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Part 107 VLOS Night Flight Problem: How To Increase Nighttime Visibility.

The Problem:

Part 107 of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations in the United States outlines the rules and requirements for the operation of small unmanned aircraft systems (sUAS), commonly known as drones, for commercial purposes. One of the key provisions in Part 107 is the requirement that the operator maintains visual line of sight (VLOS) with the drone during its operation. This means that the operator must be able to see the drone with unaided vision at all times, without the use of binoculars or other visual aids.

While maintaining visual line of sight is generally feasible during daylight hours, it becomes significantly more challenging at night due to reduced visibility and lighting conditions. Several factors contribute to the difficulty of complying with Part 107's VLOS requirement during nighttime operations:

1. **Limited Lighting**: Natural lighting conditions at night are much lower than during the day. Even in urban areas with streetlights or ambient light, it can be difficult to spot a small drone at a distance, especially when it's at higher altitudes.

2. **Size and Distance**: Drones flown at higher altitudes are especially hard to see due to their small size. As they ascend, they may blend in with the night sky, making them nearly invisible to the operator.

3. **Navigation Lights**: While many drones are equipped with navigation lights, these lights might not be sufficient to maintain continuous visual contact, especially in areas with competing light sources or when the drone is far away.

4. **Depth Perception and Orientation**: Depth perception and the ability to accurately judge distance and altitude become more challenging in low-light conditions. This can lead to misinterpretation of the drone's position and altitude, making it difficult to maintain VLOS.

5. **Obstructions and Terrain**: Even during the day, obstructions such as trees, buildings, and other structures can make maintaining VLOS challenging. At night, these obstructions can become even more problematic, as they can obscure the drone's location.

6. **Environmental Conditions**: Weather conditions such as fog, mist, or haze are often exacerbated at night, further reducing visibility and making it even harder to spot a drone in the sky.

7. **Human Eye Adaptation**: The human eye takes time to adapt to changes in light conditions. Going from a well-lit area to the dark sky while searching for a small drone can lead to temporary loss of visual acuity.

8. **Safety Concerns**: Nighttime operations introduce additional safety risks due to reduced visibility. The likelihood of collisions with other aircraft, obstacles, or even people on the ground increases, potentially posing a hazard to both the drone and the surroundings.

Given these challenges, maintaining VLOS in accordance with Part 107 during nighttime operations can be exceedingly difficult and potentially unsafe. Recognizing these challenges, the FAA has historically imposed stricter requirements for nighttime drone operations, including the need for special waivers or exemptions that demonstrate the operator's ability to mitigate the risks associated with reduced visibility. These waivers may require additional safety measures, training, and equipment to ensure safe operations in low-light conditions. More recent revisions to the regulation has reduced the requirements for nighttime flight in regards to waivers. It is now acceptable to fly during night without waivers. However the challenge with VLOS still exists, even with installation of after market lighting on the drone hull. This blog covers my ideas and experiments for solutions to help to improve nighttime VLOS of drone hulls. Specifically the tiny hull of the DJI Mini 3 Pro. These concepts would also apply to any other drone model. (You are still required to have lights on the drone that comply with the up to 3 mile visibility from other aircraft rule.) I'm simply trying to minimize as much additional payload as possible while still increasing visibility for VLOS.

The Quest for Reasonable Solutions:

Solving some of the nighttime visual line of sight (VLOS) visibility problems for drone hulls presents a complex set of challenges. Integrating additional lighting systems to enhance visibility comes with the trade-off of added weight, potentially impacting the drone's overall performance and flight time. Moreover, such modifications can disrupt the carefully designed aerodynamics, affecting stability and maneuverability. Alterations to the plastic body parts of a drone to accommodate lights or other visibility-enhancing features could compromise the structural integrity and potentially void warranties, leaving operators financially liable. Striking a balance between improving nighttime visibility and adhering to refresh drone replacement programs is another concern. Implementing changes to drone design must align with these programs' timelines and regulations to ensure seamless technology updates without disrupting operational compliance. Overall, addressing these challenges requires a nuanced approach that integrates effective lighting solutions while considering factors such as weight, aerodynamics, structural integrity, warranties, and regulatory requirements. So I ventured for a solution beyond lights, which could easily be reversed if required.

Recognizing the intricate challenges posed by the nighttime VLOS visibility problem for

drone hulls, I embarked on an innovative journey to explore unconventional solutions. Straying from traditional light-based enhancements, I delved into the realm of highly visible

colors and their potential impact. By conceiving skin kits in vibrant, attention-grabbing hues,

I aimed to enhance visibility without compromising the drone's performance. As I continued to think outside the box, the breakthrough idea emerged: integrating glow-in-the-dark vinyl

tape and reflective automotive tape onto the drone's body and partial skins. This ingenious approach addressed the weight, aerodynamics, and structural concerns that plagued

previous attempts.

The tape not only illuminated the drone in low-light conditions but also provided an effective solution for daytime visibility. By embracing these intuitive and inventive strategies, I not only

sidestepped the complexities outlined earlier but also paved the way for a comprehensive and pragmatic resolution to the nighttime VLOS visibility challenge. I have not added the reflective tape yet as it's shipping was delayed. I will update this blog with pictures and videos of the drone with the reflective tape. I will recut the glow in the dark tape

for better visual appearance and will experiment with different locations and layouts. The real estate for the glow tape and reflective tape on the Mini 3 Pro is limited so I am sure that adjusting and experimenting further with placement will enhance the VLOS visibility even further.

How to charge the glow tape during extensive nighttime operations:

When conducting nighttime operations in the field, charging UV reactive glow tape with a portable UV light is essential for maintaining visibility and safety. To charge the glow tape effectively, follow these steps:

  1. Prepare the Area: Find a safe and well-lit spot to set up your portable UV light. Make sure there are no obstacles blocking the glow tape's exposure to the UV light.

  2. Activate the UV Light: Turn on your portable UV light. Ensure it's fully charged and emitting a strong UV wavelength to maximize the glow tape's charge.

  3. Position the Glow Tape: Lay out the UV reactive glow tape in the desired pattern or area where enhanced visibility is needed. Make sure the tape is clean and free from any obstructions that might hinder its ability to absorb UV light.

(This portable UV light is perfect, not only does it have UV but it is also a bright white flashlight and a battery bank for charging gear)

Expose to UV Light: Hold the portable UV light a few inches above the glow tape. Keep the light steady and pointed directly at the tape for several minutes. The tape will absorb the UV light energy during this time.

  1. Monitor the Glow: As the UV reactive glow tape absorbs the UV light, it will start to emit a vibrant glow. Observe the tape closely to ensure it's fully charged and glowing brightly.

  2. Repeat as Needed: If the glow tape's brightness begins to fade during your nighttime operations, simply repeat the process by exposing it to the portable UV light again. Regular recharging will help maintain consistent visibility throughout the operation.

Remember, the effectiveness of the glow tape's glow depends on the quality of the tape and the strength of the portable UV light. By following these steps, you can ensure that the UV reactive glow tape remains highly visible, enhancing safety and ease of navigation during nighttime field operations. I understand that this solution does not address all the VLOS challenges, but it does help to greatly improve nighttime visibility, and it looks really cool in the sky.

Please help me to keep creating content: In my blog you will find all of the products I am using on my quest. Please help support me in creating these blog posts and all the content by purchasing products through my links. Thank you so much!!

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