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Aerial Photography. Utilizing Multi-Rotor Camera Platforms. First Things First…. I am not a lawyer, I don’t play one on TV and I have not stayed at a Holiday Inn lately….

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aerial photography
Aerial Photography

UtilizingMulti-Rotor Camera Platforms

first things first
First Things First….

I am not a lawyer, I don’t play one on TV and I have not stayed at a Holiday Inn lately….

Any information I provide regarding this subject is nothing more than my own opinion, and the experience of several years in this HOBBY.

It is open to interpretation, but under no circumstances am I advocating you violate Federal, State, or Local law, and or FAA policies and procedures in your quest of the ultimate shot.

exciting and dynamic industry
Exciting and Dynamic Industry

Any technology I mention in this Presentation no matter how new, will probably change, Be updated, or completely obsolete by the end of this presentation.

For example my Flight Controller is a little more than a year and a half old and it has gone through 5 software revisions and a brand new hardware version with more functionality and flexibility.

Welcome to the Bleeding Edge of Technology

buzz kill extraordinaire
BUZZ KILL Extraordinaire

Commercial operation of any UAV in the National Air Space, (NAS) without written authorization from the FAA is in violation of numerous Policies and may result in Fines and other nasty things happening to you.

The FAA has tried to classify your Remote Control Aircraft with a camera system as a Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (SUAV).

buzz kill extraordinaire cont
BUZZ KILL Extraordinaire Cont…

The recent court case regarding, Raphael “Trappy” Pirker of Team Black Sheep DID NOT make it legal to fly Drones in the NAS, even though that is what the media and others widely reported. And it is NOT over… The FAA submitted an emergency appeal and so we are back at square one with regards to that….

Trappy’s Case was more about reckless operation of his camera platform, not about commercial operation of an SUAV. He was fined $10,000 which was for now overturned, but now with the appeal, we have to wait and see. However..

buzz kill extrordenaire cont
BUZZ KILL Extrordenaire Cont…

Trappy’s legal costs will no doubt far outstrip the amount of the FAA fine. Although some folks might get together to raise money for his defense in this high profile and landmark case, do you think they will do the same if the FAA comes after you?

The FAA has sent in excess of 30 more “Cease and Desist Letters” to Aerial Photography Companies in the last few months. They have people combing the Web for cases.

buzz kill extraordinaire cont1
BUZZ KILL Extraordinaire Cont…

YouTube is NOT your friend when it comes to mistakes you make. In fact YouTube Posts about you making money could be all they need to start proceedings.

Every post of someone doing something that endangers lives or property with a SUAV is ammo for the FAA and the MEDIA, who has sensationalized this industry and driven the public mad with the fear we are all just aerial Peeping Toms.

but wait i saw on gold rush
But Wait… I saw on Gold Rush…

Yes companies are going ahead, claiming ignorance of the law, using footage they were given or using any number of excuses. This does not make it legal.

Large production companies and reality TV producers many times operate in foreign countries, on a closed set, or remote locations with little or no oversight, and little chance an accident will injure or kill someone, or end up in the intake of an Airbus.

but wait i saw on house hunters international
But Wait… I saw on House Hunters International…?

Same thing, production companies willing to take the risk, or their insurance companies are willing to underwrite them.

They Contract Out: There are already a ton of small one or two person companies with no assets to speak of, hard to sue and if sued the have nothing to loose, like production equipment, cars, homes, property, bank accounts, and retirement accounts.

They don’t care why should you?

Because if they screw up we all loose....

the newest hottest thing
The newest hottest thing.

The Multi-rotor photography hobby is exploding with hundreds of new platforms being bought each day by hobbyists from all walks of life.

Some with Radio Control Aircraft experience, some without.

Some with Film and Television Experience and some without.

Some with a Clue as to what they should do…. But sadly most without.

never trust technology
Never Trust Technology

Flying a multirotor camera platform is like juggling Chainsaws… in other words “not something you want to screw up”!!!

REMEMBER!!! Just because it flew perfectly last time is absolutely no guarantee of it doing that the next time.

Three little words....


multirotor layouts
Multirotor Layouts

Quad’s: Cheap, and Easy to fly (well sort of…)

Commercial Off the shelf DJI Phantom, Ph2, P2 Vision, P2 Vision + (all NAZA controlled)

3DRobotics Iris (Pixhawk controller)

Tarot with choice of controller

Negative of Quads:

If you have a Motor or Prop Failure....

The three words are Quick, Violent and Permanent

Hexicopters: Are no guarantee but at least have a much better chance of a controlled decent and landing with one motor out.

multirotor layouts1
Multirotor Layouts


DJI Flamewheel F450 F550 and about a thousand others kits from every corner of the globe.....

You Build it you save some money but more important

You learn how to fix it when you crash.......and you will crash…..

the dde

Personally I have never crashed.... Though I have “Dynamically disassembled my craft”... prior to “unscheduled and prolonged maintenance events”

parts of a multi rotor
Parts of a Multi-Rotor

Frame Materials:

Fiberglass, Metal, Wood, 3D Printed ABS, injection Molded Thermoplastic, Carbon Fiber.


Tri-copter, Quad, Penta, Hex Y-6, Octo, X-8 and beyond.

parts of a multi rotor cont
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Flight Controller (FC): An autopilot that monitors the aircraft’s attitude, altitude and position and compensates by adjusting each motor independently to maintain stable flight and or commanded flight attitude.

Many are GPS controlled, and are accurate to a few feet, If properly set up. And if properly set up and prepared they may automatically return to home if you command it or if signal is lost with the transmitter in your hand…..

Or maybe not.... And just because it does.....That does not mean they think for themselves.

parts of a multi rotor cont1
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Manufacturers of Flight Controllers:

DJI, the mfr of the NAZA, the Wookong, the A-2, and the ACE.

Generally considered the Gold standard and priced from a few hundred to several thousand dollars. They are not infallible, but if I were going to risk my reputation and my business on one Flight Controller, they might be it.

3DR, 3D Robotics utilzes both the APM series board and their own upgraded version of this open source board that is far more advanced called the PIXHAWK.

APM boards come in several variants, and since is an open source board updates and fixes come at a faster rate and great inovation continues on this FC. It can be used for Fixed Wing or Multi-Rotor platforms.

Pixhawk is a new and FAR more capable system with more memory and a built in (OSD) and many other features such as dynamic mode changes and parameter tuning while in flight. Telemetry is also supported which you can do on APM boards with the Radios, it is just a lot more cumbersome. Cost varies from $200 to 475 depending on options

parts of a multi rotor cont2
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Flight Controllers cont.

Multi Wii Boards:

Another open source board that is popular and has gained wide acceptance in the hobby community, and some Multi-Rotor Vendors (such as Ready to Fly Quads) have pre-flashed and tuned these to what could only be considered a fine edge. Very capable, but probably not up to the level of the PixHawk. Cost under $100

KK 2.0/2.1 boards.

Developed by Kaptin Kuik and being produced all over the world by the truckload, this low cost and non GPS capable flight controller none the less allows stable flight and reliable operation and is great for applications that are a bit risky and do not require an ability to find it’s way home. Cost under $30 Tuning is a black art and may delete sanity points from some individuals.

parts of a multi rotor cont3
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….


DC Brushless Motors of every size are being used from smaller than your little fingertip to bigger than your fist.

While far more powerful and efficient than the older brushed motors and speed controllers, they are still power hungry beasts and flight times show it.

Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC)

Translate commands from the Flight Controller (FC) and the RC Receiver (RX) into speed changes for the motors for maneuvering.

parts of a multi rotor cont5
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Payload:Camera Systems


Go Pro Hero 2/3, Mobius, Any Action Camera, Board Cameras and such


Sony NEX-5 NEX-7 and Canon S100 small point and shoot cameras


DSLR style Cameras, Canon 5D Mk3, Black Magic Cinema camera, Small HD Camcorders and the like…

Very Large:

RED Epic and other Cinema Cameras.

parts of a multi rotor cont6
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….


Still Camera

Canon S100 and other point and shoot systems.

Canon, Nikon, Sony and other DSLR Cameras

Infrared or FLIR Sensors

Tau/Tau2 or Quark, with an onboard recorder system.

Long wave uncooled sensors for night vision and thermal detection, Not just for military anymore, these sensors cost less that a low end production camera and are very sensitive.

Great for Search and Rescue.

parts of a multi rotor cont7
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….


A rescue line

Think about a small light line that allows a flood victim to pull a larger rescue line with harness to them.

Think of this line delivered perfectly right to the victim without putting a person or a boat in the water.

A Radio

Give one to someone in the water and their chances of survival skyrocket. The Coast Guard is considering, but very very slowly, the idea of doing exactly that.

Beer and Pizza and the movie too?

parts of a multi rotor cont8
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

RC Controller Transmits flight and mode commands to your craft. If it ain’t got sticks on it, don't fly it......

Various manufacturers

Futaba, Spektrum, JR, FrSKY to name a few

Frequencies in 2.4ghz common, 5.8ghz on some systems and 433mhz UHF on some long range system.

Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum reducesthe possibility of interference from other pilots.

Do NOT go cheap on this component.

parts of a multi rotor cont9
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Telemetry system

Many multi-rotor systems have the ability to relay critical information back via data link. This is a seperate DATA connection beyond your Remote control link.

GPS Position, Speed, Altitude, Distance from Takeoff Point, Current drain, Power remaining, Lowest Cell in the stack, Current Flight mode, how many satellites the GPS sees, RSSI* and a myriad of other data can be read on either the transmitter itself or on a laptop setup to receive this info.

This is not to be confused with an OSD or On Screen Display which superimposes some of this info on your Video Link, (yes, yet another link).

parts of a multi rotor cont10
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

On Screen Display (OSD).

Top Gun here we come....

It overlays critical flight and systems information over your video link so that you can stay in tune with what your platform is doing.

I Suggest you have it on a switch so you can clear the screen to concentrate on framing and other issues.

Anybody see anything wrong here?

parts of a multi rotor cont11
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

On Screen Display (OSD).

parts of a multi rotor cont12
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Video Link (aka downlink, or FPV video)

The ability to see in real time what your camera(s) on your Multi-Rotor are seeing. Essential for framing shots and insuring that complex moving shots your trying to accomplish look like you envision them.

They come in several frequencies (most but not all, legal in U.S.), 900MHZ, 1.2GHZ, 2.4GHZ and 5.8GHZ, with 5.8 being the smallest and lightest and most popular.

5.8 is also the most prone to interference from trees and other semi transparent objects.

FYI, technically, TX on 5.8 and some other freq requires a Technician Class Ham License. (I am just sayin…)

parts of a multi rotor cont13
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Video Link

Can terminate in a Receiver(s), attached to a monitor, a Monitor with dual diversity receivers built in, or even Video Goggles.

Many folks run a small recorder on this system as a backup to try and read the GPS location in the OSD before having to “Land OUT” or in the case of a “Dynamic Dis-Assembly”.

parts of a multi rotor cont15
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Miscellaneous important bits: Batteries

Lithium Polymer or LiPo batteries come in all sizes and voltages from 11.1volt 3 Cel, all the way up to 6 or 8 cel batteries that are used on some larger systems. Each Cel adds 3.7v nominal voltage. Power per pound is very favorable but it has it's drawbacks.

FIRE HAZZARD…. LiPo Batteries will puff up, POP and catch fire if mistreated (or even if they think they were). Watch what your doing and don’t get complacent.

Charge in a SAFE AREA outside your house, on a fireproof surface. They can and do explode and burn and emit lots of nasty fowl smelling smoke.

parts of a multi rotor cont16
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Miscellaneous bits: Batteries

FIRE HAZZARD…. No Really...

Also they make their own oxidizers so any of the standard dry chemical fire extinguishers will be better than nothing but minimally effective at best.

Some people charge them in a container with a big baggie of sand poised above it, or a metal container that will not melt easily.

Personally I keep a welders glove and a metal bucket full of water nearby to toss it in AFTER Unplugging it from the charger and the charger from the wall!!

Better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.

parts of a multi rotor cont17
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Battery Safety!!!

FIRE HAZZARD…. LiPo Batteries will puff, POP and catch fire if mistreated (or even if they think they were). Watch what your doing and don’t get complacent. Yes I repeated myself.

Use a good quality charger such as HiTec X4AC or other unit with active safety checking of voltages before charging begins and always always ALWAYS double check your settings before charging. This will help but can not in any way guarantee a fire free experience.

Charge in a SAFE AREA outside your house, on a fireproof surface. They can and do explode and burn and emit lots of nasty fowl smelling smoke. Yes I repeated myself again.....

parts of a multi rotor cont19
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Camera Gimbal:

Designed to stabilize the camera and isolate it from the movement from the multirotor.

Price from $20 to $3,500 and more

Servo or Brushless motors

Servo based systems are very cheap and keeps the camera level (but not very smooth). Normally controlled both for leveling and pitch controls from outputs from the flight controller itself, these are bargin basement but have their uses.

Theydo not normally have their own control board so you will need to provide control from your Flight Controller. Choose a FC That has those outputs.

parts of a multi rotor cont20
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Camera Gimbal:

Brushless Gimbals generally come with their own matching controller card. The come in 2 and 3 axis control.

They are MUCH smoother than servo based gimbals and have a price tag to match.

Cheaper Gimbals may work well, but you have to know how to tune them and re-tune them. Have a spare.

Higher end Gimbals may also need tuning. Get it done by a professional, or at least one who stayed at a Holiday Inn last night..... Probably cause he was tuning HIS Camera Gimbal.

parts of a multi rotor cont21
Parts of a Multi-Rotor cont….

Landing Gear:

Fixed or Retractable, Horseshoe or Individual Leg

Keeps your camera out of the dirt…. but not the dirt out of the camera!!!

Keeps rocks and debris from dinging your lens or your Props.

Dinged and Damaged props is one of the leading causes of crashes, especially on Tri or Quad copters.

Retracts look COOL… and with a 3 axis gimbal they are a must have feature.

safe operation of your multi rotor some tips
Safe Operation of your Multi-RotorSome tips…

Never trust your system is going to fly beyond the moment your in, and prepare for every flight like it is going to plummet from the sky with a vengeance.

Do this one thing consistently, and you will be safer than 90% of the guys out there right now.

Know instinctively where your emergency landing point is at ALL times. Have it in the back of your mind where your going to go, and how to get there..... Blindfolded...

Remember: Your flying a incredibly complex collection of HOBBY GRADE components made by a manufacturer in a foreign land who has no liability, is virtually untouchable from a legal standpoint and has no stake in the successful outcome of your flight.


scouting your location
Scouting your Location…

Just like scouting a shoot, you need to look over the area your going to fly, with a very critical eye.

Your looking for everything from power lines and other wires, to where your going to launch and land.

Any Cellular or other radio towers close by? They can intermittently emit signals that partially or totally block your control signals.

Where are your Oh S—t landing spots going to be?

Where are you going to stand. Can you see your Camera Platform throughout the entire flight. If not you just sent out an engraved invitation to Mr. Murphy to visit you.


scouting your location cont
Scouting your Location cont...

Where is your spotter going to stand? From there can they control crowds and keep them from your LZ and your OS spots, and still clearly communicate with you?

If not start thinking about caution tape etc.

Scout the location with Google Maps for a good overview before you fly.

Do you have permission to fly there? Private property, National Parks, No Fly Zones, Local Drone Hunting Club?

Is it worth the risk. Do you have a number of small issues, that may add up to enough to decide walk away? No shot is not worth injuring someone.


you don t want a bill for this
You DON’T want a Bill for this….

No this was not a result of a Multi-rotor crash…

It was a malfunction and fire all on it’s own, but you can see this being a likely outcome with a LiPo fire.

safe operation of your multi rotor some tips cont
Safe Operation of your Multi-RotorSome tips cont…

Your gonna draw a crowd.

Get used to it and prepare for it ahead of time. I don’t care how empty the park, or parking lot your in is, I promise you they will come out of the woodwork and stand under your multi-rotor’s spinning rotors of pain and dismemberment like lemmings to a ledge.

Or they are gonna walk over to you and start asking questions… LOTS of questions.

safe operation of your multi rotor some tips cont1
Safe Operation of your Multi-RotorSome tips cont…

Your gonna draw a crowd.

They are not thinking about the fact your piloting thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment, or that a crash could really hurt someone, it never crosses their mind. Trust me, I know this is the case cause it happens every time I fly. Be kind, and suggest you can answer some questions after you land…..

This is where your Spotter comes in handy as well. They can get them out of your face, and keep them out of the LZ and possibly answer some easy questions, and also watch your back from a security stand point.

safe operation of your multi rotor some tips cont2
Safe Operation of your Multi-RotorSome tips cont…

Fly with a Spotter:

Not only because the AMA and other organizations suggest it, but it makes it easier and safer to fly and it is more fun too.

If your backing up, and tracking a subject how are you going to see the tree or power pole or other item your about to hit if your head is locked onto the monitor.

If your flying at a distance and you loose video, your spotter (if they are paying attention) will be able to point to your rig so you can bring it back safely without having to depend on an RTL system that may or may not work every time to your satisfaction.

safe operation of your multi rotor some tips cont3
Safe Operation of your Multi-RotorSome tips cont…

Fly with a Spotter cont...

If your face is in the goggles, who is watching the several hundred dollars worth of Batteries tools, Micro SD chips Go Pro accessories etc in your backpack next to you.

The spotter also keeps YOU safe, people are getting mugged and murdered over a few hundred dollar Smart Phone, wow, what about a couple grand worth of flying fun!!!

being an ambassador to the hobby
Being an Ambassador to the Hobby

Your gonna draw a crowd.

Get used to it and prepare for it ahead of time. USE the encounter as a way to stump for the industry!

The industry is under siege, boneheaded stunts, sensationalistic media reports and misguided legislators are rapidly driving us into the dog house.

being an ambassador to the hobby1
Being an Ambassador to the Hobby

Your gonna draw a crowd.

Have a planned speech about the positive uses of the technology, Wildlife Surveys, Agricultural Crop monitoring, Search And Rescue and a hundred others, because the public is going to go right to the “wow you can use this to spy on me or my neighbor” line within 5 minutes.

Remind them there are already peeping tom laws on the books and they can report and file complaints with their local Law Enforcement if they feel they have been wronged..

Remind them these things are not quite, and most homes do have curtains. Remind them to be worried about their Smart Phone in their back pocket and their Computer at home before they start worrying about this stuff.

being an ambassador to the hobby2
Being an Ambassador to the Hobby

Cite the example that the Mounties up north found a car crash victim who had wandered off in the snow looking for help. Ground teams and even life flight failed to find him, and the Mountie found him in 15 minutes, alive, and directed searchers and paramedics to him. That guy owes his life to a multi-rotor.

Talk about how utilizing near field infrared cameras farmers can increase their crop yield and farm more efficiently with less fertilizer and pesticides.

How SUAVs are used to protect game in South Africa and Kenya, and how these systems allow monitoring wildlife and helping save the last elephants and Rhino's left in the wild.

being an ambassador to the hobby3
Being an Ambassador to the Hobby

If you have a spare battery and have a little extra time, fly a flight and let them see what you can (and CAN’T) see (and let them know you cant see thru walls or curtains).

Have a business card, and tell them to call you if they have more questions. You may make a friend for life or maybe a client when you can fly legally.

being and ambassador to the hobby youtube is not your friend
Being and Ambassador to the HobbyYouTube is NOT your Friend….

Every post of a crash, or an operator doing something unsafe or just plain stupid is another nail in the coffin of our little cottage industry.

The FAA actively scans YouTube on a regular basis for posts that will bolster their case for stronger and more restrictive regulation.

State and Local Legislators are also bombarded with links and images by those who seek to limit or BAN SUAV operations entirely. In their minds the sky really IS falling. “

Don’t give them the ammunition to shoot you in the foot.

THINK about the big picture before you post.

what can i do besides that
What Can I do besides that?

Become a Bore.

Actively educate you friends, neighbors and anybody you can strike up a conversation with.

Drone ON.

Tell them all about the positives and where this technology is going, How it already is commercially allowed in Europe and Asia, even Down Under.

Step Up.

Join Organizations such as RCAPA (Remote Control Aerial Platform Association) and the AMA (Academy of Model Aeronautics)

what can i do besides that1
What Can I do besides that?

Become informed.

Learn what is going on in your state and local community with respect to this industry.

Speak UP.

The FAA and other agencies will have public comment periods and we need to have our voices heard.

Fly Safely

We love this hobby, and want to make it a business, but it takes persistence and practice to keep your skills up so that if things go wrong, your skills can make the difference between a crash with damage you can repair, and a tragedy that has repercussions that are irreparable for the entire industry.

what can i do besides that2
What Can I do besides that?


One that allows you to Practice and even fly on the edge (in a safe area of course), and learn what can and cant be done with your model.

Build one you can crash and laugh when you do.

Get on the web and LEARN, and be INSPIRED!!

In this case YouTube can be your friend!!!

Podcasts and YouTube are valuable resources used correctly.

where are we going

At this point the FAA is mostly dealing with regulations and policy based around the big boys. $100K 50 Kilogram and up platforms.

Manufacturers of small UAS in the under 2KG range have asked for exemptions but to date they are not being told much yet.

The FAA expects any SUAS they authorize to fly in the NAS is going to have to have a Military style flight manual, and a testing regime similar to a full Air Worthiness Certificate. This is not realistic for 99% of us.

where are we going1

There is talk of SUAV pilots being required to at LEAST pass a private pilot Ground School to help them understand the airspace and help deconflict the airspace.

Manufacturers of Flight Controllers are adding Geo Fencing and Altitude limits as well as geographic self awareness so that it can not and will not fly into a Class 1 or Class 2 Airspace.

Systems that sense and avoid other aircraft are on the market, but there are at least two competing systems and no clear winner in sight.

where are we going2

With the virtual flood of these on the market, the industry and users are going to have to help define the standards by which we operate, and do it FAST.

States are all over the map on regulation, from actively looking for UAV Test programs to come to their states to outright bans on anything that flies with a camera on it.

In France, your training and license will cost you about $10,000 but after that you can legally operate a SUAV in a commercial capacity.