The first flight preparations can take place several hours, sometimes even days, before the flight. Checklists are very helpful when preparing and performing recurring tasks.
In manned aviation, they are an integral part of every flight and are used before, during and after each flight. They serve to avoid careless mistakes and to ensure that recurring processes always run safely.
Checklists contain the tasks which must be processed in a certain situation in chronological and/or thematically structured order. It is important that the points are ticked off, or confirmed via an alternative method, after processing; this ensures that nothing has been forgotten.
The “UAS Flight Checklist”, which is attached to this course, includes the important checks for a UAS flight as a sample checklist. Go through this checklist at the appropriate point and tick the items after checking.
If a point cannot be fulfilled, or you are not sure, you must make sure to resolve the point before the flight. You and the UAS are only ready to take off after all points for preparation are ticked off leaving no doubt.
A suggested sequence for processing the checklists is as follow:
- You can work through the pre-checklist the day before the flight
- On the day of the flight, but still at home, check the equipment checklist
- At the point of departure, go through the “Before Take-off” checklist
- After take-off, at a safe altitude, work through the “After Take-off” checklist
- After landing, go through the “After Landing” checklist
- Finally, process the “After the Flight” checklist.
In addition, an emergency checklist should be created for specific cases and kept ready and nearby at all times. This checklist must be processed in case of an emergency – preferably with the help of another involved person.
The sample checklist is kept very general and does not claim to be binding or complete, as it applies to all types and brands of UAS. We therefore urgently recommend that you create your own version of this checklist that is specially adapted to your UAS and, if necessary, the areas of application.
An important point: the conduction of a flight might be legal according to regulations, but if it is classified as unsafe by the remote pilot, the unmanned aircraft must be left on the ground. Safety is always the focus. For example, flying near an object in turbulent wind conditions is not prohibited by law, but there is a high probability that it would not be safe.
Safe and regulated flight is your responsibility at all times – from the first checks to landing the UAS. Many checks can be carried out in advance at home or in the office. This prevents you, for example, from missing recently published restrictions or bans which would prohibit UAS flight in the chosen area of operation.
Official “Papers” and Health
If you plan to fly an unmanned aircraft with a maximum take-off mass of more than 250 g in the OPEN category, you need proof of sufficient competence. The specific type of proof depends on the sub-category in which you want to operate your UAS. In any case, make sure that your proof of competence is still valid before you fly.
A valid operator registration must also be available. This registration concerns you as the UAS operator and not your UAS (the UAS is classified in the OPEN category and therefore does not require registration).
In addition, although not mandatory in the OPEN category, it is advisable to have good indemnity insurance. This covers damage caused by the crash of your unmanned aircraft to someone else’s property or to him/herself.
In addition, the telephone numbers of the nearest rescue control centre or police station should be available.
To ensure a safe flight, you should also check your own fitness before take-off:
- Are you sufficiently rested?
- Did you drink alcohol or take any medication?
- Have you eaten enough?
The “I“M SAFE” checklist provided in the “Human Performance” chapter can help you with this.
The majority of all flight accidents are not caused by technical faults but human error; this emphasises the importance of honest and realistic self-assessment. This fitness check naturally also affects other people who are responsible.
One of the most important points is inspection of the airspace in the area of operation. Make sure that you do not violate airspace restrictions with your unmanned aircraft. Make sure your data regarding geographic UAS zones is up to date.
In addition, you can use ICAO aeronautical charts, which show a detailed airspace structure. Some aviation authorities like Austro Control offer an interactive map with airspaces on the Internet, which can be accessed via this link: https://maps.austrocontrol.at/mapstore.
If you are planning a flight in a controlled or restricted airspace, you must first obtain the permission of the responsible body. In the case of a control zone, this is the control tower, for example.
When making an inquiry, you must provide detailed information about the project, for example:
- Take-off and landing coordinates
- Area of operation or flight route
- Flight times
- Contact details and telephone number.
NOTAMs and Weather
After you have ensured that the airspace is generally cleared for your flight, you should also check whether so-called NOTAMs (Notice To AirMen) have been published.
These are publications to airspace users which inform you about short-term particularities in the region which can result in a restricted airspace: for example, a music festival or the implementation of military exercises.
NOTAMs are published by the responsible air traffic control agencies, for example Austro Control or the German Air Traffic Control DFS.
To get an overview, you can study the NOTAMs on the day before the flight. The important thing, however, is that you must study the NOTAMs again on the day of the flight, as new NOTAMs can be published at any time.
The weather check is similar to the NOTAMs. You should get an overview of the weather conditions in advance, preferably the day before. The weather information is then updated directly before the flight and on site.
Above all, wind conditions close to the ground and precipitation, as well as weather developments during the flight, are important. If there are doubts about the wind strength on site, it can be checked with an anemometer.
Please note that the wind at the altitude of the UAS during flight is usually stronger than the wind speed measured on the ground!
Observe the information in the UAS manual with regard to both maximum wind components and adverse effects from moisture. Any restrictions and limitations are indicated here.
As soon as you notice a weather deterioration, you should land the UAS immediately. For example, when a thunderstorm is approaching, do not wait for the first gusts to catch your UAS.
Alternatively, you can inform yourself about the weather and wind situation via the media and use the website www.notaminfo.com to call up the NOTAMs. Please note, however, that this information is only for information purposes, is not legally binding and cannot be used as evidence of official flight preparation.
Area of Operation
As soon as you have arrived in your area of operation, you should immediately check your surroundings: are there any obstacles such as high voltage lines, wind turbines or other large objects? These can affect flight safety as the risk of collision increases, and they can also restrict or even prevent the direct view of the unmanned aircraft.
Also consider: if your UAS returns to the take-off position due to the “Return To Home” (RTH) manoeuvre, it will land exactly at the point where it took off. It should therefore be ensured that no people or cars block the landing site.
To ensure this, you could, for example, set up several cones around the start area or use streaking tape.
Regardless of this, you should look out for alternative and emergency landing sites in the area of operation in the event that unforeseen situations arise and you have to land quickly.
High-voltage lines can also cause electromagnetic interference, which can lead to radio problems and, in the worst case, break the connection to the UAS. If you are in hilly or unclear terrain, walk through the area of operation beforehand so that you can identify people or other objects that you might not able to see from the take-off position.
Important: watch out for streets, public footpaths or bike paths that run through your area of operation, as unexpected people can appear at any time. These must not be overflown.
Finally, make sure once again that there are no people or animals in your vicinity. Please also note that a property owner or person authorised to dispose of a property may have to issue a permit.
If you have the opportunity to include other persons who can assist, this can be a considerable increase in safety. Use this opportunity whenever possible.
Particularly when securing the area of operation, observing the airspace and informing uninvolved and nearby people, another person can be a great relief for the remote pilot.
In order to prepare the supporting person for the flight, a briefing which discusses the following points should be held before the flight:
- the planned flight route and the intention of the flight
- compliance with and, if necessary, support in processing checklists
- preparing and securing the take-off and landing site
- possible abnormal and emergency procedures
- agreements regarding communication with each other
- clear agreements on the distribution of tasks.
It is important that the person involved has explicitly consented and agreed to the responsibility and the tasks.
UAS and Equipment
The UAS and the equipment are checked during the last check before take-off. When unpacking and assembling the unmanned aircraft, it should be checked for damage and soiling. You can do this by carefully turning the propellers by hand to check for dirt in the motors.
Also check the following:
- Are all parts securely attached?
- Do you have a spare battery with you?
- Is the latest software/firmware installed?
If you are using a new payload, ensure that the maximum take-off mass (MTOM) specified by the manufacturer is not exceeded.
For UAS with fixed wings, you may need to perform a centre of gravity (CG) calculation. You can find detailed information on performance limits and calculations in the UAS operating manual.
Finally, assemble the payload, check the functionality and that all parts are working, for example the memory card.
The next step is to check all of your UAS and telemetry settings, paying particular attention to the following points:
- the operating mode of the UAS
- the battery level
- GNSS reception (at least 5 satellites should be available)
- the correct setting of the Return To Home (RTH) function, including the height
- calibrating the compass, especially if your last area of operation is more than 10 km away from your current position.
If you use a mobile phone as the screen of your ground station, you should avoid incoming calls during the flight. This will interrupt your flight app and you will no longer be able to track the telemetry and battery level.