When it comes to making money with your drone, it all comes down to the payload. Really, the drone is just a tool for putting the camera or another sensor into an area that was too expensive or prohibitive to do otherwise. This is where the drone industry gets exciting. What applications can you dream up using these cool technologies?
Cameras are the most popular type of payload and are typically at least one of the sensors onboard. They can be as small as a keychain like on FPV racing drones or large, cinema-quality cameras with complex gimbal set-ups weighing tens of pounds. Some aircraft can even handle two cameras and have one for pilot orientation and the other geared for a specific purpose such as low light operations, 360 degrees or with zoom capabilities.
This highly versatile piece of tech can be used in agriculture, surveillance, accident scene assessment, wildlife tracking, search and rescue, infrastructure assessments for heat loss or for machinery diagnostics for heat build up.
Synthetic Aperture Radar
The details of how this impressive technology works are a bit beyond this post but the ultimate result is that this sensor can “see” through cloud cover, foliage, even structures. Since it uses a lot of power, it’s currently on large aircraft and satellites and primarily used to do assessments and monitoring of ice caps, earthquakes, resource monitoring, intelligence acquisition etc.
Multi and Hyper Spectral
Multispectral imaging such as NDVI or Normalized Difference Vegetation Indexing is used in precision agriculture. These sensors read bands of frequencies reflected off the surface below and crunch that data through software programs. This data provides insights into crop health, land management and hundreds of applications outside of agriculture like ecology, oil and gas, oceanography and atmospheric studies.
Chemical/Biological “Sniffer” Sensors
Using spectrometers, drones can detect airborne biological information for atmospheric analysis, helping meteorologists make better forecasts. Through the aid of algorithms, these sensors can also detect abnormalities in the cases of chemical attacks or gas leaks.
Covering everything from spraying pesticides to dropping off your Amazon order, releasable payloads are a huge opportunity. Think Hunger Games style parachuting supplies or aid to people in need. However, regulatory bodies are understandably restrictive when it comes to dropping things from aircraft. Once safe and reliable systems enable beyond visual line of sight flying and clean releases, we can expect to see this side of the industry grow beyond the current applications into areas like aerial pharmacies.
Providing asset and inventory tracking, airborne RFID scanners allow drones to scan areas in a repeatable, cost-effective manner. Anything you’ve attached your tags to can be traced by simply flying overhead.
Similar to RFID scanners, drones can pick up on and follow tagged equipment, people or assets. New technology even allows tracking via camera image, rather than needing to provide a pre-established tag. Although there are limitations, this is a promising avenue for the future.
Although there are some extra requirements before you’re allowed to sling a laser around the skies, laser payloads like LiDAR enable surface mapping through foliage, clouds and ground cover
What did we forget? What payload technology gets you most excited about the future of drones?
There’s a Canadian Aviation Regulation that says all UAV flights need to have an SFOC or Special Flight Operations Certificate.
602.41 No person shall operate an unmanned air vehicle in flight except in accordance with a special flight operations certificate or an air operator certificate.
To allow some low-risk fights to happen without needing to apply for and receive an SFOC, Transport Canada created two sets of exemption requirements – one for aircraft under 1kg and one for aircraft 1kg-25kg. Each list contains a set of requirements that, if all can be abided by, allow the flight to take place without needing prior approval from TC.
To fly under the exemptions, it’s first important to read the actual exemption documents rather than just the accompanying infographics.
Click here for Transport Canada’s Infographic
While all the exemptions are important, the few that typically trip people up are
– Aerodrome distances
Once you’re sure you’re good to go under the exemptions, let TC know that you’re going to fly using the notification form. You don’t need to hear back from them before you go but they are using this information to get some stats on who is flying, how often and where. As well as probably checking to make sure people aren’t missing key pieces of the requirements.
So to recap:
1. Figure out the weight of your aircraft
2. Read the exemption requirements appropriate for the weight
3. Take any necessary steps to abide by the exemptions (training, etc)
4. Complete the notification form
5. Go flying!
If you find you’re unable to fly under an exemption, stay tuned for an upcoming blog post on the SFOC process and or check out the one about the future of drone regs in Canada.
Where Can I Fly My Drone?
While airports and airspace often go hand in hand, there are a lot of misconceptions and misinformation about where airspace exists and what it means. Let’s take a look at the classes of airspace and then talk about what it means for you as a drone pilot.
Firstly, airspace in Canada is given a letter to identify it’s “class” or type. These classes range A through G and let you know what to expect from other aircraft and what to expect from NavCanada which is our national airspace authority.
Class A and B
These two airspace types you probably won’t (and shouldn’t) encounter anytime soon. Class B starts at 12 500’ and extends just up until class A which begins at 18 000’. While there’s a cool video of RC Explorer piloting a flying wing down from well above those altitudes (legally, I think) it’s not something you’ll typically see a need for or approval for in Canada.
Class C airspace is common around airports ranging from big international hubs to some local/regional airports as well. Class C starts at the ground and typically has a radius between 3, 5 or 7NM from the centre of the aerodrome. Factors like other airports, terrain and busyness determine how large this radius is. Airspace isn’t always round, either, for similar reasons.
You can remember that class C requires a clearance. This means there is an air traffic controller usually in a 2-3 storey tower on the airport grounds who issues permissions or directives called clearances to all aircraft. Drones included! Before you fly in class C airspace, you need to get ATC approval and this process varies depending on where in Canada you’re flying. This form provides some further guidance.
Class D is similar to class C and looks pretty much the same on a map. There may or may not be a ground station on site at class D aerodromes. The books geared for manned aviation say you don’t require a clearance, but you do need to establish dialogue with the controllers before operating within it. From a UAV perspective, however, your process is the same.
For both class C and D, your best bet is to get in touch with the NavCanada regional office (usually through this form) and follow their instructions for coordination.
Class E typically surrounds airports as well. It can be two types – MF for mandatory frequency and ATF for aerodrome traffic frequency. MFs, as the name implies, require all operating within the defined area to be listening and talking on frequency. ATFs, on the other hand, are essentially just a frequency that you can talk on, if you wish. Some NORDO (no radio) aircraft will operate in ATF so it doesn’t guarantee you’ll get a response to your radio calls anyhow.
Class F comes in three types, two of which you’re likely to encounter – CYA and CYRs. CYA is an advisory area. These areas are marked on maps to show locations where there’s a designated activity taking place. This could be flight training, helicopter operations, aerobatics, parachuting- all kinds of things! Many of the types of activities taking place can bring aircraft all the way to the ground or very close to it, making it unsafe for UAV flight unless some coordination is taking place between pilots. No recreational or exemption flights can take place within class F and those applying for an SFOC will have to show how they plan on ensuring they can operate safely given the activities taking place.
CYR class F is restricted airspace. CYRs cover things like prisons, forest fire areas, airshows, and military areas. They are no-go zones unless you’ve coordinated with the agency that controls the institution. You can find that information in the Designated Airspace Handbook (DAH) or by clicking the airspace bubble on this site.
Class G is your uncontrolled airspace. Though it may not seem like it, Class G is most of Canada’s airspace. While there’s no one to coordinate with for airspace permission in class G, there can still be MF and ATF aerodromes that you may need/want to communicate with. For these class G aerodromes, the Canada Flight Supplement will identify what frequency those operating at the aerodrome will be on, and what distance from the aerodrome that begins. For example, the Chilliwack airport in BC.
You can see from these two images (first from the VFR Terminal Area Chart and the second from the Canadian Airspace Viewer) that there is no airspace directly over Chilliwack’s airport. There is, however, a mandatory frequency that pilot’s must be on when operating in the vicinity of Chilliwack. We know that from the Canadian Flight Supplement.
This splice taken from the CFS page for Chilliwack shows that anytime an aircraft is within 3NM and below 2000′, it is mandatory (MF) that they’re on frequency 122.7. If that last part got a little intense, we’ll have more for you in a future post dedicated all toward the CFS.
An easy way for drone pilots to find out what the requirements are for any location is to sign up for AirMarket’s FlySafe map. It’s free for the first month! This isn’t sponsored, we just really like them and think you might too.
Checking the weather is a vital step in analyzing a flight area, but it’s more than just sticking your head out the window.
There are a lot of resources out there to help you evaluate effectively. I’m here to familiarize you with them and increase your confidence in assimilating data, including speaking to NavCanada agents for a briefing.
Being the official weather website for aviators in Canada, AWWS has some great resources—if you know where to look.
Step1: Check NOTAM to see if there are any restrictions to your planned flight. There’s no point checking the weather if there is temporarily restricted airspace! There’s a lot of coded info on here but once you get used to the format, it’s pretty easy to pick out relevant ones.
If this doesn’t work for you, you can always call NavCanada at 1–866-WX-BRIEF, give them your location relevant to an airport (16NM NE), and ask if there are any NOTAM for the area.
Step 2: To get a high level view of the overall weather system, check out the Graphical FA. This tool gives an overall summary of what weather to expect and if there is a turbulence or icing forecast.
Step 3: If the GFA makes you question the possibility of precipitation or thunderstorms, go to the radar next. By watching the hour-long progression, you can try to forecast the arrival in the planned flying area.
Webcams are especially handy when flights are somewhere that you’re not. Reading forecasts or written observations is one thing, but actually being able to see the area is extra confirmation of what you’ve interpreted.
Note: METAR and TAF are essential (especially TAF). If you want some pilot cred, you can learn to read the standard format (I’ll show you an app below that will help).
Even if your certified for day and night operations, it’s always good to know when the sun sets so you can make sure you are prepared with the right equipment, like extra lighting.
This app is amazing. I used it every day as a flight instructor and when I finally sprung for the $3 paid version, it was definitely worth it. The decoded option is what makes this so user friendly. You can flip back and forth between the raw and decoded to assist your learning of the TAF and METAR.
This tool presents the NavCanada weather in a simple, easy to read format. I even use it to check for precipitation when planning outdoor activities.
UAV forecast and Hover both provide location specific information including your KP-index, which lets you know about solar radiation that might interfere with your GPS strength and reliability—always a good thing to include in your weather check!
Things To Note
I know this sounds like a lot, but I promise that after a few times through, it goes quickly.
If you ever come across anything that you need clarification on, such as timing of thunderstorms, icing potential, etc., call NavCanada for clarification. It’s best to call them with specific questions in mind rather than to ask, “What’s the weather going to be like?!” It can be intimidating to call the first few times but this is what they’re trained to do. That being said, I have a few tips:
- Greet them like humans. Try opening with, “How are you doing today?” instead of just jumping into what you need.
- State, “I’m a UAV pilot and I’ll be flying…” and then reference your location relative to an airport or two.
- Have your SFOC file number ready. They’ll use this to track who is using the service.
- Don’t forget to ask for any applicable NOTAM while you have them on the phone.
At Coastal Drone, we’re here to educate and make drone piloting as smooth as possible. Feel free to contact me at [email protected] if you have questions or are looking for more in-depth knowledge.
Coast to Coast to Coast
With accurate flight records, extensive training, good timing and a sprinkle of luck, Coastal Drone Co. became the first (or so thinks our Transport Canada inspector) holder of a National Special Flight Operation Certificate (SFOC) in Canada.
This certification allows us to better serve our large clients who operate in multiple provinces and territories, and rapidly respond to flight requests anywhere in Canada.
Not only is this a huge step forward for us, but for the industry as a whole. The coordination between regions to enable national certification is paving the way for the future permit process. Since the implementation of the UAS Task Force within Transport Canada and the establishment of the UAS Centre of Expertise, huge strides have been made toward shaping the future of UAS operations in Canada. The national SFOC is a sign of what’s to come.
Let us know how we can help you reach your UAV goals. Get in touch today!
Securing the Aircraft and All the “Bits”
Most aircraft come with a box, bag, or some sort of carrying case. If that won’t provide the protection you need, check out hard cases with foam cutouts to protect your gear. You can buy laser cut foam that is specific to your machine, or craft your own by removing foam cubes from a non-specific option. Amazon, Princess Auto, Nanuk, or GoProfessional are good options to seek out!
Always be prepared when working with aircrafts by having a way of dealing with a fire. Have a dirt, sand, or a fire extinguisher with your drone.
If we’re being realistic, it’s less about the drone and more about the batteries.
- Don’t let a loose battery come into contact with metal objects (e.g. coins, keys, or jewelry).
- Place each battery in a protective case, plastic bag, or leave it in its original packaging when possible. You can also place tape across the battery’s contacts to isolate terminals (noted by the + and – symbols) to prevent short-circuiting.
- Prevent crushing, puncturing, or putting pressure on the battery, as this can cause an internal short circuit and result in overheating.
Aside from preventing moisture from getting in and protecting against slamming around in the trunk, there isn’t a whole lot that your drone needs. The most important thing to pay attention to are the batteries, which can get volatile in the unregulated temperatures of a car trunk or backseat. Generally, lithium polymer batteries should be kept between 0°–40° but double check your manufacturer’s guide in case the limitations are different.
Don’t forget to check with your airline’s size restrictions for baggage. Give yourself lots of time at the airport to check in and check your bags. No Canadian airline offers media rates for carry on gear, but it might be an option if you’re travelling in the US. You’ll have to flash your credentials but it may get you discounts on additional checked bags of gear.
For flights departing from Canada, Canadian Air Transit Security Authority
(CATSA) publishes guidelines on protocol:
Our revised version of CATSAs chart
If you’re traveling internationally, carriers vary when it comes to LiPo batteries. If your battery doesn’t have the watt hours listed on the side, calculate it in advance and bring that paperwork. The conversion is (mAh)*(V)/1000 = (Wh).
In the event they refuse to let your batteries through security, keep in mind that the agents are likely working with conflicting information and are trying to preserve aviation safety. Stay calm and confident, armed with this knowledge, your preparation may convince them of your shared goal of getting the batteries to your destination with everything in one piece. Worst case scenario, most airlines will allow you to store batteries at the airport for a short period of time for someone to pick up.
If you’re still feeling unsure about flying with your drone batteries, another option would be to ship batteries in advance. Canada Post provides a service called FlexDelivery which allows you to ship to another Canada Post location. You need to register in advance, and may need to ground ship batteries depending on their size and the services you’re registered for with Canada Post. Check out their ABCs of Mailing for more details.
Oh and don’t be this guy.
Since you’ll likely want to be as light as possible, it’s tempting to discard “extras” like protective foam, extra batteries, and your larger tablet. Keep in mind that fewer batteries may push you to take flight time risks you wouldn’t if you had another battery to fly on. Flying on a phone rather than a tablet will also make controls and text smaller. While these conditions are not impossible to work in, familiarize yourself with the new setup before you travel.
Still feeling unsure about it? I’m happy to help. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for any questions!