How to Pack Your Drone
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Insane natural hot springs. A state park’s verdant treetop canopy in a tucked away, isolated field. The perfect strip of private beach. Sounds like the makings for a dream vacation with your new badass drone. The only problem? How to take your favorite new gadget along for the ride so it can capture all of those killer views and you can enjoy some quality flying time without your wife warning that your elderly neighbors are going to report seeing a UFO in your backyard.
And you’re not alone. The recreational sport is more popular than ever. The Teal Group, an aviation consulting firm, estimated that about two million consumer drones were sold worldwide in 2015, and one third of those sales were in the U.S. Some hobbyists buy drones for downright recreation and the challenge of piloting an object in the sky. But the biggest draw for many is the chance to capture bird’s-eye view, high-quality photographs, and video in some of the world’s most beautiful locations (like this clip from a volcano in Iceland). But because of the delicate nature of drones — wrapping a drone in your gym hoodie and a proprietary system of plastic bags just isn’t going to work — it’s not always easy to get them to these far-off locations. To simplify bringing along your new summer toy on your next adventure, we tapped some of the best filmmakers and photographers in outdoor media for their best advice.
“The boxes drones come in won’t cut it for traveling, so I have a DJI hard case backpack [buy it now, $199] to carry my drone in. It’s super-light, fits into my bigger duffel for flights, and then is perfect to throw on my back and hike into remote places. It’s ideal to have a protective, waterproof backpack for the days when you want to get out there where there isn’t car access.”
–Tyler Wilkinson-Ray, filmmaker and founder of T-Bar Films
Protect Your Drone When You Fly
“I usually check my drone when I travel by plane, and I pack it in a plastic Pelican case [buy it now, $69] that has foam interior. It’s made to hold a drone and protect it, so I don’t have to worry about it making it off the plane in one piece. It’s better to spend the money upfront to protect your gear rather than break it and have to pay for that later.”
Be Mindful of Batteries
For air travel, TSA code says that portable electronic devices such as drones may be packed in either checked or carry-on baggage when the lithium ion battery does not exceed 100 Wh. If the lithium battery exceeds 100 Wh — but does not exceed 160 Wh — the device may be checked or packed in carry-on luggage, but you must get your airlines’ approval. Any device with a lithium battery exceeding 160 Wh is prohibited.
Spare lithium batteries are illegal to carry in checked baggage while flying. Make sure you comply with TSA regulations and that you have your batteries in your carry-on luggage. “I learned the hard way that you can’t check lithium batteries. After that experience of having them confiscated and having to buy all new batteries hours before a shoot, I always remember to have them in my carry-on and to not have any plugged into the drone while it’s not in use.”
“Always read up on local laws of wherever you are traveling so you can safely and legally operate your drone. Some countries have very strict laws, some are a bit more relaxed, and the U.S. has constant changes in drone regulations. Drones can be really cool tools for having interesting cultural interactions — like in Uganda I was able to fly over a valley that the local families had lived in for generations but had never seen, and with the drone I could show it to them. But in order to have those interactions, you have to educate yourself before you fly.”
Always Remember to Recalibrate
Just because you know where you are, doesn’t mean that your drone does, too. “No matter if you are a few feet or hundreds of miles away from where you last launched — always recalibrate your drone before takeoff. If you lose satellite signal, you need your drone to know the geography of where you are so you can bring it home safely. There are so many horror stories out there of drones going haywire and flying straight into the ground when they aren’t calibrated.” (It takes less than a minute to do; the mean that your drone does, too. “No matter if you are a few feet or hundreds of miles away from where you last launched — always recalibrate your drone before takeoff. If you lose satellite signal, you need your drone to know the geography of where you are so you can bring it home safely. There are so many horror stories out there of drones going haywire and flying straight into the ground when they aren’t calibrated.” (It takes less than a minute to do; the gimble just spins around and the drone makes a few weird noises and lights up when you’re connected to the satellite). Skipping this step is like buying tickets to a Pearl Jam concert from a scalper outside of the arena and then slapping yourself when the ticket scanner tells you they’re counterfeit — you knew you had it coming — so be smart and take the time to safeguard yours from going haywire and crashing into the ground.
Prepare for Anything
“Always make sure your SD cards are clear before takeoff. They’re easy to switch and clear cards when you have a camera in your hands, but not when you have a drone way up in the air. Same goes with batteries — always have at least one fully charged backup. Every time I’m driving on a trip, I have a battery charging on my power inverter. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt to have a bag of rice on you just in case of incidental bad weather. Drones are not waterproof, and not really water resistant for that matter, so a bag of rice can soak up any excess moisture on your gear.”