What the pilot sees
During our flights, in addition to the UAV itself the pilot has four main sources of information helping them to guarantee a safe and successful flight. These are indicators on the UAV, the controller, the first person view (FPV) screen and flight commander aids.
UAV indicators are signs on the platform itself which display to the pilot a limited amount of information about the status of the craft. These are both visual and audible indicators, which are designed to be recognised by the pilot even when the UAV is at full visual line of site (i.e. 400ft vertical and 500m horizontal distance from the pilot, or less depending on visibility issues). The visual indicators include a number of LED indicators. One of these is a status indicator, displaying the flight mode of the UAV (such as GPS-stabilised or attitude mode) and any issues with this. The other LEDs are directional indicators; these are differentiated by colour and placed on the booms of the UAV to display to the pilot how the craft is orientated. Arguably the most important indicator to the pilot on the UAV is the battery alarm which alerts the pilot when the UAV batteries are at low and critical levels.
The handheld controller which the pilot uses to fly the UAV receives a variety of telemetry information back from the UAV. This is displayed on a screen on the controller, and the pilot can scroll through the display options to see a variety of information. This information includes current battery levels, flight time, and the flight’s maximum altitude and distance from the pilot.
FPV screen indicators
The slight issue with indicators on the control is that they require the pilot to occasionally look down and scroll through the screen options, therefore taking their attention off the UAV on which it should be constantly fixed. To make it easier for the pilot to check this telemetry information, we mount a monitor onto a tripod on which the most important data is displayed. This includes the UAV’s current battery, altitude, distance from the pilot and speed. The advantage of this is that it does not require any manual control from the pilot and can be set up at a height which only requires the pilot to glance away from the UAV, ensuring that their attention remains fixed on the UAV. This telemetry is overlaid onto a live stream of the first person view (FPV) camera which is fixed onto the body of the UAV. This allows the pilot to be able to see what is visible from the UAV, which is extremely helpful for orientating the craft, especially at long distances.
Flight commander aids
The final source of information for the pilot during flight are aids given by the flight commander. As well as operating the camera and directing the flight, the flight commander has a number of safety-centric responsibilities for the flight. They are chiefly responsible for crowd control; UAV flights typically attract a lot of attention and it is the flight commander’s responsibility to prevent this activity from distracting the pilot. A part of this is preventing any incursions into the cordoned take-off and landing areas, and warning the pilot if this occurs. Similarly, the flight commander is also responsible for notifying the pilot of any activity in the air such as low flying gliders.