Ex-Pat News

Droning On

By Rob Purver

Watch any snowsport movie nowadays and you’ll notice one thing: nearly all have an aerial shot.

I think you would be hard pushed to find a winter film from the last few seasons that, at some point, doesn’t feature at least a hint of aerial photography. It’s like the time-lapse of the current age; it sets the scene, the mood and provides a nice bit of filler.

Traditionally these shots were obtained by dangling a cameraman out the window of a helicopter and were exclusive to only those with the biggest of budgets. For the more down to earth productions it was all about cable cams or sending someone up a tree.

As we are now almost in what Marty McFly considered to be the future, it’s not really surprising that we’ve seen the emergence of drone filming.

A drone or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is essentially a remote control aircraft consisting of a small body containing a battery and the electronics, with multiple arms supporting a motor and a rotor. They come in various varieties but the most common types are: four rotors – a quadcopter, six rotors – a hexacoptor or eight rotors – an octocoptor.

Drones feature an electronic stability control, which makes for a steady and predictable flight. They are GPS capable, can follow a plotted route and have a gimballed camera mount, meaning not only are they super stable in the air but they are easy to fly and easy to film with. As the technology has become cheaper and more readily available, an increasing number of production companies and individuals have started filming with UAVs.


Of course, these are not the first generation of radio-control aircraft mounted with cameras. Single rotor remote control helicopters have been on the market since the mid-nineties and are easily capable of supporting a GoPro. So why didn’t they ever catch on with the same enthusiasm of today’s multi-rotor copters? Quite simply… they are  an absolute nightmare to fly. A few years back I purchased myself a lovely remote control chopper. After 30 minutes of it  heading in every direction but the one I wanted it to go in, it hit a tough patch of ground at around 60km/h and that was that.

The Future of the Drone

The UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) have been trying to classify the legal standing of private and commercially used UAVs for a while now. As it stands the current laws don’t fully cover all aspects of drone use, with limits on proximity (50m from buildings, 150m from large events) and the actual use of the drone falling under the user’s responsibility to not spy or trespass.

To use a drone commercially in the UK it is necessary to get a license from the CAA in order to ensure that the pilot has the required skills and insurance for drone flight. In January 2013 only 30 such licenses were requested but, due to the ever growing popularity of the drone, they received over ten times the amount of requests for licenses in the last month.

With the legal standing of drones still unconfirmed due to outdated laws, nobody is exactly sure what will happen in the worst case scenario of a pilot been taken to court. Its only a matter of time until a celebrity’s privacy gets violated or someone crashes one into something significantly expensive and the current outdated laws are tested by this 21st century problem.

Like a fine wine of the skies, drone technology is only going to improve over time. With current range limited by a usual maximum of fifteen minutes flight time, and that being shortened significantly by any excessive climbing, the full sized helicopter is unlikely to be replaced any time soon for bigger distances and larger scale projects.


Where it’s really going to get interesting is with the next generation of personal follow-cam drones. There have already been a couple of concepts floating about online and very recently a Kickstarter project smashed its funding target to develop a drone that will lock onto your smartphone’s GPS signal and follow you around. It’s possibly the ultimate upgrade over having your mate stand on a landing wobbling his helmet cam at you.

I think we can safely assume that drones are here to stay. I’d love to have a little hovering robot that followed me down the pistés and I’m stoked at how close that technology is to being affordable. But judging from the amount of helmet cams you see on your average mountain, can you imagine the madness that would ensue if everyone were being followed by tiny little aircraft down every slope? In actual fact, I can’t wait. It sounds hilarious. Just remember to duck. And wear a helmet.

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