The Galloway Mountain Rescue Team in Scotland recently incorporated the DJI Avata FPV into their search and rescue operations, generating a buzz about this new kind of UAVs. This marks a significant advancement in their capability to navigate the complex and rugged terrains of the Scottish Highlands. 

This particular drone model is known for its high maneuverability and ability to provide close first-person view (FPV) looks. It even made it to our list of top long-range drones with its 10 km transmission range and lengthy flight time. The Mountain Rescue Team plans to use this drone in more complex search scenarios, including water/rope rescue operations, gullies, and other areas where access is typically challenging. 

Just what exactly with this kind of drone makes it tick, and how useful is it for SAR missions?  

FPV Drones 101: What Are They?

An FPV (First-Person View) drone essentially puts you in the ‘cockpit’ of the drone, as if you were onboard  the drone. This is typically achieved through the use of a camera mounted on the drone, which captures everything in its path and sends this live feed straight to you, through a headset, monitor, or mobile device. The view you get is exactly what the drone sees, no delays, no second-hand images.

FPV drones equipped with thermal imaging can find people in darkness or through smoke. One particularly popular one is the DJI Matrice 350 Starlight FPV that has resulted in increased performance during low light situations.  

Combined with its 55-minute flight time range, 2.7kg payload capacity, obstacle avoidance, 20km transmission distance and even high-capacity TB65 batteries, it became a key asset for search and rescue operations in 2023

The main features FPV drones include:

- Camera and Video Transmission: The camera captures the drone's viewpoint and transmits this video feed in real-time. This feed is often in high definition and low latency to provide an immersive experience.

- Headset or Goggles: Pilots use specialized goggles or headsets to view the live feed. These headsets can range from basic models that hold a smartphone to advanced goggles with built-in screens and receivers. For instance, DJI Avata drone works with the DJI Goggles 2

- Remote Control: Pilots use a remote control to maneuver the drone. The controls are typically more complex than those of standard drones, allowing for greater precision and agility. In the Avata’s case you use the DJI Motion Controller.

5 Benefits Of Using FPV Drones

1. Real-Time, First-Person Visuals

The immersive visual experience when seeing through the drone's 'eyes'  allows the pilot to explore and understand the environment intimately. The pilot can navigate more efficiently through difficult terrains, detect subtle movements or colors that might indicate a person's location, and assess situations with a clarity that traditional overhead drone footage may not provide. This direct perspective is particularly beneficial in dense forests, collapsed structures, or other complex environments where a high level of detail and spatial awareness is necessary.

2. Improved Reaction Time and Decision Making

In SAR missions, every second counts, and the ability to react instantly to visual cues can be the difference between life and death. The FPV setup reduces the lag time between seeing something and reacting to it. The pilot feels more connected to the environment, leading to more intuitive control of the drone. This benefit is crucial when dealing with unpredictable environments or bad weather.

3. Emotional and Cognitive Engagement

Flying UAVs like the DJI Avata creates a unique psychological effect, where the pilot becomes deeply engaged with the task at hand. Getting really dialed in during such high-sakes operations evokes a stronger emotional response, fostering a sense of urgency and determination to locate and help victims – enhancing the overall effectiveness of the mission.

4. Effective Training Tool

FPV drones are excellent for training purposes, offering pilots a realistic experience of search and rescue operations. Training with FPV drones allows pilots to develop a deeper understanding of how to navigate through complex environments, how to spot signs of survivors, and how to make quick decisions based on real-time visuals. This hands-on experience is invaluable in preparing pilots for actual rescue missions, where the skills honed during training can be directly applied. Furthermore, this form of training can simulate stressful and challenging conditions, enabling pilots to build resilience and adaptability which are critical skills in actual search and rescue scenarios.

5. Enhanced Safety for Rescue Teams

By employing FPV drones, rescue teams can minimize the need to put human lives at risk. Pilots get to scout dangerous areas, identify hazards, and assess the safety of a location before ground teams are sent in. This prior reconnaissance can inform safer routes for rescuers, alert them to potential dangers, and even help in planning medical or extraction teams' entry.

Then there are the other advantages of using drones for the SAR missions – like rapid deployment where the drones can be airborne within minutes, scouting for lost hikers in mountain rescues or locating stranded individuals during floods; cost-effectiveness where they are more affordable than deploying helicopters or large teams; to the versatility since the drones can operate in diverse environments, be it a desert search, a snowy landscape, or during rainy conditions. The latter will depend on the level of durability of the drone, so check for specifics like its Ingress Protection (IP rating) e.g. the tough build and IP55 rating of the Matrice 350 makes it suitable for operations in tough conditions, including storms and mountain rescues .

Training and Skill Development for FPV Drone Operators

· Basic FPV Drone Piloting Skills

Flying in a densely wooded area presents is not the same to open fields. Mastering the basics is the foundation of any drone operation. For FPV drones, this includes understanding the drone's controls, learning how to read telemetry data, and developing a feel for the drone's behavior in various conditions. Operators must practice takeoff and landing maneuvers, maintaining altitude, and simple navigational tasks in different environments. 

· Advanced Navigation and Maneuvering Techniques

As operators gain proficiency, they move to advanced navigation. This involves intricate flight patterns, tight maneuvering in complex environments, and quick decision-making skills – all in line with the drone’s integrated software. For instance, navigating through the ruins of a collapsed building to locate survivors requires precise control to avoid obstacles while maintaining a steady camera view. Operators must also learn to adjust to sudden changes in weather, like strong winds, that significantly affect drone handling.

· Simulation-Based Training Programs

Simulators offer a risk-free environment for practicing challenging scenarios. Operators can simulate SAR missions in virtual environments that mimic real-world conditions, like flying in low visibility or during night-time. This not only enhances their flying skills but also prepares them mentally for high-pressure situations. 

· Scenario-Specific Training Modules

SAR missions vary greatly depending on the scenario. Training modules tailored to specific situations are crucial. This could include modules for urban SAR, where navigating between buildings is key, or wilderness search missions, which demand long-range navigation and endurance. 

· Coordination with Ground-Based SAR Teams

Lastly, effective coordination with ground-based SAR teams is vital. Drone operators must learn how to communicate and work alongside traditional SAR personnel. This includes understanding ground team strategies, adapting drone operations to complement these strategies, and effectively relaying information gathered by the drone. For instance, during a flood rescue operation, drone operators must work seamlessly with boat crews to identify and rescue stranded individuals. During wildfire containment, drone operators need to coordinate with fire management teams. This involves aligning drone surveillance to monitor fire spread, identifying hotspots, and providing real-time data to firefighters on the ground. After earthquakes or building collapses, pilots must collaborate with agencies to map out safe routes for rescuers, identifying points of interest, and assessing structural integrity from an aerial perspective to guide and support ground team efforts

Tailored Training for Real-World Applications 

Our Advanced UAS Operator Course, hosted at our Southern California headquarters will get your team ready for its missions. Specifically, the "UAS Operations for Public Safety Applications" class focuses on skills crucial for search and rescue, including emergency scene mapping and reconstruction. This program ensures your team is equipped to handle a wide spectrum of emergencies efficiently​​.

The course encompasses various aspects of drone operations, from basic UAS piloting to advanced techniques like 3D mapping and nighttime operations. Understanding that each organization has unique needs, our program offers customizable instruction tailored to your team's specific requirements, experience level, and operational context​​. The training is spearheaded by Derrick Ward, our Director of Public Safety with 33 years of experience. His expertise in public safety drone operations ensures that your team receives the most relevant and practical training​​.

Understanding the logistical challenges, we offer the flexibility of conducting training at your location, tailored to your schedule, thus eliminating the need for your team to travel out-of-state​​. This training program will not only enhance your team's operational capabilities but also ensure the safety and efficiency of your search and rescue operations. Please feel free to contact us at (877) 299-1075 / (213) 262-9436 or email for more details or to schedule a training session.