A month has now passed since I completed my Operation Evaluation, the final chapter in the Fly Icarus course. Since then I haven’t had much time to get out and do any flying, with ‘life’ getting in the way. I was grateful, therefore, that my work asked if I could travel down to Dartmoor to film a day’s army training, with the footage captured being used for training and media purposes.
My morning started, at incredibly-early-o’clock, with a nice short(!) 4-hour drive. When the torrential rain moved in, I started to write off the day as a wasted exercise, and more so when the rain was followed shortly after by a little blizzard. After finally reaching my first location (still snowing at this point) I was given a map, location and contact information for the training officer running the exercise then I set off once more working my way through the narrow lanes of the moor.
I finally reached said training officer who he gave me a quick run-through of the various filming he required, and the locations I would need to head to. First on the list for me was to search an area close to a fixed point, to identify personnel on the ground. My earlier thoughts of a ‘wasted trip’ were reinforced when I arrived at this fixed point and the heavens were fully open – luckily I had some large plastic bags to cover the drone bags in for some protection. Hands firmly in pockets and head hunched down, I could do nothing but wait. Thankfully, it didn’t take long until the clouds cleared and we were left with beautiful blue skies…beyond which you could see more rain would eventually follow. No time to lose! Phantom out, props on, batteries inserted and calibrations made. Take off.
I spent the first 5 minutes demonstrating Phantoms’ capabilities to the gentlemen I was located with, then under their instructions I commenced a small search pattern of an area about 100 metres from us. I won’t go into much detail about the exact training purposes but needless to say, my little surveillance operation was a huge success. I wasn’t too sure if I would be able to see much looking down on a wooded area from 50 metres up, but your eye immediately catches a moving object, and once you initially find that object, it becomes quite easy to keep track of it. I depleted two batteries during this task, ending the training serial by capturing some of the beautiful countryside that surrounded us. (See photos below).
Task completed, on to the next. After meeting up with a photographer who was capturing the day’s events, we drove in convoy 25 minutes north to a small, old quarry. The task for the poor guys here? Get from one side of the quarry to the other. Easy I hear you say…. Not with the very large (icy cold) pond in the middle of it. My briefing for these shots was simple - “context”. Get in close and back away showing the wider context of the training area.
The main issue with this shot was timing. I needed to be ready to shoot as soon as the first group arrived – the problem being that we wouldn’t actually know when that would be. Now, at this point the sun was shining, but this new location (I was at the top of the quarry) was completely open so rather windswept. Bad enough for us all stood around, but more of a concern for me was the battery temperature. The first one in gave a “cold warning”, so there was nothing for it…in the jacket, under the arm it goes – with the rest going in my jacket pockets. We ended up hanging around for a good 40 minutes before the first group arrived, which despite making us all cold, gave plenty of time to warm the batteries.
As the guys in the quarry were taking the plunge into the water, I was able to get up and try out various shooting angles. Now, most of my flying is usually done by myself or with likeminded enthusiasts, so one thing I’ve noticed – and something I’ll have to get used to as I move into the commercial industry – is that a drone in the air becomes the centre of attention. It’s strange, but you become slightly self-conscious, “am I too close”, “am I too far”, “how am I flying”, “please for the love of god don’t drop out of the sky”. It doesn’t take long, though, to realise that they aren’t watching to judge you, but more out of pure amazement. It is sometimes easy to forget when you fly them all the time, just what amazing technological pieces of equipment they are, and that’s even before you review the incredibly stable high-definition video you captured.
I digress! After burning another battery on this first group, the rain moved in for the second time. Time to quickly pack everything away and get it into cover once again. The other photographer completed his task so moved off, but I decided to stay as I could see blue skies in the distance. I’m glad I did, because I think some of the best shots came from filming the third group.
Happy with what I had achieved, it was time to make my way home to collate everything I had captured that day. I had started out pessimistic, thinking I wouldn’t even get a single flight in, I ended with a full microSD and complete stock of empty batteries…and some cracking footage!
These are some screen grabs from the video (hence the poor quality).