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Fleet management

Airmapper

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Not maintenance, but referring to the equipment you choose and why. I'm considering getting into the drone business in some form, just ideas at this point, but you can't work without tools. Of course I intend to start out small, but by my logic I see having multiple drones as a necessity, even if it's only 2-3 total to cover yourself in unfortunate situations.

Now I don't want to sink a bundle of money into getting started, but I fear my durable but aging Blade Chroma is not going to be a good start. It might get me a simple gig or two, but I'm not going to rely on it to give a good impression. I think the last thing I need is my first customers being troubled with my potential issues should the camera refuse to initialize, or the simple fact if anything happens to my one and only drone I'm out entirely for weeks. It's not a good candidate for trying to sink much cost into repairing at this point anyway if I were to find a tree with it. So I plan to keep it handy, probably re-register it as Part 107 when I need to, but not thinking of it as anything but a backup or use only if the situation suits it better. I have learned a lot keeping it alive for several years now, as there is not a piece of it I haven't been poking around in to repair.

Now here is what I'm getting at on "fleet management" is those of you in the business, with multiple drones, if you had it to do over would you try to plan what platform you buy in advance with an intent of being able to build on your equipment later, perhaps scavenge or share parts, camera payloads, standardized software and programming methods, and such among several like units as you go. I'm not going to buy all that now, but should things go well, make it easier to bring in new equipment as I go.

Or alternatively, do you get what seems to fit the bill at the time for the work you plan to do most, and end up with a diverse fleet each of which may be better or worse for a given job, but you still have redundancy.

Personally, I've become fond of the Yuneec H520 platform on paper. But since my Blade was actually Yuneec hardware, it's a familiar platform so it's fair to assume I'm biased. From what I read, it seems DJI has many features to it's merit as well, but I don't get the feeling it's quite so customizable for the same cost. And I'm sure there are options I have not fully considered yet. Say I get into the game for around ~$2000 with a Mavic, but since what really catches my interest is mapping, surveying, and inspection more so than photography and cinema, if I go in for a ~$4000 setup like the H520 that may be considerably more diverse and can add different cameras and equipment as required.

Of course with the remote ID proposition, it's a rough time to be considering buying a drone anyway, but I don't see me getting far if I wait 3-5 years to see what is going to happen.

Do you have a platform you prefer for the purposes of managing your equipment to benefit you the most?
 

PatR

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You ask good questions but thee are no "hard and fast" answers. You are correct in your assessment of the Chroma. Although a great "starter" platform in its time, it's long past its prime and battery availability is one very large limiting factor. It's also pretty slow and limited in flight profiles.

As a former avid user of Yuneec products, Chroma, H-480, and H-920 among them, I can say they made some pretty good stuff for awhile. It's still hard to beat their camera gimbals, even what is used on the Chroma, for image stability. The 520 is a good aircraft, with it's intended purpose being mapping and inspection work. Again you run up against battery availability though. Another thing to consider is the payloads currently available for the 520 is all you will ever see. I seriously doubt any more will be forthcoming for the 520 platform. Yuneec has "moved on", and the company is not anywhere close to what it used to be.

Your customer's needs will establish your equipment needs. Oft times it's not about what we want or would like to do, but what the customers want and need so we have to adjust our equipment to serve them in the manner they need served. However, if you put the time and effort into becoming one of the best in any given genre you may well find yourself encountering customers that need what you have to sell. If your product quality is good you have a better than even chance of exposing your talents to the people that could make the best use of them.

Equipment wise, if there's any intent to maintain a diverse group of platforms you will come out ahead if all of them use similar operating systems. I think most all of us have some level of platform diversity based upon what we do. That diversity may be based on sizes appropriate for the locations, cameras and lenses for the type of imagery to be shot, platforms that accept a variety of payloads due to a diverse customer requirements, of progressively better rigs that best suit the customer or conditions they will be flown for, in, or over.

Without going into brand preferences you will find your operation is a whole lot easier when the controls, functions, and programs used for your systems are all very similar or compatible. Flight operations are also a lot safer when all your platforms use similar control and flight programming functions. Same thing applies to software. We can end up spending a lot of time "re-learning" software programs when we have to switch back and forth between numerous programs because they aren't compatible with each of the flight systems we use.

I didn't provide any answers but with any luck you got something that will help you better plan what you put in your toolbox.
 
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Airmapper

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You ask good questions but thee are no "hard and fast" answers.
Your response was exactly what I was looking for, thank you. Just discussion on how those of you with experience think when it comes to your equipment. I'll find my own solution, but thoughts and opinions about different platforms and actually using them professionally is very helpful given the state of what's available.

I was a CAD designer for a long time and software was everything, as it was the tool for that job. I knew others in my field and we would compare notes on this program or that, how easy it was or wasn't to automate, what worked smoothest, and what was an utter pain to deal with for the simplest tasks. Drones with the half aircraft, half software design seem very similar to me.

The 520 is a good aircraft, with it's intended purpose being mapping and inspection work. Again you run up against battery availability though. Another thing to consider is the payloads currently available for the 520 is all you will ever see. I seriously doubt any more will be forthcoming for the 520 platform. Yuneec has "moved on", and the company is not anywhere close to what it used to be.
That's sad as I really like that setup from what I read, in my research I'm finding what you mention already. I don't know if that will eliminate it as an option, but it gives me pause. One point I really liked about it, silly as this is, is the design and orange body really gave it a professional look, not that I care what it looks like if it does the job, but to be taken seriously I don't want to pack out a drone on site that looks like what a kid the client knows got for Christmas. I also like the idea of different camera payloads. As far as cost goes the H520 was attainable without getting into seriously high end commercial drones that are easily beyond my experience at this point. I'm a careful pilot I believe, but I need a good amount of logged (non recreational) stick time before I feel comfortable sending $10,000+ up in the air or spending that much on a uncertain venture.


Your customer's needs will establish your equipment needs. Oft times it's not about what we want or would like to do, but what the customers want and need so we have to adjust our equipment to serve them in the manner they need served. However, if you put the time and effort into becoming one of the best in any given genre you may well find yourself encountering customers that need what you have to sell. If your product quality is good you have a better than even chance of exposing your talents to the people that could make the best use of them.
I think that point is what is making my research so complex. I don't want to exclude any aspect of what service I could provide. I figure starting out getting jobs is going to be difficult enough, I don't want to turn down anything I might be capable of and need an aircraft capable of about anything. Which makes my selection all the more critical, while still having good business sense and not going in the hole starting out with equipment that is over my head. (No pun intended.)
 

PatR

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You might think about jumping into a field that excites you, learn as much as you can and become very good at it. You mentioned mapping and the 520. The two work well together and if the operator knows his stuff some good product can come of it.

Once you develop your skills you will develop a sense of how the end product can be used, and the customers to target to sell yourself and your work. Research companies or individuals in the area that could benefit from what you produce and come up with what needs to be said to entice them into trying it.

Although not the best or most expensive mapping rig on the planet the 520 is effective and now what I call a “stable” platform. Expect no further firmware improvements, which makes things easier in a way. If you go that route and run into battery availability issues I’ll direct you to a thread that shows how to adapt the system to use “standard” non proprietary batteries. It’s not difficult.
 
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R Martin

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Of course with the remote ID proposition, it's a rough time to be considering buying a drone anyway, but I don't see me getting far if I wait 3-5 years to see what is going to happen.

Do you have a platform you prefer for the purposes of managing your equipment to benefit you the most?
You are on the right track. It's all a question of scale. We started with a DJI which is fine for small jobs and that was where we were at in 2016-2017. But as the scale started increasing it became apparent that the current aircraft was not going to cut it and we required a serious upgrade to handle considerably larger tracts of land.

Your first challenge is to figure out what services you are going to offer based upon your current experience and then find an aircraft that will meet that requirement. As your business grows and expands, you will need to expand the tools as well. That is complicated by the NPRM, but in three to five years you will probably be in the market for a new aircraft to meet the growth of your business so do not let that deter you now.

I have four years of use on my DJI Inspire and it is still getting the job done for small-scale projects. With a good maintenance program whatever you decide on for your starter package will serve you into the foreseeable future. It will definitely be dated but that does not mean that it can be an effective tool.
 
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