UAS Cold Weather Operations:
What You Need To Know About Flying In The Cold
Being the National Center for Autonomous Technologies home base is in northern Minnesota, it’s no surprise that we get asked questions about best practices for drone cold weather operations. We teamed up with our industry partner – SkySkopes, whose headquarters are in Minot, North Dakota to get tips from their team of highly qualified operators.

SkySkopes is a professional drone service provider who executes UAS and manned helicopter services primarily in the energy sector, providing data collection and solutions. CEO & Chairman of the Board, Matt Dunlevy founded the company in 2014 as a spinoff of one of the classes he teaches at the University of North Dakota and secured the first FAA permission to fly UAS for business in North Dakota.

When asked about the vision for SkySkopes Dunlevy stated “Our vision is to become the single most trusted and advanced aerial data collection firm, and we constantly drive towards the optimal end-to-end value stream for clients”. NCAT approached SkySkopes with a list of the top questions they are approached with on UAS Cold Weather Operations. Dunlevy and his team gracefully shared their expertise on topics of weather conditions, battery life/storage, pilot protection and basic planning for flying in cold weather.

How does ice affect flying in cold weather?

In most situations, ice/icing only affects ground operations. We would not fly the UAV in clouds or mist that could lead to ice accumulation on the aircraft, and we do not fly in precipitation, such as freezing rain.

We know the colder weather can shorten battery life on drones, what are some tips to practice good battery health in cold-weather flights?

The batteries are stored in a heated portion of our operational vehicle to keep them at a safe temperature. Once installed in the drone, we power them up quickly so they can maintain a safe operating temperature and monitor them closely during flight for excessive drain.

What are the best ways to store batteries in the winter?

We store batteries in a warm and dry area.

What tools do you use to warm your batteries?

While on operations, batteries are kept in heated ops vehicles. We have also used hand warmers in a pinch to maintain temperature if the aircraft is on the ground for an extended period of time.

Is there an absolute low temperature where it is not recommended to fly?

We do not operate below 0 degrees Fahrenheit.

What happens if there is unexpected rain or snowfall during my flight?

The aircraft is immediately returned to the takeoff location (if available) or an alternate landing site identified before the flight and covered or brought inside the operational vehicle.

Any advice for flying in windy conditions?

Understand the wind limits of your aircraft and give yourself a safety buffer. It’s also important to understand the direction of the wind and how that determines where you should position your aircraft relative to obstacles in your operation area. Be prepared for aggressive wind drift if the aircraft loses GPS lock.

How do you keep warm while keeping finger dexterity?

Wear a good pair of gloves that do not limit dexterity too severely. Carry hand warmers. Bring two pairs of gloves on missions, leaving one pair in front of the heat vents in the vehicle and swap them out between flights.

Does cold affect your other equipment? How do you deal with that?

It can, but failure of non-flight equipment doesn’t pose a huge risk. The equipment is checked periodically to ensure it is still operational and checked at the end of the operation to ensure data was collected successfully (if applicable).

Basic Planning Guide for Flying in Cold Weather

  • Check current and forecasted weather in your operating area.
  • Bring a thick jacket, warm pants, socks, and face mask.
  • Bring one to two pair of warm gloves that still allow for decent finger dexterity. Find gloves with finger pads that work with touch screens if possible.
  • Have a few packs of hand warmers for both your hands and the equipment.
  • Bring an anemometer with temperature readouts. The forecasts aren’t always accurate, and some remote areas may not even have weather reports.
  • Ensure your vehicle is capable of operating safely in snowy/icy conditions.
  • Bring food and water rations, an emergency kit, and alternative ways to keep yourself warm if the vehicle were to become stuck in a remote location.
  • Have a bail-out plan if you encounter unexpectedly high winds or precipitation during flight.
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