I got them all flying circuits!

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”.

Lithuania – the next destination for PFS Drone Holidays?

I landed at Vilnius airport at around 9pm on Boxing Day.  The first thing to greet me was a drone photograph, even before I got to Passport Control.  With a banner proclaiming how the photographer had captured the beauty of Lithuania from the air.  There were more, dozens more drone photos, all around the airport.  Lithuania – drone friendly!  As I had been led to expect.

I left the clean, modern, brightly lit terminal building, and climbed into a taxi.  It was cold, with signs that it had been snowing recently.  Everything monotone shades of brown, grey and black.  The fifteen-minute drive into town took less than 10.  My driver clutching the wheel like a maniac, foot to the floor, leaning forwards urgently with his eyes darting left and right at every junction, as if worried there might be someone going even faster jumping the lights in the other direction.  As we reached town, his speed didn’t change.  We did 110 down the Vilnius equivalent of Bond Street.  Rear windows so blacked out I could hardly see out.  Certainly, no-one could see in.  Interesting.

I checked into the Novotel, a smartly redecorated Soviet era building on the main shopping street in Vilnius.  A good choice.  Later, I took a stroll into the beautiful Old Town at the heart of the city.  The largest well-preserved medieval town in Europe.  From the 12th to the 14th century, Lithuania covered an area larger than France, and was one of the wealthiest states in Europe.  Today’s Lithuania is more than 90% smaller, with roughly the same 3m population of the much larger 14th Century version.

I found quaint dimly-lit cobbled streets, upmarket artisan shops in magnificent old buildings, and very few people around.  After a few wrong turns, I arrived at my target, “Lokys” or “The Bear”.  One of the oldest and best-known restaurants in Vilnius.  I asked my waiter, charming and equipped with perfect English “Quail or Wild Boar?”.  “Wild Boar” he answered without hesitation.  It was excellent advice.  With a texture similar to fillet steak, and with more flavour, it was the most delicious (perhaps also the only) Wild Boar I have ever tasted.  The price not much different from what you might expect to pay for an equivalent meal in the UK.

There are many fine buildings in the city.  All of the streets are cobbled.  It is extremely clean.  Service everywhere was faultless.  Almost everyone speaks perfect English.  The food is excellent.  There was a truly incredible free 3D light show projected onto the wall of the Cathedral every evening that drew a crowd of thousands.

A lunch of roast duck breast on my final day was once again the best I have tasted, and I have tasted rather more duck than I have Wild Boar.

I was a little surprised not to see anyone flying a drone in any of the large parks that dot the city.  But getting out into the countryside is quick and easy.  A search on Shutterstock for drone images of Lithuania quickly establishes that there are plenty of beautiful places people are flying drones here.

So, will we be adding Lithuania to the list of destinations for our unique drone holidays?  In a word, sadly, no.

Our Full Holiday Programme for 2018

Why?  Because this is a tough place.  It was part of the Soviet Union from 1940 until 1991.  The large ex-KGB building, standing by the river, where the modern authorities have etched the names of those that were tortured and murdered there in the bad times onto the stone walls, is a reminder of that.

I was in Santa Cruz de Tenerife in November following two successful PfCO Courses in the sunshine there.  I commented to my partner on how happy everyone appeared.  The children in the parks. The old people in the parks.  Everyone in the parks!  We speculated that living with a year-round temperature that only varies between 700 and 800 (in old money), where everything you need to eat literally grows on trees, and where the last war was more than 250 years ago, is probably a good start when it comes to making a nation happy.

Lithuania has not been so lucky. Its experience in World War II was appalling, invaded first by the Nazis, and then by the Russians.  The people don’t smile.  It feels like a place where if you want something, you take it.  And it will be taken from you in turn unless you are strong.  They drive extraordinarily aggressively.  The more expensive the car, the more aggressive the driver.  No-one crosses against red, even when there is no car in sight.  Because, I learned from my hotel, the Police are likely to use it as an opportunity to line their own pocket, by fining you for jay-walking.  The really strange one was people’s habit of staring straight at you, across a bar, a restaurant, a street, even out of a shop or office window, if they felt challenged.  Unnerving.  And for some reason they seem to feel challenged a lot.

If we were to take our drones to Lithuania, I would not be confident that they would not be stolen at night, forcibly removed from us in broad daylight, or impounded by a wily Policeman in search of a fine to put food on the table for his family.

Soviet Era Furniture at the Novotel – Vilnius

I have always wanted to visit the Baltic States, and my trip to Vilnius certainly did not disappoint.  I found it fascinating from start to finish.  I would certainly recommend it as a short City-Break destination.  But we won’t be adding it to the list of places we take people on a Drone Holiday.

Much as we like to say Yes, sometimes you need to know when to say No.

Our Full Holiday Programme for 2018

If this Drone was a Dog, which Dog would it be?

2017 has seen an explosion in the range of drones produced by DJI, and the arrival of products worthy of consideration from Parrot and Yuneec as well.  Not so Go Pro!  The Karma is a disaster.  Trying to choose the right drone for you can be like finding your way through a minefield.  Portability (Mavic) or camera quality (P4 Pro)?  iPad or built in monitor (the P4 Pro + range)?  Black (Obsidian) or White?  And so it goes on.

Don’t leave it to chance, or trust the chap in Jessops to know what he is talking about.  Call the experts at PhantomFlightSchool and we will help you to choose the right drone for you.  01244 893 872.

Line up for our Unique Drone Holidays in 2018 Confirmed

We are passionate about helping our Drone Holiday clients have an incredible drone experience.  The line-up for our Unique Drone Holidays for 2018 is now confirmed, with holidays to Spain, the French Pyrenees, Iceland, Corfu, the USA, and even the UK.   Holidays range from 3 – 7 days, and from £995 – £2,995.  Holidays in the UK, Spain and the USA are aimed at beginners and intermediates.  Those to Iceland, the French Pyrenees, and Corfu, are targeted at strong intermediates and experts.  Our Drone Holiday season now runs from April to October.  We took more than double the number of clients on holiday in 2017 than we did in 2016.  And are proud that we secured 100% five-star ratings for the second year running.  CLICK HERE to see all our Reviews.  Still, a Drone Holiday with PhantomFlightSchool remains exclusive – we have just 60 places available in our 2018 portfolio.  Call to book before 15 January to secure your holiday at 2017 prices. CLICK HERE to read more.

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.

 

The Definitive Survey of UK Drone Users – by PhantomFlightSchool and DRONE Magazine, September 2017

We are excited to confirm that with 1,126 completed surveys received, this is by far the largest survey of UK Drone Users ever conducted.

Thank you to all of you who took part.  Thank you for taking the time to do so, and thank you for the honesty with which you answered our questions.

 Click HERE to see the Full Article about the Survey in DRONE Magazine

Click HERE to see the detailed answers to every question we asked on Survey Monkey

Survey Highlights

We ran the Survey in partnership with DRONE Magazine, and an eight page article on the results is the main feature in their October edition (out now). You can see the full results of our Survey HERE

Stand outs from the survey for us include that, unsurprisingly, alongside wanting to take photos and video, the main reason people buy a drone is to have fun. More worrying is that nearly half of you have had a crash or a near miss, and that the main reason people crash (50%!) is human error.

Having the most fun with your drone

We exist to make sure you have the most fun possible with your drone, as well as helping you to capture the best photographs and video you can, whilst making sure the number of landings equals the number of take-offs, every time.

We all know that to get good at tennis, you need tennis lessons. To learn French, you need French lessons.  Whatever standard your flying is now, we guarantee that a drone flying lesson will ensure you have more fun with your drone, take better pictures and video with your drone, and minimise the risk of crashing your drone.

The most exciting flying requires more skills. Skills we can help you to learn, quickly and safely.

Click HERE to use Voucher Code “survey10” to get 10% off a one, two or three hour lesson.  Order must be placed by 15 October 2017, lesson to be taken before end 2017.

 

What the Government Announcement of Mandatory Registration for Drones means in practice

Drone Registration – a big step in the right direction

The good news is that on Saturday 22 July the UK Government announced that in due course, for any drone weighing more than 250gms, registration of the drone, and safety awareness training and testing for the pilot, will become mandatory.

These announcements were contained in a 65 page report snappily titled “Unlocking the UKs high tech economy consultation on the safe use of drones in the UK”.  Alongside this the government also published their “Drones Mid-Air Collision Study”.

We have now read both of these reports several times, and here are our thoughts.

What is Happening, and When?

Q: What is going to happen?

A: The detail is still being worked out. But it appears that the CAA or perhaps the DVLA will be given the task of running the registration process.  Ie. this will not be done at the point of sale, but will rather be an online process.   This follows the scheme that was running until recently in the USA.  The expectation is that education about safety, and a safety awareness test, will be part of the registration process.

Q: When will it happen?

A: The Government says registration will be introduced “in the near future”.

Q: Will it affect me?

A: Most probably yes. The system the Government favours is one where registration is mandatory, and there will be penalties for not registering (how they will spot offenders is anyone’s guess).  The Government also favours this being an operator-centric, rather than a drone-centric registration process.  So it is likely to affect anyone who flies a drone, not just new purchasers of drones.

Q: How hard will it be to pass?

A: We have no information about exactly what will be in the test. But it is likely to be very straightforward indeed. After all, it will need to be pitched at a level where just about anyone can pass it.  And the Report states that it will be focused on safety (rules about where you can fly), security (rules about where you must not fly) and privacy (rules about what you can film).

Q: What will it cost?

A: The Government wants the registration scheme to be as cheap as possible, and to be non-profit making. The scheme previously operating in the USA cost $5, and the scheme operating in Ireland costs 5Euros.  £5 anyone?

Q: Does having a flying lesson with PhantomFlightSchool mean I won’t have to pass the Safety Awareness Test?

A: Sadly no. Because the Safety Awareness Test will be bound up with the Registration process, anyone registering their drone will have to do the Test.  But from the indications in the Report, the things to be covered in the test are exactly the things we cover in the “legislation” section of every lesson we give.

What Impact will this all have?

We welcome what we see as a sensible, well balanced report from the Government, which follows a sensible, well-run, and balanced public consultation. Our assessment is that:

  1. Anything which contributes to the safe flying of drones, and reduces the risk of an accident leading to injury or even loss of life is to be welcomed. Introducing new rules before anything bad has happened has got to be better than a knee-jerk reaction afterwards.
  2. As well as enhancing drone safety, the introduction of registration and safety awareness testing should reassure members of the public that we drone pilots are responsible people who know what we are doing. Once again, a good thing.
  3. We think the proposals do a good job of protecting the future of the drone sector in the UK. Not by stopping the “crazies” who will simply ignore the registration process. But by enhancing the respectability and law-abiding nature of the other 99% of drone pilots.
  4. The key conclusion of the Mid-Air Collision Report is very good news. That a drone the size and weight of a Phantom would most likely “bounce off” a commercial airliner. So the risk of mass casualties from a mid-air collision appears remote.
  5. Another conclusion of the Report is that a Phantom / helicopter collision could be very serious, and could lead to the helicopter crashing. Whilst this would be a terrible thing, and is a key part of the reason why safety awareness training will be mandatory, I don’t believe it would lead to a switch away from the drone-friendly policies being promoted currently by the Government. After all, the Shoreham Airshow crash was a terrible thing. But it did not lead to Airshows being banned.
  6. In practice, one has to wonder how much of an impact the new rules will have on anyone intent on flying dangerously. The Government acknowledges in the Report that electronic tagging of drones, whilst a big goal for the future, remains some years away. So anyone can buy a drone, fail to register it, and then fly it in a dangerous manner / in places they shouldn’t (Old Trafford etc.) from 2 – 3 miles away, safe in the knowledge that they are more or less uncatchable.
  7. Will registration dampen demand for drones? I suspect it may dampen demand, especially for cheap, heavy drones. Does anyone spending £75 on a drone weighing more than 250gms want the hassle of registering it and completing a safety awareness test? I dare say that many people in this category will simply fail to register it. But all the same, the impact is bound to be negative. But because registration will not take place at the point of sale, I think it is unlikely to dampen demand for drones very much. At the price point at which DJI drones are sold, I doubt it will have a noticeable impact.
  8. Unfortunately, the announcement made by the Government may lead to negative sentiment towards drone pilots from some quarters. I think the kind of person that felt negative about drones previously will find ammunition for their negativity here, along the lines of “you see, I knew they were dangerous”.
  9. Many people are averse to change, no matter how well intentioned or well executed the change. The model aircraft community, as represented by the BMFA, appear to have objected to every aspect of the new rules. But in the drone sector, change is happening all the time. Consider how big the gap is in performance on every level between the Phantom 4 Pro, and the class-leading Phantom 3 Pro of just 18 months ago. So I welcome these changes, and expect there to be more to come.