Despite the popularity of drones, it cannot be denied that they are still very expensive machines. Whether you fly your drone just for fun or you use it to earn a living, nobody wants to get their drones damaged and watch as their hard-earned money goes to the drain. Just like any piece of technology, drones will break down sooner rather than later if they are used improperly or are not maintained regularly. If you want your drone to be still running several years down the road, then here are the best tips for maintaining and caring for them.
1. Prepare and follow a pre-flight checklist
Most drone crashes are caused by factors that could have been avoided by proper preparation. By preparing a pre-flight checklist, you can check all the crucial elements and conditions before you launch your drone. Of course, this only works if you keep to the letter and do a pre-flight check every time. The items that you will include in your pre-flight checklist is all up to you, but should ideally include the following items:
- The drone has no existing damage (chipped propellers, cracks in the drone’s body, etc.)
- Batteries are fully charged. This applies to the drone, the remote controller, and your smart phone (if needed)
- The drone and the remote controller are communicating
- The drone’s compass and all its sensors are calibrated
- The drone has established a GPS signal
By conducting a pre-flight check, you can reduce the probability of unwanted surprises that might only come up when the drone is already hovering at an unsafe altitude.
2. Don’t fly in unfavorable conditions
This sounds like an obvious suggestion, but there are still many drone pilots who choose to push their luck and fly in unfavorable weather. Despite the powerful motors of a drone, even large multi-rotor models can be knocked down by a strong breeze. Drones also don’t have any sort of water resistance, so even light rain can result in water intake in a drone’s motor and other electrical components.
Unfavorable conditions are not restricted to weather. If you find that the area you are planning to fly around in is being prowled by birds, particularly predatory ones, then it’s best to stay out and move to another spot. Birds have been known to attack drones and can easily knock one down from the sky.
3. Don’t overestimate your flight skills
Drones come with Beginner or Training modes for a reason, and that is to help prevent newbie drone pilots from getting into accidents. If you are still learning, then these training modes make it very hard to crash by slowing down your drone and keeping them close to you. You should also only fly in a clear area, free of any obstacles or unsafe landing ground.
With a little practice, there is no doubt that you can eventually graduate to flying in the normal or standard modes. The learning doesn’t end there because many of the modern drones available today feature more advanced flight modes mostly designed to aid in drone photography.
These modes help photographers capture smoother shots or take videos in exceptionally tight and obstacle-dense environments. Typically, drones do this by deactivating one or more autonomous safety features. This can be challenging even for more experienced drone pilots and will require a good amount of practice to perfect.
4. Keep a set of tools and spare parts handy
Part of preparing for drone flight is making sure that you can step in at any point and make minor adjustments and repairs to your drone. Simple things such as having spare propellers and batteries go a long way in making sure that your drone is always in good shape when it’s launched.
You can also go the extra mile and have a small tool kit on hand. No matter what type of drone you have, a compact toolkit that contains up to 20 screwdriver heads should suffice. Such a toolkit can be purchased for less than $20. Best of all, a screwdriver tool kit has incredible versatility and can be used to make quick fixes for your other electronics.
If you want to be even more prepared, you can even bring a compact soldering kit out in the field. This can be incredibly useful if your drone gets into a nasty crash, resulting in some of its electrical components coming loose.
5. Keep the drone’s firmware up to date
Drone manufacturers frequently release patches and updates to their drones’ firmware. Whether it’s to add or enhance the existing functions or to correct newly discovered bugs, these updates are typically very important and should be installed immediately. In some cases, your drone may even refuse to launch without the proper update.
Nowadays, firmware updates for drones can usually be downloaded and installed using the accompanying mobile apps. Each update or patch should come with some form of documentation. Just so you know if there have been major changes to how your drone will perform, it is also recommended to read these update or patch notes.
6. Regularly check the motors and propellers
If there are components in your drone that you should be paying careful attention to, they are certainly the motors and propellers. After all, these work together to provide lift and forward motion to your drone. As such, the motors and propellers of your drone should always be kept in tip-top condition.
If you find that your propeller has a tiny chip or crack, or is even slightly misshapen, then it’s best to replace them. After all, spare propellers are not expensive. Having one of your propellers break while the drone is up in the air will have it swiftly going back to the ground.
The drone’s motors are also subject to a lot of abuse. They generate a lot of suction while they spin, which tends to result in the motors clogging up with dust and other small particles. While these won’t seriously affect the motors’ performance right away, these particles can build up in the long run and create micro-abrasions in the motors’ bearings. For this reason, cleaning of a drone’s motors should be included in regular maintenance activities.
7. Let the drone cool down between uses
It’s so easy to get caught up in drone flight that drone pilots tend to forget to give their drones a break. While you will certainly need to land your drone to replace batteries after just a few minutes, swapping one battery for another and flying again without giving the motors of the drone some time to cool down is a bad idea. Even with the best lubricant, motors will get hotter the longer they run. A motor that overheats could suffer some permanent damage. At worst, one or more motor can fail while your drone is still up in the air.
8. Clean the drone regularly
Regular cleaning is something that every drone owner should do. After all, your drone can spend several hours exposed to the elements. Aside from dust naturally building up on the drone’s exterior, its various moving parts could be inundated with various small debris.
You need to build a small kit of cleaning implements for your drone, which should at least include a microfiber cloth, a small brush, some isopropyl alcohol, and a can of compressed air. Start by wiping the exterior with damp cloth, applying alcohol for stubborn stains. Small nooks and crannies can be cleaned with a small brush.
The motors probably suck in a lot of small particles during flight, and these have to be removed via compressed air. Just remember to always hold the can of compressed air upright when spraying so you avoid getting moisture into your drone’s motors.
9. Regularly lubricate the motors
Drone motors typically come pre-oiled from the manufacturer. However, as with any other motor, the oil does not stay there and will need to be replaced eventually. Not doing so will lead to poor output due to high friction. Your motor will also have the risk of overheating, which can result in permanent damage.
After you have cleaned the drone’s motors is the perfect moment for them to get lubricated. Lubrication keeps your motors running smoothly. By reducing friction while the motors are running, overheating is prevented which keeps your motors safe and operational for longer. Most experts and drone owners recommend doing a complete cleaning and lubrication process for your motors monthly.
When choosing an oil for your drone motors, you want to pick one that is made for high-temperature and high-RPM applications. This means that you SHOULD NOT use WD-40. It would be best to get a high-speed bearing oil. If options are limited, Singer machine oil is an easy-to-find alternative. The brushless motors of drones are tiny, so 1 to 2 drops of machine oil should suffice.
10. Keep the drone in optimal temperature
If you haven’t read the manual that comes with your drone, then you should go ahead and read it right now. It should state an optimal temperature range for operating your drone, which you need to follow. If it’s too cold out, then you might need to keep your drone in an insulated bag before its motors start to heat it. If it’s too hot outside, then you probably have no choice but to wait for slightly colder weather.
This rule also applies to storage. As with most electronics, drones (as well as its batteries) are averse to hot and humid conditions. Drones also should not be stored under direct sunlight. Both of these factors can contribute the moisture buildup in the drone’s internal compartment which can damage or corrode internal components.
11. Don’t overcharge the batteries
Drones are equipped with LiPo batteries, which are incredibly lightweight and compact that come with the burden of also being incredibly fragile. A whole article can be written on how to care for your LiPo batteries, but we’ll start with the most basic thing you need to do – not to overcharge them. Overcharging the battery tends to overheat them, which may explain the number of incidents of LiPo batteries catching fire or exploding while plugged in.
Even if overcharging does not result in as bad an outcome as your battery exploding, it will still contribute to accelerating the deterioration of your battery’s performance. To be fair, battery deterioration is a natural phenomenon which will happen regardless of how you take care of your battery. However, overcharging is one of the fastest and most certain ways to shorten its lifespan.
12. Store your batteries properly
If you are not going to use your battery for a long time (say, longer than three days), make sure to store them according to best practices to make sure that they do not greatly deteriorate while in storage. What are these best practices? The first is not to store them over or under-charged. For best results, LiPo batteries should only be charged to around 50% capacity while in storage. Any higher and the capacity of the batteries will suffer even though they are not being used. Storing them when they are barely charged runs the risk of the batteries going into deep discharge while in storage.
Temperature is another factor which needs to be considered when storing your drone’s batteries. LiPo batteries do not like heat and will deteriorate when stored above 25 °C. To keep your batteries in optimal conditions, it is best to store at a temperature between 0 to 25 °C.
13. Remove the batteries from the drone when not in use
One thing you should never do if you will not be using your drone for a long time is to leave the LiPo batteries inside them. While it’s true that top drone manufacturers have designed their drones with proprietary and intelligently designed batteries, we are still iffy with the idea of leaving the batteries attached to these drones. Aside from the aforementioned possibility of LiPo batteries suddenly catching fire and exploding, they can also leak without warning.
A leaking battery releases not only flammable gases but also corrosive battery acid. Can you imagine the havoc that these acids will wreak on your drone’s electronics? We’d rather not find out. To keep the damage at a minimum in case of a catastrophic battery failure, we recommend that you store your LiPo batteries in a certified fire-proof LiPo bag or carrying case.
14. Have a high-quality and durable carrying case
Right after you buy your drone, the first accessory you should be on the hunt for is a good carrying case. No, the box that your drone came in will not do. Without a good carrying case, you probably won’t be able to take your drone to any kind of trip without getting it damaged in some way.
A high-quality carrying case should have a durable, water-proof, and shock-proof exterior. You can also choose to get a backpack if you have a smaller drone. In any case, a reliable carrying case or bag should have dedicated compartments not only for your drone but for its various accessories. This should include the remote controller, cables, spare batteries, and propellers. Each compartment should be separated by a soft material to provide shock absorption and to prevent the items from making scratches on each other.
15. Keep a flight log
Keeping a flight log of all your drone flights is incredibly useful even if you’re only flying for fun. With a flight log, you have a convenient way of recording how many times you’ve flown, and when and where you flew. You also have a record of any issues or problems you’ve encountered, in the hopes that these will no longer recur.
Part of keeping a flight log is performing a post-flight check of your drone. Although not as crucial as a pre-flight check, a post-flight check allows you to see if your drone suffered any damage which might not be so easily addressed. Perhaps you’ll need to buy new parts or send in your drone for some repairs. In any case, it’s best to find out right after your flight, rather than before the drone launches on your next planned flight.
In any case, having a log of all your flight hours could be extremely useful should you decide to pursue a career as a professional drone pilot. By documenting your experience, you can build up your reputation and apply to Part 107 waivers.
Although modern drones are so much more technologically advanced than ever, they are still fragile flying machines that can get damaged if not used properly. They can also be very expensive. These factors should be enough incentives for you to take care of your drone and to perform the recommended regular maintenance. By following the steps we have listed in the guide above, you should have your drone flying in good condition for the years to come.