Taking the drone route to give you an eye in the sky?

The big blue canopy we call the sky looks infinite and empty, so there are surely no problems with launching a tiny drone into it for any one of a number of reasons, right? Wrong. The sky looks big, but you’re unlikely to be the only one up there, and you need to see the dangers that might put you in. That’s why our app of the month blog this month looks not at one particular app, but at several, with a common theme – drone flying.

Since the spotter planes of the First World War took to the skies to deliver an all-new perspective on the ground below, mankind has striven for a similar aerial view.

Until now, it’s been the province of a select few; those whose pockets were deep enough to own or fly fixed-wing planes or helicopters.

But now, enter the drone. For a relatively small sum of money any of us can be fliers, with an aircraft picked up at a local shop or delivered to the door, having been bought online.

The simplicity of acquisition suggests that flying ought to be equally simple, but it isn’t. The first step is to learn to control your drone of choice, and the instructions in the box will cover that ground. Then you’ll need to know other stuff too, and these apps will give you the knowledge, equipping potential fliers to capitalise on the use of drones for business support.

Can I fly here? Just because there’s some sky doesn’t mean you can fly in it. Check out Hover, which is free for iOS users, and bundles together a map showing no-fly zones and weather conditions. It also allows you to dip into a news feed from the drone industry, and compare notes with other fliers.

What’s the weather doing? Whilst Hover will give you some information, you might also look at UAV Forecast, which will tell you about potential rain, cloud cover, windspeed, and visibility. As well as the raw numbers, there’s a colour coding in red or green to help you understand what you’re being told, and if that weren’t enough the final column on the screen is headed ‘safe to fly’, showing ‘yes’ or ‘no’ against green and red background. That’s free too, and available on Android or iOS. (Oh, and the really novice fliers will benefit from the knowledge that UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle…)

Is anyone there #1? The world’s largest drone manufacturer is DJI. Its Discover app is a clever marketing tool. Check it out in your proposed flying zone, and you’ll be able to see other users in the vicinity, as well as share pictures, hints and tips. That’s also free, and available on Android or iOS.

Is anyone there #2? Whilst Discover will put you in touch with other drone fliers, Flightradar will help you pinpoint anyone else flying in the area, showing their altitude and location. With regular and real-time updates the drone flier can identify the best time to fly, either waiting for the other aircraft to pass, or to fly safely below them.

Is it safe? Developed in conjunction with Altitude Angel, NATS launched Drone Assist (if you’ll pardon the pun) to help drone pilots fly responsibly. A significant development since its launch in 2016 was the ‘fly now’ feature, which allows forward planning of flights. It’s a better level of support for commercial pilots, allowing all airspace users to keep clear of each other, thus reducing the chance of mid-air collisions. There are currently more than 20,00 users of the app, which is free for iOS and Android.