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Flying your drone this winter? Follow these tips

It’s getting colder in the Northern Hemisphere. And that’s because, duh, winter. But what does this mean for flying your drone? Let’s have a look.

Winter brings some great opportunities for aerial imaging. Snow-covered trees and landscapes take on a completely different quality at this time of the year, and some creators really like capturing this. And, while it doesn’t impact quadcopters to the same extent it affects fixed-wing aircraft, that cold air is also more stable for flight. But winter also comes with its downsides: Cold weather can interfere with your battery life, make your props more brittle — and a host of other things. In fact, just the other day we wrote about the dangers of ice on your aircraft.

So let’s take a look at some other tips for flying in winter.

Charge your batteries and keep ’em warm

The electrochemical process that takes place within batteries slows down when they get cold. So it’s important to ensure your batteries are fully charged before a flight.

Snowy Forest
Brrrrr…beautiful. But c-c-c-cold!

More important than that, they should be warm when you begin. Keep them inside a heated vehicle or insulated bag until you’re ready to fly. Once you take off, hover for about a minute before heading off on your flight. This will help them warm up.

Because batteries drain more quickly during flight, monitor your battery status frequently. But above all, keep batteries warm until just before flying.

Mobile devices

I once flew my DJI Inspire 2 and the Mavic Pro with the gang from AlteX Academy. It was a really cold day in Toronto, at about -25°C (-13°F). We remained indoors and prepped all our gear, keeping our batteries warm until we were ready to fly.

My Inspire 2 flight went fine. I was also using a fully charged iPad mini for the DJI app. But I noticed it was draining fairly rapidly. After landing the I2, I took the Mavic Pro for a spin. The iPad was now showing something like 50% battery as the flight commenced. Suddenly, while I was flying near a tree, the iPad simply went blank. It did not respond to attempts to reboot; the battery had just given up in the cold.

DroneDJ Review: The DJI Inspire 2 is the king of the sky
The Inspire 2 has heated batteries…

Although I still had my Mavic Pro within Visual Line of Sight, it was very close to the tree. I couldn’t tell how close it was, and nudged the stick slightly. I heard a brittle buzz, and saw it had just touched the narrow tip of a branch. I was able to fly it back to my location and land.

When I examined the drone, all four props had been severely damaged; they were so brittle from the cold that bits and pieces had broken off each prop. In a testament to DJI’s engineering, the drone’s flight controller had been able to compensate for the missing material and the drone returned home in stable flight.

But wow – lesson learned: The power on a mobile device can disappear in an instant in the wrong conditions.

Check the weather

Obviously, you’ll want to check the temps before heading out. If nothing else, you’d do this so you’d know what to wear! But you also want to be watching out for conditions like fog and freezing rain, which can easily ice up your props and even the arms and fuselage of your drone.

Flying above the fog with a drone is magical.
Beautiful shot. But be careful flying through fog…

If it’s a recreational flight, DJI recommends not flying in temperatures below 0°C (32F) – though some DJI products (the Inspire 2, for example), have heated batteries. It also recommends using a landing pad (great idea!) to prevent snow from getting onto (or into) your motors. Moisture is not a great thing for drone motors.

Also…wear gloves! It’s no fun having freezing fingers.

Check your camera

Winter can be tricky. On a sunny day, all that snow can be blindingly bright. We recommend having neutral density filters handy and using manual exposure settings. Also, be sure to do a manual white balance before flying; wouldn’t want that snow coming out looking gray.

Other tips

A couple of other useful tips we’ve seen, but have not tried:

  • Tape a hand warmer behind your radio controller
  • Use an insulated radio holder/hood like this one
  • Keep your drone close to home once your battery hits 40 per cent. Some even suggest landing at this point, which isn’t a bad idea if you have spares

Dress appropriately

We don’t want to sound like a parent, but make sure you’ve got warm socks and footwear on, as well as a good jacket. Keep your head warm, too – you can lose a lot of heat very quickly that way.

And if you happen to snag some spectacular winter video or stills, feel free to let us know. Send a link to me here.

And a tip ‘o the toque to DJI, which has some of this information on its DJI Guide for flying in winter.