As we head into the winter months, depending on where you live, it may be time to put your drone on the shelf for a while. Even though drones can operate in cold conditions (some better than others), let’s face it, for most of us just aren’t going to be getting out there quite as much as in the warm weather. But before you simply stick your drone in a closet somewhere, or worse, in a basement, attic or garage, let’s talk about proper storage.
Knowing how to store your drone properly can extend its useful life. Keep in mind these tips for best storage practices.
1. Perform a Visual Inspection
Before you ever put up your drone after a flight, whether it’s for the night or for the winter, you should always check it over for signs of wear. This is a simple, visual once-over, that takes a matter of seconds, but can help you catch minor issues before they become major ones. Look over the outer shell for cracks or any other signs of damage. Check the gimbal for any damage or debris, and inspect the camera lens for dust and dirt. Also check rotors, propellers, and battery bay.
If you notice any issues, don’t leave it till the next flight – fix them! If there are any replacement parts needed, order them right away. There’s nothing more frustrating than getting ready for a flight and finding out you have a problem with your drone that you could have resolved right after your last flight. This is especially true if you’re not going to be using your drone again for a while, as chances are good that you will have forgotten about it by the time you get your drone out again.
2. Clean the Drone
Cleaning your drone includes removing any visible dirt from the shell, gimbal and camera, but it goes beyond that as well. You need to get into the inner workings a little bit to remove built up dust and grime from time to time. A great way to do this is with a blower brush or canned air to get rid of dust from hard to reach places like the crevices of the gimbal, or around the propeller fixtures.
You can also use a pipe cleaner or soft brush (one may even be included with your drone kit) to gently remove grime from cracks and crannies. Use a soft, clean microfiber cloth to wipe down the body of the drone.
On some drones you may also need to clean and lubricate the motors occasionally. Check your owner’s manual for model specific instructions. If you are planning to put your drone into storage for an extended length of time, make sure you do this beforehand.
3. Update Firmware
Make sure you do any firmware updates on both drone and controller before putting your drone away, whether it’s for a short break, or for the season. If you’re going to be back flying in a week or two, then you’ll be ready to go for the next flight. If you’re planning on a longer break, you may need to perform another update when you bring your drone out again, as manufacturers come out with frequent updates. However, the updating process will probably be faster if you’re not two or three versions behind.
4. Remove and Discharge Batteries
Proper care of your batteries will give them a much longer lifespan. Batteries should be discharged to between 40% to 65% percent. You can usually do this using your charger, which may even have a “storage” setting that will drain the charge to the recommended level. This is extremely important, as batteries that are stored while fully charged, or with too low of a charge, may be permanently damaged. And be sure to unplug the batteries – never store batteries in the charger.
5. Store Batteries Separately
For safety’s sake, your drone should never be stored with the batteries installed. Especially for long term storage (and also for travel) it’s a great idea to store your LiPo batteries in a fire-proof container such as a LiPo bag. They are not a big investment, and can go a long way in preventing a fire, should the battery have a spontaneous short while in storage. Always store your batteries away from direct sunlight, ideally at around 25°C (77°F).
6. Immobilize Moving Parts
Any time you are putting your drone up after use, make sure any moving parts are immobilized. The gimbal most likely came boxed with a clamp or strap to secure it. Attaching the gimbal clamp will prevent damage to the gimbal as well as the camera, should the drone have any inadvertent knocks or bumps while packed away. If you have a custom camera attachment such as a GoPro or other non-integrated camera for your gimbal, remove the camera for storage.
Propellers should also not be stored in place on the rotors. They should have been taken off for the cleaning step above, should stay off while in storage. This will protect the propellers from getting broken or damaged, and can also protect the arms and rotors from getting torqued.
7. Store Drone in a Cool, Dry, Non-magnetic Place
Once all the prep work has been done to prepare your drone for storage, make sure to store it in suitable conditions. Your drone, as well as batteries, controller, and any other attachments, should be stored in a climate controlled setting. Ideal temperature for storage of your drone is between 20-25°C (68-77°F). Extreme cold or heat can lead to permanent damage of batteries, and also to the electrical elements of the drone and the controller.
Your drone should be stored in a dry place away from humidity, as a humid environment can lead to corrosion of metal elements, and mildew on plastic parts or packaging materials. In practical terms, this means that your drone should not be stored in a damp basement, an uninsulated attic, in a car, or in a non-climate controlled storage unit. The best place for long term storage is somewhere in your regular living space or office, such as a closet or shelf, where it will not be bumped or jostled.
Also keep in mind that your drone should be stored away from any sources of magnetism, to avoid any scrambling of the computer or electrical components.
8. Consider Investing in a Protective Case
Depending on how much you have invested in your drone, you might consider investing in a specialized storage and travel case. For midrange camera drones, where you don’t plan to be doing a lot of traveling, and storage will be in a stable environment, the original box that the drone came packed in will probably be adequate for your drone’s safe storage. But, if you’ve invested a lot of money in a top-end drone, or if you plan to do a lot of travel with your drone, a specialized hard shell case may be a good idea. This type of case will prevent any movement of parts inside the box, as well as offering protection against drops or bumps. The hard exterior and foam lining will also provide a limited amount of insulation and humidity control features if the drone needs to spend a little bit of time outside of ideal climate settings.
9. Gearing Back Up
When you’re ready to bring your drone out of storage and get back in flight, there are a few things to check over first. You can sort of think of it as going over this list again, but in reverse.
- Do a visual check of the drone and the controller to make sure there is no body damage or corrosion of parts.
- Get your batteries out of their storage bag, and check for any signs of corrosion or that tell-tale swelling that would indicate a bad battery.
- Charge up the batteries to a full charge.
- Do any firmware updates that may have come out while your drone was in storage.
- Run a test flight beforehand if you have an important mission or photo shoot planned, to make sure everything is running smoothly.