Flying a UAV in cold weather is challenging enough without having to constantly worry about battery performance…
That’s why we wanted to share some important tips on how to properly operate, care for & ultimately help to extend the lifespan of your UAV’s LiPo batteries.
To start, it’s important to know that all UAV’s use LiPo batteries. LiPo (short for Lithium Polymer) has a special chemical makeup that allows a lot of power to be supplied from a small lightweight battery.
Lithium (the Li in LiPo) can sometimes become, as I am sure you have heard, unstable when damaged or not used correctly. Despite the recent media attention surrounding these types of batteries would have you believe, it’s almost always a case of improper use (damaged or overcharged batteries) that have lead to batteries overheating and in some extremely rare cases, combustion.
The reality is that when used and cared for correctly, LiPo batteries will remain perfectly safe and reliable sources of power for many years to come.
So with all of that in mind…
Here are 10 important things you need to know for the proper use, storage, and care of your LiPo batteries.
1. New batteries are shipped at around 50% capacity so before your first use, you should immediately charge and exercise them so that they will reach their full capacity.
This process takes approximately 10 cycles of discharge (being careful not to let them get to low) followed by a full recharge (at room temperature).
Battery Care Dos & Don’ts:
2. Do be careful not to over-discharge a battery as if they drop below a certain voltage they become unusable. To help to ensure this doesn’t happen, avoid going long periods without use and keep your batteries stored at room temperature.
3. Do keep your batteries dry and avoid any damage to connections – shorting the battery can cause it to overheat rapidly.
4. Do your best avoid dropping or any physical damage to the battery.
5. Do only use an approved charger and charge batteries prior to planned use. Ideally, you’ll want to use the batteries within 24hrs of fully charging to ensure full use of the battery.
6. Don’t store batteries while connected to the UAV for extended periods.
7. Don’t leave your batteries in a hot car in summer or in a freezing car in winter for extended periods. Extreme temperature shifts, hot or cold can be damaging to the battery.
8. Important: If you notice that the battery has plumped (expanded) even slightly through use, shows signs of overheating, or has become damaged in any manner you should dispose of it immediately in the correct and approved way. If you’re not sure how to do this, we suggest you contact your city’s waste management department to find out.
9. The general guideline for transport of LiPo batteries is to first discharge to about 50% charge and to transport them individually in their original padded packaging or in a padded hard case. Ideally, they should be stored in an airtight plastic bag (or special LiPo Storage Bag) to prevent both moisture and accidental contact with other batteries.
Operating a UAV in Cold Temperatures
10. Remember that battery performance can be severely impeded in cold weather as the chemical reactions within the battery are slowed by cold, meaning that discharge/operational times can be reduced which can lead to a faster triggering of the “battery low” discharge sensor rendering the battery useless.
To combat this, it’s a good idea to:
- Plan your cold weather flight plans accordingly
- Keep flight times shorter and closer to home base
- Pre-heat or warm the battery up to around room temp before attaching it to the UAV. Keeping it under your coat on your person or inside a cooler until use can help.
- Hover the aircraft low to the ground for about a minute prior to full take off to ensure batteries are warmed up
- Don’t run the aircraft at or near full throttle. If the batteries are not sufficiently warmed they could spike to low voltage and shut down causing the UAV to fail in the air.
Note: Some professional grade UAV batteries have self-warming options available, check to see if yours is one of them.
Most of the same guidelines outlined above are also applicable to the Lithium Ion batteries that are typically used in professional cameras, so remember to exercise proper care with them as well!