Most drone operators, whether new or experienced, have had the thought cross their mind about what to do if their drone suddenly decided to shut down in mid flight.
The specter of seeing thousands of dollars in the form of your aircraft, camera, or other delicate and expensive payload come crashing down is enough to give anyone pause — not to mention the safety concerns of what may lie below as a target upon impact.
While drones just dropping out of the sky is a relatively minuscule occurrence, it can happen, so having the right gear never hurts. With advancements in drone technology, we are also seeing some clever implementations for safe recovery, which can save the day in the event of an emergency.
Parachutes have been a staple recovery system for many, many decades, so it is only natural that they would find their way into drones, especially as drone use expands further into search and rescue, film and TV production, and other areas flying in varied conditions.
The first priority in using a parachute system is the safety of those on the ground, with the second minimizing damage to the aircraft.
Currently, the FAA prohibits flights over people without a waiver. Being able to verify your drone has a parachute system may help with your waiver application — and with the proposed rule changes to flights over people, having a safety system in place can’t hurt.
Many different companies offer a wide range of systems for just about any brand and model of drone you fly. Leaders such as Parazero and Mars Parachutes have a variety of systems for stock and custom applications, covering even larger, heavier unmanned aircraft.
The sophistication of the systems is a plus. The built-in sensors can automatically detect when controlled flight ends, then automatically deploy the recovery system autonomously.
What are the trade offs?
While the benefits of using a parachute are obvious, there also are compromises.
An important thing to consider is the added expense. While the more basic parachute systems are not wildly expensive, larger and more advanced systems have a higher price tag.
There is also the issue of added weight and the change to the profile of the aircraft. The systems are mostly designed to be compact and stay out of the way, but they do alter the weight and aerodynamics of your drone from the way the engineers designed it.
The additional weight may have an effect on flight time as well. These two elements combined could have some impact on handling characteristics while flying, which is important to be aware of.
As we see more and more unmanned aircraft in the skies, it is great to see all phases of flight evolving alongside the aircraft. Adding safety systems, such as a parachute, can go a long way toward increasing the functionality of your drone, as well as enhancing the overall flight experience.