Commercial Drone business equipment guide

When starting out you will need to choose the right equipment for the task. You might have already decided what market you would like to venture into but if you have not then do not worry I have tried to cover a few things you will need to think about and consider before you get you started. Firstly I would recommend looking at the different drones available.

What drone should I purchase?

This is a very good question and can depend on what you want to do. If you are starting out and have never flown a drone before you can start out with a little one maybe even one that can be flown inside if you are in a built up area and do not have access to somewhere safe to fly. Use the smaller one to build up some confidence and when you are finished you can let the kids have some fun. They tend not to be too expensive and a good way to start out.

When you are happy and want to spend some more money on an upgrade you have a few options. I began using a Parrot BeBop which to get started and learn the controls for flying etc. What I found let it down was the camera and no matter what you plan on doing the camera is what makes the difference. As I progressed it became very clear it is one of the most important parts. The Parrot controller was large and bulky but the drone it’s self was nice and compact. The drone flew well but as I progressed I found the camera really needed to be upgraded. It really required one mounted on a gimble, this option gives you a lot more visibility and control when taking pictures or filming. A fixed camera with a wide-angle lens is fine to start but as your photography skills get better you will want more control over the lens and what you can do with it having manual control over the camera and the option to capture your images in RAW format will also give you greater results with more post processing options.

Now if you are a videographer or photographer you will know what you should look for, but if like me you were starting out from nowhere I recommend learning about camera’s I used the Shawacademy who helped me get a better understanding of both photography and videography. As i have progressed through the Shawacademy I have been keeping notes and continuing to update my blog as i go. If you would like to learn more about photography you can follow along with me as I go here.

If you are toying with the idea of crop surveys then you will need to learn about NDVI and various cameras that may be required. Remember just because you can fly a drone and produce nice NDVI images it doesn’t make you an expert without some other qualifications it is very important the farmers you are dealing with know that as the people who help farmers grow their crops have done some years of education. What it does do is provide the client/farmer with an excellent overview of his field and aerial view he has probably never seen before. With the help of apps you can get into 2d and 3D mapping between the parrot and bebop I found the better the camera the better the results. I can also say through my experience of parrot and DJI I prefer DJI. The Phantom Series by DJI has to be one of the most popular, it is very easy to fly and the Phantom 4 Pro has a very good sensor with the ability of aperture control.

Before I go any further I will say there are lots of drone manufacturers, some producing multirotor and some a fixed wing. These are all targeted at different markets three categories the drones would fit into: Consumer (toys), Prosumer, Professional and Racing (commercial operators – could be broken into two of these classifications Consumer and Prosumer).

Some of the Manufacturers and drone models would be:

DJISpark, Mavic, Phantom, Inspire, Matrice, Spreadwings S900, S1000, Agras MG-1
ParrotBeBop, BeBop 2, Mambo, Disco, Airborne, AR Drone 2.0
YuneecTyphoon H, Typhoon 4K, Breeze 4K, H520, H920 Plus
IntelFalcon 8
Autel RoboticsEVO, X-Star Premium, Kestrel
3D RoboticsSolo
HubsanSpy-Hawk, X4-H501, X4-H502, X4-H507, Nano, Spyder, Hornet,
GoProThey failed and have discontinued the Karma
JJRCX1G, T1, P130, X3, H54, H53, H45, H66, H345, H51, H41, H37, H43
BladeInductrix, Nano, Vortex, Mach, Torrent, Theory
WalkeraAiBao, PERI, Voyager 5, Vitus Starlight, Furious 215, Rodeo 110, Runner 250, X800
Syma ToysX4, X11, X12, X13, X54, X5, X8, X20, X21, X22, X23
Force 1U28W, X5C, U818, U45, F100, U34W, U49C, F200, F111
  EhangGhost Drone 2.0, Ehang 184, Ehang Falcon
 Nikko AirRace Vision 220, Air Elite 115
Martin InstrumentMicrodrone MD4-1000 DG

The various models these drone manufacturer’s supply can range hugely in price from 10 to 1000’s of £ or $. So when you are ready to take the plunge on the drone you would like make sure you are happy it will perform what you need. One thing I will mention when applying for your PFCO permission for commercial operations with the CAA you will have to include all details about the drone including safety features etc. So whenever you decide to make a purchase make sure you can get all the required information. When you carry out your commercial drone training there are specific weight categories regarding payload so be mindful of these. In the UK the MOTW (Maximum Take off Weight) categories determined by the CAA are: 0-7Kg, 7-20Kg, 20-150Kg, + 150Kg

Drone Accessories

I have created a drone accessories list, these things I have found to make my life a lot easier:

  • Extra batteries
  • Extra propellers
  • SD cards
  • Rucksack to put it all in
  • Car charging inverter + Charging station
  • LiPo Bags
  • Tablet
  • Cables
  • Laptop or Desktop Computer
  • External Hard drive
  • Batteries – are another very important part of equipment and I would recommend having about 4. The reason I say 4 is when on location I find I perform a test flight first have a look around and get a feel for the area especially if I’m using any app where the flight was pre planned off location. I will then carry out the flight I wanted to do and if I have 2 spare, I should be more than able to repeat the whole process or even head to the next location.  Also the last thing you want to do is find out you have no batteries and have to wait the 30mins for them to charge as you might look and feel a bit stupid when a client has paid you to be there. A station that can charge all your batteries at once with an inverter for your car so you can charge while out and about. Is very handy but maybe something you may not need until you have more than one booking a day or if you are doing weddings when you have to be there a lot.
  • Extra Propellers – Props can be damaged in a few seconds, all it takes is for the drone to land on an uneven surface tip over and contact something hard. If you have a full set of replacement props then you are back up and flying in a matter of minutes if nothing else is damaged.
  • SD cards – Which also reminds me you are going to want to have a few SD cards again I would recommend 4. Change each one out when you change a battery. This way if one does go corrupt for any reason you will still have some pictures or video and may just be able to save the day. Best of all it might save you from having to perform a re-flight.
  • Drone Storage – I would also recommend combining your drone with a rucksack another very important part of equipment. It keeps your drone safe and also allows you to carry a lot more equipment that will be required if working at various locations or even remote locations.
  • Changing – Having the option to charge your batteries when you are out on location can be very helpful, if you have forgotten to charge that extra battery or one of the planned flights did not go as expected you can plug-in and charge it might save you a long trip to find that power point.
  • Battery Protection – Another very important part would be a LiPo bag for each battery as lithium batteries can be very dangerous and if stored in the correct bag this can save a lot of heart ache if things go wrong.
  • Tablet or phone – So to help you fly your drone you will need a device to let you see in real-time what the camera sees. But remember never fly your drone out of LOS or Visual Line of Sight. I have used both an iPad mini and an iPhone 7 both work fine for me and are easy to carry around. The phone can present hazards if someone calls or messages when flying so I tend to use the iPad.
  • Cables – As required to connect to tablet or computer
  • Laptop or Desktop – Once you have been out and captured all your pictures or video you will want something to view it all on to edit. Now this is where perhaps I went wrong I went for a Lenovo laptop with an I7 processor and a good bit of RAM to help me edit my video and pictures. As I have learned you want a screen that can show you correctly how these pictures or video looks. My laptop looks good but completely different to that of my IMac when I get home. I colour calibrated both screens using the inbuilt free calibration tools for both windows and Mac OS but the mac wins every time when it comes to the final image. You can of course use hardware calibration tools if you really want to get serious. They do not rely on your vision or perception of colour and perform the task faster than the free tools. Back to the laptop or desktop if you prefer that, almost all drones can film in 4K or UltraHD which is great if you are able to watch them but to process is a whole other story. The memory or processor gets beaten up by this it takes a lot and if your end-user doesn’t have a 4K television to view this on then you are better to cut the size. As with pictures and video it is better to take images in the highest resolution possible (RAW).
  • External Storage – Backing up all your hard work is very important, you can use Cloud type drives to do this no problem I always like to have a couple of external hard drives backing up my work as you never know when you might not have access to the internet and need to work.

Required Commercial Drone Accessories

When you have completed your training and have gained your PFCO, there will be extra equipment which as stated on your permissions will be a requirement to carry:

  • Windspeed Meter (With temperature sensor)
  • Fire Extigusher,
  • First Aid Kit,
  • PPE, (Safety glasses, boots, hi-vis vest),
  • Signs, cones and barriers
  • LiPo Bags
  • Torches (Night Permissions)
  • Head torch(Night Permissions)
  • If you have achieved your night permissions, you will also need torches to light up take off/landing area and lights to be placed on cones marking the area. A head torch never goes a miss either.

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