As an environmental scientist using drones for mapping and monitoring, the success of your mission relies not only on your piloting skills and knowledge but also on having the right equipment. In this blog post, we’ll discuss the essential gear that can make or break your drone mapping mission, from basic necessities to field-expedient fixes and operator care.

High-Quality SD Cards

Your drone’s onboard storage is the lifeblood of your mapping mission. Investing in high-quality, high-speed SD cards is crucial for ensuring that your data is captured reliably and without corruption. Consider the following:

  • Capacity: Choose SD cards with ample storage space for your needs, typically 64GB or higher for most mapping missions.
  • Speed: Opt for cards with fast write speeds (UHS-I or UHS-II) to keep up with your drone’s data capture rate and minimize buffering or missed frames.
  • Redundancy: Bring multiple SD cards and swap them out between flights to reduce the risk of data loss due to card failure or drone malfunction.

Backup Batteries

Having an adequate supply of charged batteries is essential for completing your mapping mission efficiently and without interruption. Consider these factors:

  • Flight time: Estimate the total flight time required to cover your study area, and bring enough batteries to complete the mission with some extra as a buffer.
  • Charging: Invest in a multi-battery charging hub to streamline the charging process and ensure that you always have a supply of ready-to-use batteries.
  • Storage: Use a dedicated battery storage bag or case to protect your batteries during transport and prevent accidental damage or short-circuits.

Replacement Parts

Drones are complex machines with many moving parts, and even with careful handling, wear and tear or accidental damage can occur. Having a supply of key replacement parts on hand can save your mission from a premature end:

  • Propellers: Bring multiple sets of spare propellers in case of damage from collisions or wear from extended use.
  • Lights: Spare LED lights can be crucial for maintaining visibility and orientation during low-light or nighttime flights.
  • Gimbals: A malfunctioning gimbal can ruin your data quality, so having a spare or repair kit can be a mission-saver.
  • Motors: While less common, motor failures can happen. Having a spare motor or the tools and knowledge to perform field repairs can keep your drone flying.

Field Repair Kits

In addition to spare parts, having a well-stocked field repair kit can help you tackle unexpected issues and keep your mission on track:

  • Duct tape: The versatile problem-solver, duct tape can be used for everything from securing loose components to patching minor cracks or leaks.
  • WD-40: This lubricant and penetrating oil can help to free stuck parts, repel moisture, and prevent corrosion.
  • Zip ties: These strong, lightweight fasteners can be used to secure wires, mount components, or make temporary repairs.
  • Multitool: A compact multitool with pliers, screwdrivers, and other implements can be invaluable for making quick repairs or adjustments in the field.

Operator Care Essentials

Taking care of yourself and your team is just as important as maintaining your equipment. Bring these essentials to ensure that everyone stays safe, comfortable, and focused on the mission:

  • Sunblock: Protect yourself from sunburn and skin damage during long days in the field, especially at high altitudes or in reflective environments.
  • Insect repellent: Mosquitoes, ticks, and other biting insects can be a major distraction and health hazard. Use a high-quality, long-lasting repellent to keep them at bay.
  • Bite treatment: In case of insect bites or stings, having a soothing and anti-inflammatory treatment on hand can provide relief and prevent infection.
  • Hydration and snacks: Bring plenty of water and energy-dense snacks to keep yourself fueled and focused throughout the mission.

Other Considerations

In addition to these essentials, consider bringing the following items to further enhance your mission’s success:

  • Landing pad: A portable, high-visibility landing pad can make it easier to land your drone safely in uneven or vegetated terrain.
  • Ground control points (GCPs): If you require high-precision georeferencing, bringing pre-made GCPs or materials to create them on-site can greatly improve your data accuracy.
  • Backup drone: If your mission is critical or time-sensitive, having a backup drone can provide peace of mind and ensure that you can complete your data collection even if your primary drone fails.

You may not be a boy scout, but you really want to make sure that you’re well prepared for every eventuality. After all, if you’ve spent weeks planning for a series of mapping flights, it would be silly if you had to call it a day early because you ran out of sunblock and water for the squishy humans who operate the drones as they fly around.

Your handy pre-departure checklist:

DroneMain drone1
Backup drone (if available)1
BatteriesFully charged drone batteries4+
Charging hub1
Battery storage bag/case1
StorageHigh-speed, high-capacity SD cards4+
SD card reader1
External hard drive for data backup1
Spare PartsPropellers2+ sets
LED lights2+
Gimbal or gimbal repair kit1
Field Repair KitDuct tape1 roll
WD-401 can
Zip ties (various sizes)1 pack
Screwdriver set1
Wrench set1
Operator CareSunblock1+
Insect repellent1+
Insect bite treatment1
Water and snacksAmple
First aid kit1
Mission-Specific ItemsLanding pad1
Ground control points (GCPs) or materialsAs needed
High-visibility vests for crew1 per person
Two-way radios for communication1 per person
DocumentationDrone manual and quick-start guide1
Pre-flight checklist1
Flight plan and maps1+ copies
Permits and licensesAs required
Insurance documents1 copy
General EquipmentLaptop with mission planning and processing software1
Tablet or smartphone with flight control app1
Portable power bank for device charging1+
Sun hat or cap1 per person
Sunglasses1 per person
Weather-appropriate clothingAs needed
Sturdy, comfortable footwear1 pair per person
Backpack or carrying case for equipment1+
Trash bag for litter removal1+

Want to check out our complete guide on how to plan and fly drone mapping missions?