Published December 20, 2016

Responsible drone owners maintain flight logs. With a flight log, users are able to determine the speed a drone was flying at, its altitude, and much more information. They can also track these statistics in real-time with a ground station. By carefully choosing where to fly and keeping track of statistics, problems can be avoided.

Clearly, a pilot in London didn’t get the memo. In a recent incident overseas, a plane flying about 5,000 feet in the air in central London nearly hit a Phantom 4 quadcopter drone. It came within 15 feet of hitting the right wing of the aircraft. While a collision was averted, police remain interested in determining the identity of the owner of the rogue drone.

Avoid headlines like this. Read on to learn more about the importance of flight logs:

Interpreting Flight Logs

Enthusiasts invest a lot of money and time into buying, modding, and maintaining their drones. Keeping an eye on performance is essential to preventing costly problems. Users usually maintain records on drone performance through flight logs. For new users, interpreting flight logs can be a daunting task. However, with some basic knowledge, it can be a breeze.

Flight logs are captured by a device called a flight recorder. A flight recorder — often referred to as a “black box” — is a recording device placed in UAVs in order to capture information. Historically, they have been installed in aircraft in order to give information to investigators after an accident. In drones, they can be used to log information about previous flights.

Flight logs serve many purposes, and every user can benefit greatly by using them. These records are encrypted, but an official or third party program can help users get detailed information on UAV performance. These records can be helpful in warranty/repair claims. Using third party programs, users can also analyze battery health, keep track of flight hours, and monitor statistics like mileage and top speed/altitude. This information can help owners maintain their vehicles and diagnose potential problems. In turn, this will help prevent accidents from damaging the UAV.

Track Your Experience

Another benefit of modern flight recorders is the capacity to track flight hours. Flight hours are a useful metric for any user. While pilots have traditionally been required to log flight hours manually, drone owners have the luxury of tracking hours through a flight recorder. This is a great way of automating an otherwise tedious task. UAV pilots who use drones for commercial purposes are legally required to log flight hours. For recreational users, flight hours can be used as a metric to determine a pilot’s level of experience.

Much of this information can also be tracked while a drone is in the air. Users may opt to use a ground station during flights. A ground station is an analysis program running on a ground-based computer. Some controllers have similar functionality, such as the Blade Helis Chroma Personal Ground Station. A few apps can even bring some of these features to mobile phones — DJI, for example, offers the DJI Go app. Through wireless telemetry, a ground station can be used to give detailed real-time data on a flight. It can also be used to directly control the drone, display a live video stream from camera-equipped vehicles, and track it via GPS.

How to Get a Flight Recorder

Many models come with a flight recorder installed. High-end models like the Phantom 4 nearly always have this feature, though more affordable models like the upcoming Blade Helis Vortex 150 Pro also tout flight logging. For those who want to upgrade drones to include a flight recorder, drones can be retrofitted with the necessary parts. Alternatively, some UAVs are compatible with relatively easy-to-use USB GPS flight recorders.

The role of black boxes has changed drastically over the years. While originally intended to assist in post-mortem examinations of aircraft, they can now be used to give detailed system information. Problems like battery malfunctions and motor issues can be anticipated far before they cause an unfortunate tumble. Smart users can use this info to maintain their drones and keep them airworthy for years to come.

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