This summer, along with other students and volunteers, I joined an Arizona State University (ASU) design instructor and certified drone pilot on a course designed to qualify individuals to become UAV pilots for commercial purposes. I specify “commercial purposes” because unlike recreational use of drones, commercial use require a pilot certificate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). One can become a certified pilot after passing Part 107 exam of FAA regulations. I was able to do the exam and receive my pilot certificate after doing many flight missions here in Arizona. My favorite flight was one that we did in Mescal, AZ, a movie set town outside of Tuscan. The site was huge and has a long history of film making.
I will follow the standard procedure through which UAV pilots with commercial licenses plan for a new flight. My intention is to explain steps and safety precautions that are taken into consideration before a UAV mission is executed. The following is a hypothetical mission that a surveying company or certified pilot perform on a regular basis.
Mission: inspection flight of a communication (cell) tower. Provide high resolution imagery and a 3D model of the tower to be used by T-Mobile engineers. Client expectation is to acquire the necessary imagery and computer models of the site so that no further field visits needed. This means that results must be accurate and clear.
Location and Date: The tower to be inspected is located in Gilbert, AZ (North East of Western Canal and north Neely Street). Any UAV flights must be conducted between the following dates (##/##/### - ##/##/####). Inability to fly during these days and change of survey plans require a previous approval from T-Mobile location supervisor.
Information provided by the company: Tower type: communication tower (LTE cell tower). Hight: 150 ft. Location discerption: tower is a standing-alone structure with no supporting cables. It is surrounded by a small wall and fence with room for service vehicles. The tower is approximately 30 ft from the nearest residential unit.
Client (company) safety requirement: pilot must be operating in late afternoon hours as the company will stop the tower from operating for an approximate time interval of 30 min at a day. Any injury/damage to company’s property is the sole responsibility of the surveying company.
Mission Planning: For this mission, Pilot in Command (PIC) will be provided a Phantom 4 Pro UAV to accomplish this mission. This UAS will meet client’s expectations and perform good results. PIC must follow FAA safety instructions and review requirement of tower inspection missions. If tower is above 400 ft AGL, pilot can fly within certain distance above and around that tower.
Pre-flight checklist: despite client’s information of the location and height of the tower, the team assigned to this mission must personally check and conform all details.
Airspace: No authorization/waiver is needed and flight is below FAA 400 ft requirement. PIC must research any further restrictions enforced by local law.
Mission specifics: PIC must check if all personal are adherent to the company’s and FAA rules. Assign specific instructions to each person participating in the missing: PIC, extra pilots, observers, etc. Choose
Check list: PIC must inspect the drone, and all equipment prior to flying. PIC must follow instructions in the Standard Operation Manual (SOM).
Flight log: PIC or person in charge must update the flight log with the mission’s details. Flight information must include all information including, time, location, PIC name, length of flight and a summary of mission.
Data processing: allow time to process data and produce results as per client’s request. Results must be at the company’s quality level.
Products: deliver results to the client and allow for feedback.