Freezing weather is a significant cause of challenges for most outdoor activities, and drone flying isn’t an exception. But there comes a time when you need to fly your drone and can’t wait for the winter season to end for you to take it out.
So, can drones fly in winter?
You can fly drones in winter, but you must be more careful than in normal flight conditions. Winter comes with very low temperatures, moisture, and visibility that can possibly affect the drone’s internal parts and batteries. But with proper drone management, you can pull it off without damaging your drone.
Please keep reading to learn more about flying drones in winter.
Can drones fly in winter?
Yes, drones can fly in winter, but don’t expect the same performance as you’d experience in normal flight conditions.
Let’s look at each of the issues presented by winter and how to get around them.
One of the main issues with winter is the cold temperatures. Not only does this affect the drone, but it also affects you.
For starters, freezing temperatures limit the chemical activities in the drone batteries. As a result, the battery will not last as long as it should in normal conditions. So, every time you fly, you must remember that you have less time in the air. Sometimes, the drone will not even power on in cold temperatures.
Another issue with cold temperatures is propeller icing, where ice develops on propellers, making it difficult for them to rotate, which could lead to a crash. This often happens when there’s mist and temperatures below 5 degrees Celsius.
How to deal with cold temperatures
Below are some ways to get the most out of your drone batteries, even when it’s cold.
- If your batteries won’t even power on your drone, change the storage area and store them in a warm place. You can also keep them in your pocket for some time to warm them up.
- If the batteries felt cold but could power on your drone, power it on and let the propellers run for some time, or take off and let it hover for a while to give it some time to warm up before flying.
- Have three or more fully-charged batteries to compensate for the time lost in each battery due to the cold weather.
- Pay attention to the controller’s batteries, too, since they are also affected by low temperatures. Store them in a warm place, such as in the car, since it will be warmer than outside, and make sure it’s fully charged before flying.
- Remove any unnecessary accessories from the drone to keep it light and increase how long it can last in the air.
- Before takeoff, ensure the propellers are dry to prevent icing, and always monitor your drone to ensure no ice is forming on the propellers.
- Wear warm clothes and gloves to protect yourself from the cold. Hand warmers also come in handy when your fingers are frozen and can’t operate a touch-screen.
- Start flying your drone back home at 50% battery level to be safe.
Humidity and wetness
Winter is not only accompanied by cold temperatures. It also comes with precipitation, snowflakes, and fog. This makes the air more humid than usual.
Since drones feature electronic components, if you fly the drone when snow is falling or in the rain, some of the droplets may get into the drone, causing damage.
Another way the drone may come into contact with wetness is if it lands on snow or in areas wet after precipitation.
Fog has also been known to activate the drone’s obstacle avoidance system since they can’t “see” clearly.
How to deal with the humidity and wetness
- Avoid flying your drone when it’s snowing, during precipitation, or when it’s foggy.
- Avoid landing on wet areas. Instead, invest in a landing pad and place it on a dry area or slightly elevated ground.
- Waterproof your drone with silicon coating to protect it from any droplets that may end up in the drone.
- Get a casing to store your drone, the controllers, and other accessories to keep them dry and warm.
- Ensure your drone has LED lights to make it visible when it’s foggy.
During winter, it also tends to be windy. Mild winds make the drone work harder than it’s used to, depleting the battery faster.
But if the winds are too strong, they could carry your drone away. As a result, it could crash in a way you can’t fix, or it could fly away, never to be seen again.
Always try to fly at wind speeds of 15mph or less. You can get data about wind speed, humidity, precipitation, and temperature from apps like Kitty Hawk, B4UFLY, and UAV Forecast.
How to deal with strong winds
- Check the weather apps to ensure the winds are favorable for drone flight.
- If you have to fly when it’s windy, fly upwind or perpendicular to the wind and downward when flying back, so the drone has an easier time during the flight back.
- Avoid flying in ATTI or manual mode, especially if you’re not an experienced pilot. When in these modes, it’s your job to maintain the drone’s altitude, which will be very difficult when it’s windy. This is where having a strong GPS connection really comes in handy.
Another issue you may have to deal with is the footage quality, especially if you are flying to take photos or record videos.
Since snow is bright, your camera’s sensor may mistake this for a normal day’s brightness caused by sunlight. As a result, if you attempt to take photos in manual mode, you end up with underexposed images.
How to deal with the lighting issue
- Increase the exposure rating a bit to ensure your images aren’t underexposed.
- Adjust the white balance to 6500k or higher to match the landscape’s color.
- Adjust the ISO settings to ensure the images aren’t too dark, but not too high, which would cause a grainy effect.
- To effect a motion blur, fly the drone faster than you would in ideal flight conditions.
- When all other conditions are ideal, try to fly at midday when the sun is overhead. You have a better chance of getting better shots at these times.
- Get ND Filters and Polarizers to help deal with extra brightness or reflection.
Winter presents a challenge in areas where you must always fly within visual line of sight.
According to the FAA, you should maintain a 3-mile line of sight and always have a visual of your drone. Fog, ice, rain, and wind shear can hinder visibility.
As mentioned earlier, constantly monitor weather forecasts to ensure none of the conditions that would cause visibility issues will be present that day.
More tips for flying drones in winter
Below are more ways to have a successful flight during winter.
Plan your flight
You must prepare a pre-flight checklist and ensure everything on the list is included. The checklist can include the shots or the activities you need to take with your drone, where these activities will take place, and the accessories needed.
Some must-have accessories include a casing, a battery warmer, a landing pad, extra batteries, warm clothes, and gloves.
Assess your drone’s capabilities
As much as you’d love to fly your drone during winter, not all drones can handle these severe conditions. Industrial drones such as the DJI Matrice series and the Mavic 2 Enterprise drones have self-heating batteries that can handle such situations.
They are also designed to operate at lower temperatures than consumer drones. The DJI Matrice, Inspire 2, Mavic 2 Enterprise, and Phantom 4 Pro also have a higher IP rating.
That doesn’t mean they are entirely waterproof, but they are, to some extent, more favorable for winter conditions.
As a rule of thumb, ensure your drone has an IP rating of at least IP43 to fly during winter.
Operate the drone from your car
You can try operating the drone from your car if the cold is unbearable. You can turn up the heat in the car to keep yourself, the drone, controller, batteries, and mobile devices warm. This keeps them in a functioning state.
Flying your drone from the car allows you to see the smartphone’s screen clearly. You can also land and take off from your car.
However, since it’s different from landing normally, it will need some getting used to. Sometimes, there will be a signal loss, especially if the signal has to go over your engine. You must test and see if you can work with the available signal strength.
How cold is too cold for a drone?
Any temperature below 14°F is too cold for a drone. Most drones are designed to operate best in temperatures ranging from 32 to 104°F (0 to 40° C).
What is the best weather to fly a drone?
The best weather to fly a drone is sunny days with little or no wind. Avoid flying the drone in winter, rain, fog, storms, and extremely hot or humid conditions. Take your aerial shots slightly before sunrise and sunset for incredibly great results.
So, can drones fly in winter? In some cases, yes. Unless it’s snowing, raining, foggy, or too windy, you should be able to fly your drone, take good shots, or accomplish any other activity you had in mind.
You just have to follow our tips on dealing with the conditions accompanying winter, and you’ll be good to go. Three months is a very long time to shelve your drone as you wait for spring so you can fly your drone.