DJI’s Ultimate Guide on Flying Drones in Snow and Cold Weather - Backed by Customers’ Experience

How DJI enterprise customers weather extreme winter conditions based on real-life drone missions in snow.

By Viviana Laperchia Viviana Laperchia
March 1, 2021
“I like the cold weather. It means you get work done.” - Noam Chomsky

Yes. Work does get done when flying a drone in snow and cold weather -- when you know what to expect. And if you operate in Norway or Siberia, flying a drone in extreme temperatures and harsh climate conditions is just the norm.

This is what three loyal DJI customers, COWI, the HIVE company (GASKAR GROUP), and Arkhangelsk Center for Unmanned Technologies shared with us in a recent interview in collaboration with retailers Droner.dk and iMetro

“We can only choose between ‘bad weather’ and ‘really bad weather’” said Postovalov Yuriy, Head of Arkhangelsk Center for Unmanned Technologies, leaving room for a series of questions on how to effectively manage batteries, storage, visibility, environment and of course, body freezing in such adverse conditions.

While we answered most of these questions in our guide on cold-weather flying, these testimonials could not be more timely. With the recent release of the Matrice 300 RTK, two factors take on more relevance than the usual challenges: superior image quality and weather resistance.

A product capable of enduring all kinds of weather and temperature tests, thanks to improved features such as self-heating batteries that can operate down to -20°C, is no small feat when you fly over the Arctic for mapping and geo services.

With traditional surveying tools, flying over a coal mine covered in snow in West Siberia would take up to 5 days. Flying a drone in snow and extreme cold can now be completed within 2-3 hours thanks to the M300 RTK self-heating batteries and increased flight time.

 

 

In this article, we have highlighted some of the main challenges and most important advice from our customers on how to fly drones in snow and extreme cold weather. We have also made sure to include a recap of our most reliable winter drone flying for enterprise customers.

 

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Customers’ Top 3 Challenges of Flying Drones in Snow and Cold Weather

#1 Hypothermia

One of challenges experienced by both customers throughout their winter missions is body freezing. The way your fingertips tend to ice below zero can affect control of the device and readiness to intervene in extreme situations.

Being able to complete the work quickly, sometimes from inside the car to prevent shivers and loss of senses, is of utmost importance to COWI, the Hive company, and Arkhangelsk Center for Unmanned Technologies and easily accomplished with a smaller DJI drone.

The trick, the HIVE company mentions, is to watch the camera: if the lens becomes foggy, frost is about to happen, and the pilot can decide to perform a quick return home.

#2  Snow

With most DJI drones able to perform steadily in cold temperatures and now even against rain and wind gusts with the weatherproof M300 RTK, snow remains one of the most difficult challenges to overcome.

While snow reflection can be a natural advantage in terms of brightness, it makes for a dangerous scenario, where flying in line of sight is simply impossible.

Furthermore, a bird’s-eye view of a site simply covered in snow does not provide any information about the thickness of the snow layer, making operations such as photogrammetry more complex to carry out during winter.

Generally speaking, our customers are well aware of the risks that come with flying a drone in snow or icy rain which can penetrate, freeze and potentially damage the propellers, and opt not to fly at all in such circumstances.

#3 Unpredictability

This is why training in extreme winter scenarios becomes essential: rain or snow can happen mid-flight, and drone pilots must be ready to recognize the risk, assess the situation and make a calm decision to avoid dangerous knee-jerk reactions.

 

 

 

Top 5 Fail-safe Tips from DJI Customers on Operating Drones in Snow and Cold Weather

Whether you are an experienced pilot or are just getting your feet wet in your first drone flying in snow and cold weather, there is no better advice than the one given by another pilot with first-hand experience in the Arctic.

Top 5 Fall-Safe Tips from The HIVE and Arkhangelsk Center for Unmanned Technologies
  1. Unless it is a rescue mission or you are flying a Matrice 300 RTK, avoid flying in heavy rain or snow. It will impair your vision posing a danger to you and your environment.

  2. Watch for frost signs on your camera such as sudden fog. Take a responsible decision to fly back, if necessary.

  3. Do not take off against wind unless your drone is designed to endure strong wind gusts, as in the case of the M300 RTK.

  4. Adjust your camera’s ISO ranging (100 – 2000) according to the needed level of brightness.

  5. Extreme climates can be physically and psychologically challenging for new drone operators: whatever happens, keep a level head.
Top 5 Fall-Safe Tips from COWI
  1. Body freezing can happen unawarely: keep your body warm even if that means flying from inside the car and wearing appropriate fingerless gloves.

  2. Preheat your batteries to 20°C and store them in a warm place, in the DJI case or even close to your body.

  3. Use in-between operation breaks to charge your batteries fully and to ensure longer flight time.

  4. Keep your drone stored in a warm place (25°C) and do not start the device until it is time to take-off. This can prevent the device and batteries from cooling down mid-air.

  5. When mapping an area covered in snow, make sure to use a non-white spray to mark your ground control points (GCPs).

 

DJI’s Additional Advice for Enterprise Customers on Flying Drones in Snow and Winter

Preparation during take off

  • Preheat your batteries to over 15°C.
  • Clean off any snow and ice on the aircraft surface.
  • Warm up for 1 minute before take off, so as to ensure the normal performance of various sensors.

Flight Tips

  • Avoid flying with a low battery.
  • Maintain a stable flight attitude to prevent a sudden drop in battery voltage.
  • Avoid flying in environments that experience drastic changes in temperature, so as to prevent safety hazards.

Storage and maintenance after flight

  • Wipe the aircraft clean to keep it dry.
  • After the mission is over, return your drone to its protective case, and store it in a dry, indoor environment at a constant temperature between 5-20℃
  • Perform regular maintenance checks.

Best Drone for Sub-Zero Operations - Matrice 300 RTK

 

Test Name

Test Temperature

Methods

Test Sample Quantity

Low Temperature Storage Test

-4°C

M300 RTK stored for 24 hours

40

Low Temperature Power-On Test

-25°C

M300 RTK and batteries stored for 2 hours, then powered on and off. Repeated several times

20

Low Temperature Operating Test

-25°C

M300 RTK flown continuously for 24 hours

20

Temperature Cycle Test

-25°C/55°C

M300 RTK flown continuously for 72 hours

20

Low Temperature Flight Test

-25°C

M300 RTK and batteries stored for 2 hours, then underwent test flight. Repeated several

10

Low Temperature Storage Test (With a Carrying Case)

-40°C

M300 RTK stored for 24 hours

10

* Tests are performed under laboratory test environments.

 

For more in-depth and in detail advice, read our complete guide on flying drones in the winter and guide on flying in cold-weather

 

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Viviana Laperchia
About the Author Viviana Laperchia

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