From our upcoming May issue of RotorDrone magazine here are some of the latest expert-answers for our reader’s questions.
What are NOTAM advisories, and where can I find them for my area?
The acronym “NOTAM” stands for “Notice to Airmen” and was put into place in April 1947. NOTAMs are informational advisories (not laws) and are filed with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to give pilots and remote pilot operators notice of any potential hazards that could affect the safety of their flight. Some typical uses might be to alert pilots to closed runways, military exercises, airshows, parachute jumps, temporary obstacles, tall obstructions, or drone flights in the area.What are NOTAM advisories, and where can I find them for my area?
The FAA has classifiedNOTAMs in to five categories:Military, which includes allarmed forces using the national airspace system; Distance,which has information regardingairport usability; Special Activity Airspace; Pointer, which are NOTAMs that point to other NOTAMs; and Flight Data Center, which are issues that pertain to regulatory items.
Today, as pilots file flight plansand listen to automated flight systems, they check to see if
there are any NOTAMs active in their flight areas. In 2015, the FAA posted almost two million NOTAMs. Due to this large volume of data, the FAA has now gone digital and NOTAMs can easily be searched by visiting notams.aim.faa.gov/notam Search. Note: Drone NOTAMs (DROTAMs) have also begun popping up, and can be seen on sites such as the popular skyvector.com, alerting pilots to where they can expect drones.—Cliff Whitney, owner/founder atlantahobby.com and uavexperts.com.
Is it OK to use different-capacity battery packs with my drone?
This is a common question, yet the answer is complex. I normally break it down into two categories: sport and commercial. For most first-personview drones and other sport models, you do have some flexibility regarding different-capacity packs without worrying about damaging your unit. Infact, most of the modern racing drones actually can handle batteries of not onlydifferent capacity but also different voltages. If your power system can handle it, you can learn to fly your drone using a 3S pack, for example, but as you get better at flying, you may be able to push it up to a 4S pack to increase your power.
All things come at a price, however, so the bigger the capacity, the heavier the battery; at some point, you hit the “law of diminishing returns,” which means the battery may have more capacity yet the weight of the battery limits the performance and flight time so much that you really would have been better off with a smaller battery. It’ll take some time to find that balance.
In general, most commercial unmanned systems are designed to operate with a specific battery voltage, capacity, and footprint. So you want to make sure that you’re using a battery that is at least compatible with your specific unit. If you fly a system that uses multiple batteries—for example, two 22.2V 6S 16000mAh batteries—you will always want to keep those packs are as closely matched as possible. This would mean the same battery brand, the same capacity, and as close to the amount of cycle use as possible. Using a battery in a dual-battery system that does not match can cause the weaker of the two batteries to experience fatigue under heavy load, which ultimately leads to premature failure of that pack.—Keith Wallace, CEO, Venom Power.
How can I determine what class of airspace I am flying in?
The easiest, fastest method for operators of a remote unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) to determine the overlying airspace is to utilize one of the many apps available to them. The FAA’s B4UFLY appuses the GPS on your phone to show where you are graphically on a map as well as what airspace is overlying and what restrictions exist at that location. B4UFLY will also list any Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs), Notices to Airmen (NOTAMs), national parks, sporting events, restricted spaces, or other special use areas.
Pilots can get automated approval, recently expanded to 500 airports, through the LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) system operated by AirMap, Skyward, and other providers. There are a number of other apps as well, such as Hover (by AirMap) and Kittyhawk. A quick look at a manned aircraft sectional map for your area will also give you a wide view of the entire area and all the various airspaces that will affect your ability to launch.
National parks and sporting events are going to be a no-go, but TFRs are something to always look for prior to launch, as they can pop up anytime, anywhere, depending on the activities in your area. The bottom line is that you need to check the airspace each time you fly.—Sam Cadwell, adjunct faculty in Aviation Sciences at the Community College of BeaverCounty, and a private pilot ground-school instructor.