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Mission Impossible




Hey! It happens. A mission gets scrubbed. Don’t take it personally.


Just like any other aircraft, there are limitations to a drone’s capabilities and there are FAA rules to follow. And… a UAV has more limitations than conventional fixed wing aircraft, or rotary if you’re into helicopters.


So the next time you get a call from THE FLYING LIZARD saying that we need to reschedule your mission, there’s a good reason for it. It doesn’t happened that often, but it does happen.


Most missions aren’t time critical, so postponing the mission by a day or two won’t be much of a hassle. We LOVE to fly, but there are times that we are unable to.


A short list of reasons why we scrub a mission.


Weather.

We keep an eye on NOAA’s website (and several others too) for any weather that may affect the flight/mission.


Wind, rain, sleet, snow, low clouds, storms… We’re not the US Postal Service and all of these affect the flying of the UAV.


Weather conditions:

High Wind - we can fly up to certain wind speeds.

Rain - we don’t fly in the rain.

Snow - snow is a no go, the same as rain.

Storms - Rain again, not to mention being outside with lighting all around with the drone above it all. We’re not Ben Franklin and we’re not doing experiments with electricity.


TFR’s

TFRs, aka Temporary Flight Restrictions.


From the FAA’s website: The FAA maintains the safety and efficiency of our National Airspace System. As with cars on the road, there are rules that cover aircraft in the sky to ensure safety. In special circumstances, the FAA may temporarily restrict access to certain designated areas of our airspace, much in the same way a city or state may block off access to a street when necessary .


These airspace restrictions are called Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) and are communicated to pilots through Notices to Air Missions (NOTAMs). They restrict aircraft (including drones) from operating without permission in a certain area for a limited time. You must always check NOTAMs prior to your flight.


TFRs are issued for safety or security purposes.


Reasons for issuing a TFR include:

- Natural disasters such as wildfires and hurricanes

- Certain major sporting events

Emergency or national security situations

-end-


These “pop-up” every so often. And more often in and around Philadelphia. Our current president has a home in Delaware and it seems like he’s flying in and out of the Philadelphia and Wilmington Airports on a more often than not basis.


TFR’s are usually posted days ahead of the day that the restriction is in place. Most of the times we'll know in advanced and we'll notify you as soon as we hear anything.


Typically a TFR will have a no-fly radius of 30 miles. If you’re within that radius we can’t take-off for that mission we had planed.


There's also on-going TFR’s that “pop-up” around a stadium when a game is scheduled to play… football, baseball, etc.


Kp Index

Definition off the NOAA website: The K-index, and by extension the Planetary K-index, are used to characterize the magnitude of geomagnetic storms. Kp is an excellent indicator of disturbances in the Earth's magnetic field and is used by SWPC to decide whether geomagnetic alerts and warnings need to be issued for users who are affected by these disturbances.


A few weeks ago we had to scrub a mission because of a very unusual event… a Kp index hitting 9. Kp index’s of 1 - 4 are common and flyable. Anything 5 and above throws the GPS signal off by tens of meters. Like a stealth fighter, these newer drones are fly-by-wire. They hover in place based on the GPS signals that they have (they typically lock on anywhere from 14 to 30 GPS satellites).


Inaccurate GPS signals can cause anything from an uncontrollable aircraft (or nearly so) to a “Fly-away”, which is a drone that heads off into the wild blue yonder. It’s mission critical to have solid and accurate GPS signals while flying, not only for the mission, but also... we don't want to lose one of our drones.


These three events are the major reasons for scrubbed missions. There are other reasons for scrubbing a mission but these can either be worked around or prevented.

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