Does anyone have any experience / tips for building and using a drone for ecological work? I'm looking to use it ideally for the following; tree surveys, wetland identifications (potential delineation), elevation mapping etc...

I assume I would need it to lift ~5 to 10lbs of sensors and fly for about 20minutes or more if possible. I would like it to be somewhat modular in the sense that I could swap out cameras for lidar fairly easily.

Drone frame suggestions and motors would be greatly appreciated and I think get the ball rollig for me. I'm hesitant to buy a those parts without suggestions myself because I feel that's the backbone of a proper field drone.

Thanks in advance!

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Fixed wing drones do work well with winds.   They cruise at about 12 meters per second.  They can fly for more than an hour.   You get nice evenly timed photos with the survey pattern setup to fly across wind and always turning up wind.   Typical altitudes are from 70 to 100 meters.   You also need an area to land and takeoff.      Most of my experience is with aerial photography of golf courses along the coast.    With a plane I can do all 18 holes twice in a morning.   

I have found that the quadcopters to be great for small areas and for low altitude high resolution photos.   You can fly them along a low altitude and 5 meters per second and get great high resolution photos for constructing orthophotos and 3d models.  They only require a small landing area which can be important in the city.  You can get close to the area you are going to photograph put the quadcopter up, grab the photos and land.

For larger areas I have found the planes to be quite reliable.     I have never lost a plane.     On one golf course I did last year, the E384 did all 18 holes twice.  Once at 70 meters and once at 100 meters.  I was done by noon.  I had not thought the wind was much of a problem but both quadcopter pilots, that were flying the same job doing small area aerial photography, had crashes.   They were flying lower than I was though and there were a lot of low altitude obstacles.   


You should try to figure out what sensor loadout you need and then try to build a vehicle around that. Fixed wings can and do work well in wind, as David says above. Rotary wing craft are very nice because as you know, they can take off and land vertically, with minimal landing space (compared to a fixed wing).

Decide what payload you have to carry, then decided if you want or need a fixed wing or rotary wing aircraft. If you decide that you need a rotary wing with a large payload with 20+min flight times, then you will wind up with a large multicopter similar to what we build for aerial spraying.

Once you get to that scale of vehicle, it becomes more cost effective to buy a ready made product unless you have extensive experience designing and building this type of equipment. For example, we looked at the Foxtech D130 frame, Aerial Pixels FX8 frame, and the Monster X frame. After looking at all the options and seeing how expensive everything was (and still did not meet our requirements), we decided to go with the machined body you saw (which actually turned out to be quite a bit cheaper than the frames mentioned above).

One last thought, if you are using this equipment out in the wildlands, you will definitely want something that is waterproof. I can't tell you how many times our equipment has been rained on, splashed by sprinklers, dropped in puddles, etc where if the vehicle wasn't waterproof we would be in trouble.

Good luck with your project

If you want to get the personal satisfaction and have the time and money, I would suggest you build both a multi and a fixed wing.You will have fun, you will learn a lot and you might even survive.

Having said that, my personal opinion is that by and large, building fixed wings gives you better results in terms of bang for your buck. This is because multis totally dominate the market and there are huge amounts of very well thought out, very well constructed and competitively priced ready made systems which cover most of the obvious use cases far better than you could as a noob designer / builder.

Another point is that crashes are generally milder on fixed wings (and as a noob designer/builder you 're likely get plenty of those). A blown ESC on a plane is a nuisance but you can still glide down more or less in control (in fact I just did last week, blown motor) and even if you do crash, the electronics are cocooned in the fuselage. In a quad, you get an angry spinning mess with exposed crunchy expensive bits crashing randomly.

Get a hold of @dronecology on Twitter.

When we are thinking of taking on a new challenge, we often engage in a fact finding mission. You could do the same by joining one of our teams in operating drones for conservation or counter poaching.

This post by William Darry appears to be a spam post.

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It certainly was David, thanks for bringing it to our attention.

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