Drones 101– uncovering the mystery and exploring the menace and genius of drone technology

Drones have been getting bad press recently. The disruptions caused by sightings of them around Gatwick Airport saw the Ministry of Defence deploy military counter measures to combat illegal drone usage, this was believed to be an Israeli-developed Drone Dome system, which can jam communications between the drone and its operator, as well as the airport investing £5 million in other secretive technology to prevent future attacks. More than 140,000 passengers were affected by about 1,000 cancellations and delays during the 36 hours of chaos* (Source cited from the BBC) The rate of Drone to Aircraft near misses in the UK has tripled since 2015. The UK Airprox Board (UKAB), which monitors all near misses involving commercial aircraft, said there were 92 incidents between aircraft and drones in 2017. That was more than three times the number in 2015 of 29. In 2016, there were 71 and the data is clearly tracking the growth in drone use (source cited from www.theguardian.com). Other stories in 2018 saw a rise in drones being used to drop contraband into prisons.

As a technology, the one thing that cannot be disputed, is that drone footage and stills continue to grow in popularity.  Drones allow us that all important aerial point of view where traditionally we may have used a cherry picker or helicopter to achieve. The level of production value is literally elevated by assets captured by drones which now use the highest 4K technology for a fraction of the price that was possible 3 years ago. However, given the current climate of opinion around the usage of drones more than ever before it is fundamentally important that you seek professional, fully insured operators and experts to enhance your projects.

We have taken a moment to talk with Sam Johnson, who is our in-house qualified CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) licensed camera operator to bust some myths and give some factual insight into drone usage. Anyone wanting to become a drone operator for commercial purposes needs to obtain a UAV by Passing the BNUC-S qualification. Our drone operator is allowed to film an unmanned aircraft between the weight of 0-7kg. to obtain his qualification he had to endure a rigorous theory and practical test over a six-month period.

What is a drone?

A drone is an unmanned aircraft that carries a camera and is controlled by an operator on the ground using a remote-control device.

What are the most frequent questions people ask you when booking you for your services?

I get asked lots of questions around safety. There is a “grey area” of flying drones in the UK period. When owning a drone, you may ask yourself many questions. Where are you allowed to fly them? Who would have a problem with you flying it around your local area? What would happen if I lost my drone mid-flight and it causes an accident? One thing that is drilled into you when on the course is that you should take full responsible of your actions. A drone is effectively a dangerous object that could inflict injury on someone. It is important to hire someone who knows the rules and regulations and is CAA qualified, this is vital to a smooth operation on your project. A rogue operator could cause your company to receive massive fines and, worst-case scenario, could cause a fatality.

What is prohibited in the usage of drones?

Drones are not allowed to fly above 400ft and 500m from the operator and they must be kept in visual sight at all times. Without the permission from the CAA it is illegal to fly over or within 150m of a congested area, this includes roads, towns, festivals etc. Drones are not allowed closer than 50m from an individual unless they have their consent, in other words you can’t go rogue and fly it around people without them saying it’s OK to do so, and you cannot, unless you have permission for the CAA or the airport operator, fly within 5miles of any airport. Given the current affairs with drones and airports it will soon be impossible to fly a drone anyway near an airport.

What weather conditions can you operate in?

It is important to check the weather as close to operational time as possible and work or schedule around this. We will not fly in rain or when snow is falling and in winds over 20mph. Temperature can also affect the batteries in drones, so it is advisable to get battery warmers in case you are in sub-zero conditions. Altitude can affect your drone’s performance, the less air there is, the more your drones needs to work which will affect your battery life. The perfect weather conditions are a nice sunny day with a breeze of no more than 7pmh, this will not only help the flying of the drone but also make the end result look stunning. So, if you can, plan your shoots in mind of weather and light hours.

What specific recording equipment does it use?

The drone we fly uses a Micro Four Thirds sensor camera which records video at maximum of 4096 × 2160 (25fps) or 1920 × 1080 (50fps) and stills at 16MP in both raw and jpeg format creating an image size of 45mb. We have several attachable lenses which allow us to capture epic footage without having to operate the drone to close to our subjects in crowded areas. The camera is built by the drone manufacturer and is controlled on the ground by the camera operator. The best feature of this camera and drone combination is that unlike some drones on the market it offers us the ability to change the lenses to suit the task and maintain a safe flight. The drone also can fly up to 40 mph.

How much does the service cost?

The cost is determined by the level of planning and safety measures that are needed to carry out the assignment for example a city centre assignment will require more planning then and open area in the countryside, but you can contact us for a quote.

How many people are required to use the equipment?

We fly with a minimum of one trained pilot and one camera operator to maintain a safe operating practice. We would suggest having someone control the drone and the second to control the gimbal* if it is a moving subject. (*A gimbal is a pivoted support that allows the rotation of an object about a single axis). 

How long can you fly for?

We can fly for up to 20 mins dependant on the degree of flying and the batteries can be removed and replaced by fully charged batteries to continue to shoot.

Can you operate outside the UK?

Yes, we can operate outside the UK although each country has their own rules and permissions, so any assignment will require planning in advance in order to obtain the correct permission.

And finally, what do you love about using them?

It’s the future of filming. All the latest tech, higher frame rates of camera all interest me as its for ever changing and developing – I love being a part of it and the new technology, it is great to learn this specialist skill. The qualifications are becoming trickier to get so being part of a small group of legitimate operators is great. In addition, there is a great social network around drones and the community always update you with relevant legislation. I am very happy I have jumped onto this revolution

Check out examples of work we did for clients using drones:

To find out more on drones or the possibility of using drone footage for your campaigns, contact us at: Hello@wearetnr.com and quote ‘Drones blog’

Blog written by Craig Gunn, Head of Photography at TNR.

Q&A with Sam Johnson, Camera Operator at TNR.