Author Archives: Simon

Ten Questions to ask when choosing a PfCO Course

Image of two drone pilots operating a drone

Posted 03 May 2019

 

Q: Is it for me?

A: We only think you should think about doing a PfCO Course if you are using, or plan to use, a drone for commercial activities.  If you are involved in the built environment, we think drones will become as essential as a laptop and smartphone.  Likewise if you are a commercial photographer working outdoors.  So our answer is definitely that you should, and we firmly believe that when we deliver this course from 3iC (NQE No. 0116/1625) and enhance it with our very practical Ground School it makes it the best that you can get!  Otherwise, unless you plan to earn money with your drone, probably not.

If you want to learn more about drones, but won’t be flying commercially, you are better joining one of our one-day drone workshops, or coming on one of our holidays!

Q: Will I be ready to apply for my PfCO the day the Course finishes?

A: On this Course, the answer is yes.  Because we include not just Ground School, but also loads of practical drone flying training, your Operations Manual written with you, and your Flight Test during the Course.

Q: How much actual drone flying experience will my instructors have?

A: Your Course Instructors have completed thousands of drone flights, in the UK, and across Europe, in their roles as instructors, and flying drones commercially.  They pour all of the knowledge they have accumulated from these flights, successful, and sometimes not successful, into their teaching on the Course.

Q: How long does it take?

A: We have Courses running from 2.5 days to 5 days, weekends and weekdays.  The Short Course covers everything you need, and nothing else.  The longer Courses include more of the stuff that will help you in future, as well as the stuff you need to satisfy the CAA.

Q: What is the maximum student : instructor ratio?

A: With us, the maximum is 4 : 1.  We keep it low in order to give everyone the attention they deserve.

Q: What is the pass rate?

A: Everyone who has attended this Course over the last two years has completed it successfully.  Not always first time(!).  But it is our mission to do everything we can to support you to succeed.  There is no charge for retakes, no matter how many are required.

Q: What resources do I get before the Course begins?

A: You get a comprehensive set of eight online videos.  Each one runs about an hour, and covers one of the eight modules you are required to learn in order to pass the Theory Test element of the PfCO.  At the end of each video, there is a multiple-choice test, which will give you a good idea of how well you have mastered the subject.  You can view each video and complete each test as many times as you wish.

Q: I don’t currently own a drone.  Can you help me choose the right one?

A: Certainly.  We pride ourselves on our comprehensive knowledge of the full range of DJI drones.  And we will never try to sell you something more than you need.  Indeed “do you really need that?” is something clients choosing a drone hear from us a lot.

Q: What happens if it rains?

A: We keep a close eye on the forecast throughout the Course, and adapt the Course programme accordingly, to take advantage of good weather to get outside and go flying.  We also have a waterproof Matrice 200 drone available, as well as some baby Spark & Tello drones that fly well indoors, so that we can continue flying in bad weather.  To date, we have always been able to complete all of the Flight Tests during the Course.

Q: How can I get my flying skills to the required standard?

A: We are all about transparency.  So as soon as you sign up for this Course, we send you a copy of the Flight Test manoeuvres you will be required to complete to a high standard to pass the Flight Test.  Ahead of the Course, we recommend if possible that you come for a two-hour practical one-to-one drone flying lesson.  During this lesson, we can talk through what the test involves, determine your current standard of flying skills, and identify the areas you may need to work on ahead of the Flight Test.

Q: Do I have to write my own Operations Manual?

A: The good news is that, no you don’t, or at least not on your own!  We write the Operations Manual with you, based on a template that we constantly amend and adapt to meet the CAA’s requirements, and information that we ask you to give us: the name of your business; the type & serial number of your drone etc.  To comply with the CAA’s expectations, we do test you on the key information contained in your Operations Manual during the Course.  But this is a breeze compared with the painful, sometimes months long process of writing it totally by yourself.

Q: What happens after my Course?

A: We will send you the Certificates you need to submit to the CAA with your PfCO application immediately you complete the Course.  During the Course, we go through how to complete your application, and we offer a free vetting service to make sure your application is in order before you submit it if you have any concerns.

Q: Do you offer continuing support?

A: Very much so.  Everyone who completes their PfCO with us becomes a member of our Phantom Pro Club.  This provides you with:

  • A private FaceBook group for Pro Club Members
  • Discounts on our full range of Drone Workshops and Masterclasses
  • 50% off membership of the Guild of Photographers
  • Regular informal get-togethers for Pro Club members to share ideas, discuss new opportunities, and keep abreast of the latest developments in hardware, software, and legislation

Q: Anything else I should know?

A: Our enhanced 3iC PfCO Course costs from just £995 + VAT. Get free extra training worth £200 when you book your PfCO before the end of April. CLICK HERE to email us, or call us for details on 01244 893 872

Our Cambridge Pilot, Tom Jacobs, talks about Winter Filming in the Lake District

With a week-long filming assignment on the agenda, the day for packing all of the gear, and even collecting a brand new Mavic 2 Pro on the journey up, had arrived. Lakeland in winter requires all of the extra gear one would expect to need for winter mountaineering, which adds a lot of weight to filming in the mountains, so a checklist was needed (Flight School pilots love a checklist!).

With my van loaded, it was time to head off and after a clear journey up to Threlkeld, I arrived at my accommodation and immediately set-to charging batteries and studying OS maps getting set for the week ahead. The anticipated heavy snow arrived and I found myself preparing for a ‘Dawn Raid’ the next morning.

Up at 5am I drove a very cautious journey to the eastern shores of Ullswater in the dark, with plenty of sheet ice across the approach road to keep me focused. It took some steady steps on frozen ground to get to the top of the fell in the dawn light and it was cold and quite windy, but the views were amazing. As the sun rose above the far eastern fells and the shadows sank lower into the valley, the golden light crept onto Helvellyn, lighting up the snow-clad giant in all its glory.

I carried out a few flights to capture this distant scene with Ullswater looking dark and alluring in the foreground. The next day was a big one, filming Lakeland skiers in the fresh snow. I drove to Glenridding village and due to the depth of snow and the icy conditions on the quarry road, we had to park in the village and walk all the way to the hostel before starting the ascent to the ski slopes. Once the initial zig-zag quarry route had been navigated through, it was onto the Chimney Ridge route up to the cabins and ski lift.

The snow was deeper than knee height in places making the going slower than usual. The conditions were stunning but as we approached the lifts, low clouds were pouring over the mountain-side, clinging to the ski slopes. As you can imagine, it was pretty cold, so, having met with the ski club members to discuss the filming plans, I headed off to find a suitable spot to launch from.

 

Suffice to say, when you have painful numb fingers, sub-zero degree temperatures and swirling icy winds, it makes for testing conditions… far from ideal! Picking my moments carefully, anticipating windows in the fast-moving low cloud, I carried out 3 batteries worth of flights, capturing some high level film of the skiers having fun on the slopes, and the conditions allowed for some dramatic footage of the fell-side and surrounding mountain ranges too.

The last full day of the trip was another dawn raid with the promise of some cracking morning light on Helvellyn. After another steady drive in the dark to Patterdale, we bundled out of the van, grabbed our gear and set off up towards Striding Edge. As before, the icy paths and deep snow made the going slow and I had to carry out a mid-approach “hand launch and catch” flight on a steep  mountain slope in order to capture the golden dawn light on the summit and Striding Edge.

We eventually reached our filming spot and the views were magnificent. The added bonus was a cloud inversion in the valley which covered Ullswater like a blanket. With blue sky and snow-capped mountains all around, I was quite literally in heaven!

I flew two batteries, capturing some wonderful scenes of Helvellyn, but trying to keep powder snow away from my equipment was quite a task, not helped by a passing walker’s dog charging over my kit and launch pad!

On the journey home I reflected on my week in the snow-covered fells, the ‘at the limit’ conditions I found myself flying in, and the rewards for managing those conditions to achieve the results I was after. However, for me, above all, being immersed in these breathtaking moments on the fells is the pinnacle of being alive…. that and being astride a motorbike, riding a curvy road through Luxembourg…. but each to their own of course!

Tom Jacobs

DJI Mavic 2 Pro – Simon says…

Whenever DJI launch a new product we can be sure that we will be told that this is the pinnacle of technology and it is such an improvement on what already exists that we must absolutely buy one!

As I get older, I know that it’s hard to believe(!) but I become more and more cynical… I’ve already got a Mavic Pro for portability and convenience and a Phantom 4 Pro for the best camera that you could expect to find on a “Prosumer” drone… So why on earth would I consider that I need to spend my money on this, simply to combine the best features of the two aforementioned drones?

Indeed, I resisted the temptation for several months while DJI struggled to satisfy the initial demand… I have to admit that I was even feeling a little smug that I didn’t need to join the queue of clamouring customers!

But then I was giving lessons to new Mavic 2 Pro owners and I started to see what all the fuss was about… Barely any larger and heavier than my trusty Mavic Pro but with a camera that wasn’t just as good as the P4Pro’s… It was significantly better! I believe that the relevant terms are “Colour Saturation” and “Dynamic Range”…

                     

Phantom 4 Pro                                                                                                               Mavic 2 Pro

In layman’s terms it, suddenly became possible to get really good results straight from the camera without the need to resort to LightRoom or PhotoShop in order to compensate for a wide range of exposure values… Dark foreground with fluffy white clouds in the distance and everything correctly exposed and pin-sharp… Absolutely awesome! And although DJI haven’t seen fit to publicise the function, one can even pan the camera without the need to rotate the drone…

Oh, and it’s nice to fly too! This must be the quietest drone that I have ever flown, and the landing leg configuration gives peace of mind to anybody who has been used to dealing with the Phantom’s need to avoid wind gusts when touching-down! Being able to select “Tripod” mode directly from the slide switch on the side of the controller is a nice touch too.

Lest this post be seen as an unduly biased positive review, there are a few things that have disappointed me with the Mavic 2 Pro:

  • I am not a fan of the shoulder bag that comes with the Fly More Kit… It’s awkward to get the drone in and out of and doesn’t afford as much protection as a hard case
  • The gimbal lock is a bit of a faff to fit
  • I am not 100% comfortable with the new “Waypoint” mode where waypoints are plotted on the map rather than by actually flying to them
  • I mourn the loss of the Phantom’s “Course Lock” intelligent flight mode

Other than these relatively minor gripes, am I happy with my purchase? The answer has to be a resounding “Yes”, but now I just have to come to terms with the fact that I should really advertise my original Mavic Pro for sale… Any offers? (Just one very careful owner!)

Drone Flying in France

Drone Flying in France for “Leisure Users”

The rules have now changed in France.

a)   The drone must be registered with “DGAC”, the French equivalent of the CAA

b)   The drone pilot must have appropriate Public Liability Insurance in place

c)   For anything over 800g (any DJI drone heavier than a Mavic Pro Platinum!) the drone pilot must successfully complete an online course and test

d)   The drone must be labelled so that its registration number can be read with the naked eye from 30cm.

Evidence of items “a” & “c” must be carried at all times when flying a drone

(This can be in hard copy or in an electronic format and must be produced if requested by “the authorities”)

In order to comply with these requirements proceed as follows:

Go to https://alphatango.aviation-civile.gouv.fr/login.jsp

Click the Union Jack to change the language to “English”

Click “CREATE YOUR ACCOUNT”

Select “individual / sole trader”, fill-in all the required details and follow all prompts

You will receive an email containing a link to click in order to validate your account

Once you have done this you will be able to register your drone(s):

You will receive an email confirmation for each drone registered, with a Certificate of Registration attached.

Affix a suitable (“Dymo” or similar) label to your drone showing its registration number.

Having registered your aircraft, in order to fly a drone >800g, you must now proceed as follows:Click “ACCESS TO DGAC TRAINING”

 

Complete the “I’m learning” module

Practice in the “I’m training” module

Complete the “I take my online test” module

(You are required to score 100% in order to pass, so be ready for a few retakes and be aware that the questions remain the same but the multi-choice answers move around!)

Once you achieve 100% you can download your certificate by clicking on “télécharger”

Finally, be sure that you have appropriate PL Insurance in place.

Membership of the British Model Flying Association (bmfa.org) @ £38 per annum gives you £25M worldwide PL cover, although you may already be covered by your existing insurance… You must check, as this is your legal responsibility.

2019 ANO Amendments – The new restrictions around airports explained

 

Image result for gatwick airport

On 20/02/19, the UK Government announced new amendments to The Air Navigation Order 2016. Here we explain the important changes that you need to know about.

2019 ANO Amendments:

1. It remains illegal to fly a drone of any mass within an aerodrome flight restriction zone without permission.

  • Aerodromes can take the form of airports, military airfields, or smaller aviation airfields. You can find a list of the UK’s aerodromes here.
  • Aerodromes have a ‘flight restriction zone’ around them to ensure the safety of aircraft. They are active at all times, and apply to drones of any mass.

2. With effect from 13/03/19, the flight restriction zone around airports and airfields will change.

The previous 1 km restriction from an airfield boundary will be replaced by the airfield’s existing Aerodrome Traffic Zone, and Runway Protection Zone. Together, these two zones make up the new flight restriction zone. You must not fly your drone within this zone unless you have permission.

a) Aerodrome Traffic Zone (ATZ): This is the red circle in the image below. Its epicentre is the midpoint of the longest runway, and has a radius of either 2 or 2.5 nautical miles depending on the length of the runway.

b) Runway Protection Zone: This zone starts from the end of each of the airfield’s runways, extending five kilometres by one kilometre zones*. It’s marked as the red rectangle in the image below.

Both zones extend upwards to a height of 2,000 feet above the airfield. To view a map which illustrates the flight restriction zones of individual airfield’s in the UK, visit the Drone Safe website.

An illustration of the new flight restriction zone around aerodromes, which will come into force on 13/03/19.

*At Heathrow airport, each runway protection zone is 1.5 km wide.

3. If you want to fly your drone within a flight restriction zone, you must have permission from either air traffic control, or the airport itself.

  • It’s up to air traffic control, or the airport itself, to give you permission to fly within an aerodrome flight restriction zone. You can find the contact details of air traffic control units in the UK here.
  • If you want to fly above 400 ft in a flight restriction zone, you need to get permission from the relevant air traffic control, as opposed to the CAA.

To find contact details for the different ATCs you can follow the links in the CAA’s official write-up of 2019 ANO amendments here

I got them all flying circuits!

DJI Phantom 4 Drone

Having just delivered Phantom Flight School’s first bespoke on-site PfCO course I have to say that I’m really pleased with how it went and more importantly the high calibre of the Remote Pilots at the end of the course.

In this instance we had a corporate client who had invested in a DJI Phantom 4 Professional Obsidian and wished to have 3 members of staff covered on the same PfCO in order to carry out photographic and video inspections along with the generation of Point Clouds through photogrammetry.

It therefore made sense to deliver the classroom elements in a meeting room at the client’s premises and to conduct the hands-on flying training and Practical Flight Assessments at a Flying Site within a short drive from their location.

The Course kicked off with a revision session covering the eight modules that comprise Ground School, that had already been studied by the Course participants online.  It was clear all three had invested sufficient time in advance of the Course to really absorb the information available to them. This meant we were able to devote time to drilling down into areas of the syllabus of particular interest to them, which is what it is all about. All three went on to score very well in the Theory Test.  Indeed, one of them got 99%!

We then went out for our first Flying Session, where I was able to assess everybody’s standard, and formulate a plan for just what training and practice was required over the remainder of the Course. Happily, I observed no major issues here but it was very cold, with some snow on the ground, so we finished our day by making a start on jointly authoring the Company’s Operations Manual.

The next day, while we waited for the temperature to rise above freezing, we looked at a Pre-Deployment Site Survey and a Risk Assessment before venturing outside.

At this point I decided to replicate my early PPL experience and I got them all flying circuits.  Not quite the Cessna “touch and go’s” that I had had to repeat ad nauseam, but rather, a “standard take-off” followed by one of the required “squares” and then a “standard landing”.

Flying in opposite directions we were able to fly two P4Pro’s at the same time, rotating pilots and really drilling best practice into all three. After 10 batteries everybody was significantly more confident and competent with their flying, so it was time to get back into the warm, put the batteries on charge, and spend some more time on the Operations Manual as well as looking at Mission Planning using some real-life scenarios.

Day three we were out flying again first thing.  Then it was time to finalise their Operations Manual, revisit Pre-Deployment Surveys, Risk Assessments (Initial & Dynamic) and have another look at useful apps & websites such SkyDemon, Google Earth/Maps, NATS, UAV Forecast, Dark Sky, MetOffice, etc

Lunch was followed by the Practical Flight Assessments, which all went very well, and then a final classroom session going over how to complete their SRG1320 application for their PfCO. All of which meant that at the end of three days, all three were in a position to submit their PfCO applications to the CAA.

Comparing that with the months it can take people to get to the same place with other training organisations, Clive (one of the candidates) said “We have been so impressed with the way PFS delivered this Course. It has been interesting, thought-provoking, rewarding, and incredibly well organised. I can’t recommend PhantomFlightSchool and their Radically Better PfCO Course highly enough”.

PhantomFlightSchool hits the road…

Building on the phenomenal success of our drone flying lessons delivered at established flying sites around the UK we are now starting to venture out on the road. Any client who would prefer us to come to them can now get in touch and we will assess the viability and cost of a visit to them.

Provided we can have access to a suitable indoor area in which to deliver the theory elements of the lesson and there is a suitable area outside from which to fly, then we will travel to anywhere in the UK.

This service is attractive to “time-poor” clients who don’t want to spend their time driving to and from our established sites and also to clients who would like to see their familiar surroundings from a totally new perspective.

We are also getting lots of interest from corporate clients who are looking for a demonstration of just how drones can benefit them in their existing sphere of activity. Construction, Facilities Management, Events Organisers, Architects, Surveyors, Estate Agents, Photographers, Football Clubs and even a Prison! The list just keeps on growing!

If this is of interest then please get in touch for more details on 01244 893872 or [email protected]

 

P4Pro Obsidian – Another reason we love DJI!

When the P4Pro was launched I very quickly saw that I needed to upgrade from my P4 and haven’t regretted doing so for a moment… until now.

I’ve seen all of the photos and videos of the Obsidian and thought to myself “It’s just a fancy paint job… What’s the point? Who needs it?”

The trouble is that today I have seen one in the flesh and handled it… And now I have a problem!

OK so it’s just cosmetics with no material improvement in terms of performance, but that’s not the point.

The Obsidian is overwhelmingly, gut-wrenchingly, irresistibly GORGEOUS! And yes, I want one!

Look at it and it’s beautiful, but touch it and it just gets better. Its beauty might be only skin-deep, but what a skin!

The matte finish exudes quality to the eye and to the touch so it’s just as well there is an anti-fingerprint coating, because I defy anybody to resist touching the polished magnesium gimbal and camera. I admit it… I actually stroked it!

For anybody about to purchase their first P4Pro I’d say don’t look at the Obsidian unless you’re prepared to fall under its spell… You will struggle to resist.

 

PfAW becomes PfCO

With effect from 25th August 2016, the CAA Permission for Aerial Work (PfAW) has been replaced by the Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO).
This change appears in the newly published Air Navigation Order 2016. CAA Information Notice IN-2016/073 (link below) explains the change. Existing PfAWs will remain valid but will change on renewal to PfCOs.
Any new Permissions issued from now on will be for Commercial Operations.

In the new ANO 2016:
– Article 166 and 167 have been renumbered to 94 and 95 respectively
– The term Aerial Work has been replaced with Commercial Operations; the term Aerial Work no longer appears in the ANO
– A new definition of Commercial Operations has replaced the definition of Aerial Work

The following is an extract from the CAA Information Notice IN-2016/073 relating to the definition of Commercial Operations:

‘Commercial operation’ is given the following meaning:
“…any operation of an aircraft other than for public transport— (a) which is available to the public; or (b) which, when not made available to the public, is performed under a contract between an operator and a customer, where the latter has no control over the operator, in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration.”
The intent of this meaning is exactly the same as the previous intent of ‘aerial work’. The key elements in understanding this term are ‘…any operation of an aircraft…in return for remuneration or other valuable consideration’.
The term ‘available to the public’ should be interpreted as being a service or commodity that any member of the public can make use of, or actively choose to use, (e.g. because it has been advertised or offered to someone).

Advice ref Ops Man:
Any references to PfAW must be changed to PfCO.
Also any references to the ANO need to be updated to the ANO 2016, and references to Articles 166 and 167 must be changed to 94 and 95.

50m Clarification by CAA

The CAA has issued a statement through ARPAS-UK which details their interpretation of the rather ambiguous regulation of not flying within 50m of ‘people, vehicles, vessels or structures’ which are not under the control of the pilot-in-command of a UAV. The statement, without alteration or addition, is as follows;

 

50m CLARIFICATION STATEMENT FROM THE CAA

‘’The absolute legal distance requirements are set out in article 167 of the Air Navigation Order, and they state that you must not fly ‘within 50m of a person, vehicle, vessel or structure that is not under the control of the person in charge of the aircraft’ – This is how it is written in law. It doesn’t mention anything about horizontal distance I’m afraid, so in absolute legal terms, you would need to think of it as a bubble.

Note also however, that this article only applies to ‘small unmanned surveillance aircraft’, so for a drone that does not have a camera fitted to it, or for R/C model aircraft (fixed wing or helicopters), there are no specific ‘avoidance distances’ set down.

So, the 50m ‘rule’ only applies to surveillance (by this we basically mean ‘camera’) equipped ‘drones’, and it can only legally be taken as being a ‘bubble’ – perhaps with hindsight, this regulation should have been written slightly differently, but it was thought to be acceptable at the time it was written – we know that articles 166 and 167 need a revision, partly to make the wording more understandable for the general public, but also to make the requirements more easily enforceable for the Police (how do you really ‘measure’ what 50m is?), and this is what we are starting to do at present

However, that is not necessarily the complete story – it doesn’t mean that someone flying a non -camera fitted drone can do what he/she likes without any fear of arrest/prosecution.

– ANO article 138 (Endangerment – “A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property”) is the overriding article that can be used at any time if it is considered that a person is operating a drone (which is still defined as an aircraft) inappropriately.

– You can also refer to ANO article 166(2) “The person in charge of a small unmanned aircraft may only fly the aircraft if reasonably satisfied that the flight can safely be made” as well in that he/she is responsible and must

take reasonable steps to ensure the flight is conducted safely.

So, in the case of someone hovering a drone ‘51m’ directly above/almost above someone, yes – it is ok with regard to art 167, but this could easily fall under endangerment, especially if the person flying it has not taken any reasonable steps to satisfy him/herself that the flight can be conducted safely.

At the end of the day, we must consider what the ‘intent’ of the regulations is – in simple terms, the intent of the regulations is to protect third parties (ie. people and properties that are not involved in the operation), and so this is the primary consideration that should be made when making an assessment of whether or not an offence has been committed, or when considering a prosecution.

These regulations apply to all small unmanned aircraft (20kg or less) – there are no differences for above 7kg or 7kg or less. With regard to Permission holders, the bottom line is that it depends on what is written on their permission. We normally issue permissions to the 50m ‘limitation’ (so no difference) but if an operator has been able to demonstrate to us that his/her operation can be flown safely to within a lesser distance (and we are satisfied with this), then the text in the permission will reflect the shorter distance.”