Keep a log of all your UAV flight time. This information is important not only for managing proper aircraft maintenance schedules, but also a critical element when dealing with insurance and regulators as proof of experience. They can also provide great insight into actual time involved in flight operations when estimating new work, giving you real world first hand data to base quotes on. And in time as new regulations come into effect, logbooks of some form will no doubt become mandatory, so getting a start on using them now will get you on track ahead of the curve.
There are a variety of means for keeping a logbook, from a simple notepad, printed commercial full-scale logbooks, spreadsheets, to custom PC and smartphone electronic logbook software. Pick a solution that works best for you and how you tend to operate. The key is not the method but the fact you log the information for future reference in some easily accessible form.
At a minimum you want to log the following to cover both the aircraft and the pilot involved:
- Date of Flight(s)
- Aircraft Name/ID
- Pilot Name
- Total Flight Duration
To further expand on the data collected, additional information such as the following could be included:
- Start/End Times of Flight(s)
- Total Number of Flights
- Lat/Long of Location
- Client/Project Name
- Purpose of Flight
- Weather Conditions
- Payload Used
- Crew/Team Members Involved
As most UAV operations involve multiple short duration flights, you may choose to only make a single entry for the entire period as opposed to entries for each individual flight. You would merely log the total duration and number of flights for the entire period. If however core elements change, such as the pilot/aircraft/location, then a separate entry should be made for each, the core minimum is tracking all flight time for the UAV and pilot.
It is always best to make log entries the same day as the flight operations, when the details are still fresh in your mind. Make it part of your standard operating procedures so it becomes second nature.
A maintenance log of any checks, repairs, or upgrades done on the UAV is also a good document to maintain. This can help show the system has been well maintained in case of any accidents/issues and also valuable in conjunction with the flight log when selling an aircraft to show it’s full history. This can be kept simple with the following key items:
- Date of Maintenance
- Aircraft Name
- Maintenance Type
In addition to logging information for the aircraft and pilot you might also see benefit in logging LIPO battery usage as well. LIPOs have a finite usable lifetime and degrade with each use/recharge cycle. Tracking the usage of your batteries can help you in determining the current status of each of your packs and allow you to plan for proper replacement. This can be as simple as recording each time a LIPO has been used/cycled, through to complete logging of the start/end voltages, MAH used/replaced, individual cell level voltages, internal resistance. Again strike a balance with how you operate to make it a usable process that is simple to maintain on an ongoing basis.
The decision of what data to collect is up to the operator (unless regulations dictate specific requirements). Find a balance that meets your current and potential longer term needs, but not so involved that it leads to the entries not being made. Better to have a basic log then none at all if it becomes a chore to complete.