UAV / Drone Flight Planning and Control

What is flight planning?

When you fly your drone, you may be flying it with a ‘mission’ in mind. Perhaps you want to inspect a powerline or pipeline, do an inspection of a lighthouse, or map and capture an area of ground for a survey.

In more complex cases you may want to plan your flight so the drone takes a specific path. The planning can help achieve the mission goals but also help avoid restricted air spaces, keep track of flying height restrictions, battery life, etc.

When using your drone for surveying, mapping, volumes, or earthworks it can be very helpful to plan out the area to be flown, the number of flight paths, the number of photos, and the overlap between the images.

Software is available to run on your PC or your mobile device that links up with maps (such as from Google Maps) to help plan out the flight. This is ‘flight planning software.’

What is flight control?

In most cases once the flight has been planned you will want a computer (or Autopilot (AP)) to control your drone directly so it follows the flight you planned (and potentially control the camera orientation). The drone you are flying needs to have an AP that can load flight commands and will usually require a GPS (to determine where drone is on earth during flight) and an IMU (Inertial Measurement Unit) that helps the drone follow the flight plan in a controlled manner.

Flight planning software will usually have a way to download (or transmit) commands to your drone. This is ‘flight control’.  Some software will have both flight planning and flight control capabilities.

Do I need flight planning or flight control?

Some simple missions can be flown by hand and by eye alone. This is suitable only for small projects. Also, it can be difficult for some scenarios, such as flying a regular grid for doing mapping and surveying with photogrammetry, to fly by hand alone. If you are mapping an area larger than half a football field or soccer pitch, or doing regular mapping/surveying, then flight planning and control can make the difference between a successful or not successful project.

What flight planning/control software can I use with PhotoModeler?

If you already have flight planning / control software that came with your drone and meets your needs, then certainly give it a try. With PhotoModeler the goal is good quality overlapping photos of your object or scene.

If you don’t have flight planning or control software, here are some suggestions based on what type of drone or AP you are flying.

Drone or AP Make Flight Control Software
DJI DJI Ground Station Pro, Litchi
Pixhawk Flight Controller /
3D Robotics
Mission Planner
Microdrones mdCOCKPIT
Yuneec UAV Toolbox
Various drones UgCS

Please get in touch with the vendor of the flight planning software you are interested in to ensure it works with your drone and can plan the missions you want (i.e. for ground mapping and surveying you will want to plan overlapping flight lines in a grid pattern).