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Part 7: The Biggest Mistakes I Made As A Drone Pilot (The Right Choices Now Will Save You Later!)

Mistakes: an action or judgment that is misguided or wrong.

I’m sure I’m not alone when I say I’ve made a few mistakes here and there. In the business world, some mistakes can be so bad that they lead to destroying the whole entirety of a business.

Luckily, fingers crossed, I don’t have any of those. Mistakes, however, can be easy to make, and if there are enough of them – eek! It’s still the same result as one really, really big mistake.

Mistakes are tricky little devils too, where they may not seem like a mistake at the time. They are all around us, all the time. Just waiting to happen.

In this series, we’ve been looking back at my time and experiences opening and operating a small drone services business.

My wonderful editor here at, Elizabeth, thought a more personal view would be interesting.

I have to say it has been a blast looking back and reminiscing about those days gone by.

This is why one’s editors are always right, Elizabeth’s always right. I should listen to her more.

Looking back, though, has led to some uncomfortable realizations on just how I could have done some things differently. Hindsight is 20/20, as they say.

So, in this article, we’ll be focusing on one some of the things I did that were mistakes at the time. With any luck, you, our readers, won’t fall for the same mistake trap when it springs next to you.

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Let’s get into it!

Mistake Number One

Probably by far the biggest and most regrettable mistake I made was not seeking some type of funding.

One, it is out there to be had. Two, I was in a position where I would have most likely qualified for such funding had I sought it out.

Instead, I self-funded my startup. Starting up can be pricey. Oh, so pricey! There are the things you know you’ll need, and then there are the things you didn’t think about.

All of which adds up very quickly.

Now, I was at least fortunate enough to have some money squirreled away. If you’ve been following this article series, you know I had sold and liquidated my eBay operation for funding.

This funding, however, was finite, and once gone, well, it’s gone.

Whereas by establishing a good solid relationship with a funding institution for small businesses, there may have been additional help when the initial funding had dried up.

Places like the Small Business Administration, among others, could help you further in this regard.

One of the reasons I did not consider this option is simple. I was raised that you only buy things you could afford and if you wanted something badly enough you saved for it.

That ideology has no place in the business world, just so you know. That, and some of the numbers you may encounter, are just staggering.

Mistake Number Two

Over-extending myself on equipment. This one’s a bit mixed; yes, it was a mistake. It was! Still torn on it, though.

Specifically, this would be the purchase of the Matrice 210 and the XT2 Thermal camera. Of course, the extra set of batteries and the x4s would be included in that as well.

I loved that flying cow. I really did.

The problem was I should have waited, and if I had, I could have saved a bundle on the Mavic 2 Enterprise.

For you the reader, though, it’s a good laugh and points out a whole lot of what not to do. This didn’t have to be a mistake though. What made it a mistake was how I went about it.

The 210 came out not long after I had opened the doors of D&Ds for the first time. As a new business that was just struggling and working to establish itself, making such a costly purchase was a bad idea.

It depleted funds that would be needed later and the cost-to-worth ratio just wasn’t there.

After having it for four years, it only came to cover about half of its initial cost. That’s not to say it couldn’t have worked out.

It just wasn’t the time for pushing thermal services, as many at the time had no idea what it was.

I should have plugged away at what I was already doing, as the cost of that was low.

As time went by and business increased, at that point, I could have considered extending my services to other areas such as thermal.

By then the market desire and technology would have equaled out more and it may have turned out differently. I also increased that cost as well by seeking education.

Now this one is definitely on the fence of mistake or not. I’ll just tell you what I did here, and you can decide.

Thermal cameras are different than regular cameras we use every day. Knowing this, I attended a costly training and certification course on the use of thermal cameras through ITC.

From this, I walked away with a good understanding of how to set up and use a thermal camera as well as how to tune a thermogram, once it’s been captured, so it’s as detailed as possible.

I personally never find training that you glean something from to be wasted time.

The expense however was steep and the cost-to-benefit ratio was low. So, although I spent a heavy monetary cost, I do feel it’s valued knowledge and therefore an acceptable cost.

As I said, I’ll leave you the reader to decide if that was a mistake or not.

» MORE: How I Passed Part 107 (And the Course That Helped Me Do It)

Mistake Number Three

Crashes! They do happen and sometimes the fault is on the equipment or the environment, or more to the point something outside of the pilot’s control.

Sometimes though, they’re solely the fault of the pilot in control of that aircraft. I’ve had three crashes since opening the doors of D&Ds.

Oh, wait! No there are four, that’s just one I don’t like to think about, is all.

Three of these crashes were my fault. As the pilot in command, all crashes are your fault, really.

There are some, though, that you as the pilot couldn’t do anything about at all.

» MORE: Commercial Drone Pilots in USA (Ultimate Guide)

First Crash

Let’s look at my first crash though. You’ll see some conditions right off the pad that I could have avoided easily.

My first commercial drone crash was after a large tornado hit the Nashville area.

I was hired to assist in assessing the damage to a few buildings, one of which was a large warehouse sort of a wholesale grocery provider.

The question was, was the building safe to enter or were the support pillars damaged. Going into it, I knew I might be requested to fly indoors.

Not something I really liked to do, especially in those days, back then.

So, I brought along the DJI Spark just in case that request came up. And it did, as an inspection of the exterior and roof didn’t quite reveal if it was safe to send people in.

The job was going extremely well. The city building inspector and the company representative were right beside me as I conducted the roof and wall portion of the flight.

Now for this part, I was using a DJI Phantom 4 Pro. They were discussing what they were seeing on the monitor and what, if anything, it was telling them.

Then it happened: Hey can you fly inside for us?

This is where I made the mistake. I had seen a few places where I could enter, so instead of requesting a bit of time to swap out systems, I went ahead with the Phantom.

Amazingly enough, the interior flight went really well, that is, right till it was time to get out. On the way out I got caught up in some wires hanging from the ceiling.

These wires once upon a time held signs for the employees to get around such as aisle number and such. I had noticed these since entering and was actively avoiding them the whole flight.

The moment I entered that large steel structure, I was in ATTI mode. No GPS guidance on this one.

So, I crashed and have from now till eternity to wonder if it would have been different had I just switched to the Spark as I had planned.

What we do see though is some of the conditions we’re warned about as UAS Pilots.

» MORE: How to Start a Drone Business (In 10 Steps)

Second Crash

Now this crash wasn’t so dramatic.

On this one I had grown a bit too confident in the technology and as such learned a valuable lesson. This one could so easily have been avoided; I still kick myself over it today.

On an insurance property shoot, I had completed the shoot and brought the drone back to the launch area.

As opposed to landing and reviewing the captured data, I left the drone in a hover and then went into the tablet to review the shots.

As I was doing this, the drone started a little bit of GPS drift; it wasn’t much, but it was enough.

As this was an older neighborhood, it was filled with trees. I had launched from an open area, and that was where I left it to hover.

As I allowed myself to be distracted, I didn’t notice the bit of drifting till I heard that horrible sound of one’s prop hitting something. By the time I reacted, it was too late, and the drone was in a freefall.

Now, it wasn’t a great height, but then again, sometimes it’s not the height as it is the surface, which in this case was pavement.

There was no sense to it, as I should have landed the drone in the first place. I have never repeated that mistake.

Yep, that one, much like the other, was all on me.

Things can always happen in an instant, and your reaction is always an instant too late. Or we can go with don’t allow yourself to ever be distracted while flying. As well as the importance of maintaining line of sight.

» MORE: Benefits of Drone Technology in Business and Commerce

Crash Three

Autonomous Flight is simply, hands down really, really cool. It’s also starting to play a major role in many pilots’ day-to-day operations.

So, learning how to work with and use such programs as Dronedeploy or Pix4D, programs along those lines, is a must.

Working with these programs as they were being developed and tweaked, well, it could be trying at times and downright frustrating at others.

My third crash was due to a poorly planned mapping flight. As this was a provided plan, the fault here still lies with me, although it’s shared a little bit.

In this case, the plan had two areas where the height just wouldn’t work out at 90ft.

One was a flagpole on the top of the building, and the other was high-tension power lines that stretched across the property’s parking lot.

In most cases, the height that was chosen would have cleared if it was almost any other location. That’s the thing, though; not this location.

As this was an autonomous flight, the aircraft’s obstacle avoidance caught it, and a crash was narrowly avoided.

That was the flagpole, and the plan had my Phantom flying right into it. A very lucky thing to avoid it.

On the second hiccup, not so lucky, although the damage was minimal and didn’t result in having to send it in. It was those pesky powerlines.

I was watching the whole time as, with each pass, the drone got closer and closer to those lines. From my vantage, it looked like there was a good chance it would clear those lines.

That’s the thing about your vantage point. It may sometimes lie to you. At the very first sound of a prop making contact, I hit abort.

After around two drone death-defying minutes, I did actually manage to land in an emergency landing area I had planned out.

When it was down and my hard panicked breathing started to settle, it was time to check the damage. It turned out to be two broken and nearly non-existent props, but otherwise damage-free.

New props, and it was back in the air.

» MORE: Businesses That Can Benefit From Using Drones

Forth Crash

Then there are times when you should speak up, and then maybe bad things might not happen.

My fourth crash was a doozy. One that I don’t like to remember in the slightest, so instead of sharing it, you’re welcome to just go watch it.

Oh boy! That’s it, all I’m going to say. Oh boy!

» MORE: How Often Do Drones Crash or Fly Away?


Cell Tower Mast K.Davis

Here’s how I see it; mistakes are going to happen. To err is human, after all. Some mistakes are big, but most are small.

Get enough small ones hanging out together, and it could lead to something much bigger. One of the most important things about any mistake is what you take away from it.

I still kick myself over that GPS drifting mistake. Since that time, I have used that experience, and determined not to repeat it and to just slow down.

The reason it happened in the first place was being in a rush.

That lesson has carried into today well. That fourth crash, ha, that guy still talks me into some precarious positions.

Having friends is tough! Seriously though, I just hope that sharing some of my own mistakes will at least keep you from possibly repeating them.

Fly Safe, Fly Always, Always Fly Safe!

» MORE: Drone Safety Features (All You Need to Know)