MDJ Starter Kit: Flight Logs



Keeping track of drones on paper is important. Not only does it help with creating maintenance plans, but if there is a legal dispute, having receipts will help your case enormously. In this section, the reader can find a few different ways to approach flight logs and maintenance plans.


Flight Logs:


While creating flight logs is always a good idea, it can create a hassle for users and fleet managers. There might be multiple drones that need to be maintained and logged at different times. The good old-fashioned way is to use Excel sheets. If you’ve never used Excel before, a template might look like this:




This will allow the pilot and supervisor to sort categories to find data more easily. For instance, how many flight hours does drone A have? If this is the best policy for the pilot and manager, be sure to keep track of time in the air for the pilot, how much airtime this drone has had, how many times that particularly battery has been used and any unexpected bumps or bruises accrued in that day’s flight. There are also paper logs available on Amazon, and any number of templates provided by really experienced drone pilots. Choosing a template is a matter of convenience and need for the pilot. Some templates allow for flight planning, others are very sparse and include only minimal detail. However, this opens up the field for human error. In addition, we are in the age of technology, and technology has provided an answer:


AirData: Easy fleet syncing with DJI products (unfortunately, this is only available for DJI products at this time), keeps track of data on battery life, charges held, time spent in the air, drone error warnings, and geographic use all sortable by pilot and drone.


KittyHawk: An iOS app that allows a single pilot to check airspace, weather, and TFRs in the area, and enables easy switching between drones when logging flights via timer or manually.

There are a lot of options for flight logs. These are just a few; many more can be found with a Google search. The idea is that you use them. By logging flights, not only will pilots be able to monitor the status and problems with their drones, but also keep receipts for experienced flight hours.




Maintenance can then be determined according to flight logs, and be integrated into record-keeping processes. How many propellers are used a year? At what rate are batteries being burned out? This sort of record keeping will also help any budgetary decisions made by the department. The FAA dictates all maintenance and repairs should be made according to the drone manufacturer’s guidance. Until then, it’s best to keep this in mind:

 Batteries will keep a charge for a week, before depreciating in power as a safety measure. If being stored for a long period of time, they should be stored in Li-Po safe bags, in case of fire.

Drones themselves should have designated containers to keep them free from damage in transit. If drones get dusty or fly in environments with dirty air, clean them with pressurized air-dusters from the hardware store, with a microfiber cloth, or with plastic-safe cleaning supplies.

Keep track of how many propellers are used and how many spares there are in case of accidents.

DJI, a major drone manufacturer, has also put out a guide on drone maintenance. As with any product, regular cleaning and care will extend the life of the drone. If problems arise, defer to manufacturer guidance. If a drone needs more intensive repair, it’s best to let the manufacturer fix the problem. Often, tinkering with it yourself will void the warranty.  


And we’re baaack….

We’ve been really, really bad about posting here, and that’s going to change.

Here’s some quick updates and a little bit on what to expect in this space in the coming months.

New approach to the drone class

We’ve changed around how we teach the drone class at the School of Journalism. The class had been taught as a survey of drone applications inside and outside journalism. Then the FAA changed its rules and began to certify drone operators who did not have private pilot credentials. We expanded the class from 10 weeks to 15 weeks and turned the first half of the class into Drone Ground School — 8 weeks of instruction towards the FAA Section 107 test. This would, we believe, create a core of safe, responsible and knowledgeable student drone operators. And that’s what this is about: What good is it know how to shoot aerial photos or video if you can’t do safely or legally? Our students are still flying under supervision each week in flight labs — its just now they’re doing it with as much “why” as “how.”

We’re looking to take the knowledge that we’re gaining here and bring it into working newsrooms and classrooms.

New drones

We’ve expanded our drone fleet. And we’ve started a new tradition.

Students are flying DJI Phantom 4 Pro drones, which are becoming the most common entry-level drones for professional use (we’re using the Pro+ variant, if you’re really into these things).

We’ve also acquired a DJI Inspire 2 with a Zenmuse X4S camera to do more complicated video work. The drone has the capability to have a flight controller and camera controller. We think it’s a great option for students who may want to direct the photography of a project but haven’t had the time or training to learn how to pilot the drone; they can pair with a certified pilot and get some experience.

About the new tradition: We’ve started naming the drones. We wanted names that reflect Missouri’s rich aviation history, so each drone has a Missouri-themed name. Our Phantoms are The Spirit of James McDonnell (named after the co-founder of St. Louis-based McDonnell-Douglas) and The Spirit of Wendell Pruitt (named after St. Louis native and Tuskegee Airman Capt. Wendell Pruitt). We call them “The Spirit of…” as a nod to both Charles Lindbergh’s “Spirit of St. Louis” but also to acknowledge B-2 Spirit bombers based at Whiteman Air Force Base an hour down Interstate 70 near Sedalia.  Our Inspire 2 is named The Linda Godwin (after Cape Girardeau/Jackson native, MU physics professor and astronaut Linda Godwin, who is a veteran of four Space Shuttle missions and has spent 10 hours spacewalking).

“The Flying Tiger,” our tiger-striped Inspire 1, is still around, as well. We’re using it as an advanced trainer.

New staff
Missouri Drone Journalism’s co-founder, Rick Shaw, has moved on to the University of Florida. Bill Allen, the other co-founder, is enjoying retirement. Judd Slivka, an assistant professor in the Missouri School of Journalism’s Convergence area is the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s new Director of Aerial Journalism.

Looking forward…

We’ve been hard at work on some projects here while we’ve been radio-silent. Here’s some of what you’ll see posted in the coming months:

— Simple training videos for basic cinematic movements.

— Tips, hints and tricks for teaching drone usage to new, low-flight time fliers. such as that videographer you just hired who thinks “drones are cool” but has never flown one. Or students.

— A ‘policy in a box’ project so that newsrooms can spend less time developing mission guidance and more time using drones.

— A high-school drone journalism curriculum.

Interested? Have requests? Want to suggest a name for the next drone we acquire? Drop us a line here.





Prairie Restoration Drone View

The Missouri Drone Journalism program partnered with the Columbia Audubon Society to provide an aerial documentary of the group’s prairie restoration project at the Columbia Audubon Nature Sanctuary within the Bonnie View Nature Sanctuary in Columbia, Missouri. More than 15 acres of a former cow pasture were seeded with Missouri native grasses and wildflowers. In 2016, the Native Plant Society helped plant 147 pounds of seed containing 86 species to restore the prairie. Now in its second full growth season, the prairie is an explosion of color.


Drone Flight Labs — Spring 2017

Students maneuver DJI Phantom 1 quadcopters through the drone obstacle course on the final flight lab of the Spring 2017 semester as part of the “Drone Issues, Applications and Flight” class at the University of Missouri.  With FAA Part 107, this is the first year that outdoor operations are permitted. The course training includes a series of six hands-on exercises that introduces basic maneuvers and then advances to skilled exercises such as “yaw” and “orbit” techniques.  The “Marching Mizzou” band graciously provided their practice lot for training use during the semester.  The class is affiliated with the Missouri Drone Journalism program and promotes safe, responsible and legal use of unmanned aircraft.

Drone flight vests

Drone vests for Missouri Drone Journalism.

Missouri Drone Journalism acquires vests to improve safety, clarify identity and heighten pilot visibility during flight operations.

The vests help counter a lot of discussion and questions that would interrupt the pilot during flight controls.  It also provides authorities and law enforcement with immediate validation and transparency.

The vest are paired — one labeled for the remote pilot and another for the visual observer labeled as crew.

Drone Policy Adopted by Missouri School of Journalism

The first comprehensive guidelines for the use of unmanned aircraft was passed by the Policy Committee of the University of Missouri School of Journalism on December 14, 2016.

The action sets “safe, legal and responsible” protocol for students, faculty and staff who wish to fly drones for stories with affiliated School of Journalism news organizations or for classes.  The procedures are intended to ensure that the Missouri School of Journalism takes full advantage of the new regulations enacted by the Federal Aviation Administration in June 2016.

The core standards exceeds FAA rules by requiring practical flight experience, as well as an understanding of the concepts under Title 14 CFR, Part 107.
This includes:
• Direct supervision by a pilot holding an FAA Remote Pilot Airman license.
• Completion of an approved study guide for the FAA Part 107 Knowledge Test.
• A minimum of six hour of hands-on flight training, through an intermediate skill level.

“The goal is to promote a culture of constructive attitude and pattern of behavior that demonstrates a commitment to safety,” said Richard Shaw of the Missouri Drone Journalism program.

The Missouri Drone Journalism program is an interdisciplinary partnership at the University of Missouri dedicated to helping students understand and use small, unmanned aircraft systems in service to society.

Sacred Sites to Building Boom

Drone’s dramatic storytelling power contrasts our past and present ways of life.

An ancient Native American burial mound is discovered on the bluffs above Perche Creek in Missouri during planning for a new housing development.
(Published in The Missourian, Saturday, Dec. 10, 2016)

New construction of multi-story luxury student apartments continue to change the skyline of Columbia, Missouri.
(Published in Vox Magazine, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2016)






Missouri Drone Workshop covers broad topics: FAA Part 107, cinematography & flight

Missouri Drone Journalism hosted a day-long workshop on the campus of the University of Missouri that attracted more than 45 participants, including students, television news photojournalists, visiting faculty and realtors.  The program covered the FAA’s new Part 107 regulations, reviewed the necessary study topics for the Remote Pilot exam, demonstrated classic cinema techniques and three hours of flight training during the afternoon on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2016.




Drone Journalism Workshop Oct. 8

The Missouri Drone Journalism program offers a drone workshop on Saturday, Oct. 8 that provides the latest issues, regulations and trends on the use of unmanned aircraft for journalists. The one-day seminar includes presentations on videography techniques and the steps to earn the Remote Pilot License to legally fly for journalistic purposes, plus an afternoon of hands-on flight.

The public is welcome to attend with a $195 workshop fee collected at the door prior to the start of the workshop.
Student registration is free.

Click here to register via the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute website

See the page link below for more information: