Mapping with the Ebee Plus RTK Fixed Wing Drone

Benefits of Fixed Wing Drone Mapping

We have been mapping for some years now with various rotary wing drones, providing mapping data for environmental, planning, survey and visualisation, but recently we have invested heavily in a fixed wing solution from Sensefly, the Ebee Plus RTK platform.

Drone mapping and survey in Scotland

Rotary Wing v Fixed wing for mapping

Whilst rotary wing drones are easier in some respects to operate,  they are severely limited due to their short flight times and the area volume they can cover within a day. There are other factors to consider such as risk and noise, rotary wing drones are inherently heavier than their fixed wing counterparts and noisier. On the plus side they are better for taking off in tight areas and for also 3D modelling buildings and architecture. Rotary Wing drones can take oblique images easily, allowing imaging of all faces of a building for example. Most fixed wing mapping drones are limited to NADIR images only, although there are some exceptions, as some flight management software will allow fixed wing drone to swoop and take an oblique image’s around a point of interest.

There are a number of hybrid drones starting to appear on the market, these transition from vertical take-off and landing to forward flight. Whilst they may seem like a “one size fits all”, they are still heavy and more complicated than traditional drones, they also have shorter flight times than traditional fixed wing.

UK CAA Permissions and Operational Safety Case, (OSC)

One other major consideration that makes fixed wing drones more attractive, is the ability to gain extra permissions from the UK CAA. This will allow flights at a greater height above ground and also horizontally further than normal, thus covering much larger areas in a shorter time. With standard CAA permissions you would be limited to around 90ha on a single flight, before you would have to relocate. For fixed wing, lightweight drones the CAA will grant on the submission of a suitable Operation Safety Case, extended distances and heights. This is in part due to perceived lower risk of lightweight fixed wing drones. For example the Ebee family weigh around 1kg, compared to an average of 4kg for a rotary wing drone. If the motor or battery fails in a fixed wing then it will glide to the ground reasonably gracefully, the same can’t be said for a rotary wing drone which will crash heavily. With an Operational Safety Case, (OSC) allowing Extended Visual Line of Sight, (EVLOS) and increase height permissions, it is possible to survey up to 200ha in a single flight, and up to a 1000ha in a single day. For our Ebee our OSC will allow for 1500m from operator and up to 600ft above ground level with the appropriate planning and permissions.

Accuracy & Resolution

Many people confuse accuracy and resolution, they are two very different things;

Accuracy

Accuracy is a limitation of the positioning system, normally most drones use a variety of GNSS receivers, but typically without correction these have an accuracy of 1-5m on average. This accuracy may be fine depending on the application and for the most part it is all that most need. For largeb infrastructure projects a higher level of accuracy is normally required, typical down to 1cm. To achieve this higher level, the use of ground base correction systems is required, this is normally referred to as RTK. The cost of RTK systems have reduced over the last few years, but they are still significantly more expensive that the simpler standalone GNSS systems. They typically require a GNSS ground station and live or post processed corrections from a known location. Live corrections are available from various VRS systems at a cost of approximately £2,000 pa. Therefore the cost of the increased accuracy of RTK drone mapping typically doubles due to the cost of the hardware, processing and licences. However using RTK drone mapping negates the need for ground control points if 1cm accuracy is required and saves costs in other areas. Our experience is that most clients will however want their own Ground Control Points, (GCP’s) for other reasons. Where these are available they can be used in post processing to increase the basic accuracy without RTK.

Resolution

This is normally referred to as cm per pixel, there are some limitations with using RGB cameras due to light conditions, speed of drone etc. Although it is possible to get less than around 2.0cm per pixel, the reality is most drones will achieve practically around 2-3cm per pixel. To achieve higher resolutions you need to fly lower and with more overlap, generating more images. On some drones you can also change the lens in combination with this. For the Ebee Plus using the SODA camera, flying an 400ft, (CAA standard permissions), the resolution would be typically 2.9cm per pixel. Therefore this would be worst resolution you could achieve with this platform.

Ebee Plus RTK Specifications:

  • Ground sampling distance 1 – Down to 1 cm (0.4 in) /pixel
  • Absolute X, Y, Z accuracy (RTK/PPK activated) – Down to 3 cm (1.2 in) / 5 cm (2 in)
  • Absolute horizontal/vertical accuracy (w/GCPs) – Down to 3 cm (1.2 in) / 5 cm (2 in)
  • Absolute horizontal/vertical accuracy (no GCPs) – 1 – 5 m (3 – 16 ft)
  • Nominal coverage at 120 m (400 ft) 2 – 220 ha (~540 ac)
  • Max. coverage at 2,000 m (6,500 ft) 3 – 40 km2 (15.4 mi2)
  1. Flight height above ground level; results excl. reconstructible zone around planned area
  2. Flight height above ground level; results incl. reconstructible zone around planned area
  3. Using drone’s supplied camera & based on flight height above ground of 42 m (140 ft) Results also dependant upon environmental conditions (light, wind, surface type.

Sample Model

  • Ebee Plus RTK
  • Soda 20mp Camera
  • Single Flight
  • 20mins
  • Non RTK
  • 220 images
  • Processed in web based tool

3D Model on Sketchfab

 

Orthomosaic

Orthomosaic

Digital Elevation Map

Digital Elevation Map

 

About the Author(s): Turkey Red Media Ltd, are a professional Drone/Drone company based north of Glasgow, near Loch Lomond, Scotland. They offer aerial video services to TV, Film and Media, as well as aerial photography and survey services. Turkey Red Media are members of the Association Remote Piloted Aircraft System’s UK, (ARPAS UK). Turkey Red Media has permission for rotary wing drones upto 20kg and fixed wing drones up to 7kg, including night time permissions.  For more details, please visit our website at: www.TurkeyRedMedia  or follow them on Twitter or Facebook

A GUIDE ON HOW TO CHOOSE A DRONE OPERATOR FOR YOUR TV, FILM, VIDEO OR MEDIA PRODUCTION

Summary

There are, as of writing over 4,500 Drone companies in the UK with UK CAA permissions for commercial work, with over 6,000 pilots. This guide is intended to offer assistance and advice on how choose one of these Drone operators for your video or film production. It is important to ensure you choose a legal and capable operator that can meet your aerial filming requirements.

Not all Drone operators offer services to the TV, Film and Video Industry. Capabilities can vary hugely and range from low end consumer grade drones to large heavy lift drones utilised on large film production sets, that are able lift large heavy cameras, such as the Alexa Mini. The vast majority of Drone operators are small companies focusing on specific markets and geographical areas. When choosing a Drone company it is important you understand their capabilities, equipment, approvals and skills.

Drone approvals are generally separated into two weight classes by the UK Civil Aviation Authority, (UK CAA). These are over 7kg and sub 7kg, strict limitations are placed on where aircraft over 7kg can fly, for example they are not normally allowed in urban areas / congested areas. For aircraft over 7kg flying in “controlled airspace” extra approvals are required which can take 28 days.

The majority of legal operators are approved and have permissions for flying sub 7kg aircraft, and the majority of these companies will fly Ready to Fly, (RTF), DJI aircraft of some form.

Although demand is decreasing, a limited number of operators will fly mid sized SLR’s such as GH4, GH5 and Sony A7 range.

A small number of operators offering aircraft to carry heavier cameras such as the ARRI, Red’s, Alexa Minis, Panasonic EVA etc, will charge a premium to do so. As these aircraft are expensive to own and operate, and will normally require two operators. They may also require extra approvals from the UK CAA especially for flights in urban areas.

Smaller Drone’s such as the Phantoms and Mavic’s are the lowest cost option for productions with tight budgets, but have some limitations in terms of quality of footage, and safety features. These are generally not accepted as “Broadcast quality”.

Licensed / Approved

In the UK all Drone operators offering commercial services must be licensed and approved by law. Pilots must have a recognised qualification; there are many companies offering CAA qualifications these days. From the BNUC-S and RPQ-S to the UAQ and others. Once a pilot has one of these qualifications then they can apply to the UK Civil Aviation Authority for their “Permission For Commercial Operations”, (PfCO). The PfCO is renewed annually as is issued for the classification of the aircraft on which the Pilot passed their qualification. All approved operators should be able to provide copies of their PFCO.  If the operator cannot provide this document, then they are probably operating illegally. This means they will be uninsured, and will not have the correct processes and procedures to ensure safe operations.

Urban Operations

As standard permission, flight operations in urban areas are possible for aircraft weighing less than 7kg, or for operators that have obtained extra permissions from the CAA based on safety cases. Standard sub 7kg permissions allow for urban operations, but not within 50m of anyone or anything not under the pilots control. This can be managed and achieved by the use of barriers, road closures, and ground / safety staff as required. Extra safety personnel for urban operations may add to the cost of Drone operations, however the Drone operator may be willing to use the clients on staff with appropriate briefing and training.

Insurance

As part of any operator’s condition of their PFAW, they must have valid insurance. The insurance is specialist and aviation specific. Normally this will offer £3m / £5m public liability and cover for the aircraft and camera lost or damaged in flight. Some policies may have exemptions for certain high risk environments. We would recommend that clients satisfy themselves that the insurance policy is appropriate for the operations being undertaken.

How High, How far..

All operators must operate their aircraft under Visual Line of Site rules, (VLOS). Standard permission for operators allows for flights above or below 400ft from the pilot, and at a distance of up to 500m. It is worth bearing in mind that the further the aircraft is away from the operator, the more difficult the pilot will be able to judge the aircrafts distance from objects. This is due to the pilot’s depth of field reducing the further away the aircraft is. Therefore for close proximity fly the pilot will prefer to be close to the aircraft.

 

Proximity / separation distances / other limitations

Standard permissions DO NOT allow for the following:

  • Flying within 150m of events or gatherings of more than 1000 people.
  • Within 50m of anyone not under the pilots control.
  • When taking off and landing, not within 30m of anyone not under the pilots control.
  • Over within 50m anything not under the pilots control, public roads, buildings, vehicles, boats etc.
  • Near power stations / military installations or other sensitive locations.
  • Not within 150m of an urban area unless the aircraft is under 7kg, or extra permissions have been gained.

Note: These are standard permissions, if the filming cannot be carried out within the rules above, then the operator can apply to the UK CAA for extra permissions under an operational safety case, (OSC). This is a complex, time consuming process and will incur fees from the UK CAA. It is therefore important that you discuss your requirements with the Drone operator at an early stage.

Night Time Flying

Standard UK CAA permission for Drone’s does not allow for night time flights, out-with legal daylight hours. However operators can apply for night time permissions supported by a suitable safety case and aircraft systems. At the time of writing the UK CAA is in the process of implementing a new process for application of extra permissions. Please be aware that if this is required, this may take several weeks and can be a costly process for the operator who may pass some or all of these costs on to the client.

Flight Times

Flight times vary depending on the type, size and weight of aircraft. Factors such as temperature, altitude and types of flying can all affect flight times. Most large professional aircraft in the Sub 7kg category will normally be able to fly for around 12-20 mins.

Regulated Airspace / Restricted Airspace

Professional operators can fly Drone’s in most locations in the UK with the correct planning and approvals, there are a few exceptions to this however such as near Nuclear Power Stations, Military installations, sensitive sites, or during certain events with security restrictions.

The UK is broken down into different “Classes” of airspace, Sub 7kg aircraft have permissions to fly in most locations other than the exceptions above.

Large aircraft over 7kg will have more onerous restrictions and require more planning and approvals by the operator.

Military Airspace

Many parts of the UK are designated as Military Airspace, especially in Scotland from the great Glen northwards. Some of these areas are not active at all times and days. In Scotland many of these areas are only active during weekdays and some only when notified. Permission to fly in these areas can take extra time, at worst up to 28 days. This will normally require the pilot to issue a Notice to Airmen, (NOTAM) and requires extra planning and time. Depending on the planning and approvals required, the operator may charge the client for this extra work in these areas.

Air Traffic Control

Depending on the weight class of the aircraft and the location of the intended flight, then the pilot may have to gain permission from the relevant Air Traffic Control authority. Normally this is a simple process, if it is required. For more complex operations additional costs may be passed onto the client for time spent gaining these approvals. The Drone operator will advise if these are applicable once the location of the flights are confirmed.

Landowner Permission

Drone operators will normally request that the client arranges and provides the landowner approvals for the take-off and landing locations. Some landowners can be onerous in requesting copies of approvals, insurances, risk assessments and method statements. Operators will assist in providing the relevant information as requested.

Clients should note however that as soon as the Drone takes off, then it is classed under the law as an aircraft.

Safety

All operators must operate to the processes and procedures contained in their “Operations Manual”. This manual is in effect the “Method Statement” of how they undertake their operations safely. Included in this manual, are pre and post flight checks, risk assessments etc. The pilot must satisfy himself that any flights can be made safely, like full size aircraft he has the final word on whether a flight will take place. The “Operations” manual is submitted and assessed annually by the UK CAA.

Professional operators will predominantly use aircraft with several safety features, and will minimise single points of failure where possible. These aircraft tend to have six rotors / propellers or more, and two batteries. This allows for the aircraft to be landed safely in the event of a rotor or single battery failure. Smaller aircraft such as those with only four rotors will not have this safety feature. These small aircraft commonly tend to be flown with a single battery. It is therefore important to understand the risk involved with some types of aircraft, especially in high risk locations.

In some instances clients or landowners may request a copy of the flight “Operations Manual”, especially to ensure the operator satisfies their health and safety requirements. It must be noted that this document is viewed as commercially sensitive and as such the operator will normally require a signed NDA before making this document available.

Camera Gimbals

Gimbal help keep the camera level in flight, they may also allow control of the camera angles by the pilot or camera operator, depending on their design.

Servo Gimbals:

  • Simple lightweight design, now superseded by brushless gimbal, buts still used for survey and still images.

Brushless Gimbals:

  • 2 Axis, roll and tilt axis only.
  • 3 Axis, roll, tilt and yaw axis, (most professional gimbals are of this type)

Most camera gimbals are camera specific, this is due to the need to balance gimbal mechanically for each camera and lens. Some operators can offer generic gimbals, but some functionality may be lost such as the ability of the camera operator to turn the gimbal 360 degrees, or operate in “Dual Operator Mode”.

Cameras

For a while the Panasonic GH4 and Sony A7 range were the most common cameras used by Drone operators in mid-level productions, this is due to its ability to record in high bit rates, frame rates and at 4k. This is been replaced largely by the Inspire 2 platform over the last 18 months.

Most aircraft are designed to carry a specific camera and gimbal systems. Some high end systems can be configured for a certain weight range and size of camera, but this requires tuning and setup.  Control of the camera may also be limited for these generic gimbals, and they tend to not allow for 360 camera rotation. For more agile flying and longer flight times smaller lighter cameras are more attractive. For high end film work, large aircraft can carry cameras such as the Red Epic, but expect to pay a very high premium for this capability, coupled with shorter flight times and less agile flights.

The cost of systems able to carry cinema camera systems, are significantly more. There are also fewer operators in this end of the market to choose from, and they can therefore charge a premium. At the opposite end of the market some operators can only fly GoPro sized cameras on smaller aircraft.

Common Drone Camera Systems

  • DJI Inspire 1, X3 Camera System , (4k capable but small sensor size and limited dynamic range)
  • DJI Inspire 1, X5 Camera System, Micro 4/3 sensor, 60mb/s, up to 4k video.
  • DJi Inspire 1, X5 Raw Camera System, Micro 4/3 sensor, High Bit rate, RAW and Shadow files, up to 4k video.
  • DJI X4S, 1” Cmos sensor, 100mbs bit rate, up to 4k video.
  • DJI X5S, Micro 4/3 Sensor, High Bit Rate, RAW and Shadow Files, up to 5k video.
  • DJI X7, Full Frame Sensor, High Bit Rate, RAW up to 5k video, proprietary DJI lenses.
  • Sony Nex 5 / 6 / 7, A6000, A6300, not used much for video these days, better suited to still imaging. (Broadcast quality 1080, low bit rate codecs)
  • Sony A7 range, (4k capable with external recorder on early cameras, on later cameras 4k on board, wide dynamic range and later cameras have on sensor stabilisation)
  • Pocket Black Magic, 1080, wide dynamic range.
  • Panasonic GH3, (Broadcast quality 1080)
  • Panasonic GH4, Micro 4/3 sensor, high bit rate, up to 4k)
  • Panasonic GH5, Micro 4/3 sensor with on sensor stabilisation, high bit rate up to 5k.
  • Canon 5D, not used very often these days, (broadcast quality 1080, heavy for Drone’s tends to be used on +7kg aircraft)
  • Alexa Mini (Heavy Lift Aircraft Only)
  • Red, (Heavy Lift Aircraft Only)
  • Panasonic EVA1, (Heavy Lift Aircraft Only)
  • Sony FS5 / FS7, (Heavy Lift Aircraft Only)

Lenses

Most camera gimbals are designed around specific lenses; typically these are around 12mm to 19mm primes. Although zoom’s can be used, they tend to suffer from more vibration. It is easier to move the aircraft than zoom the lens.

Camera Control

Most pilots can control the shutter of the camera in flight, stop and start recording. All other settings such as shutter speed, aperture, focus, will normally be set on the ground before taking off. The exception to this is on the DJi Inspire Drone which allows for changes to the camera settings in the air.

On a single operator setup the pilot can control the tilt of the camera, and moves the aircraft to frame the shot. This results in less smooth tracking shots, and also limits the types of shots that can be made.

On a dual operator setup, the camera operator has 360 degree, 3 axis control of the camera independently from the action of the aircraft. This is the preferred mode for most professional video work, as it allows for more complex camera moves. A separate camera is normally installed for the pilot view.

Follow Focus / Zoom

Very few operators have the ability to offer follow focus on the aircraft, and if they do expect to pay a premium. Some operators can offer limited zoom of lenses, but in reality the aircraft can be moved closer, and zoom lenses tend to be heavier and can suffer from more vibration. A high end drone with follow focus and camera operator will require three operators to manage it during flight, pilot, camera operator and focus puller.

Aircraft

Drone’s come in many different sizes and configurations, although they will all carry a camera and gimbal of varying weights and size. Professional pilots will prefer aircraft with 6 or more motors as these offer some resilience in the event of a failure. Hexacopter’s are the sweet spot in terms of size, weight, stability, safety and flight times.

  • Quadcopter’s, are one of the more basic aircraft which has four propellers. These tend to be flown with one battery and have more points of failure.
  • Hexacopter’s have six propellers and can still land safely in the event of a single rotor failure.
  • OctoCopter’s are used predominantly for lifting larger cameras and have eight motors, they can also land safely in the event of a motor failure.
  • Coaxial aircraft have two motors / propellers on the same arm, these tend to be more compact, but are not as efficient so have less flight time. They can feature six or eight motors, and as such they can also land safely in the event of a motor failure. The big advantage of Coaxial aircraft is that they can fly in windier conditions.

Heavy lift Aircraft for cinema grade cameras

Heavy lift is a term that is used to described drones that can carry cinema grade cameras such at the Alexa Mini. Red’s etc. These tend to weigh around 18kg+ when fully loaded with batteries and cameras.

Standard drone permissions in the UK are for 7-20kg weight class, for some productions requiring heavy anamorphic lenses then a special permission may be required to allow for flights over 20kg.

It should also be noted that under standard permissions these aircraft are not normally allowed to be flown in congested areas. They also require extra planning and permissions when flying in controlled airspace due to the risks involved. Typical the turn-around for these permissions is 28 days, and this should be allowed for in any production planning.

Normal gimbals for heavy lifts are the Movi M15 and Movi Pro, these gimbals will require to be setup and custom configured for each camera and lens combination, and a charge is normally levied for this. The drone crew will normally request the camera and lens prior to the shoot so that it can be configured and flight tested.

Flight times for heavy lift range from 5-10mins, and although these drones tend to be better in strong winds, the gimbals are more prone to being moved about due to the larger profile of the cameras and lenses. It is therefore recommended that heavy lift flights only be carried out in relatively low wind speeds for the best results. Heavy lift will always be operated by at least two operators, a drone pilot, camera operator and in some instances and focus puller / lens operator.

Due to the weight and size of these aircraft they do not offer the best dynamic movement, nor are they easy and quick to deploy. Batteries alone can weight over 5kg per set, so operating from a vehicle is much preferred.

Spares / Backup Aircraft

Many small operators only operate a single aircraft approved for their operations. These types of operators are not recommended as the cost to a production of them being unable to fly due to a failure or breakage is high. Most operators will carry key spares for their aircraft, but is it difficult to cover every eventuality.

For medium and large productions a second backup Drone is desirable. It is important that you confirm this availability with the operator. There may be differences in the features of the backup aircraft, such as different cameras and gimbals.

Ground Station / Live View

Most operators will provide a screen or video goggles for clients to view the live video feed from the aircraft on the ground. This allows for the D.O.P to direct the pilot / camera operator. For operators offering dual operator they will normally deploy two live video feeds, one for the camera operator and one for the pilot.

Video feeds can analogue or digital, analogue offers less latency but quality can be poor, more modern systems use an HD downlink of some form, with varying levels of latency.

Some operators may be able to offer low latency HD Live video feeds for aerial broadcast of live events, but the equipment to facilitate this is expensive and has limited range. High power systems may also require approvals from Ofcom. Airborne systems have extra limitations placed on them due to the opportunity for interference over a wider geographic range.

Some operators can also offer a Google Earth type ground station on an Ipad or PC, this allows the operator to view the aircraft location on a map, fly via GPS waypoints as well as other advanced features.

 

Camera Operators

Most professional aircraft can operate in two different modes, Single operator or Dual operator with separate camera operator. For simple filming a single operator / pilot will be sufficient, however for more complex shoots, or for fluid tracking then a dual operator setup is more appropriate. Dual operator will be more expensive due to the extra complexity and need for a pilot and camera operator. In some instances the Drone pilot may be willing to allow other production crew personnel to operate the camera.

More and more Drones are becoming available which offer pre-programmed flights with waypoint control, virtual zip line, point of interest (360 degree rotation around point of interest) and follow me modes. These allow for complex camera moves while flying the Drone in single operator mode, but require extra setup / programming time.

Ground Crew

Drone Operators will require at least one of more ground crew depending on the location and nature of the shoot. The pilot may allow the client or production crew to fulfil this role, but only after suitable briefing / training. Extra ground crew if required will normally be included in any quotes.

Batteries / Charging

Batteries in a Drone are similar to those used in mobile phones and laptops, although they have much greater power. Precautions need to be made whilst charging, and these batteries are normally kept in fireproof containers. Depending on the capacity of the battery it can take several hours to recharge. Faster charging is possible, but will reduce the life of the battery. Most Drone operator’s compromise on the number of batteries they keep fully charged, as the life of the battery is reduced if left fully charged for long periods. It is therefore better for the operator to cycle batteries frequently, rather than keep large stocks. It is important to understand how many batteries for each aircraft an operator has, to understand how many flights can be made within a certain time frame.

Batteries can be charged on location by most operators, either through a vehicle power supply, or generator. It is important that the operators understands the scope of the work, times and length of flights so that he can plan battery use and charging requirements. If you fail to do this then the operator may run out of charged batteries at an important time of the shoot.

It is also important that the aircraft are not flying whilst waiting on actors or other elements of the production. Use of the Drone needs timed to ensure most efficient use of batteries available.

Flying from boats / over water

Flying over water generally offers less risk to the public, but more risk to the aircraft. This is especially the case for salt water. Should the aircraft experience a failure, then the aircraft and any footage will be lost. It is therefore important when flying over water that the media is extracted and copied on a regular basis. Flying low over salt water can take its toll on the aircraft systems and cameras and extra time should be allowed for repairs. Some operators may charge a premium due to the extra risk and wear and tear involved in over water operations.

Flying from moving objects is difficult, and is one area where a camera operator / dual operator setup is recommended. Aircraft have a failsafe system that will automatically return the aircraft and land it back at the take-off location, obviously on a moving object then this location may no longer be available. Some systems allow for dynamic setting of this home point but this relies on a good GPS signal.

Flying indoors

Drone’s use GPS both for safety and navigation but also stabilization. Indoors GPS signals are generally poor or not available at all. Therefore some of the safety features of the aircraft will not work. Sensors such as the on-board compass can also suffer interference from power lines, transformers etc. Strong WiFi signals can also cause issues with the video feeds and control system. It is therefore important to understand the risks with flying indoors within buildings and structures.

Generally most aircraft without a GPS signal are not as “locked”, and will suffer from some drift. You should be aware of these limitations for any filming by a Drone indoors.

Drone’s such as the DJI Inspire 1 / 2, Phantom 3 / 4 and 3DR Solo have new sensors that make it easier to fly without GPS signals, and are the preferred choice for indoor flights, but generally the safety risk is still greater for these types of flights. Newer aircraft also have avoidance sensors which make indoor flying safer but these sensors are not full proof and should not be relied upon.

Weather

The Drone operator will be able to give you details of the weather conditions within which the Drone can fly. Most Drone’s cannot fly in winds of more than 20 mph, gusts are especially bad for video work as the camera gimbal may not be able to correct for sudden movement.

Most Drone’s are not waterproof as much of the electronics are exposed, so flights cannot be made in the rain.  Pilots also have to fly within visual line of sight, so fog and visibility are a factor in deciding if the flight can be made safely. Some operators may have aircraft that can fly in light rain, but shoots may be comprised with rain on the lens etc.

Cold weather can affect some of the electronics and batteries, generally in cold conditions flight times will be reduced. This effect can be minimised by keeping the batteries warm until needed. In cold weather the air is more dense and as a result the Drone will be noisier.

Rushes

Although the camera gimbals on Drone’s do a good job these days of stabilisation, some rushes may need to be stabilised in post-production. There is a trend to record in 4k for 1080 final production, as this allows for greater stabilisation and cropping. Camera’s such as the Panasonic GH4/GH5 can record at very high bit rates at 1080 and can consume SD cards quickly.

Confirm with the operator how the media will be supplied, the majority of rushes will be recorded on high capacity SD or MicroSD cards. Some Mac’s have issues reading these large capacity drives, so ensure you have alternative means on location to copy the rushes.

Ask the operator to set the camera up for neutral flat colour settings at the highest bit rate possible, however for immediate broadcast work, you may require low bit rate to facilitate quick editing.

Normally the Drone camera will be configured for manual exposure settings, manual WB and manual focus.

Show reels

Drone operators should be able to offer example videos of show reels, it is better to be offered raw material to understand if any stabilisation has been made to the footage. This will enable to you understand the quality and performance of the camera gimbal used.

Operating in other Countries

Europe is trying to harmonise the licensing and pilot qualifications across the Europe Union states. However at this time most countries have their own rules and regulations, some of which can be onerous and expensive to achieve. Some of the qualifications in the UK are recognized elsewhere but the situation is fluid and its best to ask your operator for the latest position.

The LiPo batteries that power Drone’s are heavily restricted for transportation by airlines and the UK CAA, making it difficult to carry sufficient batteries for operations. Operators therefore tend to source batteries in the country of operation, which adds additional cost.

With the above difficulties in mind, and the cost of shipping the Drone equipment, it may be easier and more cost effective to source a locally qualified and approved Drone operator.

Scope of aerial filming required

To allow the Drone operator to provide accurate costs, it is important that he is aware of all of the client’s requirements in detail. Location and date of the flights, along with number of flights and types of shots are all important. Failure to provide this information, or change of scope, may result in flights not being made due to lack of appropriate approvals, battery exhaustion, or other restrictions.

Common Pricing models

It is difficult for an operator to quote a standard price, the costs will vary depending on location, approvals and planning, the number of flights and camera systems required.

It is therefore important to confirm the scope of the requirements as much possible to obtain an accurate quote and to avoid any confusion, delay and potential frustration for both parties. Operators will normally include travel time within their daily rates and will charge mileage for locations out-with a certain distance from their base.

Even simple operations will require a few hours planning, charging batteries, pre-flight checks, approvals etc, so the overall flight times may be a small part of what you see. Half day rates are really only appropriate for quick single location shoots as a result.

Quotes from professional operators will typically consist of the following:

  • Half Day or Full Day rate
  • Aircraft and Camera Systems utilised
  • Any testing / configuration of non-standard elements
  • Camera Operator, (if required)
  • Ground Crew, (min one normally)
  • Media, (if required)
  • Mileage
  • Approvals, (if required)
  • Extra insurance cover, (if required)
  • Hire of any equipment, (if required)
  • Hotels, meals (if required)

Professional operators will also provide terms and conditions of their services with a written quotation. These are normally based on industry standard terms that most clients will be familiar with.

For Drone work consisting of consecutive days, with the same client, operators will be happy to discuss volume discounts. The more repeat work you do with an operator, the more he may be willing lower his rates. Working with the same client again has many advantages for a Drone operator. Typically the operators overhead will be reduced as the client will be already be familiar with the aircraft, filming capabilities and processes.


About the Author(s):
Turkey Red Media Ltd, are a professional Drone/Drone company based north of Glasgow, near Loch Lomond, Scotland. They offer aerial video services to TV, Film and Media, as well as aerial photography and survey services. Turkey Red Media are members of the Association Remote Piloted Aircraft System’s UK, (ARPAS UK). Turkey Red Media has permission for rotary wing drones upto 20kg and fixed wing drones up to 7kg, including night time permissions.  For more details, please visit our website at: www.TurkeyRedMedia  or follow them on Twitter or Facebook


If you have any suggestions regarding the content of this document or would like further advice, please contact us at:  Pilots@TurkeyRedMedia.com

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We recently took part in a a proof of concept on utilising a drone for high level building survey, for a large Scottish Public Sector organisation.

The survey focused on one of their buildings, over a 100 years old in an urban area, the building was a complex shape, with multi-level roofs, aspects and angles, with some difficult to reach areas.

The conclusions from the client were mind blowing, the cost savings, over using traditional access methods such as scaffolding our platforms, was up to 88%.

There were numerous other benefits identified, such as lower risk to personnel and speed of survey, audit and ability to use the imaging to tender for remedial work quickly.

You can download the full report here for free:  http://www.turkeyredmedia.com/downloads/Cost_Comparison_Drones_Building_Survey.pdf

Turkey Red Media has approvals to fly drones in urban and city centre locations with the appropriate risk assessments and procedures. If you would like more information regarding our drone survey services then please get in touch.

 

Drone Detection / Anti-Drone Systems and their use in the UK

It seems recently that every other day, there has been a new drone detection or anti-drone system announced. Over that last five years we tested some of these systems with a variety of our drone systems at Turkey Red Media. Most if not all have been successful in detecting even the smallest of our drones in variety of situations and distances.

The use of hobby grade drones in Syria for intelligence and dropping of explosive devices has certainly driven much of the development of these systems.

Whilst we don’t disagree there is a market for these systems, it is worth understanding that they can vary massively in capability and functionality, and hence cost. Many of more sophisticated high-end systems that can take control or even force land a drone, can cost tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of pounds. As such, most are beyond the budgets of many organisations.

Anti-drone systems can feature some or many of the features listed below;

  • Microwave / radar detection.
  • Radio monitoring and detection of common control system frequencies, 2.4Ghz, 5Ghz, 459Mhz, 433Mhz, 900Mhz.
  • Optical scanning of airspace
  • Command and Control Link Jamming.
  • GPS Jamming.
  • GPS Spoofing.
  • Take control / forced landing.
  • Aircraft destruction, kinetic destruction, capture nets etc.

Looking at each of these in turn, we can see the merits or limitations of each, and the potential legal issues with some;

  • Microwave / radar detection.; These typically need multiple network antennas to triangulate the position of the drone, and hence can be expensive to purchase and deploy, they are more suited to Airports or other large fixed installations and are at the upper end in terms of cost.
  • Radio monitoring of common command and control system frequencies, 2.4Ghz, 5Ghz, 459Mhz, 433Mhz, 900Mhz.: A control link is not required for automated flights, a flight plan could still be uploaded and the drone flown to target without a control link, also those using mobile 3g/4g networks are difficult to detect in urban areas.
  • Optical scanning: Relies on laser or high-resolution cameras / optical detection systems, these tend to not be reliable in bad weather and are more suited to close detection or threat detection analysis. They could easily be overcome with laser jamming on the drone.
  • Control Link Jamming: The most common control link frequency for consumer drones used is 2.4ghz, typically this is easy to jam, but there are many other frequencies that can be used, and the use of 3g/4g control is difficult to detect. Control link jamming may also be illegal in UK.
  • GPS Jamming: GPS is a relatively low powered system and easy to jam, this does not mitigate against manual drone flights, and may also be illegal in UK.
  • GPS Spoofing: Similar to what the military does, this would make the drone think it was somewhere else, this does not mitigate against manual flight and may also be illegal in UK.
  • Take control / forced landing: There are a few systems that can do this for common control links and drone systems, but no one system can do this for all control frequencies. This may also be illegal under the UK Air Navigation Order.
  • Destruction: Physical attack on the drone is possible via a variety of systems, nets, lasers, explosives etc, but these are highly likely to be illegal in the UK.

The UK Military, Police or other security agencies may be exempt from the legal aspects of the use of some of the systems above, but the clear majority of UK private / corporate installations, events, venues, football grounds etc will not be.

Before investigating or purchasing a system you need to consider carefully the risk and impact of illegal or malicious drones. We believe in the UK these fall into several categories, some of which are shown below;

  • Risk of terrorism attack.
  • Privacy intrusion, this can be media, or a hobby drone pilot trying to get an image or video to sell, or for social media.
  • Eavesdropping / intelligence gathering.
  • Sensitive sites, military installations etc
  • Events, open air concerts, public endangerment.
  • Dignitaries, high profile individuals, intrusion, endangerment.
  • Airports, danger to other air users.
  • Major Incidents, disruption to emergency response.
  • Nuclear installations, safety, security or terrorism risk.
  • Football Stadiums / disruption to play major sports events.
  • Disruption to wildlife, wildlife act, egg stealing etc.
  • Anti-social behaviour, tourism destinations, public endangerment etc.
  • Intellectual Property Rights risk, large film / location productions.
  • Public endangerment.

The risk and impact of any of the above, varies considerably, but may include, risk to life, risk to property, risk to wildlife, privacy, general nuisance, or costs incurred due to disruption of an event etc.

In the UK and certainly much of Europe many of the current anti-drone systems, it is questionable as to whether these systems are legal. Taking control or jamming a legitimate commercial drone would be covered by the same laws as taking illegal control of a manned airline, and the legislation and penalties for interference could be just as severe. Identifying the drone pilot or intercepting the video link could breach the UK data protection act for example. Taking physical action that could cause the drone to crash, injuring the public or damaging property, this action brings about several moral and legal debates, and again could bring legal action against the anti-drone system operator or owner.

In a conflict zone some or all of potential risks of the deployment of the more reactive / evasive systems could override or negate the legal concerns. In the UK the use of reactive / evasive systems could well bring closer scrutiny and legal test cases against the operators or owners of such systems.

There is no one size fits all for these systems, and contrary to what many manufactures of these systems think, it is not the features of these systems that will drive the wider deployment, but the budgets and affordability versus risk. A football stadium for example cannot afford many of the current systems, nor will they want to take the risk of the legal implications of the use of the more evasive ones.

Passive drone detection systems are more affordable for most part, and can be used to detect drones for a minimum of a 5 miles radius, they can locate the pilot and flight track, drone serial number and can be used to inform Police or local security in real time and direct them to the pilot. The action taken will depend on the risk, this can be as simple as educating an ignorant pilot, engaging the authorities, or taking legal action. Low cost passive mobile drone detection systems could be utilised for short term concerns such as wildlife sensitive locations, or for campaigns to combat anti-social drone pilots.

Rather than capital purchase, passive mobile systems could be deployed on a short-term consultancy basis. Whilst we have no doubt that many Police, security and public sector organisations will purchase and deploy these systems, there is a market requirement for short term deployment of mobile systems on an adhoc or consultancy basis, especially for events.

Deployment of drone detection systems by non- Police or other security agencies, will require a policy on the actions to be taken once a rogue drone has been detected. The action will vary depending on the risk and situation, and may also take into account the type and size of drone. It is therefore important that the drone detection system is operated by a suitably qualified and experienced operator, who not only understands the rogue drone risks, but can also make suitable recommendations as to the response.

DJI have recently released a passive detection system called Aeroscope, one downside of this system is that it only detects DJI drones, and only operates on the 2.4Ghz and 5Ghz bands. This development by DJI has been received by those in hobby drone community with some anger, and has spurned an underground hacking scene specifically targeting DJI firmware. Some of these hacks enable the drone pilot to change the identification ID broadcast by DJI drones, thereby limiting some of the Aeroscope ability. In 2017 many defence organisations and the US Gov banned the use of DJi drones on their sites. There was some concern that DJI were leaking flight, imaging and video data back to DJI servers in the China. DJI released a “private” mode to try and alleviate these fears. DJI’s new Aeroscope system comes in mobile and fixed variants. The fixed system is networked based with the operator using a web based system to view the data. Many analysts have additional concerns about the integrity of this data. At the time of writing DJI are restricting who can purchase Aeroscope, as result security professionals have been unable to ascertain if these security concerns are founded.

There are several passive detection systems currently available at the time of writing, the RF-300 from Dedrone is worth of investigation and an alternative to DJI’s Aeroscope.

About the Author: Craig Jump, is a UK CAA PfCo holder, with 5 years commercial drone pilot experience with hundreds of hours logged on both rotary and fixed wing UAV’s. Craig offers corporate drone consultancy for a variety of organisations in Scotland as well as forensic drone assistance, he is Security Cleared and is Disclosure Scotland checked. He works part time as an instructor and flight assessor for a leading UK NQE. He has written numerous manuals and technical articles relating to SUAS flight control systems and is a member of ARPAS UK.