Drone Flying Holiday Programme 2019

PhantomFlightSchool are the experts in drone holidays. Now in our fourth year, we are delighted to have received only 5***** reviews from everyone who has come on a drone holiday with us. More than 75% of clients have repeat booked.

In 2018 we ran six sold-out drone holidays to Spain, to the French Pyrenees, and to Corfu.

In 2019, we are retunring to all our favourite places, and adding holidays to the Monasteries of Meteora in Greece, and in the UK we have Drone Photography and Videography Masterclasses in the Lake District, the Yorkshire Dales and on the Dorset Coast.

New for 2019!

Coming on a drone flying holiday with us gives you the opportunity to fly with like-minded drone enthusiasts, in places few people could find or would feel comfortable flying on their own. We have meticulously researched every destination, and every flying location, established good relations with the local authorities, and found the best places to visit, to sleep, and to eat.

  • In Spain, we fly over enormous landscapes, steep valleys, clifftops overlooking the sea, and stunning cobalt blue lakes.
  • In France, we up the ante somewhat, with stunning mountain locations and ruined castles offering more challenging but very rewarding photo opportunities.
  • Corfu presents a totally different palette of marine locations. This one is for the experts, as we will be flying every day from the back of a chartered 48ft luxury yacht. Hand launching and hand catching required.
  • While Greece is pretty much a byword for amazing spectacles!
  • In the UK, we’ve teamed up with two Award Winning Photographers, to really help you improve your drone photography and videography.

And you are always flying under the expert gaze of one of our hugely experienced PfCO qualified drone pilots, who is there to support and guide you every time you take off.

OUR FULL HOLIDAY PROGRAMME FOR 2019

Flying and filming together, comparing flight plans, camera settings, and shooting angles and directions, everyone learns from each other. Whatever your standard when you join one of our trips, you will go home with knowledge and expertise that will enhance all of your future drone flying and filming.

Join us for the trip of a lifetime in 2019!

For more information on any of our drone flying holidays call us on 01244 893 872 or send us a message.

Meteora, Greece – Research for our new drone holiday destination for 2019

Unlock the Real Greece on a Drone Adventure to Meteora, Greece with PhantomFlightSchool and George Blonsky

I spent last week in the company of a very special person, in a very special place.

George Blonsky is part-English, part-Greek, and has spent roughly half his life in each.  He is fluent in both.  He has been a photographer for 30 years, and in that time has photographed: celebrities on red carpets; rare pelicans, bears, wolves and other amazing wildlife in his native Greece; incredible landscapes around the world; and for the last 14 years, the work that gives him the most pleasure, the Paralympics, Winter and Summer.  An image of his of a Norwegian Paralympic Biathlete was chosen by Samsung as their billboard image for the Korean Winter Games earlier this year.  He has shot for Getty, for Nike, photographed Pele and Ralph Fiennes for the Sunday Times, and shot for dozens, if not hundreds, of other household names.  As well as all that, George is now a drone pilot, trained by PhantomFlightSchool.  Take a look at some of his amazing photographs at https://www.geopictorial.com/index

George and I met at The Photography Show in March 2018, and I was immediately arrested by his amazing photographs of Meteora – an extraordinary place in the very centre of Greece where there exist six monasteries, perched hundreds of metres high on top of extraordinary rock outcrops, which for centuries could only be reached by means of baskets and ropes, which, it is said, were only replaced when the Lord signaled they needed to be, by breaking them.  He suggested the monasteries would look even more incredible filmed from a drone.  We agreed to put that idea to the test, with a view to inviting PhantomFlightSchool clients to join us in 2019 if he were proved right.

Hence I came to be picked up by George from Thessaloniki Airport late last Saturday evening.  From there it was straight to a local taverna known to George, where we dined on delicious Pork Pyrgos, delicious fresh Tzatziki, and heavenly flatbread.  Everyone else in the place speaking Greek.  George insisted on paying, explaining that this is his Country, so it was his right to pay.  As George wished me goodnight in the hotel lobby, he said “welcome” in a way I had never heard it said before.  He really meant it.

Sunday we drove to Meteora.  Meteora is a long way from anywhere.  Four hours from Athens.  Three from Thessaloniki, where I had flown into.  But the journey flew by, because the scenery en-route was never less than spectacular.  First came the delta of the River Axios.  Some 60kms long, and more than 10kms wide, this is truly nature’s bread-basket.  A paradise of reed beds, and orchards that go on for kms, with apples, pears, apricots, peaches, plums, and walnuts and chestnuts for good measure.  It is said that here, you can put a dead stick in the ground, and in a year you will have a healthy tree.  This is where Alexander the Great was born, and died.  And this delta is the reason Thessaloniki is Greece’s second city.

Leaving the delta, we began to climb into the mountains.  Imperturbable behind his Oakleys, George turns to me and says “this is where Bears live”, moments before we pass a road sign explaining exactly that.  As we climb, the air becomes crystal clear, and the sky, a deep deep blue.  Arriving on a high plateau, we make rapid progress towards our destination on excellent roads.  Soon after, we are checking into a smart hotel where the staff greet us like long lost cousins, in the village of Kastragi .   The view from the bedrooms and their balconies, as well as the delightful garden where we took breakfast each morning, is breath-taking.  Huge rock outcrops.  Towering above us.  Hundreds of metres tall.  Vertical, or in some cases, overhanging the valley.  I glimpse what looks like a building on the top of one of them.  Really?

Despite having seen George’s photographs.  Despite having done my homework about Meteora online in advance, I was completely unprepared for the sight before my eyes when we left the hotel an hour before dusk, and drove a short way to the main viewing point for the Meteora Monasteries.  What the monks went through to build their “monasteries in the sky” (which is the translation for Meteora) beggars belief.  Today, people come here for the beauty of the place, the majesty of the rock monoliths, and the sense of spirituality that pervades the place.  When they were built, I expect it was only spirituality the monks had in mind.  Incredible.

What a place to fly a drone.  From the moment I took off from a quiet spot away from the few tourists that were stopping at the main viewing points, the images I was seeing on my screen took  my breath away.  So much vertical space.  Such an incredible backdrop provided by the craggy peaks and the fluffy white cloud studded sky.  Light of such limpid beauty.  And the monasteries themselves.  Providing focal points for my filming like nothing I have ever seen.

The monks don’t like to be interrupted in their reveries on God, so we were careful to fly a good distance away, and never to overfly the monasteries.  We didn’t need to.  The scenery was captivating in every direction.  Wow.  I was literally shaking with excitement as my drone touched down safely after the first flight.

The next day we were back before dawn.  This time, the only people around.  Perfect conditions for flying.  We completed a perfect Hyperlapse – the old fashioned way using timed photos every two seconds, and tap-fly set at 2m / second.  150 images, which will turn into 5 seconds of film, takes five minutes during which the drone covers a distance of 600m.  So keen eyes are required to keep it in line of sight.  We also got some great reveals, some stunning shots of the valley, and much else besides.  Over the next 24 hours we flew and flew and flew at Meteora.  Some of the most beautiful flights, and certainly some of the most technically challenging, of my drone life.

By Monday night, I knew with absolute certainty that this is a place we must bring PhantomFlightSchool clients to in 2019.  It is a magical, spiritual, special place.  Over the last five hundred years, I guess it has seen most things.  It felt to me that it welcomed our drones as just one more curiosity from the strange modern world the monks turn their backs on when they climb the hundreds of steps (still, steps beat baskets and ropes I’d say) and retreat to their monasteries to meditate for the rest of their lives.

A trip to this part of Greece is so different from visiting the Greece of Athens and the Parthenon, or the lovely Greek islands.  We adore Corfu too – which is why we are going back in April 2019 for a week on a 48ft yacht with drones, thanks to our great friends at No Stress Yachting.  But this is the real Greece.  And with George Blonsky as our guide, we can unlock it.  Every day feels like an adventure.  Unexpected scenes of astonishing beauty at every turn.  Amazing generosity and kindness from everyone we meet.  Stray Anatolian sheepdogs asleep in the middle of the road – the roads around here don’t see much traffic.  Delicious, authentic, locally sourced food in the restaurants.  With great options for meat eaters, vegetarians, and vegans.  On Tuesday we visited the stunning, unique, deserted, post-Byzantine Church “Church of the Holy Cross” high in the mountains North of Meteora.  More amazing drone flights.  More amazing drone footage.

On Wednesday, our last day, we check out of our hotel, and take our bags to the car.  Then head back to reception for hand-shakes and hugs with the hotel staff.  It really is that kind of place.  I am sad to be leaving, but ecstatic to have experienced this special place.  We take a detour on the way back to the airport, to visit Metsovo, a wonderful mountain-top village with narrow cobbled streets, well kept micro-gardens, and a bustling town square.  Our destination is not the village itself, but the spectacular lake beyond it.  The Autumn colours in the forests around the lake are jaw-droppingly spectacular.  The scenery achingly beautiful.

On this trip, for reasons of portability, I took just my Mavic Air drone.  It is fair to say I had my fair share of adventures in the sky.  I love the Pano function.  I love the portability.  And I was chuffed to figure out how to do a Hyperlapse without a Mavic 2.  But trying to fly long-distances, I regularly lost contact with the Air completely.  Which is a little nerve-wracking.  Flight time is short.  Generally fifteen minutes or less.  It was not always happy with the amount of wind we encountered.  Although in size it is unobtrusive, boy is it a noisy drone.  The non-existent ground clearance meant I had to choose take off and landing spots with care.  And the lack of options to adjust camera settings, because of the fixed aperture, and the difficulty with adjusting EV on the fly, was frustrating from time to time.  All the same, she behaved heroically throughout, and has returned home with me in mint condition.

DJI M600 First Flight this weekend at our Maidstone Flying Site

After careful consideration this client chose PhantomFlightSchool to supply their shiny new DJI M600 drone.  They chose PFS because of the full package we offer when we sell a drone like this one: support with the build; full training; and a half-day of practical flying included in the price.

The “big beast” of the DJI line-up weights well over 7kgs, and is capable of lifting a 3kg payload.  This drone was chosen by the client because it has rotor / motor / propeller redundancy, as well as battery redundancy, which was considered essential for a long-term project filming and recording development on a tall skyscraper construction site in a congested area.

Here is  brief clip of the M600’s maiden flight, at our Maidstone, Kent, Flying Location this weekend.

M600 launch

5 Drone Survival Tips for Winter 2018

Flying drones in winter can be challenging, low temperatures seriously affect the stability of a drone and unpredictable weather add to the dangers, so how can you have a safe flight and capture great shots during the winter months?

Here are some safety and camera settings tips to keep you flying this winter.

Battery

Cold Lithium Polymer (LiPo) batteries means less chemical activity, which means a less stable drone. Reports have shown cold weather has been responsible for drones literally dropping out of the sky. The most important tip you are likely to hear this winter? Keep your batteries warm. Follow these tips below to ensure a safe flight:

  • Only use fully charged batteries.
  • Pre-heat your battery to 20°C (68°F) or more. You can check the battery temperature in DJI GO. Use a Battery Heater if one is available for your product.
  • Hover for about a minute to allow the battery to warm up.
  • Only push the control sticks gently to prevent any battery voltage drops.
  • Batteries drain faster in cold temperatures. Always check your drone’s battery status during flight.

Environment

Reduced visibility and moisture can be the hidden dangers behind shooting spectacular winter scenery. It’s essential to take the right precautions:

  • Avoid contact with snow. Moisture can damage the motors. It’s recommended to use a landing pad for taking off and landing your drone.
  • Before flying your drone, check the weather conditions. Avoid strong wind, rain, and snow.
  • Do not fly in temperatures below 0°C (32°F).
  • Ensure that the GPS signal is strong.

Stay Warm

Wear gloves! Operating with numb hands is dangerous. Keep all devices warm, cold temperatures will shorten the LiPo batteries life, so if you fly with cold batteries (and that includes mobiles and tablets) don’t be surprised if any one of your devices unexpectedly shuts down from the cold.

Camera Settings – Exposure and White Balance

If you are flying when snows on the ground, you will need to manually set camera exposure and white balance, otherwise expect an SD card full of dark images. This is because the camera’s exposure can sometimes underexpose snow, tricked by its brightness. By adding additional stops, you will slightly overexpose your photos but get the right compensation for snow shots. Similarly, you need to adjust the white balance accordingly to get the right colour balance of the snowy landscape. Otherwise, the snow may look grey.

Storage

If you’re thinking of putting your drone into storage over winter, or even for a few weeks or more, its performance might be affected. Storing it properly is key to a safe flight. Make sure to:

  • Fully charge and discharge the battery once every three months to maintain battery health.
  • Remove the propellers and attach the gimbal clamp when storing your drone.
  • Store your drone in a dry, non-magnetic place at around 25°C (77°F).

Ready to capture a winter wonderland with your drone? Have fun with your winter flying.

French Pyrenees Trip by our Trip Leader, Simon Smith

Drone Holiday in the French Pyrenees, May 2018

After about an hour’s drive from Toulouse Airport we arrived at Giles & Louise Neville’s gites. The location is truly superb with views across miles of open countryside to the Pyrenees in the “middle distance”. As the light changes through the day, so the atmosphere changes, making every view different!

Giles and Louise (and their dog “Daco”) make everybody really welcome and the accommodation is exceptionally clean, comfortable, spacious and full of character.

The first afternoon was spent flying from the gites’ garden getting a feel for everybody’s level of ability and ensuring that we all understood a few basic rules of safety and separation. Everybody enjoyed flying in new surroundings and we very quickly established a great “Group Dynamic” with a bit of good natured banter and lots of exchange of wisdom.

Louise takes great pleasure in creating a wide variety of meals for us and Giles is a very good host, so it was no surprise that our first evening meal extended over a thoroughly pleasant couple of hours followed by a relaxing hour or so with a couple of beers before bed.

There followed 4 days where we adopted the format of the morning in one location, lunch and then another location…

Everything from the biggest road through a natural cave/tunnel in Europe to ruined castles on top of spectacular rocky outcrops, waterfalls crashing down mountainsides, tranquil lakes in serene surroundings, a medieval bridge in a hidden gorge and barns high enough in the mountains to be above the early morning clouds… A veritable plethora of truly photogenic opportunities, and all with plenty of alternative viewpoints and enough space to permit 2 drones to fly safely at the same time!

After the first day’s activity we established something of a routine where we could all gather to admire and critique each other’s video and stills on a large screen TV before dinner. I certainly felt that we all benefited from seeing different ways of viewing the same subject!

And it was very interesting to get Giles’ take on what we had produced since he is a very competent photographer in his own right and he has copious experience of guiding many residential land-based Photography Holidays that he accommodates in Manzac.

I think that it’s fair to say that everybody enjoyed our week there and we all left wanting more!

 

 

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.