UAVs for Private Use (Tri and Quad Copters)

UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) offer quite a bit to the prepper. Small, inexpensive radio-controlled aircraft have now come down in price such that a prepper might build one, or have one built, for less than $1,000. That might seem like a lot, and they surely can go up in price from there, but they provide options to the prepper’s lifestyle and security that should be considered by certain individuals and groups in our community.

I’ll present you with a few applications for this technology. I won’t go into all of them, and some of you might surmise why that is. These uses have a broader appeal than the more specialized configurations being experimented with on the fringe.

First, I’d like to introduce you to the more common types of UAV. These are the “Tri-copters” and the “Quad-copters”. Their designations are derived from the number of propellers that each carries.  When viewed from above, the tri-copter is triangular in shape, with one motor and propeller combination at the end of each arm. The quad-copter has four arms and motor /prop assemblies. From here forward I will refer to them simply as “copters”.

Copters are commanded by current radio-control technology found in hobby stores. Their simple flight is made possible by the use of controller boards that provide motor control and stabilization via solid state gyroscope units. They are small, lightweight and programmable. The builder /buyer can take advantage of numerous add-on modules, or purchase boards with built-in capabilities that make possible GPS navigation, way-point programming and /or recording, RTB (return-to-base), loss-of-signal station-keeping, altitude hold and others. With a full suite of options loaded on, these machines become almost life-like. With increased capabilities come increased utility.

Retreat Security

Each retreat has its security concerns, and some of those are only addressed by feet on the perimeter, eyes behind binoculars, or cameras on poles. Keeping a watch on things beyond these limited capabilities requires more assets tasked to the problem. Risking human life to gather information is a terribly lopsided trade. I am a big believer in technology as a servant. This is where a copter can help out. A copter can carry camera. This camera might record what it sees for later viewing or, with the right kind of equipment, transmit live video to its operator and base station. Video surveillance of the retreat’s perimeter, geography beyond the border, or even the interior from above, can do much to expands the occupants’ situational awareness.

The copter can be used to fly the perimeter and see things as a bird might. Once the impact hazards to a specific flight path are well defined, the bird can fly its route automatically and send live video home, or be manually flown to gather visual clues to this or that situation. Hovering, it may act as a specialized camera pod where one did not previously exist. One happy feature of these machines is that they are inherently quiet. Even four electric motors spinning blades 50 feet away can be hard to hear, especially with other noises in the area. Your hovering camera pod need not be audible to intruders in order to be effective. If they have helmets or other head gear, so much the more in your favor.

Speaking of intruders, or prying eyes as the case may be, they won’t be on your border forever. They will need to go home sometime. If home is within a couple miles, you can follow them without risk to yourself. That’s right. Copters can have a range measured in miles! Some home versions have been known to venture out 3 miles and back, using live video to assist in guidance. These machines push the envelope quite a bit, and can be costly, but they showcase the possibilities. If your retreat is being cased, it’s possible that the interested parties are at least temporarily bivouacked well within 1 mile of the retreat. This range is very workable, with live video. On an off note…. it you are being watched by one of these machines owned by the other side, it is possible to “watch” them in return, and follow the copter back to its own base for further study. Something to think about….

The average run time in between 8 and 12 minutes. This can leave you with 2 to 6 minutes over a target 3 miles away, or 10 minutes locally. Some people are experimenting with super lightweight frames and efficient batteries to increase run time.


Lots of hunters make use of automated trail cameras to study game movement patterns while they are away. Using a copter adds a real-time mobile component to this. Think you see a doe out there at 250 yards in the early morning light? Send up your bird to take a peak. Want to see if that game trap has been sprung? Fly out and verify it. Need to see if that buck stopped over the next ridge? No problem. Infrared cameras are also workable, and can help get a look at things in the dark. Granted, the range and clarity will suffer, but there may be applications for this in a retreat hunting setting.

Urban Operation

(Flying these in a neighborhood might be restricted by regulations and codes. Always check before hand.) What can be done with a copter out in the sticks can be done in an urban setting, too. The distances, obstacles, radio interference, terrain and subjects will vary wildly. But the copter is small and highly maneuverable. Built with excess power, it can carry a heavier payload of cameras and battery power. With the right landing gear, it can set down in a convenient spot in an emergency, and be recalled later when things have calmed down. Having a well planned GPS way-point trail to reference, the bird can come home without help.

Bug Out Vehicles

Your BOV is your ticket to quick transit when bugging out. Even though your travel is much slower than during “better times”, it is certainly quicker than moving on foot. Bugging out in a vehicle does have its risks. Traveling by road in dangerous times presents you with some nasty scenarios such as downed bridges, roadblocks, check points, ambushes and traffic jams. If you could see over that next ridge, around that corner, or behind that apparent roadblock or crash scene, your decision making will be much better informed. A copter can recon the situation and take most of the risks for you. Approaching the location in question from an off angle can even fool potential observers as to your actual location. Having these eyes available to you is something most would not expect.

Some Uses for a Copter

How might a copter come in handy? Well, consider where you might need eyeballs.

  • Scoping out a nearby riot scene
  • Investigating bad actors operating in your area
  • Getting a look a wildfires, floods, mudslides that may threaten your location
  • Viewing the damage in your area after a disaster, natural or man made, from within your shelter
  • Investigating the source a nearby loud noises
  • Counter-reconnaissance
  • Intimidating threatening persons at your retreat
  • Assisting local law enforcement (I recommend getting to know your local law enforcement officers, if there is any chance that you may do so. We help ours locally, and get some pretty good response times from them in return.)
  • Fun and games at picnics, at the beach and elsewhere
  • Checking out an alternate trail in the wilderness (if you feel like packing it along with you)

Specialized Copters

A group may want to have more than one. There could be losses due to any number of actions, and backups might be called for in the security plan. Some of these losses might be “recoverable”, if only they could be reached. A “Heavy lift” copter, purpose built for lifting and transport can be built. It would be a larger version of a copter, perhaps even a twin rotor. Heavy lift units needs to grapple the downed bird, carry it home and do so with a large margin of error in its lift power and operational duration. Designing one of these is for an active imagination, but think hooks, hook releases and downward-looking spotting cameras.

High speed birds are useful in situations where fast recon is needed. The ability to quickly encounter, and successfully track intruders is justification for a specialized bird built for speed.

Long duration observation copters. Recently, a contest was held by a large organization in which the participants were tasked with building birds that could get to specific locations, set themselves down, and just watch things. A home built version of this bird would need a pan-tilt camera setup. By setting up nest in an important location, the movable camera is able to get a good look at things in a wide range of positions and angles, over a long period of time. The bird itself rests in place. It’s power usage is greatly reduced, and amounts to nothing more than waiting for the command to lift off, and whatever power is expended by sitting idle and at the ready. The camera and transmitter run off their own power supply and do not threaten the bird with parasitic losses that make RTB impossible. Such an equipped copter provides the operator with a very adaptable capability.

Here are some videos for those of you new to this. Watch them all.

There are other types of UAVs. There are traditionally configured airplanes, driven by props, fans or jets. These can also be fitted with the technology highlighted above. Going back to the BOV application, a fast moving electric fan-powered plane can quickly recon an area, and be near impossible to bring down. But for on-station utility and adaptability, copters are king.



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