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What Else Do I Need? A Quick Overview for New Commercial Drone Pilots

OK, so you did it: you put down $1500 or so and bought a nice, shiny new drone that is capable of High Definition photos and video right out of the box. Then you paid $150 and passed the FAA Remote Pilot Certificate test, probably after a period of studying those sectional maps pretty hard. So you’re ready to go!

Or are you?

Have you ever given any thought to a few items that might extend your capabilities, or even help keep you from getting into a costly accident while in the field? The great thing is that many of them can probably be sourced locally, and without any significant cost. Here are a few suggestions from someone who has learned the hard way over the years:

· Battery Meters ($5-15 each): When you look at a Lithium Polymer battery, it is physically impossible to tell which are fully charged and which ones are empty. Without full batteries, you run the risk of either cutting down on your billable flight time or, worse, the possibility of an in-flight failure due to low voltage. These are a cheap and easy way of making sure you do not take off on an empty battery, and have the side benefit of helping confirm that your battery charger is doing its job.

· Spare Propellers ($25-50): The most common single component I have broken while in the field is quadcopter propellers. I have had rocks kick up and chip them, or a gust of wind tip it over while hovering in the ground effect, and more than one student just swear that tree jumped up and bit them. At the same time, it is quite embarrassing to explain to a customer that you have to cancel the rest of the photo flights you scheduled because you are missing that one type of blade. Carry at least one extra set, as insurance. Also, these are your wings; woe be unto the pilot that chooses poor quality ones!

· AeroWeather Lite App (FREE): As a newly-minted Part 107 pilot, you know that you have weather requirements you have to fulfill. 3 miles visibility at the control station, at least 500’ below the clouds, and 2000’ horizontally from them. Sounds easy, until you realize the Weather Channel App does not provide a lot of that information. The good news is that the AeroWeather Lite App is completely free, and can provide FAA weather from airports near to your location using your smartphone. It will use the METARs to provide visibility and cloud heights, all without having to decipher them yourself.

· Yellow Safety Vest ($15-20): This one tends to be overlooked amid the buying of cool gadgets and gizmos for your new sUAS, but it can help you in a number of ways. First, you need to look after your own safety in the field—particularly if you are flying missions near vehicle traffic. Drivers will look at the drone, and not at you, so make yourself more visible for your own wellbeing. Second, since many people are concerned about privacy issues from drones, if you appear to be professional and highly visible, it makes the general public less concerned about what you are up to. I’ve even had some good conversations as a result of “looking the part.”

So keep in mind that there are a few basic items that can help enhance your effectiveness without costing an arm and a leg. Above all, remember to plan well, make good decisions, and fly safely out there!

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