The battle of the portable selfie drones

Watch the live launch of the DJI Mavic here: http://live.dji.com/adventure/

Three selfie drones are going head to head this autumn. We have our own thoughts about which one will win. The competitors are the Yuneec Breeze, the GoPro Karma and the DJI Mavic.

I’m going to add more to this blog post as we find it out and as we get our hands on the drones. I don’t like to judge drones too much until I get my hands on them.

 

 

 

DJI Phantom and Inspire firmware update tutorials

First post in a while and it’ll be a quick one!

We get asked quite a lot about how to successfully update the DJI Phantom and DJI Inspire. As a result I made a quick video whilst carrying out the updates today. Hopefully done in such a way that you can follow along.

Some tablets seem to give particular issues when upgrading. I use a Google Nexus 7 and it works fine every time. Here is the Phantom 3 video. I will post the Inspire 1 tutorial soon but it is basically the same process.

Fly safe! Elliott – HexCam

Top class UK drone training, equipment and qualification combo!

The UK parliament may be sans coalition at the moment, but at The Aerial Academy, we believe that collaboration is king as it allows us all to play to our strengths. In fact, that’s how The Aerial Academy formed in the first place!

With that in mind we have put together a dream team for supplying drone equipment, training you up to a standard suitable for commercial aerial work in the UK and providing you a qualification recognised by the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

We have teamed up with our friends at Production Gear and Whispercam to put together a series of packages that are mouth-wateringly good.

There’s not much Production Gear don’t know about cameras and all the associated gubbins that go with them. They love to push the boundaries with new technology, so when they learned that cameras can fly, they got in early and are now one of the top suppliers of DJI drone equipment and other ground-based camera stabilisation systems. With direct access to DJI buying within the UK ensures that we can support you as well as possible if you have any technical issues.

Whispercam was formed by two commercial airline pilots with strong backgrounds in training and pilot development. They set up the UAPQ-s qualification to fill a need for a qualification that allows trainees to approach it in a “grown-up”. You won’t get spoon-fed with this one, but it is the most efficient UK drone qualification in terms of both time and money. Yes, you will be expected to do some self-study, but that is the way the theoretical side of aviation generally works. Whispercam qualification courses run at our Aerial Academy locations in Cardiff and Norwich as well as High Wycombe, St Andrews and Belfast. Online materials guide you through the aviation knowledge aspects as well as providing templates to assist with the production of your operations manual and assistance with your Permission for Aerial Work application.

The Aerial Academy provides drone training courses tailored to your needs. Whether you are an absolute beginner or a more experienced pilot looking to turn a hobby into a business, we can put something together for you. If the plans below don’t meet your needs, please get in touch and we’ll see what we can do.

Flight training, at present, is offered at our Norwich, Tetbury and Swansea locations and can be built around the supply of equipment and qualification course.

The information below is largely aimed at individuals. If you are part of a larger company that intends to put more than 6 or so pilots through training to operate under the same Permission for Aerial Work, please give us a call on 01603 673615 or email office@theaerialacademy.co.uk as we can build you a custom training and qualification programme either at your location or one of ours.

The below packages are for the most popular drones available at the moment. If the drone you are interested isn’t there, we can probably still get it and build a package for you. All flight training is type specific, giving you the opportunity to become familiar with the control systems of your chosen drone.

All packages include drone equipment supply and initial setup as part of the training to ensure that the hardware and software are functioning correctly. The assumption is most pilots will collect their drone at the training location on day 1 of training. Please see the bottom of this post for an example timeline.

Foot on the ladder: DJI Phantom 3 example Packages (combos are available with cases)

£3015+VAT (£3618 inc VAT): DJI Phantom 3 Professional + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

£2799+VAT (£3358.80 inc VAT): DJI Phantom 3 Advanced + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

£2590+VAT (£3108 inc VAT): DJI Phantom 3 Standard + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

Be Inspired: DJI Inspire 1 example packages

£4035+VAT (£4842 inc VAT): DJI Inspire 1 (single operator) + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

£4339+VAT (£5206.80 inc VAT): DJI Inspire 1 (dual operator) + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

£5133+VAT (£6159.60 inc VAT): DJI Inspire 1 Professional (X5 camera) (single operator) + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

£7465+VAT (£8958 inc VAT): DJI Inspire 1 Professional (X5R camera) (dual operator) + 3 days flight training + UAPQ-s

Reach for the sky: Custom and larger drones

If you are looking at larger drones such as the DJI S900 and S1000 or would like us to spec you up a custom drone, please let us know and we can tailor a package to your needs!

Example timeline:

  1. Purchase package via The Aerial Academy
  2. Decide on “knowledge” training and assessment date at your chosen Whispercam centre (Norwich and Cardiff are most logical if building a training package which could be in the same week as the knowledge day).
  3. Prepare for “knowledge” day
  4. Attend flight training (3 days)
  5. Attend knowledge day and hopefully pass the examination (1 day)
  6. Prepare Operations Manual
  7. Submit Operations Manual
  8. Source insurance (not included in package but we can provide contacts)
  9. Attend flight assessment at the same Whispercam centre and hopefully pass
  10. Once you have completed the knowledge aspect and the flight assessment you are awarded your UAPQ-s
  11. Apply to the CAA for your Permission for Aerial Work (costs £112 0-7Kg and £224 0-20Kg)

The time taken for a candidate to go through this process varies considerably but we will do our best to support you to succeed in your chosen timescale.

So in summary you get:

  1. A drone
  2. Top notch practical training
  3. A CAA recognised UAS qualification
  4. Support through the process of applying for your PFAW
  5. Access to some of the most knowledgeable people in the market to help you get your ideas off the ground.

We look forward to collaborating with you!

Elliott – The Aerial Academy

A Plethora of Phantoms

The DJI Phantom is now probably the most popular consumer drone on the planet but, with a new model coming out almost every month, which is the right one for you. This is a very quick summary of the different models based on my own experience. For further reading please have a look at the DJI products page. In the absence of a collective noun for Phantoms, I am suggesting a “plethora”!🙂

DJI Phantom 1

The original DJI Phantom with Naza-M flight controller. No stabilised camera gimbal but does have a mounting bracket for GoPro. Uses standard lithium polymer batteries rather than the newer intelligent batteries. DJI are no longer producing them but you can pick them up cheaply on eBay so can make a good, cheap machine for learning basic flight skills. Flight times are short, but OEM batteries are cheap as chips!

DJI Phantom 2

The DJI Phantom 2 was a real game-changer in the consumer drone market. The “intelligent” batteries make for a simpler, if slower, charging experience and allow flight times of up to 23 minutes or so. Initially the H3-2D gimbal was frustrating as it gave a characteristic ‘headshake’ to the video as there was no yaw axis correction. However, the H3-3D and H4-3D gimbals really began to show what a small machine can do.

The Phantom 2 comes in two main flavours, the standard Phantom 2 carries a GoPro whereas the Phantom 2 Vision range (now discontinued) carry DJI cameras. The Vision range connect directly to a mobile phone or tablet using the DJI Vision APP whereas the GoPro versions require the addition of a 5.8GHz downlink.

The Phantom 2 is a great starter machine but as it contains the DJI Naza flight controller, the GPS hold and flight characteristics can occasionally be a little poor compared to the newer aircraft.  However, as they can be obtained from new at around £600 and probably cheaper in used condition, they can make a great starter machine for HD and 4K aerial videography. If you are looking for second hand Phantoms (always a risk in RC aircraft) I suggest you look out for the H3-3D or H4-3D options rather than the H3-2D as there is a marked improvement in video quality as mentioned earlier. Also, check carefully to see what accessories you are getting and if a downlink is included. People who are upgrading often strip downlinks to use on other aircraft.

It is also worth bearing in mind that the Phantom 2 batteries cannot be used in the Phantom 3 and vice-versa due to a change in voltage.

DJI Phantom 2 with H4-3D gimbal

DJI Phantom 2 with H4-3D gimbal

DJI Phantom 3

When a friend of mine told me to try a Phantom 3, I was a little sceptical, wondering how much better it could be. However, with an upgraded flight controller and a camera that is close to the quality of the DJI Inspire 1, it punches way above its weight. We have a DJI Phantom 3 and an Inspire 1 that we use for our drone flight training courses and they go down very well with both experienced and novice pilots.

The Phantom 3 has much improved flight characteristics and GPS hold than its predecessors and, again, comes in several flavours. The Phantom 3 Professional has the same 4K camera that is in the Inspire 1, but is only a single operator machine, whereas the Inspire can be operated either as a single or dual operator machine. The Phantom 3 Advanced has a 1080P camera, which is similar to that on the Phantom 3 Standard. However, the Phantom 3 Standard, which replaces the Phantom 2 Vision+, does not include the Lightbridge technology which is part of what makes the Phantom 3 such a leap forwards.

The Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced feature the Lightbridge, which allows a 720P HD downlink to a tablet or phone. The quality is much better than previous downlinks and even allows live streaming to Youtube. I do find, however, that sometimes there is a bit of latency on the digital downlinks that you don’t tend to get on the analogue downlinks.

The downside may be that there is no DJI system for adding ND filters to the Phantom 3, but there are aftermarket push-on filters available.

The Phantom 3 Professional and Advanced work on the same DJI Go APP as the Inspire. A bit of a difference on the transmitter, compared to the Inspire, is that the Phantom 3 has no HDMI out for live streaming to a monitor or other output device, but that can now be added with a small HDMI output upgrade module.

Personally, I purchased the DJI Phantom 3 Professional with extra battery and hard shell backpack. We recently took it on holiday with us and the backpack proved its worth, both in portability and protection.

DJI Phantom 3 Professional with free battery and hardshell backpack

DJI Phantom 3 Professional with free battery and hardshell backpack

Observations from our first 10 drone flight assessments

Hello everybody! The Aerial Academy has now completed 10 drone flight assessments for pilots moving from manned aviation and I thought I would share a few observations to help people prepare for future flight tests.

The quality of risk assessments and pre-arrival surveys varies considerably but those pilots with previous manned aviation experience seem generally much stronger in this area.

Generally, the quality of GPS assisted flight is very good with people only occasionally struggling with nose-in orientation. Atti or non-GPS flight has proved more challenging. The CAA requires us to assess non-GPS flight as losing GPS signal, although unlikely, is one of the most common challenges that a pilot can meet in day-to-day operations. You must be able to fly competently in Atti mode in a range of orientations. I am generally happy for people to use course lock to recover an atti drift but can’t accept a return to GPS or use of home lock as neither of those methods would work if you have genuinely lost GPS.

We have had a couple of candidates who have been very unsure of how to initiate failsafe or what will happen when they do. Candidates must switch off the transmitter to simulate a transmitter signal loss. This should initiate failsafe but if the aircraft hasn’t been set up right that might not happen. If you are unsure about the failsafe, you must contact your supplier. With most equipment, we can help to ensure it will work before the assessment commences, but if you can’t initiate failsafe by turning off the transmitter I’m afraid that would be an instant fail.

I have also noticed that a number of candidates don’t know how to get best flight characteristics out of their aircraft using the assistant software or app. Gain and exponential changes can often radically change the way an aircraft flies and as a result it is worth taking some time to investigate the best settings for your flying style and operational purpose.

A few candidates so far have been quite blasé about lipo battery safety, particularly those with the “intelligent” DJI batteries. Please remember, they are still lithium polymer batteries and still potentially dangerous. I do not charge lipo batteries in my house. Please see my other lipo battery post and have a quick look here if you still don’t believe me.

Remember, whilst you don’t have to take training before your assessment, we do offer a range of training options from half day, to three day that will enable you to feel as confident as possible before the test.

We aren’t expecting anyone to be absolutely perfect on their flight test, but we are looking for competence, confidence and, above all, safety.

Fly safe! – Elliott

The Civil Aviation Authority Operating Safety Case for UK drone operations

As promised in my last post, here is the beginnings of a post on the operating safety case (OSC) which has been introduced by the CAA in the revised CAP 722 publication. I will try to be as accurate as I can, but as always there are a few grey areas so please contact the CAA for final confirmation! Please consider this post a work in progress!

The idea of the OSC is that it allows commercial drone operators in the UK to apply for an annual exemption to your standard permission that allows you to operate outside the limitations of your standard Permission for Aerial Work. Previously, exemptions were issued on a case by case basis, which has led to an almost unmanageable workload. The most obvious example is it is currently not permitted to fly a 7-20Kg drone in a congested area. This has led to the dangerous practice of weight-stripping; running fairly heavy drones on smaller battery capacities and stripping unnecessary (!??) weight in order to bring a drone below 7Kg (which DOES include batteries by the way, whatever people try to tell you!). A case in point here is the DJI S900 which naturally and comfortably comes in somewhere around 7.5Kg with a Zenmuse and GH4 with a sensible amount of batteries. I find it very hard to justify weight-stripping in order to claim that a machine running with dangerously low battery redundancy is now safer! The operating safety case would allow you to submit procedures for operating the 7-20Kg machine within the congested area. In order to do so you will have to incorporate extra risk mitigation in the design of your aircraft and/or through your operational procedures.

A congested area is defined by the CAA as “any area of a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes”. Now, technically that means a town-based golf course is a congested area. This makes sense if you are flying a 747 but probably not when flying an S1000. But, whatever we think, those are the rules.

The OSC is not limited purely to 7-20Kg could also be used to apply for reduced separation distances across the 0-20Kg spectrum., increased working height, EVLOS etc. The idea is that the CAA is moving towards a “concept of operations” (ConOps) approach so that the mass boundaries themselves become relatively unimportant and the key aspect is risk.

conops approach

Figure 1: ConOps approach to drone operations (CAA CAP722)

As you can see from this graph, the right-hand side above 20Kg is irrelevant to most users at present.

So, there are three risk categories, A, B and C. Three factors increase the risk of a given operation:

  • Increasing aircraft mass
  • Increasing aircraft technical complexity
  • Increasing operating environment complexity

So, basically, if you are running a Phantom in a farmer’s field in Norfolk the risk will probably fall into category A. If you are running a 19.9Kg machine beyond line of sight in central London it will be C. It is likely that most people’s operations will fall into category A or B.

I’ll pick that up again later.

The next stage of the OSC is the paperwork you need to produce to submit to the CAA.

The paperwork is divided into three volumes:

  1. Volume 1: The Operations Manual
  2. Volume 2: Systems information
  3. Volume 3: Safety Assessment

The CAA have provided templates in the appendices B-D of CAP 722.

Volume 1 is effectively what we have been writing for 0-20Kg operations up until now. If you wish to apply for a standard PfAW, it is all you need to complete.

Volume 2 should contain as much information as possible about the RPAS you wish to be covered by the OSC. The main focus should be on risk mitigation so your volume 2 could include (but isn’t limited to):

  • Mass considerations
  • Failsafe features
  • Any design and manufacturing standards
  • Full details of the flight envelope (where and how it can be used)
  • Payload details
  • Full aircraft details
  • Single points of failure
  • Additional safety features etc.

Full information can be found in appendix C of CAP 722 but the CAA want you to fully understand your machine, its limitations, how it functions and how it can be made as safe as possible.

Volume 3 gives details of your safety management beyond the aircraft itself and includes sections for risk assessment and self assessment. So, effectively, the idea is to assess as fully as possible the risks associated with the operations you wish to include in your OSC and also to assess the limitations of your crew and procedures. A template is available in appendix C of CAP 722. As you will be applying for an annual OSC it is probably best to try to envisage what you are likely to want to do and to think generically rather than too specifically at first, so think of the type of location you are going to fly at rather than specific locations. Are there any common safety issues between sites. for most people it will tend to be proximity issues that need to be risk assessed.

Going back to the graph from earlier (figure 1), the aim of your volumes 2 and 3 should be to develop equipment and/or procedures that mitigate the risks associated with either the increased mass or increased environmental complexity.

I will try to add to this soon to give more detail on risk matrices and the self assessment method preferred by the CAA. I’m afraid we can’t give direct assistance with individual operating safety cases at the moment as every case is likely to be different and the CAA really want you to take ownership of the process.

This information is as correct as we can get it at the time of publication but may be out of date by the time you read it so please check current guidelines and feel free to contact us if you need more information.

Fly safe!

Elliott- HexCam

To be continued… probably!

The changing face of UK drone pilot qualifications

My original post about routes through to obtaining a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Permission for Aerial Work (PfAW) is now a little out of date! A lot has changed in UK drone legislation in the last few months so I thought I’d put out a bit of an update. I will try to keep this simple but things seem to have got messier than ever really.

So, let’s start at the end! At present, in order to operate any drone commercially in the UK you need to obtain a PfAW. The PfAW is divided into two categories; 0-7Kg and 7-20Kg. The 0-7Kg permission is slightly less restrictive but still sets high safety expectations.

In March 2015 the Civil Aviation Authority updated their core UAS guidance publication, CAP 722.

One change detailed in CAP 722 means that operators who already have manned aviation experience have the opportunity to take an alternative route to a PfAW. So if you already have a PPL, CPL, microlight licence, gliding qualification or military experience you may be able to go through our flight assessment only process. Please see page 47 of CAP 722 for more details or give us a call to find out more!

Another change is that operators who hold a BMFA A or B certificate for the type of aircraft they wish to fly can now apply directly to the CAA for a PfAW with no further qualifications or assessment necessary. for multirotors, either a helicopter or multirotor A certificate is acceptable.

A further change means that it is no longer necessary to pass assessments on every aircraft you wish to fly or to inform the CAA if you wish to use new aircraft within your assessed categories. One assessment per category (0-7Kg or 7-20Kg) is all you need. there is no requirement to renew your pilot qualification annually as long as you keep your currency up-to-date: at least 2 hours flying every three months. You are required to renew your PfAW annually.

So what do you actually need to do to get a PfAW?

The CAA are interested in three areas that they call critical elements:

  1. Theoretical knowledge
  2. Initial practical flight assessment
  3. Experience requirement

You are also required to submit an operations manual when you apply for your PFAW. You apply for a PfAW using form SRG 1320.

So, let’s try to be logical.

As far as the CAA are concerned, in terms of the critical elements above:

  • If you have a BMFA A or B certificate, you already have 1, 2 and probably 3 if you are a regular flyer. If not, get out and fly. I would strongly recommend you read CAP 722 before applying though. You still need to apply and get your PfAW before operating commercially.
  • If you are involved in manned aviation you probably already have 1. You need to get a flight assessment which we, as a restricted NQE, can do for you. Get yourself up to speed on the latest UK drone legislation by reading CAP 722 as working outside your aircraft changes things slightly! You will need to make sure you get adequate experience on your RPAS before the assessment. If your manned qualification is expired you will need to contact the CAA to find out if they will accept it.
  • If you have no previous manned experience and no BMFA certificates, you will need to go through a qualification with one of the 5 full NQEs listed below.

What is an NQE?

An NQE (a National Qualified Entity), is an organisation approved by the CAA to recommend people for a Permission for Aerial Work. There is currently one restricted NQE (us!🙂 ) and five  full NQEs. I will try to update this list as more come online (information correct at 06/06/2015).

Restricted NQEs

Restricted NQEs can carry out flight assessments for drone pilots who already have manned aviation experience as described above or satisfy the theoretical knowledge element in some other way. Restricted NQEs can’t offer theory assessment.

The Aerial Academy: www.theaerialacademy.com

Full NQEs

Full NQEs can carry out theory and flight assessments for drone pilots who have no previous formal experience. The NQEs all have their own qualifications, which tend to differ in delivery style, but as far as the CAA are concerned they are all equally acceptable for applying for a permission for aerial work. Some NQEs claim their qualifications are more internationally recognised but it is worth checking carefully with both the NQE and the aviation authority in any other countries you may wish to operate in. Prices and timescales of theory courses also vary with some NQEs using distance learning to enable a shorter theory course. The name of the qualification offered is in brackets.

Whispercam (UAPQ-s): www.whispercam.co.uk (now running courses at our Norwich location)

Aerial Motion Pictures (ICARUS): www.aerialmotionpictures.co.uk

Resource Group (RPQ-s): www.resourcegroup.co.uk

Rheinmetall Technical Publications UK Ltd (RPCS): www.uastraining.com

EuroUSC (BNUC-S): www.eurousc.com

What next?

Please feel free to contact us via HexCam if you need more information. We can also provide basic and advanced flight training and can recommend and supply drone equipment including most DJI equipment and a full custom build service.

I’ve heard about operating safety cases (OSC) what are those?

Basically, if you want to operate outside a standard PfAW, particularly flying 7-20Kg machines in congested areas or if you want to fly at greater heights or closer than standard distances you will require an OSC. Here is my blog post on operating safety cases, but I strongly recommend you read CAP 722 before embarking on any of this. It really is very helpful once you get your head around it!

Please note: We no longer provide Operations Manual assistance

Due to the changing regulatory landscape and shifting demands of the NQEs, we are no longer able to provide operations manual assistance. Sorry about that, but please ask your NQE; they should be able to provide you with templates and further assistance.

As always, fly safe! This information is as correct as we can get it at the time of publication but may be out of date by the time you read it so please check current guidelines and feel free to contact us if you need more information.

Elliott – HexCam

UK telephone: 01603 673616