Flying Your Drone At Night: The Complete Guide

Facebook
LinkedIn
Night Flight title image

ABOUT US

Welcome to our blog. Lightwave Aerial provides professional drone services in aerial photo/video, mapping, and inspection. We’ve learned a lot building this business and we’re still learning.

My goal is to present drone technology in a way that’s easy to understand. Also, to give you the real-world practical business perspective we’re learning as we build our company.

Table of Contents

The thought of flying a drone at night can be thrilling and exciting. However, before you take your first nighttime flight, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the different requirements for drone operations during the evening or night hours.

The FAA has replaced the night flight waiver process with a simple proficiency exam. However, drone pilots must still install special night lights visible at 3 statute miles, remain below 400 ft AGL, and obtain LAANC approval in controlled airspace.

Pilots should also know the hazards of night flying and how to avoid those hazards.

We are very happy about the Part 107 changes because they reduce the time we spend developing waiver documents. But flying at night is much more hazardous than daytime flights. This article covers everything you need to know for a safe and successful night mission.

Old vs. New Part 107 Rules For Flying At Night

In April 2021 the FAA made several important changes to the part 107 regulations. It is important for recreational and commercial pilots to understand the new versus old regulations. There are some big differences. One important change was for nighttime flights.

Old Rules

Previously to fly a drone at night required a special waiver. These nighttime waivers could be submitted to the FAA via their website. The waivers required a significant amount of work. You needed to describe in detail the mission concept of operations (CONOPs).

Then you had to justify the reason for the nighttime flight. Then provide details about the aircraft and the pilot’s experience. In addition, the waiver required risk assessment and risk mitigation analysis. It was a significant amount of work to generate these waivers.

old versus new FAA night flight rules

New Rules

After the changes in 2021 flying at night no longer requires a special waiver. For Part 107 commercial flights there are only 4 simple requirements to fly at night:

Req-1: Drones must be equipped with anti-collision lighting that meets FAA requirements.

Req-2: All drones must be registered with the FAA.

Req-3: Night flights must follow the normal LAANC authorization process if you’re flying in controlled airspace.

Req-4: Commercial pilots are required to take a special proficiency test. This certifies a minimum understanding of the safety requirements for night flights.

Only the proficiency exam is a new requirement. The other three items were all required even before April 2021. The test is free and can be taken online at the FAA website. This definitely simplifies the process to fly a drone at night. For more information on drone licenses see our article “Do You Need A License To Fly A Drone

Flying Your Drone At Night: Controlled vs. Uncontrolled Airspace

Controlled Airspace

Controlled airspace is any air space that is controlled by an air traffic control authority (ATC). These areas are typically found around airports. LAANC approval is required to fly in these areas.

controlled airspace image

Uncontrolled Airspace

Uncontrolled airspace, also known as class G airspace, does not fall the under any air traffic control authority. In these areas, LAANC approval is not required.

Flying Your Drone At Night: Commercial vs. Recreational Pilots

Commercial Pilots

Commercial pilots are required to maintain their part 107 certification. They must also register all drones that weigh more than .55 parts as per FAA requirements. In addition to this, part 107 pilots must also pass the additional proficiency exam for night flying.

Recreational Pilots

Recreational pilots are prohibited from flying at night.

I tested the LAANC night flight authorization process, and here’s what I found

  1. My commercial request for a night flight was approved even though I haven’t taken the proficiency exam (SURPRISE!)
  2. My recreational authorization request was denied because “operations at night are not available for recreational operators”
LAANC Authorization request for night drone flight

Reasons To Fly Your Drone At Night

Flying at night can be more challenging than flying during the day, due to decreased visibility. Pilots need to take extra precautions and be aware of any potential hazards when operating their drones at night. I can tell you from experience that flying at night can be stressful. So this begs the question why not just fly during the day?

Timelapse photography

Flying at night provides an opportunity to capture stunning timelapse photography that is not achievable during the day. Night flights allow for much longer exposures and a greater variety of lighting effects.

Drone photographers can create dramatic visuals that cannot be captured during daytime hours. Drone night flights also offer better camera stability, as the air is far more still than during the day.

Law Enforcement Operations

Drone night flights are increasingly used for law enforcement operations and public safety monitoring. Drone technology has become an essential tool for police departments, firefighters, and other first responders. They are used in a variety of scenarios, from search and rescue missions to surveillance activities to crime scene investigations.

image of police drone

Aerial Inspections

Night-time drone aerial inspections offer several advantages. Improved safety, increased efficiency, fewer distractions from other aircraft, and reduced costs due to lower fuel consumption.

Aerial Thermography

Drone thermography is the use of infrared (IR) frequencies to capture thermal images of surfaces and objects. Drone thermography can be used for many applications: building inspections, firefighting, and search & rescue operations.

Aerial thermography using drones offers many advantages over traditional thermography methods. Notably, drone operations allow for rapid and cost-effective deployment in a wide range of environments— drone thermography can be used both indoors and outdoors and across cities, forests, fields, shores, and more.

Additionally, since drone surveys require minimal human labor, costs will remain fairly low compared to some other forms of aerial thermography services.

nighttime drone thermal image

Aerial Surveying and Mapping

Night flights can be an effective way to perform aerial surveying and mapping projects. Drone pilots operating at night have access to a different set of features than during the day. Allowing them to capture more detailed data in less time. Nighttime allows for clearer images and videos that are not hindered by overhead lighting. These can often obscure aerial images during the day. Also, pilots can fly with fewer distractions and focus on their mission objectives.

LIDAR

Drone night flights are particularly useful for LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging). While LiDAR is much more expensive than photogrammetry, it does have several advantages for specific applications. LiDAR images provide much higher resolution. It is also useful to obtain ground imagery through dense foliage. Because LiDAR uses a laser as its light source, daytime images can be impaired by sunlight.

Best Anti-Collision Lights For Drone Night Flights

FireHouse Arc V

Price on Amazon: $37.34

For those looking to fly a drone at night, the FireHouse Arc V is a great option. It provides the necessary light for navigation and safe flight.

  • The FireHouse Arc V features LED navigation lights that are specially designed for drones, making it one of the most anti-collision lighting systems available on the market today.
  • The system has up to 1,000 lumens and a max distance of 82 feet, allowing pilots to maintain a visual line of sight of the drone in the sky while flying at night.
  • The LEDs are designed to be as lightweight and discreet as possible, with a sleek black finish that won’t interfere with flight.
  • The Arc V also comes with a variety of safety features such as an alert system in case of unexpected drops or collisions. This provides pilots with the assurance they need when flying in dark areas.
  • The system also features a remote control and a smartphone app, allowing pilots to make easy adjustments while in the air.

LumCube Strobe

Price on Amazon: $29.99 to 59.99

The Lumcube Strobe is a popular choice for anti-collision lighting among drone pilots

  • Provides high-intensity visibility with its ultra-bright LED array and adjustable settings. This allows Drone pilots to customize their lighting setup to fit their specific needs and preferences.
  • Can be synced with Drone control systems, making it easy to switch on the lights at night and keep them off during daylight hours.

Litratorch 2.0

Price on Amazon: $29.00

The Litratorcj 2.0 is an ideal choice for drone anti-collision light, as it offers high performance in low-light conditions.

  • It features a wide-angle view and adjustable brightness, making it suitable for use at night or during the day
  • The built-in LED lighting system ensures that you keep the visual line of sight even in pitch darkness.
  • the Drone Light Flight mode allows you to easily adjust the light intensity and color for maximum visibility in any environment.
  • Drone Light Flight also features a high-precision motion detection system, which helps ensure greater safety by detecting obstacles in advance.
  • long-lasting battery life, this drone can stay airborne for up to 60 minutes,

Hazards When Flying Drone At Night

Flying a drone at night has special hazards like autokinesis and size-distance illusion. Special protocols are needed to mitigate these hazards. You should review the area during the daytime, build a detailed flight plan, and stock toy our plan.

We’ve included a list of potential hazards and how to avoid them.

caution image

Autokinesis

Autokinesis occurs when a pilot stares at one point in the dark for too long. This creates an optical illusion where it appears that stars or other objects in the sky are moving. Even though they are actually stationary. Autokinesis can lead to disorientation, making it difficult for pilots to correctly and safely orient their drones.

Therefore, it is important for drone pilots to take regular breaks during night flights. Do not look at any one particular point in the sky for too long. Drone pilots should also stay aware of their surroundings. Using peripheral vision and keeping their eyes moving to spot any potential hazards.

Additionally, having a spotter can help avoid autokinesis. The pilot and spotter can take turns looking at different points in the sky.

Phantom Motion

Phantom motion is where the drone appears to move in one direction when in reality it’s just flying straight. This can easily cause a crash if not monitored closely.

Phantom motion can be caused by various things. Such as the drone’s accelerometers and gyros having a hard time calibrating to the night sky. Drone pilots should be extra cautious and attentive when flying at night in order to avoid this issue.

Flicker Vertigo

Flicker vertigo is a condition that occurs when rapidly changing light sources cause disorientation and dizziness in pilots. Flying a drone in an area with rapidly changing light sources such as neon lights is especially dangerous. This should be avoided.

Reversible Perspective Illusion

A reversible perspective illusion occurs when flying in dim light or near streetlights. It becomes difficult to determine if you are moving away from or toward an object.

Without proper precautions, a pilot might be unaware that he is flying too close to an object. This could cause serious damage or injury. To reduce the risk of reversible perspective illusion, familiarize yourself with the drone’s orientation settings and altitude indicators.

Size-Distance Illusion

Size-distance illusion is mistakenly believing that something far away is closer than it actually appears. This phenomenon is especially common when flying around illuminated areas such as cities and towns.

Pilots must be especially careful to ensure that they follow all distance requirements when flying a drone at night. Failure to do so can result in serious injury or property damage.

Motion Parallax

Motion parallax is the phenomenon where objects in the distance seem to move slower than those closer. This can be especially dangerous when flying drones at night, as it’s more difficult to judge distances and speeds accurately.

Drone pilots should take extra precautions by using markers such as lights and signs. These give a better sense of the size and distance of objects or structures. Additionally, pilots should make sure to stick to their drone’s flight path, avoiding any sudden accelerations or changes in direction.

Geometric Perspective

Geometric perspective occurs when objects appear closer or farther away than they actually are. This is due to a lack of depth perception when in low light. This can cause the pilot to become disoriented and not be able to judge distances correctly.

To mitigate this risk, it is important for the drone operator to use visual aids. Such as runway lights or other markers on the ground to help establish an accurate reference point. It is also important to fly slowly and cautiously at night. Always keep an eye on the drone’s altitude and distance from other objects or people.

Finally, it is recommended that recreational pilots fly with a visual observer in order to help spot any potential hazards.

image example night time hazard

False Horizon

False horizon issues can arise during low-light conditions. This phenomenon occurs when the horizon line appears flatter than it actually is. Making it difficult for pilots to orient themselves and maintain control of the drone at altitudes above the ground.

Red LED lights can help preserve night vision and differentiate between foreground and background objects. Drone pilots should also be aware of their location relative to the horizon line. Flying too low can cause a false horizon to appear and confuse the pilot.

Best Practices When Flying Drone At Night

Flying a drone at night can be rewarding. You can obtain stunning visuals that can’t be seen during the day. However, it also requires special safety precautions and additional knowledge of the area being flown.

Know The Area

It is important to review the area prior to flying in order to minimize any potential hazards or obstacles. Drone pilots are expected to maintain a safe distance from people, animals, structures, and airports. This can be tough at night. Knowing the area beforehand allows pilots to plan out their flight path. This ensures that they do not put themselves or anyone else in danger.

Pre-Mission Planning

Drone pilots should develop a detailed flight plan during the day. Identify hazards such as power lines, buildings, and other obstacles that can’t be seen at night. Drone pilots should also pay special attention to mission battery requirements. It may be more difficult to spot-check this at night.

image of mission planning

Fly At Higher Altitudes

We recommend flying your drone at higher altitudes than you would during the day. Flying a drone at higher altitudes helps the drone be better seen by other aircraft in the area. Additionally, at higher altitudes, the sky will be darker. So you won’t have to contend with as much light pollution from the ground below. This can make it easier to take in-air photographs with your drone’s camera.

Don’t Rely On Video Feed

Drone Pilots should not rely upon video feed to check for obstacles. The Drone’s camera may be unable to pick up on certain obstacles. Also, the transmission delay may not provide enough response time to avoid obstacles. Instead, Drone Pilots should use other methods such as GPS and visual aids to check for obstacles during night flights.

Turn Off LEDs

When taking photographs or videos at night, using LED lights can disrupt natural light conditions. This produces an unnatural look in the photos or footage. Drone cameras are typically equipped with low-light sensors that can pick up on natural light sources, such as stars or moonlight. Using LED lights will cause these natural light sources to be washed out in the footage.

Do Not Rely On Obstacle Avoidance

Drone pilots should not rely solely on obstacle sensors when flying in the dark. The performance of these systems can be drastically reduced due to limited visibility. Drone navigation and obstacle avoidance systems will be severely impaired since they rely heavily on visual information. Pilots must take extra time to plan the flight path or look for any potential hazards before takeoff.

Flying your drone at night is a great way to capture stunning visuals. However, it requires special safety precautions and additional knowledge of the area being flown. Drone pilots should understand all requirements for night flights, including any new or old regulations or restrictions.

Drone pilots should also familiarize themselves with the area they will be flying. Create a detailed flight plan and fly at higher altitudes. By following these best practices for drone night flights, you can ensure a safe and successful mission day or night!

LEGAL INFORMATION

Lightwave Aerial is a participant in the Amazon Services, LLC associates program and other affiliate programs. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. We may also be compensated for referring traffic and business through the other affiliate programs.

SHARE THS POST

Facebook
LinkedIn
Felton Flood, PhD

Felton Flood, PhD

Dr. Flood has 25+ years experience in telecommunications and is a veteran of several startups in Silicon Valley and Northern Virginia. In 2021 he co-founded Lightwave Aerial, applying machine learning and cloud technologies to innovate UAV services.

KEEP READING