Category Archives for "Quadcopters"

RPQ-s, BNUC-s, RPCL?

Early in 2014 I began investigating UAV, quadcopters, and other drones, with a view to selling them online.  I could see that they looked set to become popular gadgets for amateurs and useful tools for professionals.  Eventually I opted for the DJI range and having jumped through a few hoops to become an authorised retailer I was able to launch Copter Drones.  Soon after I began looking into the requirements for flying them legally and safely for commercial purposes.  I soon discovered the two training routes in the UK; RPQ-s or BNUC-s and I opted for the RPQ-s, Remote Pilot Qualification – small,  with training and assessment provided by Resource Group (Note: since completing my RPQ-s course two more NQEs are offering training, so now there’s RPQ-s, BNUC-s, RPCL and training from Sky Futures.  See foot of this post)

There wasn’t much in it between the two options as far as I could tell at the time.  As I was new to the subjects and the training providers it wasn’t an obvious choice to go for one qualification over another.  On reflection I seem to recall that it was minor differences like the location of the ground school classes and the impact of the Resource Group website over that of the training provider for the BNUC-s, EuroUSC™.  The EuroUSC™ website has since been updated and looks a lot more professional.  I’ll leave it to those who have completed the BNUC-s to explain why they chose it over the RPQ-s.

Training for the RPQ-s, Remote Pilot Qualification – small

Remote Pilot Qualification, RPQ-sN.B.  I’m writing this from memory so please be aware that I may have ommitted points and that the process is likely to evolve and change over time.  Always refer to the CAA’s descriptions and the training provider’s website for full and up to date process description.

My path to RPQ-s qualification can be summarised as a three step process:

  1. Some web based learning to introduce some basic concepts air law, meteorology and other ground school subjects
  2. A three day ground school course in which instructors guide you through the subjects in much more detail
  3. A flight assessment during which you demonstrate not only your abilities to fly your UAS safely but also your pre flight planning

However, there is a little more to it than that. You also have to compile Flight Reference Cards for your UAS, and an Operations Manual.  These will be submitted to the CAA for review and approval before your PfAW can be issued.  If you decide to makes changes to your UAS at a later date then the Ops Manual will need to be updated and re-submitted.

RPQ-s Ground School

If you have had any previous experience of aviation either as a PPL holder or in a professional capacity then the ground school parts should be very familiar territory for you. However, they are specific to UAV so there will be new concepts and information to absorb even if you’ve logged thousands of hours of flying.  If you have not flown any type of manned aircraft before then don’t be put off as the material is easy to follow and understand with a little concentration.

On the three day ground school course that I attended the other candidates included; two airline pilots, one retired helicopter pilot, and several photographers of one type or another, all looking forward to adding aerial photography to their repertoire.  The two instructors were ex-Army UAV pilots who had flown reconnaissance UAV on operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, so their anecdotes and stories were very interesting and added a great deal to the proceedings.

Timescales for Qualification

If you’re in full time employment and you’re willing to sacrifice some of your annual leave to attend classes, or if you’re retired or unemployed then you can expect to complete the course and obtain your qualification within about 4-6 months.  This may change in 2015 if more instructors are recruited, but even so I don’t think my milestones were longer apart than average.  It all depends on how flexible you are and how far you’re willing to travel and spend on accommodation, if at anything at all.

  • Course booked early July 2014
  • Web based learning completed in July
  • 3 day ground school course and test completed in October (had to wait for one close enough to commute too and earlier ones were fully booked)
  • Flight Reference Cards and Operations Manual completed in November
  • Flight Assessment passed (after several weather postponements) in December 2014

Cost of RPQ-s and PfAW

The total cost will vary depending on your home location, choice of UAS etc, but here’s a rough guide:

  • RPQ-s course: £1,600 + VAT = £1,920
  • CAA application fee: £113
  • Travel to ground school venue: £25
  • Travel to flight assessment: £35
  • Accommodation near ground school and/or flight assessment venue: £0
  • UAS ancillary equipment e.g. cones, tape, signs, fire extinguisher etc. £100
  • UAS itself e.g. DJI Phantom 2 Vision+, case, spare batteries etc. £1,200
  • Commercial insurance, £600 per year

So there’s a capital cost of about £3,500-£4,000, some of which you may be able to claim back if you’re already in business and registered for VAT.

 Conclusion and PFAW

Once the course is complete, the tests passed, and documentation written up to the required standard, the next step is to fill out the SRG1320 form to apply PFAW (Permission for Aerial Work) from the CAA.  The Resource Group helped with this and the submission was done through them.  It’s all part of the course fee.

I finally received the PFAW from the CAA late in January 2015 having submitted the SRG1320 on Christmas Eve, 2014.  This marks the conclusion of this path and the beginning of a new one that leads to becoming an established supplier of aerial photography and surveying.

Notes & Links

1.  If you email the CAA you will receive an automated reply that contains links to documents that will answer most questions.  Here is a copy of that reply:

Dear Sir/Madam,

We are receiving a very high number of enquiries about Small Unmanned Aircraft (UA) – ‘Drones’ – and the various rules and requirements governing their operation within the UK.  Although we will read your e-mail enquiry, it will not always be possible to provide an individual response.  Please use the links below to find detailed information on common enquiries:

>  General enquiries about Small Unmanned Aircraft (SUA) and the CAA’s regulatory safety framework for commercial and recreational use: www.caa.co.uk/uas and www.caa.co.uk/cap722

>  Detailed guidance on operating SUA within London and other towns and citieswww.caa.co.uk/in2014081 and www.caa.co.uk/in2014115   

>  UK Law: Air Navigation Order (ANO) Articles 166 and 167 pertaining to small unmanned aircraft: www.caa.co.uk/cap393

Demonstrating pilot competency at a National Qualified Entity (NQE) for the grant of CAA permission to work commercially (‘aerial work’): www.eurousc.com and www.resource-uas.co.uk and www.caa.co.uk/in2014044

>  Collecting images with an SUA:  Data Protection Act: www.caa.co.uk/in2013027  

Flight Operations FSO
CAA SARG Gatwick

2. As of spring 2015 there are four NQE (National Qualified Entities).  These are companies that have been approved by the CAA to provide Remote Pilot training to candidates who want to apply for a PFAW.  They are:

  1. Resource Group: RPQ-s, Remote Pilot Qualification – small
  2. EuroUSC: BNUC-s, Basic National UAS Certificate – small
  3. RUSTA: RPCL, Remote Pilots Certificate Light
  4. Sky Futures: Training for UAV flying for oil and gas inspection
  5. Whispercam:  New provider (2015) offering UAPQ-s

Drones, quadcopters – What do you call them?

DJI Phantom 2 LEDs

Drones, quadcopters, hexacopters, octocopters, UAV, UAS – a whole new language has emerged and the correct use of terminology continues to provoke debate, some of it heated and passionate.  Every now and again you might see someone posting a comment in a forum or in one of the growing number of multirotor user groups on Facebook, exclaiming, “They’re quadcopters, not drones!  Drones have weapons that kill people! “

These voices of protest are promoting a lost cause.  The word drones has been adopted by the world’s media and is now the de facto word for referring to any unmanned aircraft whether its payload is a DSLR camera or a Hellfire missile.

It should not come as any surprise to see journalists refer to camera equipped quadcopters in this way.  The designers, manufacturers, and marketeers who have brought these devices to us refer to their inventions as drones.

  • DJI Innovations call them drones (from dji.com: “DJI – The World Leader in Camera Drones/Quadcopters for Aerial Photography”)
  • 3DRobotics call them drones (from 3drobotics.com: “3DR is committed to creating the best drones available“)
  • Parrot call them drone – ardrone2.parrot.com

Besides, if a news editor wants a headline are they going to use ‘camera equipped quadcopters‘ (too long), ‘UAV‘ (readers won’t know what that means), or ‘drones‘?

Predator and Reaper drones

Drones used in warfare for reconnaissance and attack are a controversial subject, but there are several sides to this story.  Rather than repeat what you’ve read on a blog or a single article on the subject, why not read up on the history of this weapon and develop a more balanced view.  The book, “Predators – the CIA’s drone war on al-Qaeda”, by Bryan Glyn Williams, gives the history, the facts, and the ethical arguments on both sides.  Some of those facts may surprise you.

2014 – The year the DJI Phantom became famous

DJI-Phantom-1-1

The original DJI Phantom

As the year draws to a close and we look back on 2014 we can see a year that marked a huge amount of change and development in the world of unmanned aviation. By far the most obvious difference to this time last year is the way in which multirotor craft, and in particular quadcopters, have become popular and newsworthy. The original DJI Phantom was released in January 2013 and is still a strong seller as its price remains affordable for many hobbyists, but this Christmas sees an unprecedented amount of sales and many thousands of people are going to be opening a box on Christmas morning containing either a Phantom or some other remotely controlled multirotor.

As well as DJI Innovations, manufacturers like Hubsan, 3D Robotics, Parrot, and many others have each staked a claim in the rapidly expanding UAV territory.  For some the target market is indoor and outdoor hobby flying, while others are researching and developing UAS for the commercial arena.  Aerial drones are most widely known for their use in aerial photography, but the many uses in surveying, agriculture, for thermal imagery, marine exploration, wildlife monitoring among others have proven that it is the commercial world in which there is the greatest scope and benefits.  If there’s a dull, dirty, or dangerous task that could be done by a drone then there’s a team developing a UAV for the job, if it’s not already on the market.

DJI Phantom 2 Vision Ground Station upgrade

Waypoint flying on autopilot

History has shown us how new technology is often met with suspicion and concerns over safety and privacy. “It’ll never catch on” is one expression of skepticism.  “Criminals and terrorists will use this against us” is another, and if I had a pound for every time I’d read or heard something along the lines of, “Yes, but I don’t want one of these things spying on me….” then I’d probably be able to afford a DJI Inspire 1 and still have change.  Anything new and unfamiliar can provoke such reactions and you only have to reflect on the arrival of mobile phones and the internet to see examples of how it takes time for new technology to develop and for the general population to adapt to it.  The process seems to follow a familiar pattern, but eventually not only are these things accepted, but we make use of the advantages it brings and build businesses for which it becomes an essential tool or medium.  We do so in the full and certain knowledge that the technology can be used against us because we know it does more good than harm. In short, we learn to live with the risks while developing ways to reduce them.

CAP 1202 UAV Safety You Have Control

Learn the basic rules

However, the stories that are making the news are those that involve alleged near misses between drones and conventional manned aircraft.  The idea that a quadcopter might get sucked in the engine of a airliner on final approach at Heathrow is one that is guaranteed to keep journalists busy for a while yet.  No one doubts that there are risks, but the debate is about the scale of these risks and the odds of any disasters being caused by UAV of any type.  One way of mitigating the risks is education, and the contents of the CAA’s CAP 1202 leaflet should be memorised by anyone flying a UAV of any size.  Putting a copy of this leaflet into every box containing a quadcopter sold in the UK would be both an easy and effective way of reminding owners of their responsibilities.

During 2015 the hobby and commercial use of drones will continue to increase, and if we extrapolate the progress so far then it’s likely that there will be many more licensed operators and enthusiastic amateurs.  Drones, combined with advances in robotics, are likely to continue to make headlines.  Let’s hope the media starts reporting on the many benefits and advantages instead of continuing with the all too predictable and scaremongering bylines.  The use of UAV in monitoring wildlife and surveying crops are two of many examples of how we may not only recognise their benefits, but also come to rely on them for essential information about the environment and the food supplies needed for an ever increasing global population.