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Flight School: Crash in the Snow


Well-Known Member
Mar 23, 2018
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California, USA
In this thread I will be analyzing crash videos in an effort to learn more about the limitations of drone technology, and how to avoid such issues myself. Hopefully such analysis will help us all fly better and avoid potentially problematic flights. I'm interested in hearing from other experienced pilots regarding their observations or "tips of the trade".

1. Wow! I didn't know that the Mavic Air is water proof! Oh...it isn't? Well...why is it being flown in the snow??? :eek:

I often see pilots flying Karma drones while it is snowing, raining, or in heavy fog. They are then incredulous when their drone "goes crazy" and crashes.:confused::mad::( Most drones are somewhat water resistant, but they are not water proof. Yes...snow, fog, clouds..it is all water...and too much can kill your drone. How much is too much? I'm not sure I could say, but your drone will definitely let you know! LOL Unfortunately by then, it will probably be too late.

I know this all sounds kind of basic, but I think a symptom of "drone fever" is losing common sense when it come to flight risks. I think sometimes we are compelled to take risks, because we want to capture a once in a lifetime moment. I haven't been on a snowmobile that often, so if I was this pilot, I would have definitely been itching to get this footage! "drone fever" might cause me to take greater risks than if I was removed emotionally from the situation, and was more rational. If it is too foggy, we aren't going to see much anyway. If it is raining or snowing, moisture could gather on the lens of the camera causing the images to become distorted, and not only would I not get the shots I wanted, I would be down a battery as well. It is probably better to consider holding off until the fog lifts, or the rain/snow clears...We are likely to capture better footage that way. There has been plenty of times where I wanted to fly, but rain, weather, posted rules, or potential safety hazards caused me to reconsider, and decide to fly another time. On one specific occasion, while flying my drone, I felt it starting to rain unexpectedly. I quickly brought the drone down, and took it under a shelter. After the rain stopped a few minutes later, and the weather seemed clear, I took the drone back up and got some great shots.

It is also a good idea to note that in very cold weather, even if flying on a clear day, the LiPo battery will not last as long, and the controller may not be able to calculate the battery drain very evenly. This can cause unexpected drops in the flight time calculations shown on your controller. For example it might show 8 minutes of flight left, and drop to 4 minutes very rapidly and without warning. Just be prepared for this and don't stray too far until you are comfortable with how your drone functions at those temperatures. It may mean boring flights in the freezing cold in a large open field, in order to practice for the time when the footage captured might actually mean something, but be technically more challenging, and at a similar environmental temperature.

If you are a Karma owner, you have an advantage in that you can use your waterproof Gopro camera (Hero 5 or 6) to take footage on the ground in inclement weather. The Karma Grip isn't water proof either, but it's much faster to put it away if the weather turns for the worse than it is to land a drone. Using the El Grande Pole or a painting pole with strategically placed GoPro Camera with handlebar mounts or other mounts, might allow you to mimic a drone flight, without an actual drone. If the weather improves later, you can always intersperse the ground footage with the areal footage and nobody will be the wiser.

2. Okay...snow probably didn't cause this crash... that was just a pet peeve of mine...but I have seen many, many crashes with the Mavic Air that have the same thing in common: 1) They are in "follow me" mode. 2) Object avoidance sensors do not detect an object fast enough, resulting in a crash.

One thing Mavic Air/ owners may not be aware of...is that the owner manual states that in monochromatic or low light environments (snow, night, etc), optical avoidance sensors may not function appropriately. In addition, while these sensors have saved many a drone, they are a safety feature that should not be exclusively relied on...It is the pilot's responsibility to fly at a safe height and avoid objects...not the drone's. consider these obstacle avoidance features "icing on the cake" not the cake itself. Flying a drone on a narrow snow covered trail enclosed by snow covered trees is asking for problems.

The Karma doesn't have these safety sensors to back them up, So Karma pilots need to be extra careful in "Follow mode". The "follow" mode wont even activate until the drone is 10 meters (30 feet) off the ground and at least 10 meters away from the controller. Karma pilots should take extra care that the drone is flying at a height that will safely bi-pass the tallest obstacles in proximity to the drone during the flight. This may mean doing a run through on the flight path to assure hazard avoidance. The Karma also requires that the remote stay open while "Follow" mode is engaged. Hopefully this means that hands are on the controller, which makes it easier to take control of the drone in the case of unexpected issues.

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