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How to make sure an RPA is airworthy

How do you make sure an RPA is airworthy? This article offers example checklists for the steps required to make it flight-ready.
white drone with controller

All ReOC holders will have procedures for determining remote piloted aircraft system (RPAS) serviceability. These often take the form of Pre-Flight Checklists and must be completed before launch.

Typically, these involve doing manual checks over the aircraft to ensure it is flight-ready and then proceeding to check the communications and other equipment.

Let’s take a look at how to ensure general airworthiness for an RPA.

Example checklist for a fixed-wing RPA

  • Check assembly of the wing set
  • Check security and movement of control surfaces
  • Check security and condition of propeller/s
  • Check security of internal avionics
  • Check security and connection of internal cabling and connectors
  • Check payload installation
  • Check powerplant components
  • Check full assembly
  • Check fuel level as required (or batteries are charged)
  • Check oil level as required (if applicable)
  • Check centre of gravity is within specification

Example checklist for system start/launch

  • Ensure that staff are briefed
  • Ensure that bystanders are briefed (with respect to safety).
  • Check maintenance release status
  • Ensure that preflight checklists have been conducted
  • System power up
  • Check that system frequencies are correct
  • Control surface movement check
  • Engine start and check engine run
  • Check system health parameters
  • Check payload operational
  • Check permission to launch (if required)
  • Broadcast intentions to launch (if required)
  • Launch in accordance with normal procedures

Use of the RPA technical log

RPAS Technical logs will help manage Remote Pilot details, Battery Charging logs, Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) flight time logs and maintenance logs for UAV, Remote control and batteries. All ReOC holders will have technical logs to complete and it’s really important to complete them when they need to be completed, rather than thinking you will remember and complete them later.

Responsibilities of the holder of a remote pilot licence

Conducting inspections of the RPA

The Maintenance release is a document that records the current airworthiness status of an aircraft. As an RPA does not often carry an airworthiness certificate, the maintenance release refers to the RPA’s readiness for flight.

The maintenance release records all flying times, daily inspections and maintenance defects.

With the operation of an RPA, the operator and maintenance controller both have an interest in the recent maintenance history of the RPA and the flying hours remaining before the next required RPA maintenance action. The maintenance release contains information allowing the operator to make informed decisions about the RPA’s condition and readiness for flight.

Reporting defects or unserviceability in relation to the RPAS

You must report all defects or unserviceability of an RPAS according to your operator’s procedures. These procedures will be in the Operations Manual and/or the Operational Procedures Library. Usually, this will mean contacting the Maintenance Controller, which is a person that all ReOC holders are required to have as part of the team.

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Drone Safety for Managers (Australia)

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