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Skydio, a company synonymous with a focus on drone autonomy, has quite a few drones many of us might not be aware of or even heard of.
The Skydio R1 was released back in 2018, the year DJI released the Mavic Air, 2 Zoom, 2 Pro, and Enterprise.
The more widely-known Skydio 2 was released in 2019, the same year DJI released the Mavic Enterprise Dual.
The Skydio X2, Skydio’s Enterprise line of drones, was released in 2021, while the consumer-friendly update to the Skydio 2, dubbed the Skydio 2+ was released in 2022.
The Skydio line of drones, as of the writing of this article, do not have Geofencing built into the software. Because of this, there is no unlocking needed, and furthermore, you are able to fly where you’d like, when you’d like, right out of the box.
What is Geofencing? #
In an effort to keep this definition simple, as well as from becoming TLDR, Geofencing, when it comes to drones, is simply the process of restricting a drone from entering various airspace or geographical zones.
These restrictions are done through the manufacturer’s flight software and baked into the drone’s firmware.
Geofencing acts as an invisible barrier that, when active**, limits your ability to fly from, within, or through certain unauthorized zones**, without prior authorization and customizable unlocks.
» MORE: Do DJI Drones Have Geofencing? (And How to Unlock Them)
You will typically see geofencing around areas such as Airfields and Airports, Helipads, Disney (really), and Jails, just to name a few typical locations.
Geofencing is explained to have been implemented by various drone manufacturers as a safety precaution of sorts for manned airspace.
What this means is that some drone manufacturers understand that people are people and some people will want to take their drone out wherever and fly it however far and however high. All while disregarding the laws put in place to keep manned aircraft safe.
While this might be the case, there are even more drone operators that fly safely and would like the option to choose for themselves where and when they can fly, especially considering how much money they might have invested in said drone.
How to Identify Areas of Caution #
With drones that have Geofencing enabled (for this example, DJI), the flight software, in map view, will give you a visual representation of the Geo Zones you should be concerned with.
In the DJI Fly app, these Zones can be added to the screen overlay, as follows:
- Enhanced Warning
- Regulatory Restricted
Now, of course, if you have a Skydio without Geofencing, you won’t see nor get pinged with warnings in these areas, as you would on a DJI Drone.
To find out what types of zones are in your area, the easiest method is by downloading a 3rd party app for either iOS or Android.
I’d suggest UAV Forecast, a free app that gives you a plethora of information, along with the Geo zones in your area.
UAV Forecast #
UAV forecast (UAVF) is a great companion app to have when flying, as it is sort of a swiss army knife for drones, meaning it has various functions that make life a little easier for flying.
1. Geozones #
When it comes to identifying Geozones, as mentioned, UAV Forecast has you covered. Like the DJI Fly app, UAVF can be set up to show a variety of zones. These include:
- TFR/NOTAM – Temporary Flight Restrictions & Notice to Airmen
- DJI NFZ – DJI No Fly Zones
- US National Parks
- Large Airports
- Medium Airport
- Small Airport
To see the zones prior to or during a flight, simply go into the Map View tab.
The above list covers pretty much most, if not all, of the areas of concern a drone operator might have.
In my example, I have the screen zoomed out pretty far to illustrate the airspace I personally have to deal with in my neck of the woods.
The screen can be zoomed in to a more realistic and comfortable view, which will display all of the current warning zones and areas of concern, in your immediate location.
2. Weather #
As the name suggests, UAV Forecast also has a strong focus on weather. Because of this, I wanted to give a little information about what other information is present.
As a drone operator, knowing what the weather will be for a given area, the wind speed, and direction, or the number of visible satellites is all useful information for either planning a flight or when on-site.
Some of the information that can be viewed from the Conditions (weather) module are:
- Wind Direction
- Probable Precipitation
- Cloud Cover %
- Visible Satellites
- Locked Satellites
Much of this information can be tailored to your preferences.
A Word, or Words, of Caution #
As drone operators, even if we do this as just a hobby, we do have a responsibility to bear, and that would be flying in a manner that keeps individuals in actual manned aircraft safe.
I live by the saying (when it comes to drones) that just because I can do something, doesn’t mean I should do it.
In this case, just because we can fly anywhere we’d like with a Skydio drone, without big brother limiting us, doesn’t mean we should.
Even though the Skydio line of drones does not have any Geofencing, as responsible drone operators, Skydio owners can still apply to legally fly through airspace that might be restricted by the FAA.
This can be done through the use of LAANC.
How to Fly Geozones Using LAANC #
First off, what exactly is LAANC? LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization Notification Capability) is software that is used to automate the process of approving (or denying) drone operator requests to fly in Class B, Class C, Class D, and Class E controlled airspace in the US.
As of this article’s writing, LAANC is available for a little over 700 airports, nationwide.
In order for Part 107 and/or Recreational operators to request LAANC approval to fly in controlled airspace, a 3rd party app will need to be installed on your smartphone.
More on this shortly.
Controlled Airspace Classes #
In the US, one of the many tasks of the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is to enforce laws that make civilian aviation safer.
As such, they are the authority when it comes to where and how drone operators can fly, in certain airspace.
Without deep-diving into controlled airspace, below are exact definitions of the classes of controlled airspace, as defined by the FAA:
- Class B airspace is generally airspace from the ground surface to 10,000 feet MSL (Mean Sea Level) surrounding the nation’s busiest airports in terms of airport operations or passenger enplanements.
- Class C airspace is generally airspace from the ground surface to 4,000 feet above the airport elevation (charted in MSL) surrounding those airports that have an operational control tower, are serviced by a radar approach control, and have a certain number of IFR (instrument flight rules) operations or passenger enplanements.
- Class D airspace is generally airspace from the surface to 2,500 feet above the airport elevation (charted in MSL) surrounding those airports that have an operational control tower.
- Class E airspace is the controlled airspace not classified as Class A, B, C, or D airspace. A large amount of the airspace over the United States is designated as Class E airspace.
These different airspaces go unnoticed by the general public but are relied heavily upon for the safety of both manned flights and the public.
Learning a little about these classes will help us see why we might need to get proper approvals before flying our drones.
Requesting LAANC Authorization (How-To) #
As mentioned earlier, for a drone operator to get approval to fly in certain airspace, a request through LAANC needs to be made.
Depending on the provider you are using, this can be done while either out in the field from your phone (the most common way) or requested in advance from a computer.
I personally use ALOFT and AIRMAP.
I tend to use AIRMAP a little more often than not, as I have gotten accustomed to making LAANC requests from my computer when setting up client shoots.
The Airmap app is available for both iOS and Android:
Step 1. After downloading the software, you will need to Sign up for an account.
Note: Make sure to include all of your information, as LAANC will use your cell phone number to send approvals.
Step 2. After your account has been set up, log in and you will then be in the map view. I have my screen centered on Lake Eola downtown, which has an airport with LAANC approval.
You will notice on your map that where there is controlled airspace, there will be grids with numbers on them. These numbers (in my case 100) signify the maximum drone height allowed.
Step 3. To fly in a particular area, you will need to Create a Flight Plan. To do this, press the flight plan button (above – looks like a blue and white paper airplane).
This will zoom you into the portion of the map you are looking at, with an adjustable radius. You can move your flight center point to wherever you’d like and resize it with the slider at the bottom.
Step 4. Tap the Next button on the top right to go to modify/add your flight plan details.
Step 5. After you have entered all of the criteria and options, press the Next button at the bottom of the screen.
This will then bring you to the Flight Briefing screen. Simply hit Submit Flight and you should have your authorization within seconds.
Using this method, I was able to get the needed shot for our client.
While the Skydio line of drones does not have geofencing built-in to prevent you from flying wherever you’d like at any given moment, if you’d like to fly safely in controlled airspace (or anywhere there are helipads) there are app options available to see where these areas are and get the proper authorizations to fly therein.
Happy, safe flying!