Sunday, 16 September 2012

Docklands - the Sky's the Limit

I am licenced to fly (safely) up to 400 feet high (120 metres). Most shots need nowhere this height as they tend to be PR Shots and as long as you get an angle on the building or event, then that is ideal. Any higher and it all starts to look a bit 'flat' in the same way as ground-based shots have no depth to them either (which is where Aerial imagery comes into its own). I'm sure that you've looked up your own place on Google Maps - it's interesting, but not something that you would want to print and frame, is it?

Occasionally I need some serious height, mostly when I'm photographing prospective views from a proposed Tower Block.

Providence Tower from Ballymore Group was one of those.

If I'm out in the sticks, this is not a problem. This one is in Docklands, which is also near City Airport and, just for good measure, was during the Olympics fortnight when all the ground and air security was present.

NATS and the CAA are very good with us UAV operators. Obviously City Airport does not want unknown entities flying around their area, especially where, with the smaller Drones, there is not the facility (payload capability) for radio identification nor a 'sense and avoid' mechanism. Rather than taking the easy option of denying us all flights, we can file a 'non-standard flight' plan with them which explains what we intend to do, where and when and, if there is no issue, we will be accepted. On the day we make a couple of calls to advise the Control Tower and London Area Control Centre; they have a copy of the plan and everyone is happy.

The Flight Plan for this work was successfully filed. However a copy was sent to the Olympic Security Organisers as well and I ended up speaking directly with HMS Ocean moored in the Thames who wanted to know what I was up to. Once I had explained what I was doing, where it was happening and what the craft looked like, then everything was fine. Again, a call to them on the day ensured that nothing would be scrambled following any reports of a Drone in the area and I did not run the risk of being taken out accidentally. Drone vs Sidewinder (or whatever is the UK equivalent is) is only going to go one way, let's face it.

I have no idea whether my activities were reported by a passer-by or not, suffice it to say that the shots were taken without incident on a lovely day, with the Dome and Greenwich Park in the distance and were a set of the best shots I've ever taken.

400 feet is a looong way up but the built in GPS and Barometric hold facilities of the X6 locks it into position in 3D space and I can concentrate on the photography. It's not something I can say that I enjoy doing as it's such a small dot at that height and needs excellent weather conditions to prevent buffeting and shaky images but when the results are good you do feel good about the outcome, even if it's somewhat buttock-clenching at the time.

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