Your Guide to Flying a Drone at Night

Picture it; a crisp, clear night, full of stars.

Instead of watching idly by a telescope, you take flight! Your drone takes off, zipping around, capturing some of the most stunning night shots.

Night-time drone flying is an experience, unlike any other piloting opportunity. You’ll be able to enjoy the serenity of the night without battling the issues bright days bring up. Of course, if you don’t want to lose your drone or crash into a tree, you’ll need to brush up on your night flying skills.

How can you go about flying a drone at night, in a safe and legal manner? Read on to find out!

Unique Night Time Flying Opportunities

Flying a drone at night presents unique photography and cinematography opportunities. 

Let’s say, for instance; you’re capturing a wedding. You’ll be able to capture unique shots as the sun begins to set and the colors of the horizon blend. 

If you’re filming a concert, you won’t have to worry about low light situations. As far as cinematography goes, filmmakers will enjoy the ability to capture stunning aerial photographs;. The kind of shots only the night moon could eliminate. 

Night-time skiing also looks excellent when filmed by a drone. Other than the creative aspects, you could also take up nighttime drone flying because of surveillance needs. There are even stories of farmers using drones to help survey their crops. 

Surveillance Opportunities and Conservation Efforts

If you own a facility or a large building, you can remotely keep an eye on it. If expensive construction equipment is left out, you’ll have a pair of trustworthy drone eyes to report back to you. Public agencies can also benefit from nighttime flying. 

For instance, firefighters could use a drone to survey the severity of a fire at night. They could spot smoldering hot areas and fly over a forest fire to better understand the entire fire shape. Police departments can also use drones at night to prevent criminal activities. 

Finally, learning to fly a drone at night means you could help with conservation efforts. If you’ve ever been interested in going out of the country to help save endangered species, drone piloting could be your ticket. 

A lot of poachers do their work at night.  You could participate in a wildlife study or help protect endangered species from those who want to harm them. 

The rules and regulations for flying at night will vary depending on whether or not you’re flying for recreation or commercial purposes. First, let’s look at the commercial laws and regulations. These laws will apply if you’re flying for a business or to make money in any way.

Commercial Laws and Regulations

In the USA, twilight starts at sunset and continues for 30 minutes. Suppose you’re flying during that 30-minute twilight. Your drone will need to have unique anti-collision lights. The goal is to make your drone visible for at least 3 miles in every direction. 

If you’d like to drive past the 30-minute mark, you’re going to need to fill out a part 107 waiver form. The waiver form will ensure that you cover all of the guidelines necessary to have a safe nighttime flight.

Visual Line of Sight

Part one of the 107 waiver form states that the pilot needs to provide a method of maintaining a visual line of sight during darkness. You have to demonstrate how you intend on maintaining sight of the drone. Since it’ll be completely dark, you’ll need to include every detail about the lights you’re going to use. 

Explain the specific conditions that you’ll be flying the drone in, and state whether or not you’ll have a visual observer. A visual observer, or vo, is someone who comes with you to help keep an eye on the drone’s activity. The more evidence you can provide that you’re taking every step to protect yourself and others, the more likely you’ll get approval for your waiver.

Obstacle Aversion Capabilities

Next, when flying a drone at night, the FAA’s safety guidelines state that you have to have a way to avoid other aircraft and people on the ground remotely. It’ll also be your responsibility to prevent any ground-based structures or random obstacles during your nighttime flight. 

Drone models such as the Mavic 3 Pro have built-in features to help them avoid obstacles. If your drone has obstacle aversion capabilities, put that in the waiver form. When filling out part two of the waiver form, you also want to express how small and controlled your operation is. 

Explain the layout of the operating area, and state what public safety measures you’ll be able to take. For instance, let’s say you’re flying your drone at night in an area that has an 8 ft fence surrounding it. Letting the FAA know about the fence makes it more likely that you’ll receive approval.

Know the Drone’s Position at All Times

The third part of the waiver form is where you’ll need to fill out how you’ll be keeping track of the drone’s position. As the pilot, it’s your responsibility always to know your drone’s position, altitude, latitude, and movement.

If technology were to fail, how would you handle things? Be ready to explain what your backup plan is in the waiver should you lose connection with your drone. Again, having a few visual observers is a great way to address public safety. 

If you do go the visual observer route, you want to communicate with each other. 

We suggest having a two-way radio system set up and standing close enough to hear each other. The more details you can provide in the waiver about how you’ll be communicating with the visual of servers, 

Nighttime Sight Issues

Part 4 of the FAA waiver addresses problems with seeing at night. When you fly at night, there are all types of nighttime illusions that pop up. The horizon can appear to be where it isn’t, and open areas of air can contain darkly concealed trees. 

Since your eyes can play a trick on you at night, you can become an unreliable drone pilot. In part four of the waiver, you’ll need to state your case for how you’re going to deal with night illusions. One of the best approaches is to take frequent breaks during your flight.

The more time you give your eyes to rest, the easier it’ll be to see what’s there. Another method is to give your eyes enough time to adjust to the change in light. When the lights are going on and off on your drone, wait a few moments to regain your full vision before making new maneuvers. 

Common Night Illusions

Let’s go over the most common night illusions, so you can avoid falling for their trickery! First, auto-kinesis is a type of night illusion in which a phantom motion appears. You’ll see an object is moving, even if it’s standing still. Auto-kinesis can cause a lot of problems when you’re trying to fly your drone around an obstacle. 

Fixation is another type of night illusion. Fixation causes pilots to stop paying attention to orientation cues. Instead, their attention becomes fixated on a specific object, which often leads to a crash. 

Flickr vertigo is another problem in which flashing lights cause disorientation. If the lights on your drum flash or blink in any way, try to look away until they’re steady. Again, this would be a great time to have a visual observer present. 

As you look away, the visual observer can maintain a line of sight with the drone. You’ll also have to watch out for size distance solutions. If an object is dimly lit, it can appear to be super far away at night time. On the flip side of things, brightly lit objects will appear much closer during the nighttime. 

Don’t fall prey to size distant illusion crashes. Instead, anticipate your inability to measure distance and minimize the range you fly your drone. In other words, don’t let your drone get too far away from you. 

Next, reversible perspective illusion occurs when you can’t tell whether or not an object is moving away or towards you. Reversible perspective illusion can be a big problem when you’re trying to bring your drone back home for landing. 

Illusion Solutions

One way to work around night illusions is by having an auto-lock GPS set up. Set your drone to the predestined landing spot, and it will automatically settle there when you initiate the GPS lock. 

You can also look for drones that have the follow-me feature. The follow-me part trains the drone to follow you based on your movements. As long as the drone has high-quality LED lights and can spot your activity, it can follow you like a shadow.

Make Yourself Seen

The fifth part of the FAA waiver states that you have to make your drone seen, from at least 3 miles away. Situations where drones hit pedestrians, as in the case of the Australian triathlete, probably helped inspire this law. 

If you’re using a cheap model drone, getting the lighting you need will be challenging. Instead, you’re going to want to show up the cash for a high-quality model that has well-lit LEDs. Be sure to include the exact specifications of your drone lights when you’re filling up the night flying waiver.

How to Request a Night Waiver

You can request a night waiver directly from the FAA. At the same site where you would register a commercial drone, you can look for night flying approval. Be aware that waivers can’t take a while to be processed. 

In some cases, it can take as long as 90 days before you get a reply from the FAA. However, in another situation, you can get approval and as little as 3 to 4 weeks. 

The timeline for receiving support for the waiver will depend on the demand the FAA is facing. If many people are applying at the same time as you, it’ll probably be closer to a 2-3 month waiting period.

Is It Legal to Fly a Drone at Night as a Hobbyist?

What type of form do you have to fill out in the United States to fly your drone at night as a hobbyist? No forms! Since you’re flying your drone recreationally, you can fly it at night without any type of license. 

You’ll still need to follow the basic safety rules listed earlier in this article. Your drone needs to be well lit, within your line of sight, and easy for you to control. It’s also important that your drone doesn’t weigh more than 55 lb when you’re flying at night.

Nighttime Drone Flying Tips

So far, we’ve been discussing the best way to fly your drone and adhere to FAA regulations safely. But what about learning new skills in advancing yourself as a pilot? If you want to learn how to fly a drone at night like the pros, then you’ll need to start with the basics.

If you’re not comfortable maneuvering your drone during the day, don’t attempt nighttime flights. It’s only when you completely understand the controls that you should attempt to fly in the dark. 

Next, you’ll want to check a reputable weather station site to find out if any unexpected storms are about to pop up. When wind speeds are high, nighttime flying can be disastrous. 

We also find it’s helpful if you perform nighttime drone photography in locations you’re familiar with. When you’re aware of your surroundings, it’ll be easier to anticipate obstacles. 

Increased Altitude Benefits

It’s also helpful if you fly at a slightly increased altitude. As you move from point A to point b, let your drone reach 300 ft. By increasing your altitude, it’ll be easier to avoid unexpected obstacles. 

Even when you know the area well, new optics can pop up. Someone may have just put up temporary power lines, and by flying high, you’ll avoid them. 

Flying a Drone at Night Safely

Flying a drone at night is possible, as long as you take the time to do things right. If you’re flying for commercial purposes, you’ll need to submit a waiver to the FAA. Whereas, if you’re flying just for fun, you can take your drone out tonight!

This week, take your drone to a familiar location, and imagine what it would be like flying there at night. Then, when you feel ready, prepare for an adventurous, yet safe, night flight.

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