is the capabilities of the private networks and 5G. I think a lot of people have not yet realised the full capabilities that these private networks will offer…it opens up so many opportunities for teleoperations.”

 

THE RISE OF AI

One of the other topics was the seemingly exponential advancement of Artificial Intelligence. Will AI advance logistics – or potentially create problems? The consensus appeared to be that AI will lead to better decision-making and efficiences. It was also suggested that we are currently merely at the dawn of where AI will take the world.

Vivian Sun is the Chief Commercial Officer at Waabi, a company specialising in autonomous trucking. She describes herself as “a big fan” of ChatGPT and uses it regularly. She believes AI (which is already part of the core of the Waabi Driver system) will lead to safer and more reliable Smart Mobility systems.

“This wave of AI technology has been reaching more users than before,” said Sun – adding that this is only the beginning.

“This is the iPhone moment of AI history,” she said.

Hearing Sun speak about Waabi sparked us to take a closer look at the company. It’s up to some very cool stuff. And, as you’ll see in this video, AI is integral to Waabi Driver:

DRONES, ROBOTS

When we think of a Smart Mobility world, there’s no question that robots, drones and other forms of Uncrewed Aerial Systems come to mind. Moving critical supplies – or even people – with automated, renewable systems will definitely be part of the not-so-distant future.

“Honestly, they (drones and robots) mean two specific things: Efficiency and convenience,” said Mohammed Abu-Shaaban, Chief Technical Officer and Co-Founder, Kirality Drones. The Ontario-based company specialises in making drone deliveries at golf courses.

“The implementation of robots and drones is a target to achieve ultimate efficiency in day-to-day operations and also to provide the element of convenience to lay people – to anyone that just needs it. Say a robotic lawn mower. You don’t want to mow the lawn? It takes that mundane task away. Or conducting deliveries…”

At the moment, drone operators in Canada can obtain one of two licenses from Transport Canada: Basic or Advanced. But as drones – and drone operations – become ever more complex, it was suggested training needs to keep pace to ensure pilots have the skills for highly specialised operations. InDro’s Kate Klassen, who has deep expertise in traditional aviation and is also InDro’s Chief Flight Instructor, suggests the time has come for specialised training and certification in the drone and robot fields.

“Aside from the drone pilot certifications that we have in Canada, there really aren’t any skill-set specific certifications that you can achieve,” said Klassen, InDro’s Strategy and Implementation specialist. “It’s worked up until this point but the industry’s maturing to a point where standards beyond that government pilot certification, or for roles beyond the pilot, are going to be desired and needed.”

Klassen went on to suggest the time has come for specialised training and credentials for the more complex tasks (and technology) currently seen in the industry.

“I’d love to see some industry-recognised certifications within those specific niches – so like inspection, whether that’s commercial or industrial, doing work at advertised events, working in really cold operations…even things that are not direct pilot roles, like support roles for BVLOS operations. Those micro-credentials, apprenticeships, allow people to demonstrate that they’re competent and have that competitive advantage when they’re trying for roles.”

 

AND THE FUTURE?

There was widespread consensus on the panel – as you might expect – that drones, robots and other Uncrewed Aerial Systems will continue to grow in sophistication and use-cases. The use of drones during the pandemic to move supplies (and the use of ground robots for contactless delivery) has opened to door to public acceptance.

“The pandemic really represented for us was just: How do people get stuff?” observed Bronwyn Morgan, Founder and CEO of complex drone service provider Xeo Air and Airversity Drone Pilot Academy.

“I think it demonstrated why drone delivery, specifically, will be a thing in the future,” she said.

But Smart Mobility isn’t just about drones and robots. New and larger uncrewed aircraft that will one day ferry heavy cargo and even people over urban centres and to nearby communities not currently or efficiently served by traditional aviation are in development and testing. Air taxis and Vertiports (urban airports for eVTOL aircraft) are considered by many to be integral to Smart Mobility and Smart Cities of the future.

But don’t expect this on the immediate horizon.

“It’s a lot further away than people think,” said Morgan. “These are new aircraft. They have to demonstrate flight hours, safety… All you need is one incident for the whole thing to be shut down.”

Morgan predicted that cargo drones will be on the scene by 2030, “and probably not until 2035 until we see air taxis, business models, vertiports… It will be some years.”

Below: During the pandemic, InDro carried out regular Beyond Visual Line of Sight flights for a First Nations community in BC’s Gulf Islands. Transporting COVID test supplies by drone meant a local healthcare worker could remain at the clinic with clients, rather than spending hours on the ferry hand-carrying these supplies. Operations like this are certain to become more commonplace in a world of Smart Mobility.

INDRO’S TAKE…

With a growing number of drone and ground robotics innovations and solutions, InDro is well-poised for the coming wave of Smart Mobility. A connected, sustainable future with greater efficiencies is in everyone’s interest.

We applaud Invest Ottawa for putting together this event during International Women’s Week, and were pleased to see two of our valued InDro employees as panelists.

“There are a growing number of women holding senior positions in the robotics and drone space, but there’s room – a lot of room – for more,” says InDro Robotics CEO Philip Reece. “As Smart Mobility continues to grow, we hope to see greater gender equity in the field – and will continue to support women across this space. There are a lot of challenges and opportunities ahead, and this industry needs the best people possible.”

If you’d like to watch the panels, you’ll find them here.

Police drone collision raises questions

Police drone collision raises questions

By Scott Simmie

 

There’s no question that drones have become an essential tool for First Responders.

They’re used to assess fires, document accidents, search for missing people and even get a sense of damage following a natural disaster like a tornado.

They’re also used by police on occasion to actively search for a suspect trying to evade capture. In such scenarios, you can imagine that officers might be highly focussed on apprehending the suspect.

That may have been a factor in an incident that occurred August 10, 2021. It involved a York Regional Police officer with an Advanced RPAS certificate, a DJI M210…and a Cessna. The incident is outlined in detail in a new Transportation Safety Board report.

(If you’ve read the report and just want to hear our take, skip to the end.)

Police Drone Collision

What happened

 

On August 10, 2021, a student pilot and flight instructor were in a Cessna 172N on a typical training flight. They were on final approach to Runway 15 at Toronto/Buttonville municipal airport. And then, in the words of the TSB report, this happened:

At approximately 1301 Eastern Daylight Time, the student pilot and flight instructor heard and felt a solid impact at the front of the aircraft. Suspecting a bird strike, they continued the approach and made an uneventful landing, exiting the runway and proceeding to park on the ramp. After parking the aircraft, they observed damage on the front left cowl under the propeller; however, there were no signs that a bird had struck the aircraft.

So what did?

Shortly afterward, a member of the York Regional Police reported to airport staff that he believed a collision had occurred between the remotely piloted aircraft he had been operating and another aircraft. The remotely piloted aircraft, a DJI Matrice M210 (registration C-2105569275), had been in a stationary hover at 400 feet above ground level when the 2 aircraft collided. The DJI Matrice M210 was destroyed.

There were no injuries to either pilot on the Cessna 172N or to persons on the ground.

Here’s a look at the runway, along with the location of the RPAS. (Looks like the report missed a “t” on the word “flight.”)

 

 

Police Drone Collision

The drone

 

York Regional Police (YRP) were looking for a potentially armed suspect, and called the YRP’s Air Support Unit (ASU) to assist at 12:02 pm. The pilot of the drone arrived at the scene at 12:20. The first flight of the DJI Matrice M210 took off at 12:32. Shortly after takeoff, the pilot asked some officers standing nearby to watch the drone during flight; one of the officers said they’d do the task.

After some initial reconaissance, the officer landed the flight 16 minutes later to change batteries. It was now 12:48.

“During this time,” says the report, “the pilots in the Cessna had completed their exercises in the practice area and were returning to the airport. They made the appropriate radio calls declaring their intention to fly over the airport and join the right-hand downwind for Runway 15. There was no other traffic broadcasting on the CYKZ mandatory frequency (MF) at the time, nor had the pilots heard any other transmissions on the frequency during their return flight.”

It’s worth noting the “Mandatory Frequency” here. This airport does not have a tower and its own Air Traffic Control. Aircraft are to announce their intentions over a mandatory frequency (124.8 MHz) and monitor that same frequency for situational awareness of other air traffic.

At 12:56, the DJI M210 took off for its second flight. The pilot, who was watching a flat-screen tv displaying the drone feed, took the drone up to 400′ AGL.

The pilots in the Cessna, meanwhile, were scanning for other aircraft as they began their approach toward the runway. They made a radio call with their intentions to land at 12:57. When the drone reached 400′, it was put into a stationary hover.

But that hover, unfortunately, was directly in the flight path of the Cessna. The report notes that a stationary black object, when viewed against urban clutter, would likely not have stood out to the pilots. When the aircraft was approximately 1.2 nautical miles from the airport, traveling at about 65 knots (120 km/hour), it impacted the drone at 13:01.

The Cessna landed without incident. But upon exiting the aircraft, this damage to the cowling was observed. There was also a slight scratch on the propeller.

Police Drone Collision

And the drone?

 Well, it was pretty much destroyed – as shown in this Transportation Safety Board photograph of the pieces that were recovered:

Police Drone

Other factors

 

The DJI drone was equipped with an Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) receiver. These pick up signals from ADS-B equipped aircraft in the vicinity, and issue a warning to the drone pilot. The Cessna was not equipped with an ADS-B unit, however, so no warning would have been generated.

The Report says the drone pilot was monitoring the airport’s Mandatory Frequency during operations, using a handheld VHF radio. The drone pilot also had his Restricted Operator Certificate with Aeronautical Qualification (ROC-A), allowing him to operate an aviation radio. Unlike the pilots in the Cessna, drone operators are not required to broadcast their intentions when in controlled airspace. In fact, NAV CANADA does not encourage RPA pilots to broadcast on those radios, as it can contribute to clutter on the airwaves.

But the report does point out an additional key responsibility for Remotely Piloted Aircraft operators:

RPA operators are required to receive authorization from the provider of air traffic services (ATS) to operate in controlled airspace (see section 1.17.2.1). The request for this authorization must include contact information for the pilot, and “the means by which two-way communications with the appropriate air traffic control unit will be maintained.”

When authorization is granted from ATS, a telephone number for the relevant ATC unit is included in the authorization. This telephone number is to be used in case of an emergency or loss of control of the RPA. This exchange of contact information between RPA pilot and ATS is meant to satisfy the Canadian Aviation Regulations (CARS) requirement that two-way communication be maintained.

Flying a drone in controlled airspace requires obtaining clearance through NAV CANADA’s NAV Drone app. If the operation looks very complex and might involve greater than normal risk, the app will bump that request for a more careful review by Air Traffic Services.

But that’s not what happened. According to the Report, the NAV Drone app was not used at all in this incident.

The pilot of the occurrence RPA was aware of the NAV Drone application and knew that the operation on the day of the occurrence would take place entirely within the CYKZ control zone, therefore requiring authorization from ATS.

Due to the nature of the police operation underway, which involved a potentially armed individual, the RPA pilot felt a sense of urgency to get the RPA airborne as soon as possible. As well, the RPA pilot had not observed any traffic in the area during the set up of the RPA and had heard no recent transmissions on the hand-held VHF radio. As a result, the RPA pilot did not request authorization.

Interestingly, investigators later tested the NAV Drone app, requesting to fly an RPA at 400′ AGL at the location where the collision had occurred. The request was denied, and the app suggested they re-submit the request with a maximum altitude of 100′ AGL – a position far less likely to have caused problems for crewed aircraft on approach.

Police Drone Collision

Role of visual observer

 

The TSB Report spends some time on this topic. It also documents what happened on that day in October. It appears that the role of visual observer was not explained to the officer that took on the role. And it also appears that officer spent most of his time looking at the video feed from the drone, rather than maintaining Visual Line of Sight with the drone itself:

During the day of the occurrence, the RPA pilot asked for another officer to be a visual observer. Although a nearby officer acknowledged the request, the RPA pilot did not confirm who, among the officers present, would assume that role, nor did he inform that specific officer what their duties or responsibilities would be. The officer was not aware of the requirement to maintain visual contact with the RPA.

The officer who was acting as the visual observer was observing the TV display for much of the time that the RPA was airborne and did not see or hear any airborne traffic, nor could he recall hearing any radio calls over the RPA pilot’s portable VHF radio.

The report also notes that the drone pilot did not use the York Regional Police’s mandatory RPAS Pilot Checklist, and instead relied on memory to prepare for the flight. It further suggests the pilot may have been ‘task saturated,’ – “restricting his ability to visually monitor the RPA and hear radio calls on the control zone’s MF and the sound of incoming aircraft, both of which preceded the collision.”

 

Some findings…

 

It is not the Transportation Safety Board’s role to find fault or blame. But it does identify contributing factors and/or causes that likely all played a role in the collision. Here are the four key findings on that count:

Police Drone Collision

“Findings as to risk”

 

The report also notes two findings under the above category. It emphasizes that what appears below does not appear to have contributed to the collision, but could lead to adverse outcomes in the future:

Police Drone Collision

Kate Klassen weighs in…

 

InDro’s Kate Klassen is a drone and airplane pilot and has about 1000 hours instructing on the same type of plane involved in the collision. She’s also very familiar with the minutiae of RPAS regulations in Canada.

Klassen read this report with great interest and noted a few useful takeaways. In particular, how it appears the apparent focus on the task – catching a criminal suspect – may have obscured what should have been standard procedures.

“Typically First Responders have established with the Air Traffic Service providers that they can do the job and inform as soon as possible, rather than following the NAV Drone pre-authorization process the rest of us follow.” she says.

“So I think it’s less that they launched as they did, and more that they didn’t have the situational awareness to operate there safely. They were perhaps too invested in getting the job done, where they figured ‘It’s not going to happen to me’, and weren’t taking advantage of all the tools at their disposal. They probably didn’t realize how risky this location was, especially to be operating at that altitude.”

 

Briefing visual observer

 

Klassen also notes that the selection of a visual observer was not accompanied by any sort of thorough briefing – which would have included maintaining Visual Line of Sight with the RPA, monitoring the radio, and listening (along with watching) for any crewed aircraft.

“I think the situational awareness piece is important,” she says. “Have the radio on the right frequency, have the visual observer actively monitoring it. It can’t be just ticking the box that you’ve assigned someone the task.”

“A more effective trained role would be explaining or ensuring they have skill to listen in on the radio and build that situational awareness of where the aircraft are. Also monitoring the sky, listening for aircraft noise. If you can hear a crewed aircraft but not see it, that’s when it’s sketchy.”

Klassen has worked with many First Responders across Canada, and understands the pressure they can be under to get a drone in the air. The challenge is to follow Standard Operating Procedures despite that pressure – particularly in controlled airspace this close to an airport.

 

InDro’s take

 

Though no one was injured during this collision, it was a serious incident. The drone could just as easily have hit the windshield, the leading edge of the wings near the fuel tanks or damaged the landing gear. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

The Transportation Safety Board report is both methodical and meticulous. While not pointing the finger of blame, it does highlight some procedures that most certainly could have been handled better – and likely would have, were the flight not so high-priority.

Accidents and investigations should be, in our view, viewed as learning opportunities. And in this case – whether you’re a First Responder or not – there are clearly lessons to be learned.

Long winter? Pre-flight checklist for drone pilots

Long winter? Pre-flight checklist for drone pilots

By Scott Simmie

Depending on where you live in North America, it’s that time of year when many of us are dusting off our drones for the first time since we put them away last fall.

Some pilots are meticulous about this process. But we suspect – given the large number of recreational pilots who fly only occasionally – they’re in the minority. So we thought it would be useful to pull together a quick guide for those preparing to return to flight.

For that, we contacted our resident expert, Kate Klassen. Kate is widely known in the both the traditional aviation and drone worlds. She’s a mult-rated commercial pilot, a pilot instructor – and a drone expert. (In addition to flying and creating one of Canada’s most popular online drone courses, Kate is also a member of Transport Canada’s Drone Advisory Committee, or CanaDAC.)

Kate has also created and fronts the excellent new FLYY online drone learning resource portal, which is fully up-to-date for those seeking drone skills (including those who want to obtain their Basic or Advanced RPAS Certificate) in 2022. Here she is:

FLYY
Because of her wide-ranging expertise, Kate is one of the best people we could think of to help us safely return to flight.

“The fact your drone hasn’t been flown, and you haven’t been flying, increases the risk of your first flight. So I think it’s good to have a plan,” she says. “You want to make sure that you’re setting yourself up for success by taking the time to prepare for that first flight and the ones that follow.”

Makes sense to us. And while it’s tempting to simply charge up and hit the sub-400′ skies, Kate says a more methodical approach will save you from unnecessary problems.

 

What do pilots of real aircraft do?

 

Well, whether they’re flying a Cessna or an Airbus, they have a rigorous protocol to ensure everything is looking good prior to takeoff. And the same systematic approach applies to flying drones (which, of course, are also aircraft).

We’ll have a full checklist in a moment, but Kate recommends that you think of this overall process in terms of systems. Those systems include software (ie firmware), power (batteries), propulsion (props and motors), fuselage – and even regulatory (Transport Canada or FAA authorization, where required).

“Regardless of whether you’re using commercial off-the-shelf systems or standalone flight packs, you’ll want to do as much as you can to confirm the battery’s health before you trust it in flight,” she says. “So that would be not just charging, but balancing the cells and using any resources like the battery health tools within a flight app to confirm their reliability before you get airborne.”

Kate also recommends a physical inspection of the batteries themselves. This is great advice. A couple of years ago, we pulled our own Mavic Pro from the basement, updated the firmware and pulled out the charger. But something about one battery caught our eye: There was a hairline crack in the plastic shell itself. The battery had never been dropped, so we had to assume there had been some swelling. Better to safely dispose of such batteries than risk charging them.

Mavic Pro
This also happened to us with a different drone.

We had loaned out a Phantom 4 Professional to a trusted and experienced friend. When it was returned, we simply put it away without checking it. Come spring, we noticed one battery was sticking when inserted. A close inspection revealed, again, a hairline crack. (There was also a really fine sand stuck to the lens protector.)

Phantom Drone
Had we not been looking carefully, we could have easily tried to charge – or even put the drone in the air – with a damaged battery. If there’s any physical damage like this, particularly in conjunction with apparent swelling, safely dispose of the battery at a municipal electronics waste facility. Don’t simply throw them in the garbage, unless the possibility of putting out a rogue garbage-can fire appeals to you.

Firmware and cards

We don’t want to rain on Kate’s checklist parade. But we do feel it’s worth emphasizing the importance of ensuring your drone and app are fully updated before you get to the field. It’s a real drag if you get out there and are faced with a 356 megabyte download by phone before you can fly. FPV pilots might also want to do a firmware version check for their goggles and look for any updates for their flight controller etc. via Betaflight Configurator. Ensure you have the NAV Drone app and manuals on your mobile device and that they haven’t been sent to the cloud due to their disuse.

Also – and we’ve been bitten by this one – be sure to have your MicroSD cards with you. If you’re anything like us you may have borrowed a cable or card from your drone kit while it sat and you’ll want to make sure you’re stocked up before you head out.

That’s not all. Just because you’ve passed your Transport Canada exam and have your Basic or Advanced RPAS certificate – that doesn’t necessarily mean you’re legal to fly.

“If it’s been 24 months or more since your last recency exercise, like getting your certificate in the first place, you’ll need to complete a recency exercise before you’re legal to fly,” says Kate.

Drone Delivery

On with the show!

Okay. You should have the basics by now. Kate has been kind enough to put together a full checklist that you can print out for your pre-flight checks. Here’s a screen grab, and you can download the file here.

 

Drone Checklist

And come Fall?

We hate to think that far in advance, but the reality is that winter will again come. But that doesn’t mean you need to shelve your flying skills. Kate recommends you consider practicing indoors or use a simulator during the off-season.

“A non-GPS cheapie micro-drone that you can fly around inside will keep your thumb and stick skills fresh. Some drones even have a simulator that can be used to practice your skills as well, and there are also wireless dongles available for practicing FPV skills on your laptop or desktop.

 

InDro’s Take

 

We fly professional missions on a regular basis. Most of these flights involve large, expensive heavy-lift drones. Whether Kate is at the sticks or someone else, we always go through a thorough pre-flight checklist. We do a preliminary check before heading out to the field, and a more thorough examination prior to arming the drone. We’ve caught a few things while doing this that saved us from having issues in the air.

We hope you make this a regular part of your own safe piloting pratice, if it isn’t already. Once again, you can download Kate’s pre-flight checklist here. And, if you’re interesting in upping your skills (or obtaining your RPAS certificate), check out Kate’s outstanding FLYY program.