Drone Recommendations from the FG Operations Team
Pilots often ask us, what drone should I get? We asked our Ops team for their recommendations to give you insight into the best drones of 2023. Whether you have been flying for ten years, or one year or only thinking of getting into commercial drone piloting, we have the lowdown on the ideal drone for you.
Batteries. No matter the drone, we recommend you always have a minimum of four batteries and a portable charger.
Insurance. DJI Care Refresh is a great insurance option for new drones. This insurance will cover the drone itself should it crash, typically replacing your drone within a week.
Mapping capabilities. When deciding on a drone, one major feature to consider is its ability to map, meaning it can follow an automated flight pattern to capture images. For FlyGuys, this feature is critical to fly most of our missions. DroneDeploy is one of our key partners, so we use their flight software for mapping missions. You can check them out here: DroneDeploy
So, which drone is right for you? Let’s find out!
Mavic Air 2S: The Beginner/Backup Drone
DJI understood the importance of introducing a more affordable mapping solution, so they created the Mavic Air 2S. The Mav Air 2S is what we recommend for pilots looking for an inexpensive drone to get started at the professional level and it is suitable for 90% of the work we offer. Some key highlights are the 20-megapixel camera, the ability to complete mapping missions and the price. The 20MP camera is becoming the new standard, so older drones with 12MP cameras are becoming obsolete.
Previously, we would have recommended the DJI Mavic 2 Pro, but it has since been discontinued. DJI then released the Mavic 3 (Classic) and the Mavic Air 2S as replacements. The Mavic 3 (Classic) is a good drone but lacks the SDK ability for mapping missions. It is only able to fly missions requiring manual capture. (They later released the Enterprise version of the Mavic 3 with this feature, which we will cover next.) Think of the Mavic Air 2S as the *LITE* version of the Mavic 3 (Classic) with the added mapping.
- Pros: Affordable for beginner pilots or as a backup drone. This little guy has a 20MP camera and can map in Drone Deploy.
- Cons: Pilots with the Air 2 S can only do smaller/simple jobs. Larger projects will require an upgrade.
- Takeaway: This drone is a great alternative to the pricier M3E and is a solid option for a beginner pilot or a backup drone.
Mavic 3 Enterprise: The Everyday Mapper
If you are looking for a bit sturdier drone than the Air 2S, the drone we recommend to pilots is the Mavic 3 Enterprise – a workhorse of a drone with the capabilities to do it all.
If you plan to make mapping your primary gig, the Mavic 3 Enterprise is the go-to drone. The upgrades to this new drone have created a new level of mapping efficiency. This drone stays airborne longer, takes photos faster with the improved camera/shutter, and cuts flight times in half.
We wanted to compare the Air 2S and the M3E, so we flew both of them during some mapping missions. We mapped a 45-acre site at 150ft for our first comparison mission. The flight time for the Air 2S was 40:58, and it needed three batteries to complete. Flying the same area with the Mavic 3 Enterprise, the flight time was 16:37, and it only needed one battery.
Another mission required us to fly 1200 acres of ranchland. The Air 2S took two hours to complete, and the M3E flew the area in 95 minutes. By upgrading to the M3E, we shaved off 30 minutes of flight time. Cutting back on flight time decreases the risk of drone mishaps and increases the usage of batteries.
This M3E also has an RTK module to capture more accurate data, which can be purchased separately as an upgrade.
- Pros: The camera is high quality, the battery life is up to 45 min, and the mapping efficiency cuts on-site work time exponentially.
- Cons: The M3E has a higher price tag than other drones.
- Takeaway: Because of the cost, we don’t recommend the M3E to new pilots or part-time flyers, as it is a bit overkill if you don’t have consistent work. But for a full-time professional drone pilot, the M3E is the best drone to have.
Mavic 3 Thermal: The Thermal Option
The Mavic 3T is the new thermal drone on the block, and our recommendation for pilots looking to get into thermal inspections or for experienced pilots who want to upgrade their thermal equipment. The previous version is the Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced (M2EA) – a great option if you can find a good deal on a used one.
This new version is essentially a Mavic 3 Enterprise with a slightly different camera and an added thermal camera. In other words, the body of the drone is the same, but the cameras are different. They both have the same batteries, so they share the features of mapping efficiencies and extended battery life. We see a lot of pilots upgrading their drone fleet to include both versions of the Mavic 3 and sharing the batteries between the two – using the M3E for RGB mapping work and the M3T for thermal inspections.
Although the new version may have a high price tag for a beginner pilot, the setup is much more affordable than its predecessor. The M200/M300 was bulky and cost around $30,000 with a dual Thermal/RGB sensor (H20T or XT2), seven sets of batteries, a generator, and speed charges. The Mavic 3T setup costs around $7,000 for the all-in-one drone and seven batteries. The best part is there is no need for a generator and you can carry the drone with one hand instead of lugging the old gear around!
- Pros: The battery life is 45 minutes, and flight time clocks in at 40 minutes. While flying, the drone can capture RGB and Thermal at the same time so your client can see the data side by side.
- Con: Expensive and mainly only used for solar panel inspection missions.
- Takeaway: If you want to add thermal inspections to your resume, now is the time. The M3T is the perfect updated drone at a much lesser price than previous versions.
Mavic Mini Series: Just for Fun Drones
If you are looking for a recreational drone, our honorable mention goes to the Mavic Mini series. The Mavic Minis do not have the quality camera (20mp) we require for our missions, nor do they have mapping capabilities. But these little guys are your best bet if you are looking for a fun drone to play with or teach with.
Ready for takeoff?
And there you have it. Whether you are a drone pilot pro, novice or want to fly for fun, these Ops team recs should launch you in the right direction.
For more information or further questions about drone recs and flying tips, please reach out to JP at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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