A Day in the Life of a Flight Operations Engineer at Skyports, by Harry Plested

Harry PlestedNo two days are the same for members of the Skyports flight crew, as Harry Plested provides an exciting glimpse into a less-than-typical day in the life of a Skyports flight operations engineer.

As a member of the Skyports flight operations team, no two days are the same. We are always testing and training for different projects and activities, as well as conducting flights for our partners to allow them to gather essential data from onboard sensors and payloads and further develop their products and services.

08:15- I leave for the Skyports testing facility near Newbury – this is the central base for all of Skyports’ flight operations. Arguably the most boring part of anyone’s day is the commute, but it is a welcome opportunity to plan for the day ahead and collect my thoughts.

09:00- On arrival at the flight area, I catch up with the rest of the team and start to asssemble our flight line. This includes general site maintenance and upkeep as well as setting up the Skyports Ground Control Station (GCS) van to make sure that it is ready for a day of flights. Inspecting and assembling our delivery drones follows in accordance with our thorough checklists to ensure they are safe to operate and assembled correctly every time. The final part of preparation is to put the kettle on and make some coffee before getting into our briefings and tasks for the day.

Skyports GCS Van
– Skyports GCS Van

09:30- Morning brief. At the start of each day we take 15 minutes to talk through the plan for the day. Today, this is centred around endurance testing of our vehicles, as well as gathering important temperature and vibration data for our new payload vessel to ensure it complies with all the customer and regulatory requirements. Our testing programmes are essential for us to develop real-world performance statistics of the delivery vehicles so that when we are on real operations the aircraft is flown safely within its limitations and can complete the tasks required. On other days we will focus solely on full manual flights using our delivery aircraft. Should pilots like me need to intervene in the mission, I am suitably trained and ready to do so safely.

Skyports Flight Operations Team
– Flight Operations Team conducting control checks

09:45- Hover checks. After assembling the aircraft, we perform a hover check. Before commencing the day’s flying, we perform a series of thse checks that ensure not only that the aircraft is setup and functioning correctly, but also that the GCS is displaying all the right data. This includes control checks as well as configuration of the aircraft’s autopilot parameters to best suit the task at hand.

10:00- Once all of our safety checks are complete, we can commence our testing programme. Within the team, we cycle roles to ensure that all team members are proficient in every role, giving us the maximum flexibility when operating in a real-world environment. Before each flight, we perform a series of checks covering the aircraft, the GCS and also the surrounding area to ensure that the flight is safe to proceed. When we aren’t flying, the team has various different tasks that include battery charging, flight logging and resting. All our flights at the moment are centred around our next operation in Scotland working with the NHS. We need to ensure that even in the aircraft’s max rated wind conditions, it can still complete the mission with a safety buffer remaining in the flight batteries.

13:00- Lunch. A key part to any person’s day, this is a great time to chat with the team or take some time for yourself. The location of the testing area has its advantages, when we don’t have generators running for battery charging and general site power it is super quiet and peaceful. As with manned aviation, rest periods are incredibly important to ensure that the flight crew can be fully focused on the flight when in progress. Training flights can last upwards of 45mins, so it is very mentally strenuous.

14:00- We continue with the endurance flights. So far, we have exceeded what we need by a large margin and the data collected is being analysed on site so that we can progress with our payload box testing as quickly as possible. For the first flight after lunch I am fulfilling the role of safety pilot. This means that although it is an automatic mission, I am responsible to take control of the aircraft in the event of any unexpected behaviour, or external factor that makes the mission unsafe to continue. Once the flight is complete it is then my responsibility to complete all of the post-flight checks and to ensure that the details of the flight are logged into our flight management system and that my personal pilot logs are updated with the latest information.

Skyports Crew GCS Van
– Inside the GCS Van, Skyports crew work on Weather forecasting and Flight analysis

16:00- We stop our testing program and start to dismantle certain elements of the flight site ready to go home; however, we haven’t finished flying yet. When conducting pre-programmed automatic flights, the pilot is mostly there to observe rather than pilot the aircraft, therefore it is important that we still conduct currency and skill-building flights to maintain the team’s skillsets. Today, this was conducted using our trainer aircraft which is a hobby grade fully manual aircraft. This presents a different challenge to our heavily assisted delivery vehicles, but helps to hone our pilot’s skills, not only during normal flight, but also to practice our emergency response procedures. This can include loss of forward thrust as well as the loss of certain control systems. Not only are these flights important for skill building, but also great fun as we all get a chance to wind down. Naturally, this exercise becomes highly competitive with spur of the moment challenges such as longest glide and on the spot landings. Skyports Drone in a Box - Harry Plested Profile Pic

17:00- Once all training flights are finished and the site is packed away we have a short debrief session to make sure that all learnings from the day are captured and can be used in the future, and then it’s time to head home for a well-earned rest before another busy day at the Skyports training facility.

We are currently recruiting for Drone Pilots / Flight Operations Engineers to join our mission to transform how we move essential goods around our communities. Find out more >