Category Archives for "Commerical Drones"

The Drone Aerial Photography Age


Drone Aerial Photography

Drone Aerial Photography – accessible to almost anyone

The drone aerial photography age is well under way.  The pace has picked up noticeably in 2014 and the media has caught on to this revolution in technology and is reporting on it with increasing depth and frequency.  Well-known faces in the public eye are using drones and this celebrity endorsement is adding to the interest and the buzz.  Martha Stewart’s blog post containing stills and video is an example.

Tens of thousands of sUAV are now being used by people all around the world.  At the moment most of this activity centres around experimentation with aerial photography using drones like the DJI Phantom range.  Amateur drone flyers are taking stills and videos and uploading them to YouTube and other social media every hour of the day.  Put the search phrase DJI Phantom into YouTube are you’re likely to see well in excess of half a million results, much of them being the uploads of amateurs flying their Phantoms for the first time and eager to share their experiences.

News, TV, and film makers have been using quadcopters, hexacopters, and octocopters for many months now.  With increased rotor power comes bigger payloads and that means heavier and more sophisticated cameras.  A lot of the aerial shots you see on news items and other TV is now shot with drones, and the perspective provided by this aerial imagery is helping film makers create documentaries that are astounding in they that they reveal the Earth from low level altitudes and a slow speeds.

Researchers and scientists and discovering ways in which drones can be used to collect data and monitor environments that would otherwise be impossible without many hours of human work.  In the commercial sector, companies of all kinds are finding uses for UAV that will give them a competitive edge and speed up or enhance their ability to bring their goods and services to their customers.

Meanwhile, the military has broadened out and extended its range of UAV from the massive Global Hawk to nano drones like the Black Hornet.  On land, in the sea, and particularly in the air UAV and robotic technology is being developed at such pace that it’s hard to keep abreast of it all.

In the UK, those in the media and photography businesses mentioned above will be well aware of the necessity for a commercial licence to operate their drones.  They will probably be either BNUC-s or RPQ-s qualified.  They will consequently be familiar with the CAA Rules and Regulations regarding the operation of unmanned aircraft and aircraft systems, and they will carry full commercial insurance which is much more comprehensive than that of the BMFA which provides insurance for amateur flyers.  Civil aviation authorities in other countries have yet to produce guidelines or they are playing safe by imposing draconian bans.

During the 20th Century aviation developed from its rudimentary beginnings to supersonic flight and the Space Age.  Computing power began its growth from the latter half of this period and continues to evolve now.  In the 21st Century technological progress continues at such a rate that it’s difficult to predict where we’ll be by the end of this century.  All we can see from recent years is that the pace of development shows no sign of slowing down.  Devices that we thought state of the art ten years ago now seem hopelessly out of date.

There’s never been a better time to enter the drone aerial photography age or the UAS world in general.  It’s a technology revolution that offers opportunities for people of almost any age or ability.  Whether you’re a young adult looking for a career or someone with most of your working life behind you there are plenty of reasons to start viewing the world and all is beauty from the perspective and viewpoint provided by a drone.

Seeing the world from a low altitude and slowly passing over locations that we have long since taken for granted reveals them anew and gives them a fresh perspective.  Pilots of manned aircraft realised this a century ago.  Drones provide the means for all us to appreciate the natural world, landscapes, cities, and oceans in a way previously denied to us.

You haven’t seen a tree until you’ve seen its shadow from the sky.

~ Amelia Earhart

DJI Phantom Fly Away Causes and Cures

DJI Phantom Fly Away

Calibrate your compass at each new location

Lately I’ve seen several more posts in Facebook user groups added by DJI Phantom owners asking for answers with regard to a fly away.  I wrote about the DJI Phantom fly away causes and cures in an earlier blog post, but these latest reports point to one single cause that could easily be rectified if owners simply took the time to read the manual and carry out some simple pre flight checks.

These reports often provide little background or technical information, but they might include some film footage.  A typical report will go something like this:

Hey guys, had my first fly away today.  Managed to get my Phantom back and there’s little damage. Here’s the film it took.  Can you tell me why this happened?

In two of the most recent cases I’ve read clues as to the most likely cause of the fly away is there in the film. In one the Phantom is launched from the roof of a vehicle.  That’s the metal roof of a vehicle.

In another, the Phantom is launched from a concrete pier by a beach.  Close to the take off point is the metal grill of a drainage gully (not to mention the metal that might be within the concrete itself).

The film then shows the Phantom flying over a crowded beach then seemingly trying to return to its Home Point but with poor flying performance.  Leaving aside the safety risks of flying a multi rotor UAV over a beach where families are enjoying a day in the sun, both this and the other post have two things in common.

  1. There is a strong possibility that the Phantom’s compass was adversely affected by the metal at the Home Point
  2. There was no evidence in the film of any checks made immediately before or after take off.

RTFM – Read The Fantom Manual!

And the DJI wiki pages.

If you search the wiki pages for the two words ‘calibrate compass‘ you’ll find that the pages for the Phantom 2, Phantom 2 Vision, and Phantom 2 Vision Plus each have a page devoted to this subject.  They vary slightly, but the instructions and the emphasis are all there.

Here are the instructions on the Vision+ version of the page:

IMPORTANT: Make sure to calibrate the compass in every new flight location. The compass is very sensitive to electromagnetic interference, which can cause abnormal compass data leading to poor flight performance or even flight failure. Regular calibration is required for optimum performance.


  • (1)DO NOT calibrate your compass where there is a chance of strong magnetic interference, such as magnetite, parking structures, and steel reinforcements underground.
  • (2)DO NOT carry ferromagnetic materials with you during calibration such as keys or cellular phones.
  • (3)DO NOT calibrate beside massive metal objects.

Note how DJI have put certain text in red.  Note how they’ve used block capitals in the bullet points. Do you think they’re trying to tell us something here?

Now, the next time you see someone report a fly away see if you can determine if they followed the instructions above.

  • Note how the first point mentions steel reinforcements underground.  What risks are you taking launching from a concrete pier by a beach, a pavement, or a sidewalk?
  • Point two mentions keys and cellular phones i.e. two things most of us carry around with us at all times, particularly with the Vision and Vision+ as we may be about to use the app.
  • Point three mentions massive metal objects.  Like a car maybe?

So assuming you’ve adopted the habit of calibrating your compass at each new flight location and doing so with all the above warnings in mind, what about the second point I mentioned above, the checks made immediately after take off?

In many clips seen online the Phantom is launched as if from a catapault on the deck of an aircraft carrier.  It’s given full throttle and hurled into the air.   I think this is risky.  Instead, adopt the habit of taking off and leaving it in a hover a few feet off the ground for a few seconds.  Watch for signs of drift or any other kind of instability.  Better that you notice it there than 200ft above a lake.

Pilots of manned aircraft develop the habit of checking their aircraft before, during, and after flight.  We should do the same with UAVs, and just to drive home the instructions above here’s the most important part:

IMPORTANT: Make sure to calibrate the compass in every new flight location. The compass is very sensitive to electromagnetic interference, which can cause abnormal compass data leading to poor flight performance or even flight failure. Regular calibration is required for optimum performance.

Happy Phantom Flying! 🙂

Aviate, Navigate, Communicate

Aviate, Navigate, CommunicatePilots of manned aircraft have a saying, “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate“.  It’s a reminder of three of the most important habits to develop and maintain whether you’re a 10 hour student practicing in your local airfield or 10,000 hour airliner captain flying the globe.  To those familiar with this saying no explanation is needed, but for the rest of you here’s a brief explanation of why these three things are so important and why they epitomise good airmanship.

  • Aviate – Fly the aircraft.  Whatever else happens, whatever crisis unfolds, keep flying the aircraft.  This is the single most important thing you can do as pilot in command.
  • Navigate – Know where you are and where you are going, and when you’re likely to get there.  This should ensure you don’t run out of fuel or run into adverse weather.
  • Communicate – Talk to the ground and listen to what’s going on. Tell people where you are and what your intentions are. If you get into trouble, don’t be too proud or stubborn to ask for help.  Don’t leave it until it’s too late for anyone to help you.

Aviate, Calibrate, Concentrate

Pilots of unmanned aircraft, whether they are amateur aerial photographers experimenting with DJI Phantom quadcopters, or professionally qualified pilots flying the latest heavy-lift octocopters need to develop the same good habits of airmanship as those of pilots of conventional aircraft, private or commercial.  The training to achieve BNUC-s or RPQ-s (in the UK) will go a long way to instill the correct approach to flight planning and pre-flight checks for the more commercially minded pilot, but amateurs are left without any formal instruction.  They are encourage to read the manuals, follow the guidelines, and otherwise help themselves to develop the necessary skills.   Unlike PPL holders (Private Pilot’s Licence) they can fly their aircraft unsupervised as soon as they’ve unpacked it and charged the battery.  Unfortunately, this lack of formal training combined with a rush of enthusiasm that can cause new drone owners to overlook the training and practice steps advised in the manuals, can result in mishaps and loss of the UAV (see DJI Phantom Fly-aways and Crashes).

So why don’t we have a similar saying for DJI Phantom (any UAV) pilots?  Here’s our suggestion:

  • Aviate – Fly the drone.  This isn’t just about watching it and keeping it in the air, but also anticipation i.e. knowing where it’s going to be.  Keep in mind the effects of inertia a high speeds.  Try to build a picture in your mind’s eye of the flight path and follow it.
  • Calibrate – Calibrate your compass regularly and carry out checks before every flight.  If your compass isn’t correctly calibrated, if you don’t have a good GPS lock, and if you set your Home Point somewhere in which your compass can be affected by magnetic anomalies you too could run into (fly-away) trouble.
  • Concentrate – What is all the feedback telling you?  The lights, the telemetry information on the app, the flight performance, the weather, localised winds, battery power, all these and more need to be kept in mind if your flight is to end in success.

These are my three suggestions.  What are yours?  Use the form below to share your suggestions or let us know via Twitter or Facebook.