According to Environment Canada I live in one of the windiest cities in Canada. In fact, talk to anyone who’s spent time in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and odds are they’ll have a few stories about just how windy it is. What’s more, St. John’s doesn’t just get a steady wind from one direction; we get gusts from any direction at any time, regardless of the pervading wind of the day.
So, when The Digital Circuit wanted someone to tackle a story on drone flying tips for high winds, I was an obvious choice.
BY THE NUMBERS
DJI publishes wind resistance figures for all of its drones. These numbers are intended to indicate the maximum wind in which you can fly while having the drone hold a stable position and maintain quality video. The published numbers range from 13 mph (20 kph) for the Spark, up to 24 mph (38 kph) for the Mavic Pro. You may be surprised to discover that the published wind resistance numbers for the Inspire 1 & 2 – along with all versions of the Phantom 4 – are 22 mph (35 mph). And that figure is lower than the stated wind resistance of the Mavic Pro.
It’s not obvious why a drone that has a much higher maximum speed, such as the Inspire 2, would have a lower wind resistance number than a Mavic Pro. In theory, something with a vastly more powerful propulsion system and top speed should be able to hold its own in vastly stronger winds. But no, that’s not what the numbers say.
So, I consulted with a number of commercial drone operators who own Inspire 2s and was informed that the drone behaves remarkable in winds up to 37 mph (60 kph) when flying directly into the wind. But here’s the rub: Because of its large side profile, the drone can be significantly buffeted by wind hitting it from that angle – and this can cause issues with the quality of footage out of the drone.
The Mavic Pro, on the other hand, is very aerodynamic in all directions and places a much smaller profile into the wind than the Inspire or Phantom. This allows it to cut through the wind much better, and experience less buffeting than you might anticipate.
That said, flying the Mavic Pro in a 37 mph (60 kph) wind will likely be very difficult, as that’s very close to the maximum speed of the Mavic Pro in Sports Mode.
If you are new to flying drones, it’s best to not fly in winds that exceed the manufacturer’s wind resistance numbers. However, once you’ve developed some experience with the drone you may wish to fly in slightly stronger winds. To help with that, I’ve developed some basic rules for flying in wind.
If you’re not already comfortable flying in Sports Mode I don’t recommend you fly in high winds. Sports mode will often be required to ensure you have enough power or speed to overcome wind. I recommended you put in stick time to the point where you’re very comfortable flying Sports Mode in low winds before attempting anything beyond DJI’s windspeed recommendations. You may not always need Sports Mode in high winds, but if you get in trouble it will likely be the best way to get your drone back safely.
Start and End in a Sheltered Location:
If possible, start flying from a sheltered location. The leeward side of a wall, building, tree or your car is a great place to start. The drone is the most susceptible to crashing in high winds just as you take off and just as you are about to land. Strong winds can cause the drone to ascend or descend 2-3 feet very quickly. So landing and taking off in a sheltered location will increase your odds of avoiding a crash.
Know the Wind Direction:
When flying in wind, always start by flying directly into the wind. If your drone is struggling to make progress into the wind, this is a good time to switch to Sports Mode (if you haven’t already). If you’re in Sports Mode and your drone is still struggling to make progress into the wind, this is a good sign you’re flying in winds too strong for your drone. If this is the case, land as soon as possible (hopefully in a sheltered area).
Always start with a fully-charged battery. The rate at which you’ll drain your batter is much faster in high winds than on a calm day. You should expect between 15 – 25% less battery life when flying on a windy day.
In addition, if you start by flying with the wind you may find your drone doesn’t have the power or speed to come back. The DJI GO app will not take this into consideration, and by the time DJI GO says you need to return, you won’t have enough juice if your return trip is into the wind.
If you’re struggling with wind at 20′ (6m), things will not get better at 100′ (30m) or 200′ (60m). It is almost always windier the higher up you go. If everything is okay at 20′ (6 m), yes you can try going higher. But as soon as things start to look too windy, return to a lower altitude.
Don’t Expect Perfectly Smooth Video:
As you fly in higher winds, you may see some shake in the gimbal or drone. It can be a struggle for the drone to maintain a steady altitude in strong winds, and this will impact the quality of your video.
Maintain Visual Line of Sight:
While I am a fan of the DJI Goggles and flying long-range FPV, you must understand in windy conditions you can’t be confident your done will maintain its location in a hover. You may think your drone is stopped while you’re shooting pictures and video, but all that time the wind may be slowly pushing you back into a tree. I’ve seen people go up 300′ (90 m) and shoot a beautiful view for a little while, without realizing they’ve been blown more than half a mile (1 km) from their original location. While this information is clearly displayed in the DJI GO app or Goggles, many people just assume they’re not moving and don’t notice the distance to home slowly changing.
Don’t use Return to Home:
The return to home system only flies in normal mode even if you have the drone switched into sports mode. This mode will also raise the drone to a higher altitude (depending on your setting) that may have higher winds then the altitude you are currently flying in. You are far better to manually fly the drone at all times in high winds to maintain the best possible control of the drone.
Know your Limits:
Finally, flying in high winds is tricky – and will increase your odds of crashing. So please don’t blame us for any crashes due to flying in high winds. You are ultimately responsible. If at any point you feel like you have less control of your done in high winds I recommend you just land as soon as possible. This is even if your done is a long distance away find a safe spot and land. It is far better to have a long walk to pick up your drone then crash in the attempt to return to your home location. Don’t fly long distances over water in high winds because if you run out of battery on your return trip it will not end well. Also build up slowly by flying on slightly winder days before flying in high winds. If you take your time and slowly build your confidence you will quickly feel comfortable flying more often in increasingly higher winds.
Six months ago, a fellow Canadian Lewis Hilsenteger from the Unbox Therapy YouTube channel took a Phantom 4 to the University of Toronto Institute of Technology wind tunnel and was able to have it hold its position in 31 mph (50 kph) wind. We also don’t know if at any point Lewis placed the drone into Sports Mode. At the end of Lewis video, he placed the Phantom 4 in a 93 mph (150 kph) wind and the results what you would expect. You can watch Lewis video here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2mloAiGvK1U
I have been able to capture some good images and video of a light house a few weeks ago in winds over 31 mph (50 kph). You may notice some buffeting of the Mavic but overall considering the wind I was very impressed. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s6x_Yq_UqsY