BVLOS is Coming – Are You Ready?
BVLOS is Coming – Are You Ready?
As businesses continue to incorporate UAS into their operations, we need to be aware of the inherent barriers that are likely to arise when bringing BVLOS (Beyond Visual Line of Sight) flight operations to scale. In this article, I will address the possible barriers that businesses will need to prepare for to unlock the tremendous potential of BVLOS flight operations.
The Part 107 regulation in August of 2016 ushered in a second unmanned aircraft revolution, or at the very last marked the second revolution of the UAS space. Yes, there were many companies (mine included) flying on Part 333 waivers well before Aug ’16, but the absolute explosion in commercial drone pilots since then makes my case. This is not to say that the FAA has led us as an industry to the promised land, far from it. More accurately, the timing was right regarding technological advances, societal acceptance, and economic conditions. Very clearly the FAA was moving in the right direction, but if we are, to be honest, the prevailing currents were moving that way quickly too.
Many are moving aggressively in the wake created by the Pathfinder program, and understandably so. We are already beginning to see the impact of drones on the operational side of many businesses. Most organizations are dutifully focused on risk mitigation, safety cases, sense and avoid capabilities, and flight characteristics. However, many overlook a few essential details that are likely to be barriers when bringing operations to production. Below is a list of things that are likely to be barriers to bring BVLOS flight operations to production scale. Crack the code here, and you will ensure a long ride on the next revolution of the UAS industry.
Back to the second revolution stuff. Enabled by the now virtually complete Pathfinder Program, companies like BNSF and PrecisionHawk are well positioned to lead the way where BVLOS is concerned. PrecisionHawk has even introduced a BVLOS consulting offering that looks to help other organizations get into the game.
The third revolution is coming, is your business ready?
Command & Control (C2)
It is all about the C2 – the first question the inexperienced are likely to ask about any given UAS is, “How long can it fly?” Folks with some experience in the space tend to focus more on the sensor package of an aircraft. No doubt both are important, but the linkage between the ground control station and the aircraft – known as command and control (C2) – overwhelmingly trumps the first.
Within our industry, we have hardware builders that focus solely on transitional vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), and these manufacturers are habitually breaking flight endurance records. With flight times measured in double-digit hours, how long is far less important than how far; the bottleneck for distance is C2. How far can your radio reach and still sustain your proscribed risk mitigation strategies?
We have been living in an era where daily flight times are quite low, even for a very high-volume operation. Wear and tear on airframes is quite minimal. That will be changing directly. In a BVLOS context, aircraft are going to stack up flight time far more rapidly. UAS operations will be forced to look at crew rest in a new way providing multiple pilots for individual flights as those times stretch well past the limits of pilot fatigue. A premium must be placed on aircraft production quality. How many drone-based solutions have you seen that looked great on paper and in ideal conditions but failed to prove their worth in the real world production quality. It was production quality that forced our operation to retire our S-1000 fleet early; we just couldn’t keep tearing apart arms to replace tiny rubber dampeners, the lost time was too much to bear. It is high production quality that will minimize maintenance downtime and maximize return on investment. It is not enough for a UAS to demonstrate a single 10-hour flight out to 50 miles and back. To build a business, the same UAS must repeat that feat, daily.
So you go out and get your BVLOS waiver. You square away your C2 plan, and you have sourced the best possible hardware solution. Stand by for a data problem. You are about to start generating a literal flood of data. What’s your plan? What’s your back up plan? How are you processing and delivering your data to the end-user? Tough questions. The good news is there are more than a few companies working to help you solve the problem.
A few recommendations:
- Be laser focused on your end-users’ What do are they asking for? What are they paying you for? What do they need to be more efficient at their job? Use those questions to help you pick a data analytics provider.
- Back up your data, back it up early, back it up often.
- Don’t try to change the way your customers do business, integrate with their current operations instead. Accommodating how they handle data already will ensure that you are not asking them to change a business process which could be an emotional event.
- Don’t make assumptions about how you are going to get data out of the field. I do not care what they say; hotel WiFi will not support gigabytes of data transfer – I am looking at you Holiday Inn. Telling your crews to just upload the data to your cloud at the end of flight ops for the day is a recipe for tired, angry, frustrated pilots.
To squeeze the full benefit out of BVLOS flight operations, you are going to need to move around a lot, plain and simple. The US military has been employing small UAS for years from semi-prepared sites with the luxury of massive, towable, launch and recovery equipment and cumbersome directional antennas. That is not going to work for most UAS operators. When picking a hardware solution take a critical look at setup and teardown time. Minimize your infrastructure requirement to the max extent possible so you can maximize your flight time and therefore your flight coverage and data generation.
The scene is set for hundreds of industries to be revolutionized by the advancement of drone technology, and it is easy to see why. The progress of this industry provides a means to perform everyday jobs faster, safer, and less expensive. The commercial sector has the most significant potential for long-term growth. Without proper planning and preparation, your organization will miss the window to get ahead of the game and remain competitive in your market. The UAS business is deceptively hard to scale well. While BVLOS operations will undoubtedly provide ample opportunities across many industries, it will also present new challenges as well. The time is now to prepare for the third revolution.
Can you predict when your equipment will fail? As a regular part of our maintenance program, we maintain a close eye on our batteries, one of the critical safety of flight elements of most unmanned aircraft. The total cycles (a single charge and discharge) have proven to be the most useful single metric for tracking wear and tear, tracking these in DMS has proven invaluable. HAZON, at our core is an end-to-end drone service provider. Access to relevant data on the performance and lifecycle of the equipment that enables your work is absolutely critical to any business.
We recently took an opportunity to do a study on the useful life of a sampling of some of our batteries. In this article, we will consider TB48D batteries in use on our DJI Matrice 100 fleet. By way of background, we have over four dozen TB48D batteries in service; this study examines a random sampling of those beyond their 50% life expectancy.
The ten batteries we investigated in this study were flown exclusively on Matrice 100s with a Zenmuse Z30 camera installed and configured for a single TB48D battery. The usage period was about six months. Our configuration, flight operations tempo and business demands result in a harder than preferred life of our batteries.
In consideration of this study, it is important to note that HAZON Solutions specializes in providing drone based services and training and not on maximizing hardware life-cycle. Often times the needs of our business’s operations requires a harder than preferred usage of our equipment.
Batteries that indicated 25% remaining
Batteries that indicated 37% Remaining
|TB48D #1, Current Cycles:135
||TB48D #6, Current Cycles:110
|TB48D #2, Current Cycles:125
||TB48D #7, Current Cycles:108
|TB48D #3, Current Cycles:132
||TB48D #8, Current Cycles:108
|TB48D #4, Current Cycles:127
||TB48D #9, Current Cycles:120
|TB48D #5, Current Cycles:126
||TB48D #10, Current Cycles:108
*Calculations used for SET 1:
- SUM:(TB48D#1-5 Current Cycles) =129 Avg. Used Cycles
- 129 Avg. Used Cycles / 75% (*Battery life used*) = 172 Lifetime Cycles
- 172 Lifetime Cycles X 25% (*Remaining Life*) = 43 Avg. Estimated Remaining Cycles
- 172 Lifetime Cycles – 129 Avg. Used Cycles = 43 Avg. Estimated Remaining Cycles
*Calculations used for SET 2:
- SUM:(TB48D#1-5 Current Cycles) =111 Avg. Used Cycles
- 111 Avg Used Cycles / 63% *Battery life used* = 176 Lifetime Cycles
- 176 Lifetime Cycles X 37% *Remaining Life* = 65 Avg. Estimated Remaining Cycles
- 176 Lifetime Cycles – 111 Avg Used Cycles = 65 Avg. Estimated Remaining Cycles
|Result: 172 Lifetime Cycles on a TB48D
||Result: 176 Lifetime Cycles on a TB48D
(172 *SET 1: Lifetime Cycles* + 176 *SET 2: Lifetime Cycles*) / 2 = 174 Avg. Total Cycles Before End of Battery Life (0%)
TB48D Batteries will last approximately 174 Charging Cycles
before indicating 0% Battery Life Remaining
Multiple factors influenced the data set that we developed. One equipment related factor was that these batteries were charged using a DJI Hex Charger. Hex chargers charge at a higher amperage than a standard 100-Watt charger, this could potentially reduce lifetime of the battery. From an environmental standpoint, the batteries were used in temperatures ranging from 20°F to 110°F. This factor should also impact battery life. Two additional factors to note; the operational tempo required the batteries to be cycled 2-3 times per day, and the batteries were often flown from a full charge down to 20-15% of battery power remaining. As previously noted, this is not a study in how to extend the life of a battery, but rather a practical observation of the life cycle of a battery in a high-volume flight operation.
For the ten test case batteries, the endurance of the batteries remained within reasonable limits (approximately 15-20 minutes of flight time dependent on conditions) for approximately the first 100 cycles. Approaching 100 cycles of use the crews began noticing a degradation in battery performance. Crew members also reported reduced flight time and abnormal discharge rates. As crews approached 25% remaining battery life (as reported by the built in smart battery features), the endurance of the batteries dropped dramatically to the point where the batteries had to be pulled from service due to significant drops in voltage during flight.
From these observations, we determined that lithium polymer batteries follow the traditional wisdom of non-linear functions up to the 100-cycle point. The chart below shows that endurance remains relatively unchanged for approximately the first 100 cycles of usage. After 100 cycles the tolerance of the battery begins to diminish at an increasingly rapidly rate until the battery is no longer usable.
The overall result of our study affirmed the need for three critical operational functions:
- A Remove from Service protocol
- A battery life-cycle tracking system
- A life cycle forecasting system
This study allowed HAZON to easily update our existing Remove from Service protocol. We identified that TB48D batteries have a lifetime of 174 cycles through our usage cycle and that at approximately 100 cycles the battery performance began to decrease noticeably. Using these two data points, and applying an appropriate safety margin, our maintenance team decided that batteries should not be used beyond 90% of their total life. Based on the findings in this study we have amended our Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to dictate that once a TB48D battery reaches 155 cycles that the battery will be immediately removed from operational service and relegated to low-risk training or testing.
We also identified a need for companies to track battery life cycles outside of the internal tracking of the batteries themselves. At HAZON, we rely on the HAZON Drone Management System (DMS) – a fleet management software for enterprise drone operations that provides operators and managers a single platform for all project-based planning and tracking of your fleet operations. Most importantly, HAZON DMS allows users to capitalize on their equipment investments while maximizing the efficiency of operations.
Resource management is a critical component of any business. We use the data provided by DMS to help us forecast when batteries need to be replaced and provide a cost estimate for that replacement within a monthly, annual, or biennial budget cycle. Having this type of information available to company leadership allows for proactive decision making on purchasing decisions that affect cash flow and enables them to define cost to customers more clearly. For more information on HAZON or HAZON DMS contact Ed Hine at email@example.com. To get in touch with the HAZON R&D team contact Garrett Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written by Garrett Scott, Training and Technology Division Manager & Todd Boward, PhD, Assistant Training and Technology Division Manager
2,200 individual flights. Over 1,100 flight hours logged and tracked. Hundreds of inspections and dozens of customers. This is a volume and efficiency game. These numbers come from HAZON Solutions service provider business operations in the third quarter of 2017. HAZON is still a small business with a sharp eye on efficiency, to put up big numbers like these we needed some help. It’s why we built DMS from scratch.
We’ve been in the high volume commercial drone business for the past three years. Our goal every day is to maximize our capacity, maintain the highest quality and refine our process. This focus on constant improvement led us to ditch the spreadsheets we were using a year ago to keep track of our flight related operations. We had to have something that could keep up with the tempo of our operation without requiring additional manpower in the back office. Enter the Drone Management System.
Let me rewind. Five years ago I was in the US Navy assigned as the daily operations officer at the world’s largest fighter squadron. I split my days between duty as an F/A-18 flight instructor and the lead for a team that scheduled the daily activity of over 900 people and 100 jets. It was a daunting task made easier with specially designed software. If it worked for the Navy, why wouldn’t it work for the drone business? Back to HAZON…..
….we tested them all. Drone specific software, manned aviation software, truck driving software. None of it worked. It was all either too complex (looking at you manned aviation) or overly focused on the daily tasks of flying. It was a tough call but we bit the bullet and built our own database. The software was designed to support our needs as a high-volume operator. It had to be flexible and fast. I must record the data we needed but at a minimum imposition to our pilots. It had to work on a cell phone and in the field. It was a daunting task.
Eventually we recognized our database for what it was, one hell of a good product. Drone operations management software, built on the principals of Naval Aviation, right sized for drone operations, streamline for businesses.
Here we stand today. DMS continues to evolve as a more complete software offering every week and month. We leverage the inputs of our users to add on features. We partner with the best in the industry to bring in new capabilities. We apply the same continuous process improvement mindset to our software line as we do to our services offerings.
Where is your business? Are you collecting the data you need to run your operation? Are you ready if the FAA comes calling? How do you plan your operations? Do you know how much you flew last week? Are you ready to streamline? Join us at DMS, commercial grade drone software.
Built by drone pros. Built for drone pros.
Drones are not invincible. Just like the rest of the equipment your business owns, they will eventually succumb to the wear and tear of their very reason for being – flight. Propellers will bend out of shape, servos will slow and eventually fail, and firmware at the least will need to be updated. There is a much to pay attention to and much track. Free your people up to tackle the harder problems and let the Drone Management System do what it was meant to, get your business operating more efficiently and effectively through our drone maintenance tracking features.
Drone maintenance tracking has two key components. The first is planned maintenance – measuring wear and tear on your equipment and setting routine inspections based on specific intervals. This is easily accomplished by tracking the flights and flight hours a drone accrues over time. DMS allows a user to customize inspections based on intervals of either calendar time, flight hours or flights (or a combination of those). We all know in the drone business that surprises are the enemy, ensure you don’t get surprised with a consistent and well executed drone inspection program.
The second component is logging unplanned maintenance done to individual aircraft. This could be preemptive maintenance after finding something when doing a simple pre-flight check or reactive to a failed part or piece of equipment. Either way, unplanned drone maintenance tracking will allow you to identify common failures and trends, a key step forward for any business working on efficiency.
The DMS drone maintenance tracking function is powerful yet intuitive. Designed to provide maximum information in a digestible and quick to interpret format, DMS will help ensure your operation is firing on all cylinders. Get your business off spreadsheets and dry erase boards, streamline your process and increase efficiency by managing your operation with DMS.
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The unmanned industry is going through a phase focused on technology. The newest sensors, the best aircraft, machine learning, and the slickest data management techniques are all supposed to elevate a drone operator to the highest levels of professionalism. What’s being forgotten are the fundamentals of aviation – lessons learned the hard way over the course of the last century, lessons we in the unmanned business would do well to incorporate.
People remain at the core of every drone operation today and will for the foreseeable future. Even the most automated of aircraft require a person to make decisions about where and when the aircraft should fly. Because of this, a Safety Management System is critical to every professional drone operation. A well developed and executed Safety Management System will reduce mishaps while simultaneously increasing efficiency. Those mishaps can easily be measured in dollars lost as well as dollars not earned.
At HAZON Solutions we developed our Safety Management System based on the Federal Aviation Administration’s and Part 121 commercial carrier’s systems. Our program is complete with safety risk mitigation, safety assurance, safety policy, and safety promotion. These incredibly effective components were used as the foundation of the HAZON Drone Management System™.
Every function in the HAZON DMS™ was built to incorporate and support the needs of a complete Safety Management System. The opening page each user sees at log-in clearly and unavoidably displays that user’s RPIC time in the last 7, 14, and 30 days – an excellent starting point for the pilot to self-assess their risk factors. Aircraft maintenance information is easily accessible as are aircraft inspection reports. Lessons Learned (a recently released feature) is a way to rapidly distribute safety related information across your entire drone network.
An investment in developing and executing a Safety Management System will easily yield a 3x or 4x return. HAZON DMS™ has the ability to effortlessly support all tenants of a Safety Management System; it will keep pilots safe, equipment working, and a drone operation humming.
HAZON Solutions® (“HAZON”), the national leader in drone inspection services, announced today the launch of the HAZON Drone Management System™ (HAZON DMS™). HAZON DMS™ is a secure, web-based management tool providing every drone operator, whether a hobbyist with a single drone or a large corporation with hundreds of drones, a way to safely and efficiently track and manage their drone fleet, pilots and workflow.
“HAZON DMS™ is the first software designed by professional drone pilots, for professional drone pilots” says HAZON Director of Drone Capability Development, Ed Hine. “We designed it to be a robust, yet simple to use management tool that can handle all of our safety, maintenance, operational and pilot management requirements with one efficient application.”
Some of the HAZON DMS™ features include remote pilot (RP) logbooks, RP qualifications tracking, asset tracking, client management, proactive safety and maintenance tracking and reporting, and workflow management. HAZON DMS™ is offered as software as a service through the freemium model for individual users.
“HAZON DMS™ is the first software designed by professional drone pilots, for professional drone pilots. We designed it to be a robust, yet simple to use management tool that can handle all of our…requirements with one efficient application.”
– ED HINE, DIRECTOR OF DRONE CAPABILITY DEVELOPMENT
“At HAZON we believe it is important to actively promote the safe and responsible use of drone throughout the entire drone industry, so we offer a free subscription to everyone,” said HAZON COO and Co-Founder, Sean Cushing. “Startup drone businesses now have the ability to utilize this very powerful tool early in their life cycle. This will allow them to focus on operating drones safely and with professional processes in place from day one.”
HAZON DMS™ is a cloud-based service offered at three levels. The “Remote Pilot” level is free to individual users with up to two drones. The “Drone Team” level is for multi-person, multi- drone operations available on a per user per month fee schedule. The “Enterprise Systems” level is designed for larger organizations, municipalities or universities with organic drone operations that require features like customized branding, alternative licensing and hosting options, dedicated 24/7 customer support, optional custom analytics and multi-tiered administrators.
“Even though it is already the most capable management software for the drone industry, we are quickly working to deploy the next set of advanced features,” said Hine. “One of the things that makes HAZON DMS™ so unique and powerful is that in order to support our customers’ needs and adapt to the rapid changes in our industry, we will update the tool with speed and purpose.”
HAZON DMS™ has recently completed beta testing with a wide range of drone operations including HAZON Solutions®, the York County Fire Department, Aerial Works and Liberty University. HAZON Solutions® will launch DMS™ at the AUVSI conference in Dallas, TX on May 8th, however it is now available at www.HAZONDMS.com.
About HAZON Solutions®
Based in Virginia Beach, HAZON Solutions® is the leading U.S. developer of small unmanned systems operations, capability development, training, safety and testing programs. The mission of HAZON Solutions® is to conduct, support, develop and validate small unmanned systems operations. Our goal is to provide unmatched quality, safety and value to our customers.
HAZON has deep roots in naval carrier aviation and intelligence systems. The company’s leadership team has more than 100 years of cumulative command and operations experience in the most challenging and hostile aerial environments in the world. Its members share a common background of flying fighter jets from aircraft carriers. HAZON CEO David Culler, Jr., spent 26 years flying for the United States Navy, capping off his career as the Commanding Officer of Norfolk Naval Station, the world’s largest naval base. For more information visit www.hazonsolutions.com.