7 Tips for Flying Drones in Winter Weather

Hovering over Hoth-like Landscapes

It’s no surprise that pilots and those taking great videos and still shots love to use drones in the winter: it’s not only the warmer months that offer jaw-dropping footage. When cities and villages all over the glove are covered with a fresh coat of white snow, getting a high-quality camera above them to show the rest of the world how spectacular they are is one of the most fun things you can accomplish as an owner of a UAV that pulls down great footage.

Since even the finest of drones are working with a bit of a limitation on battery life, shooting in the dead of winter poses many challenges. There are many elements to be concerned with such as areas that have already become half melted, any areas of your drone that may be loose or slowly cracking, and ice that may have already gathered around branches of trees.

There are also instances where you run home after pulling down some great footage over a snow-covered location, and are very excited to see the results. Lo and behold, when you pull up the SD card and monitor, there are glare and balance issues that you may not get during the warmer months, depending on the time of day. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your drone during the winter, and make sure that your footage doesn’t suffer the “frigid effect”.

fly a drone during the winter

Dealing with Moisture issues: Whether it is fog, snow, or rain that you are flying in, the moisture in the air around you is not going to help matters any as far as the motors or other sensitive electronics on the drone are concerned. Fog is one of the things you want to avoid with a capital “A”, because you could lose sight of your precious drone right off the bat.

There are some in the extreme sports industry who have successfully navigated snow, but it is not recommended. If you really have to do this to get the footage you need, make sure the tablet or phone is covered well, and plan far ahead to make sure you have somewhat of a dry area to land and take off.

drone simpro simulator - flying a drone winter

Practice Flying Inside Using droneSim Pro UAS Flight Simulator: This is a super cool version of software that can be customized to help you practice flying a drone in different types of locations. It is basically a code-written entity that “creates” scenarios like forest fires, powerline and tower locations, and adverse weather conditions to fly through. Click here to shop for droneSim Pro.

Using software such as this insures that you can have test runs that won’t damage your equipment, and they create elements that absolutely seem lifelike. Especially if you have made the choice to pilot drones for your own business, by all means pilot the “artificial” skies before you attempt the real ones.

Choosing Appropriate Filters for the Season: When the weather and sky is very bright, sometimes it forces the aperture on the cameras to be fixed too fast, and it turns the video into something that looks primitive, and the polar opposite of smooth. If you add a Neutral Density filter, it helps limit the amount of light that enters the camera, and allows for the user to choose slower shutter speeds.

Ice can really be the enemy: When you are trying to pass through an area of interstate or residential street with a car, ice is truly the enemy, as it can make things slippery and unsafe. When ice builds up on the blades of drones propellers, it makes the UAV heavier, and you’ll notice instability immediately.

drones in winter weather

PHOTOGRAPH BY ALASKA CENTER FOR UNMANNED AIRCRAFT SYSTEM – National Geographic

One thing to do is just to stay as far away as possible from a possible shoot if that temperature is hovering around the 32-25 degrees Fahrenheit range, because that is when most of the troubles begin.

Being Proactive about Battery Life: When the temperatures dip, your battery is going to be affected, and quickly. It is essential to plan for this both in flight routes, and in all ways that you deal with and handle the batteries. Keeping a hand warmer handy or in your pack is a good tip, but you must take special care to not place it directly on the batteries themselves.

Once you get in the air, you can begin by letting the drone hover for at least a minute or two to make sure it warms up properly. Cold conditions are known to make the battery’s voltage drop, and so keeping away from hitting high speed right in the beginning is a good choice to boot.

drone during the winter
Varying amounts of Wisdom Regarding Visibility: Fog is almost always present over water during the winter, even if it’s just in very trace amounts. One thing about low clouds is that they make for quite a dramatic photo or video shoot, but they require the pilot to absolutely be on their top guard to get through unscathed.

Even with all of the GPS options among others that there are to track your craft, visibility is one of the things that is always going to work in your favor. We know just how mesmerizing a winter wonderland can look: after following just a few of these tips, you’ll be up in the air and pulling down some snow-capped stills or video in moments!

Protect Your Drone With These Tips

Investing in a new drone can be a nerve wracking experience. On one hand you’re excited because you’re getting a new toy, or potentially a piece of business gear, depending on what you’re involved in. But on the other hand you want to treat it gently because it most likely cost you a great deal of money. Protecting that new investment must be one of your top priorities.

1. Drone Simulators

Whether you’re flying FPV style using goggles and a racing setup, or flying line of sight and working hard to grow your new drone business, you want to be sure you know how to fly and you keep your muscle memory honed to perfection. That’s where Drone Simulators come into play like DroneSim Pro. These simulators are a great way to practice flying your drone in a realistic environment, using your drone controller, when you don’t have the time or if the weather isn’t permitting you to get outside and fly. I know I live in Nebraska and during the winter it’s nearly impossible to get outside to spend some quality time flying my Phantom. I use simulation as one of the methods that keep me up to date and ready for the next time I put that $1500.00 quadcopter into the air.

2. A Drone Parachute?

Recently I found a new way to protect my drone. A company called ParaZero is releasing a drone parachute for your hobby drone and will soon be following it up with parachutes for industrial and agricultural drones as well. This type of protection is a no brainer if you’ve spent more than a couple hundred dollars on your drone. The parachute expands in less than 1 second and can protect your drone from falls even at very low altitude. The fall rate after the parachute is deployed is only 6 meters / second, which will keep your drone safe when falling to whatever surface.

3. Drone Flyaways

Protecting your gear in the event of a drone flyaway is a very difficult process. I use the Flytrex 3g Tracker which connects your drone to the internet using a 3g connection, no matter where it falls you can track it with an app on your phone. This is a much safer option than beeping alarms, or just crossing your fingers and hoping your going to find your quadcopter when it drops out of sight.

4. Protect When Travelling

Beyond just protecting your drone when you’re actually using it, you need to be careful of travelling with your drone and batteries. I use protective gear from Lowepro. They provide an extensive array of travel gear to protect your drone and camera, as well as provide easy access to parts when you need to make repairs on the go. These carrying bags can be a bit more expensive than your standard gear, but I find that spending a little extra to insure the safety of my tech is worth it.

Purchasing new gear is exciting, but make sure you take the time to learn how to fly it properly, keep your flying skills up to date and do whatever else you possibly can to protect your new investment!

Mike Plambeck
Owner and writer at Dronethusiast.com.