With Or Without You
Taking into account the relative cost and challenges of drone ownership, you might expect the purchase of a backpack for your quadcopter or multirotor to be a mere afterthought. However, as every gadget lover — or parent, for that matter — knows, figuring out how best to safely carry that precious cargo can be plenty tricky. Winnowing down the seemingly endless lineup of case types and configurations to the best options for your particular choice of unmanned flight gear can be downright overwhelming. Should it be hardshell or soft-sided? Custom-cut or universal fit? Which type of protective padding will suit your needs? Should you take extra precautions for shock absorption, heat protection, or water resistance? What about security and air travel regulations? Will it have to withstand the rigors of TSA inspection, or must you carry your multirotor on foot through rugged terrain without it succumbing to the elements? And while we’re on the subject of traveling with your gear, just how much dismantling and (re-)assembly is required to stow and retrieve it without damaging the equipment at some point? You might even be tempted to turn the tables and find a way to make a drone to fit the bag you’ve got.
Necessity will dictate a number of these selections. Aerial photographers and journalists have their own unique requirements, and those who fly commercially with their drones must contend with a bewildering assortment of rules and regulations to protect the safety of their fellow air travelers (more on that below). Phantom owners and those whose quads have a similar form-factor may find their backpack of choice among those cases especially designed for that model. Forums devoted to specific makes and applications offer their users the opportunity to hash out all the various considerations with fellow members of their rarefied fandom.
Battery Debacles and Luggage Lunacy
Just when drone enthusiasts were finally coming to grips with FAA Guidelines governing so-called hobby aircraft, the disturbing tendency of lithium batteries and the gadgets powered by them to spontaneously detonate emerged as a rising threat to the unmanned flight community’s activities. As if the risks of self-immolation associated with carrying a mobile phone, hover board, or other device known to have explosive tendencies weren’t enough, consumer UAV owners must also attend to the ever-shifting and often conflicting policies of the TSA, individual airlines, and even the airports themselves where remote-controlled aircraft are concerned.
For starters, there are the usual considerations of size, weight, and configuration for checked and carry-on baggage. When it comes to transporting electronics that may or may not be used for nefarious purposes, the arousal of inspectors’ and fellow passengers’ suspicions adds another layer of complication to the process. It’s best to err on the side of caution when making your travel arrangements, and check ahead of time for any regulations or issues that may apply to you. Gatherings of fellow hobbyists — online or at your local venue — can be valuable resources. At the very least, you’ll need appropriately shielded and TSA-approved protective gear to safely carry your power supply apart from the airframe and ancillaries.
Packing It In
Aside from the whole battery issue, one of the stickiest wickets for anyone who’s going places with model aircraft is how to transport their gear without having to significantly dismantle it in order to avoid damaging any moving parts. As fragile as propellers and other appendages are, it’s no wonder that not only is an offer of multiple spares a huge selling point, but 3D-printed propeller guards and custom cutouts are among the latest products of the additive manufacturing craze. Add to that the debate over the relative merits of hardshell versus soft-sided cases, and you might not be surprised to find that how to pack your equipment is the subject of as much discussion in remote piloting circles as speed, range, and charging times.
Whether you prefer a bespoke design, or a universal carrier is more your jam, the interior of any backpack you choose will most likely be fitted with some type of impact-resistant cushioning to guard against breakage if the bag is dropped or crushed. Of course, no amount of padding will guarantee that some parts won’t be damaged in a worst-case-scenario, but it’s worth considering whether soft eggshell inserts or closed-cell foam will offer sufficient protection to keep you from going into hock to maintain your replacement parts supply.
You might want to give waterproofing and heat-resistance some thought if your case and its contents are likely to encounter less-than-optimal conditions for sensitive electronics. And don't forget to account for any specialized equipment you'll need to take along, such as a gimbal-mounted camera or FPV goggles.