Performance limitations as a drone operator!
Understanding your performance limitations is essential to recognizing or anticipating deviations which could lead to an unsafe flight condition. This applies to the operational team as a whole; the pilot, payload operator, ground support team and the aircraft. This is especially important to the more experienced operators when various other human factors come in to play such as Complacency and Norms but that’s a blog for another day!
As a commercial operator and someone who has built his career around aviation, I encourage everyone to openly discuss this topic with other industry members, starting with your own team. This subject is not limited to ‘newbies’ and it should never be viewed as ‘fringe training’. Here are a handful of factors that can help you to better understand and recognize the limits of your equipment and you, the operator:
- Decision Making
It is so easy to make a snap judgement or decision during an active flight operation that sometimes we lose sight of our ability to recover from that decision. We’ve all been there in one form or another only to find ourselves silently (or not) wishing we hadn’t quite pushed the envelope that far. “If onlys” and even “Holy Sh*ts” are usually a sign of having made a decision to push the limit of your ability and in many cases, the limit of your technology. Remember, anticipation means thinking thinking 2 or 3 steps ahead; a skill most pilots learn early on!
Ever have John Q Public come up to you during a flight and start asking you questions like “Whatcha doin?” or “Wow! Bet that thing cost a few bucks!” or my personal favorite, “Is that what I think it is?” All it takes a split second response from you or a loss of concentration and you can instantly fail to recognize an upcoming problem. Focusing on the task at hand and maintaining a secure operations area is key to reducing your chances of being distracted. This includes flying with your cell phone in your pocket. Yes, Transport Canada does require you to be reachable during a flight operation but give the phone to the ground supervisor to monitor. It’s about prioritizing your focus and anything non-essential to the flight should be put aside.
As mentioned before, performance limitations are equally important to new operators flying for fun and seasoned operators flying for commercial purposes. No one is exempt! It is easy to exceed your limits so care has to be taken to ensure you’re not over or under compensating during your operation. Constant awareness is a simple first step to the experience issue and should help to reduce the risk of overshooting your limits.
- System Spec’s
If you buy or build a drone and it can only handle flight in winds less than 5m/s (18km/h), why on earth would you try to fly it at 10m/s (36km/h)? The easy first answer is “I would never do that” and yet it happens all the time. Enthusiasts and operators alike try time and time again to push the limits of their drone’s capability without realizing that when the proverbial turd hits the prop, they have also WAY overstepped their personal limits with respect to operational control. In other words, the drone is whipping around in the air while the GPS attempts to compensate and you’ve now lost the ability to safely control it both in assisted and manual mode. Proper situational awareness and safe flight operations starts with a site survey that includes factors which can influence your drones ability to fly the way it was intended and designed.
Get to know your limits again and always review the limits of your drone. There are very few things in aviation you should memorize, the exception being (you guessed it) your personal limitations and those of your drone.