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Tips for drone battery managementTips for drone battery management

The lithium-ion batteries that power drones require special care to prevent an unexpected power failure that could damage your drone, according to DJI retailer DroneNerds Creative Director Lance Knowles.

A range of batteries for different types of drones: a DJI Inspire 1 (left), a racing quadcopter (center), and a DJI Phantom 3 (right). A battery bag like the one shown here is appropriate for smaller batteries, but unlikely to contain the energy stored in the Inspire battery. Jim Moore photo.

DroneNerds hosted a drone cage at AOPA’s campus at the Sun 'n Fun International Fly-In and Expo in Lakeland, Florida, recently, and took part in a seminar detailing the basics of getting started in drone flying.

“Battery management is one of the most important parts of drone use,” explained Knowles.

Manned pilots calculate their time aloft based on their aircraft's fuel burn, measuring it in minutes and hours so they don't fly beyond their aircraft's range and run out of fuel. Remote pilots also monitor their time aloft so that they don't risk losing control of their drone if it is up in the air when its battery dies (ready-to-fly drones all provide audible or visual battery power level alerts, and in many cases will land automatically before the batteries are entirely depleted).

Most consumer drones can fly for about 20 minutes. Flight time can vary depending on conditions, even with the same batteries and drone, so remote pilots need to consider more than the advertised battery life. Improper care of the lithium-ion batteries and flying in extreme temperatures could shorten battery life, creating unwelcome surprises if the batteries run out sooner than the remote pilot expects.

Knowles offered two particular tips: Inspect batteries often, and keep them in your carry-on luggage on airline flights.

Drone batteries often have their storage capacity printed on the battery, making it simple to check against airline limits. Jim Moore photo.

Drone batteries should be checked frequently for nicks or dents and swelling of the cells. If any of these deficiencies are spotted, Knowles said, immediately dispose of the batteries. If a battery is damaged while on the road with a drone, a containment bag can help isolate the damaged battery to safely transport it for disposal, though such a battery should not be transported by aircraft. (Batteries also can be stored in containment bags as a safety precaution.)

The FAA requires that all spare, rechargeable lithium batteries, including those used to power drones, be placed in carry-on luggage, not checked bags. (Federal rules do allow a lithium battery that is installed in the device it powers to be checked with the device.) Spare batteries are kept out of the cargo hold so that if a problem develops with the battery, it can be dealt with immediately, rather than worsening unnoticed and out of sight, which could lead to tragic results.

Battery terminals should be covered and protected during transport to avoid contact with any metallic object that could cause an accidental short, followed most likely by a fire. Batteries also should be protected from physical damage and impacts.

“These batteries need to be taken care of pretty well,” Knowles said.

Alyssa J. Miller

Alyssa J. Miller

AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor
AOPA Director of eMedia and Online Managing Editor Alyssa J. Miller has worked at AOPA since 2004 and is an active flight instructor.
Topics: You Can Fly, Unmanned Aircraft, Sun n Fun

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