You have been asked to deploy your UAS on an important matter. It may be an all day thing, so get comfy. There are supervisors asking when you can be overhead. You are trying to figure out the airspace, and the questions linger, “where is my sensor case, are the batteries charged, and who am I sending this video to?”. You exercise muscle memory and quickly get the UAS in the air. As you begin to relax and pat yourself on the back for saving the day, you hear a soft voice in your head asking, “did you put the battery charger back in the kit yesterday?”. “There’s NO WAY I didn’t put it back.” Meanwhile, as your “highly trained crew member” fiddles with AIRMAP he asks, “what’s TFR mean again?” And so the pat on the back goes from “congrats”, to “it happens!”. I have committed or observed many preventable errors in my aviation career. They range from simple to serious errors like forgetting to put the thermal payload on at night, flying in the wrong airspace, and even taking off in a manned aircraft without the sensor attached, a tragic combination of bad communication and failure to properly preflight using the checklist. Most of these events are preventable, and often the result of variations of an affliction known as “get thereitis”, with an added measure of work-induced stress, and a pinch of good old arrogance. I get it, times a wastin’, and you want to start helping the team and prove your value.
In the piloted aviation world, salted by decades of mishaps and “teachable moments”, checklists have become a mandatory part of any flight. The checklist culture is so ingrained in the process, that not using one would stand out as an anomaly. The checklist is not there because you are inexperienced or filled with doubt, but rather it serves as a sort of standardization for your process when you have stress or interruption in your mission execution. This is one area where piloted and remotely piloted programs share processes. How many UAS programs in Public Safety have and use a checklist, and how many of those checklists are appropriate to both the mission being flown and the system being flown? Not many. If you have a comprehensive mission checklist, then you may be in the minority in the Public Safety UAS community. Skyfire developed a basic checklist, really a foundation from which your agency can build a mission and system-specific checklist to use when you most need to ensure you are getting things right. Unlike piloted aviation, you may not have the crew capacity for “read, challenge, response”, but you certainly have the time to review the steps noted in the checklist to ensure all necessary steps have been completed prior to launch, during the mission, and upon conclusion of your flight. Following a proper checklist greatly reduces the chance for mistakes, and a post-fight checklist puts you in a position to succeed on your next mission as well. Every poet is a thief, and every checklist contains ideas and lessons learned from someone else. Please use this checklist, or one like it, as a foundation for your programs, adapt it as you see fit, make it work, and avoid hitting the bus full of nuns. It’s time to normalize checklist use in your UAS program!
Director of Public Safety
Michael Rogers recently retired from a 22-year career as an FBI Special Agent, where he managed and grew the Bureau’s UAS program, and directed both equipment selection, training programs, and operational deployments. Rogers is a United States Air Force and Law Enforcement veteran with nearly 30 years of experience, serving in roles such as Field Training Officer, Investigative Special Agent, SWAT team operator, Sniper/Observer, Pilot in Command, Surveillance Team Leader, and Aviation Program Manager. He also has more than 5,000 hours as a manned aircraft pilot in command.