Almost all consumer drones aren’t meant to be flown in extreme cold weather. But take certain precautions and you will be able to fly in sub-zero temperatures.
I recently traveled with my DJI Mavic Pro to Finland, and was fortunate to capture some amazing aerial photos. However, I had to be extra careful while flying as even on the best of days the temperature was well below freezing.
I’d like to share my experience of flying the Mavic in cold weather, and provide you some really helpful tips. Just for reference, I flew my drone in temperatures ranging from 2°C to -19°C (36°F to -2°F).
First, let’s talk about why it’s not advisable to fly drones in extreme cold temperatures, and then get to the precautions you can take to avoid any accidents.
Flying Your Drone In Cold Weather Can Be Dangerous
Why? For two reasons:
1. The Battery Factor
Almost all consumer drones (Phantoms, Mavics) are built to fly in temperatures that range from 0°C to 40°C (32°F – 104°F ) because they use lithium-polymer (LiPo) batteries. LiPo batteries generate current through a chemical reaction, and in cold weather this chemical reaction slows down. Although the cold does not degrade the battery life, it prevents it from holding a charge for a longer duration.
So, if your drone has an estimated flight time of 25 minutes, expect it to want to return home in 15 minutes.
In rarer cases the extreme cold can cause the sensors to not function properly, or ice to form on the propellers. Yes, the latter happened to me.
2. The Human Factor
You, the drone pilot, are even more susceptible to the cold than your drone batteries! Have you ever stood still for 15 minutes in -19°C (-2°F)? Or flown your drone in -12°C (10°F) with slight winds. It is not fun!
Before you fly in sub-zero temperatures, make sure that you’re properly clad. Layer-up with an extra warm jacket, warm pants, woollen socks, a scarf, and a skullcap. Get yourself a pair of touch-sensitive gloves to interact with your smartphone.
Best Practices For Flying Your Drone In Extreme Cold Weather
Now that you know the risks are of flying your drone in freezing weather, let’s talk about the checks and precautions to ensure a safe flight.
- Always fully charge your batteries 12-24 hours before the flight.
- Keep your batteries warm. Either wrap them up in some clothes, or do what I did – stick body warmers inside your camera bag before inserting your drone into it. You could also place them inside your jacket pockets.
- Dress warmly from head to toe. And remember to wear gloves. It’s really difficult to operate the controls with cold hands and fingers.
- Do not leave your drone bag in the cold. I left my drone bag outside while ice fishing. When I wanted to fly my Mavic after 20 minutes, it refused to transmit a signal to the remote controller. My drone simply “froze”!
- Take your drone (and batteries) out into the cold only when you’re ready to fly.
- First and foremost, enable the voltage reading on your DJI Go app if you own a DJI drone. Open the app while connected to your drone. Select Settings->Aircraft Battery->Advanced Settings->Show Voltage On Main Screen. Keep an eye on number at all times.
- Consider landing your drone if the voltage falls to 3.3 V.
- Your drone will fall out of the sky if the voltage drops to 3.0 V.
- If you own a DJI Spark, or Mavic do not place your drone on snow for take-off. The underbelly of these drones can come in contact with the snow and potentially cause water damage.
- Once you start the motors, hover over the ground for 30-60 seconds. Make sure you warm up the drone before sending it off on its mission.
- Avoid flying in the snow for the same reason as mentioned above – potential water damage to the motors and gimbal.
- Also, avoid flying if it’s foggy, and below freezing (usually happens close to the sea). I tried it and my propellers froze. If this happens to you, remember to remove the propellers, and store them separately from your drone. This will prevent the ice from melting into the drone body.
- Go easy on the throttle and avoid any rapid movements.
- Always keep an eye on your battery percentage. As batteries don’t hold charge that well under 0°C (32°F), your flight time may be adversely affected. Also, keep a higher buffer for return to home. Your drone may think 30% is reasonable, but in reality it needs more like 40% juice.
Most consumer drones, such as the DJI Phantom, Mavic, and Spark, can be flown in extremely cold weather. Take adequate precaution to protect yourself and the drone’s batteries, and everything will be fine. Just follow my tips, and best practices for flying your drone in freezing temperatures to ensure a safe flight.