What is a multi rotor Safety Officer? What do they do? These are the questions I’m answering in my series “The Multi Rotor Safety Officer.” You can read part 1, 2, or 3 if you need to catch up, but otherwise let’s finish up.
Batteries are the lifeblood of a multi rotor. They’re also very expensive and highly flammable, so I think it’s safe to say that working with them is a big deal. That’s why it’s very important that any Safety Officer handling and charging batteries should be confident and comfortable with LiPos or should have supervision from someone who is.
I won’t go into the details of different types of batteries, how to charge them, etc. in this post. You can learn all you need to know about multi rotor batteries in our tutorial series. Instead, I’ll focus more on my tried and true workflow for handling batteries.
As with most things, batteries are the ultimate responsibility of the Pilot, but are one of the biggest areas a good Safety Officer can help make any shoot go quicker and smoother. When I get to a new location, one of my top priorities is finding a charging station. If you know for sure you won’t be there long enough to need to charge batteries you can skip this, but remember that if you might cut it close you’re probably going to want to charge one or two sets in case. Once you find out where you can set up (it should be a cool, clean, secure area), go ahead and hook up your power supplies and chargers. Everything should be ready so that when you need to charge you can do so without wasting time.
Back with the ship, you can start dispensing fresh batteries to monitors, gimbals, cameras (with the permission of the Gimbal Operator), etc. Everything that needs battery changes throughout the day (this excludes things like radio controls which usually last full days) should be given a fresh battery, except for the ship itself. Once you’ve moved everything to the landing area, you can mount the ship batteries. However, it is very important to remember not to connect the ship batteries until the Pilot is ready. The Pilot’s radio control needs to be powered on before the ship, or else the ship could conceivably be “hijacked” by another frequency. In addition to this, it is important that everyone be aware that the ship is powered on so that the Pilot will know his radio controls are hot. Plus, it’s wise to stay powered down until necessary to prevent wasteful drain on the battery.
When the Pilot is ready for the ship to power up, the Safety Officer can confirm “powering ship up” and then plug in and stand back. Similarly, when the ship lands and the Pilot has confirmed that it is safe to approach the ship, you should confirm “powering ship down” and then remove the batteries in preparation for a swap.
Once the shoot is in full swing, checking and charging batteries will become something of a dance. You’ll need to find the particular rhythm depending on your gear and batteries, but as a general guideline you’ll want to check monitor and gimbal batteries every 2 – 3 flights. Depending on how many sets of ship batteries you have, you’ll want to run them back to the charger after one or two sets. If you have 6 sets or more, it will probably be best to wait to charge two pairs at once. However, if you have less you’ll want to charge as often as possible to prevent a backup.
In all cases, you’ll want to treat LiPos with care. This means carrying them in such a way that there’s minimal chance of dropping them, keeping them out of sunlight and safe from water, and always setting them where they cannot fall or be knocked off. You should also remember to practice safe charging methods and have a chemical fire extinguisher handy at charging stations.
Yes, the last duty of a Safety Officer is often the most tedious. Somebody’s gotta satisfy the curious public. Optimally during a shoot the production will have other personnel, such as PAs, to fend off curious bystanders. But this is not always the case, and if you encounter a chatty onlooker it’s best that you run interference for your Pilot. The Pilot and Gimbal Op need to be able to focus on their jobs during a flight, but often bystanders don’t quite understand this concept. Of course, the Safety Officer needs to be able to focus as well, so it’s best to politely ask any inquisitive minds to wait until the ship is safely on the ground before assaulting you with those age-old questions like “does that thing have guns on it?” and “I bet you could lift a kid with that thing, huh?” Of course, once the ship is on the ground you’ll actually have to live up to your word and answer the same questions you’ve answered fifty times with a smile on your face.
It’s important to remember that public opinion of “drones” is still in flux and that you can help people to understand and respect them a little better. If people see drone teams be rude or secretive, they’re likely to have a negative view of multi rotors and may even cause trouble for you. But if they’re greeted with smiles, positive attitudes, and openness, they just may spread positivity for the industry. Remember that every time you’re seen with a drone, you represent your team and everyone else with a multi rotor, too.
This concludes my series on what it means to be a multi rotor Safety Officer. I hope this has been informative for aspiring Safety Officers, affirming for existing Safety Officers (or whatever title you go by), and convincing for Pilots who don’t yet have a Safety Officer. Whatever you title them, the third man of the multi rotor team is much more important than most people give thought to. I would encourage every team to have at least one Safety Office, if not two on big projects. The safety and efficiency of any multi rotor operation will be exponentially increased by more sets of well-trained eyes and hands, respectively.
My final word to anyone on a multi rotor team is to please be safe and smart so that everyone can continue to get the epic aerial footage that clients and audiences love!