Let’s face it, it takes a ton of planning and prep work to perform a shoot successfully. Whether you are shooting production, 3d mapping, photogrammetry, volumetrics, real estate, or whatever else, if your gear is not properly maintained, you are eventually going to have a problem that could have easily been prevented. Aerial photography is no exception. While I can’t cover everything in one blog entry, here are some drone maintenance tips you should follow religiously.
Drone maintenance tips to follow
You are on set, you are about to launch and capture that sick footage. Your Red is balanced out on your gimbal. You have gone through all of your preflight checks. The director has made sure that everyone is ready and everything is place. He gives you the go-ahead. You put the sticks together and just before you launch, the director yells “CUT” and you throttle down before you ever lift off. What happened? Well, his monitor’s battery (which you provided as a courtesy) has a loose connection and he has no video. Fifteen minutes and one irritated director later, you are ready to try again.
Check your drone and supporting gear
Although I can’t say that this exact scenario has ever happened to Drones of Prey (wink wink), we have had a time or two over the last 10 years where a small preventable problem caused some unnecessary delay and embarrassment. It goes without saying that you must check and recheck your gear before during and after every shoot. It’s important to cover your aircraft as well as any supporting gear. The manufacturer’s suggested maintenance procedures should always be followed but I have a few other tips for you.
Tips on what to check
Always go over your aircraft from top to bottom. Make sure that there are no loose parts that could loosen further, or worse, fall off during flight. Examine Each prop thoroughly. Make sure there are no nicks or cracks in any prop and if there is, change it. Spin each motor. Notice the resistance while turning them and make sure that all of the motors have the same feel. listen for any grinding while turning the motor. Grinding can indicate anything from just a little sand or debris to a bad bearing. Any grinding that is not resolved with a quick air flush of the motor is a sign you need to tear it down and either replace bearings or swap the motor out.
Look over all of the wires connecting your flight controller, gimbal, receiver, GPS, and other low current connections. Look for exposed wire or loose connections. And nick in any wire is cause for a replacement. There is no good reason for any exposed wire on your aircraft.
Take the machine out and fly it under load as you would on set. Bring it down and feel all of the motors, ESCs, batteries and high current connections. They should be warm to the touch under most circumstances but if any part is too hot to touch there is a reason for this and it should be addressed.
Physical inspections are time consuming but essential
A physical inspection of your entire aircraft can be time consuming and it may be easy skip or forget a step. You should create a maintenance/inspection checklist just as you have a pre-flight check list. At Drones of Prey we find one of the best ways to locate issues that may not be so obvious is a good thorough cleaning. A dirty machine not only looks bad on set, but the grime may be covering up a problem. Use an air compressor or canned air to blow out all of the nooks and crannies. Grab a fine paintbrush and brush away an remaining dust. Next, take a lightly dampened microfiber cloth and wipe all the surfaces on the aircraft.
When to do upgrades? Not the night before!
Most of today’s flight controller manufacturers put out firmware updates regularly. While we think it’s important to update most of the time, TAKE THIS ADVICE, never upgrade your firmware the night before a shoot unless you have no choice. I have seen teams update in a hotel room the night before a shoot and end up having to call me in to fly their gig because their flight controller bricked. Do not make that mistake.
Maintenance is a time consuming and often overlooked process that, if done properly and regularly, will prevent many headaches in the field. Failing to perform routine maintenance on your machine is not only illegal, it’s downright unsafe! You know what they say, “proper prior maintenance prevents poor performance.” I think it goes something like that. I hope this blog entry on Aerial Photography equipment maintenance helps someone out there prevent future frustration or even a crash. Thumbs up, fly safe!
Written By Doug Bell