Flying Aerial Drones At Night Is NOT Permitted By The FAA

Flying Your Aerial Drone At Night Is Not Permitted (Without Waiver) By The FAA

Flying Your Aerial Drone At Night Is Not Permitted (Without Waiver) By The FAA

Your drone lights up like a Christmas tree at night, but does that mean you can legally fly your aerial drone at night? Some drone pilots think yes, but I haven’t found justification for night flying in the USA without an FAA waiver.

This is another of my blogs where the FAA’s rules are straightforward. You can avoid a lot of boring reading if you will just take my word to fly your aerial drone in daylight conditions unless you receive a waiver from the FAA.

Let’s find out what the FAA has to say about night flying:

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) rules are found in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which are federal laws. Those that apply to this topic include:

Title 14 CFR 107.29  Small UAS Daylight Operation.

(a) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during night.

(b) No person may operate a small unmanned aircraft system during periods of civil twilight unless the small unmanned aircraft has lighted anti-collision lighting visible for at least 3 statute miles . . .

(1) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins 30 minutes before official sunrise and ends at official sunrise.

(2) Except for Alaska, a period of time that begins at official sunset and ends 30 minutes after official sunset.

Reading this excerpt from the rules, the FAA is clear that Aerial Drones shall not be flown at night. However, flying during periods of civil twilight is permitted as long as collision-avoidance lighting requirements are met. Of note, the LED lights on your DJI drone are nowhere near the intensity to qualify for twilight flying; see line (b) above.

The FAA may issue a WAIVER for night flying

Pilots who wish to fly at night may request a certificate of waiver from the FAA’s Administrator. The waiver request must contain a complete description of the proposed operation and justification that establishes that the operation can safely be conducted under the terms of a certificate of waiver.

14 CFR 107.200  Waiver Policy and Requirements:

(a) The Administrator may issue a certificate of waiver authorizing a deviation from any regulation specified in §107.205 if the Administrator finds that a proposed small UAS operation can safely be conducted under the terms of that certificate of waiver.

Of note 14 CFR 107.205 specifically includes flying at night. Your waiver application is submitted to the office of the FAA’s Administrator in Washington, DC.

Can I Fly at Night Under the Model Aircraft Rules of Part 101?

There are some remote pilots that have stated the requirements for 14 CFR 101.41 will allow them to operate at night. In my view, this is a stretch of interpretation for most pilots.

The chapter that covers UAS’s, Part 107, specifically excludes aircraft that are qualified to fly under Part 101. In other words, you can’t use Part 101 rules to justify flying Part 107 aircraft.

Why? Part 101 addresses Moored Balloons, Kites, Amateur Rockets, Unmanned Free Balloons, and Certain Model Aircraft (emphasis mine).  Subparagraph 101.41 addresses the Special Rule for Model Aircraft, which some pilots have stated online justify flying their aerial drones at night.

First, there are several requirements that must be met if your aerial drone is to be considered a model aircraft:

  • You may fly for hobby or recreation ONLY
  • You must register your model aircraft
  • You must fly within visual line-of-sight
  • You must follow community-based safety guidelines and fly within the programming of a nationwide community-based organization

That’s it. Night flying is not explicitly permitted in the subpart for “Certain Model Aircraft”.

Remote Pilots that are flying commercial off-the-shelf aerial drones, such as those manufactured by DJI, will have a hard time convincing the FAA that you qualify under Part 101 rules.  Even if your drone was to qualify under Part 101, the relevant subparts that allow night flying don’t apply to model aircraft. They apply to other aircraft categories, for example:

14 CFR 101.17

No person may operate a moored balloon or kite, between sunset and sunrise unless the balloon or kite, and its mooring lines, are lighted so as to give a visual warning equal to that required for obstructions to air navigation in the FAA publication “Obstruction Marking and Lighting”.

14 CFR 101.25

When operating Class 2-High Power Rockets or Class 3-Advanced High Power Rockets, you must comply with the General Operating Limitations of §101.23. In addition, you must not operate Class 2-High Power Rockets or Class 3-Advanced High Power Rockets . . .

(d) Between sunset and sunrise without prior authorization from the FAA . . .

14 CFR 101.35

No person may operate an unmanned free balloon unless . . .

(b) No person may operate an unmanned free balloon below 60,000 feet standard pressure altitude between sunset and sunrise . . .

None of these sections (17, 25, and 35) should be used to justify flying aerial drones at night.

Conclusion

The FAA is very clear in Part 107 that flying aerial drones at night is not permitted unless the pilot has received a waiver. Using Part 101 is not a good interpretation of the meaning and intent of the FAA’s rules. However, there are those venues where flying at night is permitted and waiverable. Some that come to mind include certain sporting events, law enforcement, and fire and rescue.

Another resource that I’ve cited before is Drone Law Attorney “Rupprecht Law.”

Please read their legal opinion on How to Fly Your Drone at Night.

Instant Photo and Video File Delivery

FAD-Photo Delivers Your Photo and Video Files via Dropbox for Super Fast Service

We Use Dropbox for Instant File Delivery

FAD-Photo uses Dropbox.com for instant photo and video file delivery. We upload your files to our account and send you a link so all you have to do is click on the link and then click the download button.

In some cases, you may have to wait up to 10 seconds for the download button to appear. When it does, then click to download the file to your computer or smart device.

When two or more files are delivered, we use 9Zip, a generic Windows 10 application. It combines your files into one “Zip” file and then we upload it to Dropbox. The Zip file you download will display like a folder in most operating systems. For example, with Windows 10 you can open, play, and copy your photo and video files to wherever you need them.

Do I Need to Install any Software for Dropbox or 9Zip?

No worries, you won’t need to install any software or set up your own account.

What is a Zip File?

Zip files make more efficient use of your computer’s storage space by reducing the file size and combining multiple files into one file. It works well and the process is lossless – that is, there’s no decrease in your photo’s or video’s quality. The good news is that you won’t have to install any software on your computer, tablet, or smart phone.

Once downloaded, your operating system will treat the zip file very similarly to a folder. Simply click on the zip file just like you would a folder. Your files can then be extracted (just right click) or individually copied to any location you desire. If you’re using Windows 10, you can view/play your files by clicking on them in the zip file. Many other operating systems work similarly.

What About My Tablet or Smart Phone?

Smart devices, such as Android, treat the Zip file a little differently. Use your file explorer to find the zip file, typically in the Download folder. Then select each file (or all) and extract them. Your files will be found in the Download folder and can be opened, played, and copied to wherever you need them. Apple devices running iOS use a similar process.

Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Flying Your Drone in the National Parks

USA National Park Service

National Park Service Policy On Aerial Drones

Flying aerial drones in the National Parks of the USA was outlawed in June 2014 by the Director of the National Park Service in his Policy Memorandum 14-05.

Several incidents led to this interim policy guidance, which supplements Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).  For example, I read reports about amateur drones harassing wildlife, interfering with search and rescue efforts, interfering with fighting forest fires, and in one case a drone that crashed into the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

What You as a Drone Pilot Need to Know

Let’s just get down to the important stuff – what can they do to you if you get caught? Park Rangers are permitted by law to make arrests for violations, and if convicted a drone pilot faces fines and jail time.

So, where does it say that?  Title 36 CFR Part 1.5 and the Policy Memo provide the authority, and 36 CFR Part 1.3 states the penalties, which read: “shall be punished by a fine as provided by law, or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, or both, and shall be adjudged to pay all costs of the proceedings.”  I’ve also heard of Park Rangers confiscating drones, but I haven’t seen a policy statement granting them that authority.

What parks are covered?  Title 36 covers all lands that fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, including National Parks, National Military Parks, National Monuments, and Battlefield Sites.

Can I Fly Over Other Federal Lands?

Currently, my sources state that you can fly your drone over the National Forests and most lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.  However, watch for changes in policy as lawmakers are crafting new rules regarding aerial drones.

Process for Permission

For most drone pilots, the bar is simply too high to get a waiver or what the National Park Service calls a Special Use Permit.  The NPS Policy Memorandum outlines the process in Exhibit B. Paraphrased, it states the Park’s Superintendent will receive a written request for proposed drone operations and endorse it up the chain of command to the Associate Director, Visitor and Resource Protection office in Washington, DC for approval.

Are There Any Workarounds?

Once your drone is airborne, your flight falls under FAA rules.  The NPS Policy Memo acknowledges this and states “Launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters administered by the NPS is prohibited.”  However, under the FAQ section (no. 9), this prohibition is clarified with a very useful statement that aerial drone flights originating outside the park’s boundary ARE permitted to fly over national park lands (because they’re in the air space that falls under the jurisdiction of the FAA).  I will add that the wise drone pilot will fly strictly in accordance with the safety provisions of the FAA’s 14 CFR Part 107.

Fly Safe!

Traveling With Your Drone

What is the Best Way to Transport Your Drone and all of its Accessories?

The logistics of traveling with your drone on a vacation or business trip are simplified with a little preparation. I’ll outline battery bags, backpacks, and carrying cases in this article.  First, let’s cover the FAA’s position on those Lithium-Polymer (Li-Po) batteries:

Air Travel

FAA requirements (49 CFR 175.10(a)(18)) state that:

  • Each battery must have short circuit protection.
  • Spare batteries must be carried in the cabin (not checked).
  • For less than 100 Watt-Hours (W-Hr) per battery, there is no limit on the number for personal use. (With permission from the carrier, up to 2 batteries can be carried with up to 160 W-Hrs per battery.)

Notes:

  1. Always discharge your batteries to 10-15%.
  2. The W-Hr rating is typically stamped on the battery.  For older batteries, the FAA calculates the W-Hr rating by multiplying the battery’s voltage by its Amp-Hr rating.
  3. Some example batteries: Phantom 3 batteries are rated at 68 W-Hrs and Phantom 4 batteries are rated at 81 W-Hrs.

Battery bags

I recommend a Li-Po fire-resistant carrying bag, such as those made by Lipo Guard.  Not only a wise investment for traveling, it also provides a safe enclosure for charging.

How to select a backpack or carrying case:

Start with your drone’s dimensions, including all accessories that you plan to pack.  That will be your minimum requirement.  Your maximum requirement is the size restriction for your commercial carrier – typically an airline.  The restrictions I’ve come across:

  • Personal item dimensions:  maximum of 18x14x8 in  (typical for under the seat stowage). UPDATE – United Airlines’ stricter dimensions just went into effect: 17x10x9 in. Always check!
  • Carry-on bag dimensions:  maximum of 45 in L+W+H  (I’ve also seen 22x14x9).
  • Your carrier may charge a fee for a carry-on bag, but no one charges for personal items.

If you’re so inclined, then go with a hard case and check it through to your destination.  The advantage of a hard case is that everything is well-protected and much more accessible.  Some hard cases don’t even require you to remove the propellers; although I always do.  Checked bag max dimensions are typically 62 in L+W+H.  Checked bag fees may apply.

Once you’ve listed your requirements, it will be much easier to select a case that meets your needs and suits your style.  Personally, I prefer a hard case for travel by car and a compact (personal item size) backpack for travel by air.

Fly Safe!

The Exciting World of Panoramas

Fourteen Individual Photos Were “Stitched” to Make This 360-degree Wide-Angle Panorama

How often have you wished for a wider angle lens to capture your subject of interest? Or have you seen wide angle panoramas and thought to yourself “That’s cool, I wonder how they did that?” Let’s take a look at how to make panoramas that provide a poster-size photo of your subject or immerse yourself into a 360-degree wide-angle, or better yet a cylinder or sphere. Virtual immersion is some of the latest technology for real estate marketing, travel, and personal entertainment.

Rules for Panoramas

Depending on zoom setting, eight pictures should be sufficient for a 360-degree panorama. Do some test runs to practice your technique. The general idea is to take a series of horizontal pictures that overlap 10-20 percent. Ditto for vertical panos. Add a row of pictures above (horizon) and below (ground) for a larger panorama. And always:

  • Take pictures from one position (technically, the position of your lens)
  • Lock your camera’s exposure for all pictures

Making Your Panorama

The term for assembling the individual shots into a panorama is “stitching.” Basic stitching software includes Microsoft’s ICE (it’s free). For more professional results, programs such as PT GUI Pro automatically blend the images. Think of the blue sky that varies in intensity from shot to shot. Automatic blending provides a pleasant transition from lighter to darker shades of blue.

Can I Control Where The Stitches Are?

Good stitching software will give you control over where the images get stitched. Say you have 20 degrees of overlap, but an object is in motion in both images. For example, a car is in position A in one image and position B in the other image. You select which image to dominate through masking, and the other will disappear. As long as you have adequate overlap, the images can be successfully stitched.

Spherical Panoramas

Use the software’s “Layers” option to create the file set for a spherical projection. Then use Tools/Publish to Website, add these files and hit the convert button to build the web file set. Upload these files to a web folder and copy the link to the master file “name.htm”. (You will see a lot of image files, each with small portions of the pano; this is normal.) Insert the link wherever you desire and the spherical panorama will come up when viewed in your browser. Use your mouse to move around the pano. This is how the professionals do it for real estate portfolios, FaceBook, etc.

Here’s an example of a spherical panorama we made with 26 images: Monument Valley

Other Practical Uses

As I mentioned above, panoramas can be used to make super wide angle photos. If you can’t position yourself far enough away from your subject, then take multiple images of it and stitch them together. Do you have a large print or poster that’s too large for your scanner? Scan it in sections and stitch them together for a high-resolution image file that’s much better than taking a picture.

Fly Safe!

Balanced Propellers Will Reduce Vibration in your Aerial Drone

Use an instrument like this to ensure your drone has balanced propellers

Balance Your Propellers For The Smoothest Possible Flying Experience

Balanced propellers will reduce the vibrations that transfer to your flying camera as these small movements can result in blurred stills and shaky video.

How Can I Improve the Quality of My Drone’s Photography?

Drone manufacturers have fairly good quality control for their airframes but like any airborne device their smoothness depends on proper balancing of the rotating components. In our case, that would be the propellers. We’ll assume for the moment that the motors and propellers are running true and aerodynamically balanced. More on that below.

First, Why Should the Propellers be Balanced?

Well, why do drivers balance the tires on their cars? Experienced drivers know that unbalanced tires lead to vehicle vibrations when their speed picks up. The same holds true for drone propellers. When one part of the propeller is heavier, the spinning mass delta will cause vibration that increases with speed.

The Solution is Propeller Balancing

To balance the propellers, you’ll need to purchase a balancing kit; example in the picture above. It works by attaching a rod to the propeller and the pair is then balanced on a very low friction support. Any propeller imbalance will cause the propeller to roll until the heaviest part of it hangs below. Balance is achieved by adding or removing material until the propeller is stable.

Here’s the How To:

Place the propeller so it’s horizontal and watch for one side or the other to dip. Then sand/scrape off a small amount of material from the heavier blade such as on the bottom side near the tip. (Or add a little scotch tape to the lighter blade.) Horizontal balancing will take out most of the vibration.

Vertical balancing is next. The concept here is that whatever imbalance that remains is in the hub. Place the propeller so it’s vertical and look for motion. Balance is again achieved by adding or removing material until the propeller is stable, but this time it’s at the hub. If needed, sand/scrape material from the heavy side of the hub, between the propeller blades. This step may take longer because more material typically needs to be removed.

Your propeller is properly balanced when it remains stationary on the support no matter which position the blades are placed.

How Do I Ensure the Propellers are Running True?

Great question and easily answered! Start your drone on an elevated surface, such as a table, but don’t take off. Then observe the blade tips, looking for spread. There will be little to no spread if the blades are running true, which means they’re aerodynamically balanced.

If there’s spread between the tips, then the blades have different amounts of lift or the motor/shaft are bent. This means that your propeller is aerodynamically unbalanced, causing vibration. Typically, the culprit will be just one of the propellers so you can rule out a bent motor by swapping the propellers (e.g. exchanging one black hub propeller with the other). If whatever spread you saw on the one side does the same thing on the other, then the propeller is bad.

Balanced propellers will lead to the smoothest possible photography with your drone. Whatever residual vibration that appears in your video can be taken out with post-processing software.

Fly Safe!

Video Production and Post-Processing

Video Production and Post-Processing

Example of a Video Editor Timeline

Video production and post-processing are where the video and photo clips are assembled into a composite video. This is where the art of taking pictures meets the art of developing a deliverable product that meets the expectations of the client.

What is typically done in Video Production and Post-Processing?

Videos, photos, voice, and music components are planned and then sequenced into the software’s timeline. Each component has a time associated with it, so the sequence is planned from beginning to end with a target run length. For a specific run length, video segments are cut to the desired length and photos added/removed for a pleasant balance.

Post-Processing is challenging, but is key to achieving great results. In addition to assembling the components, there are special effects that include cropping, adding motion to photographs, reducing shake and vibration, adjusting brightness, contrast, color density, etc. Sometimes, a voice or music track is not needed, but other times they’re critical to finish that perfect video.

Once the video has been assembled, it is rendered – or processed into the feature video. Rendering is processor-intensive and can take as long as several times the finished run length.

Tell Me More about the Sound Track:

As you know, aerial drones don’t record audio. For many productions, this is OK because the finished video doesn’t require a sound track. For example, the business person is in an open office space where the audio can be distracting to others.  A target audience like this is looking for information – and subtitles will suffice.

There are other productions where a sound track is preferred and, fortunately, video mastering software makes adding a sound track relatively easy. The hard part is getting the audio track, whether it’s the client’s voice recording or a specific music request. You’ll want to work closely with the client at this stage as the process works best when he/she understands what is needed and provides the voice and music files.

In my experience, manipulating the visual media is the easy part. Sound, on the other hand, can run into multiple iterations with each requiring another rendering and submittal for approval.

Visit our Portfolio page for examples of the different types of sound tracks.

Should I be concerned about Copyrighted Material?

We must respect copyrighted material, whether it’s video or audio. So, although it may be easy to copy a track from our favorite CD/DVD, there’s also the risk of getting discovered and forced to pay. Detection methods are now being used to track unlicensed usage of media, and copyright owners love to demand outrageous prices when someone gets caught. It’s always best to purchase the license and have a clear conscience.

I could spend a lot more time on copyrighted media, with some horror stories to go along with it. For now, let’s stop here and I’ll follow up later with a more detailed blog.

Fly Safe!

You Don’t Have to Know Trigonometry to Plan a Drone Shoot, But It Helps

Image of trigonometry for a drone shoot.

Learn Useful Information By Applying Your Camera’s Field Of View Specification

Here are some tips on how a little trigonometry can help you to improve your drone shoots. Most Virginia drone pilots can fly to a position that “looks right” in their display for taking photos and videos, but what about those large jobs, such as a hundred-acre tract of property?

I recently had a commercial session involving the marketing of 116 acres of undeveloped land. My usual preplanning (and pre-programming the aircraft) was a little more challenging because I wanted to fly at the right altitude, the right speed, and the right camera tilt in order to minimize the “trial and error” approach to videography.

I’ll be happy to talk off-line about the actual formulas, but to keep this post as brief as possible I’ll just outline the principles. The fundamental information you’ll need is your camera’s field of view (FOV) and the frame’s aspect ratio. For example, the DJI Phantom drone’s FOV is 94 degrees and its aspect ratio is 4:3 for photos, and 16:9 for videos.

For 4:3 photos, the trig results are approximately 75 deg horizontal FOV and 56 deg vertical FOV. (Approximate because this is a two-dimensional approximation of a 3-D device.) These results are shown graphically in the figure above. For 16:9 videos, the horizontal FOV is about 7 deg wider (82 deg), and the vertical FOV is about 10 deg narrower (46 deg).

With this information, you can calculate the field of view for any given distance. Say you’re shooting a photo straight down from an altitude of 100 feet. Using the sine and cosine functions, the horizontal FOV is 122 ft and the vertical FOV is 95 ft – or – a rectangle 122 x 95 ft. This is suitable if your subject, say a house, is around 60 ft wide. This ratio stays the same, so at a distance of 200 ft, the rectangle scales up to 244 x 190 ft.

Another useful angle is the tilt required to put the top of the frame just below the horizon. We found out above that the vertical FOV is 56 deg. With the camera’s tilt at 0 deg, the horizon is centered in the view. Therefore, the top and bottom of the view are at 0 deg plus/minus 28 deg. So, in theory a camera tilt of -28 deg should put the horizon at the top edge of the camera’s view. For 16:9 video, the horizon (again in theory) is at about -23 deg. In practice, I use a tilt of -30 deg for photos and -26 deg for videos to ensure landscape pictures aren’t turned into silhouettes by the bright sky.

Another tip: Use algebra to solve the time required to run a certain distance at a given speed. This will help you determine how much air time will be required per run and, thus, how many batteries to bring.

These concepts are approximate and you may come up with different results. Regardless, a reasonably disciplined approach will help you plan your flying sessions.

Fly Safe!

Drone Flight Profiles

This is a recent video of pre-programmed drone flight profiles that showcases a residence for real estate marketing. These are just example profiles and we are by no means limited to what you see here. The sky’s the limit when it comes to aerial drone photography.

Notice the production quality of the videos. The smooth flight paths and camera tilting are all controlled by pre-programmed flight profiles. We do this with special after-market drone flight control software along with advanced video processing, which together reduce the residual shake and vibration. The results are breathtaking videos, ideally suited for professional publication.

The video speeds were adjusted to keep this film clip less than 90 seconds. For your video, you have as much say as you want in how the video will be edited, including brightness, contrast, color saturation, playback speeds for each segment, start points, end points, introduction, credits, logos, etc.

When You Work With Us

We’ll provide you with a number of our “standard” drone flight profiles, review how you want your shots to be captured, and program our drone software prior to arrival on site. We are by no means limited to these flight profiles; the possibilities are almost endless. All this can easily be coordinated by phone or e-mail. When you use our drone services, you have as much say in the process as you like.