It's not everyday you get to fly drones around aircraft nevermind inside the aircraft cabin but that is exactly what we recently done on behalf of STS Aviation Services at Birmingham airport.
With just one days notice we were tasked with providing still images, video and drone footage of a customer Airbus A330 aircraft that STS had just converted into cargo configuration for an upcoming press release.
We got straight to work with our risk assessments and followed the official airport drone instructions to secure permission from Air Traffic Control and various airport stakeholders including security, and PR department so that we could unlock our drone to use in what would usually be a highly restricted zone.
Although initially approved and with the drone unlocked we soon realised during a site visit that the restrictions ATC had put in place wouldn't give us the field of view we required to get the footage we needed. After several email exchanges and zoom calls with ATC it became apparent that to increase the flight footpath to accommodate our needs would take extra resources from the airfield safety department that simply were not viable in our timescale.
Not ones to give up we managed to secure the services of a professional photographer to take the still shots and it gave us the opportunity to remove the wrapping of our brand new Sony DSLR camera and ronin gimbal that was coincidentally delivered the day before in time for the main wedding season to provide a whole series of professional clips the client could use.
But the client also wanted drone footage and the ATC restrictions meant this was not going to work?! No problem! Luckily STS have a giant hangar available (although it has been temporarily halved for a prestigious contract). We could have easily unleashed our mini 2 drone with it's prop guards inside the hangar as a) it was still unlocked from our permission and b) CAA rules don't apply indoors with doors and windows closed but we had a better idea up our sleeves that would provide the customer with mindblowing footage...
Introducing Sam Bennett, a very talented FPV drone pilot who just so happens to be an aircraft engineer himself so knows all the nooks and crannies of the A330 aircraft! Although we had previously seen plenty of mindblowing youtube videos of racing / fpv drones (including Sam's) we have never seen one in action in the flesh! What an experience it was.
Sam's tiny FPV drone is home built carrying a dissected go pro as a camera. It must only be 20cm in length and looks extremely fragile! When flying it sounds like a wasp and you would be forgiven if you were unable to locate it.
With liaison with the STS security manager, we gave Sam the freedom to capture the aircraft from various angles ...and if possible to get some footage from inside. We had several walks around the aircraft, briefed the hangar staff and then watched in astonishment as Sam flew with such skill and precision in the tightest of spaces (at speed). Whilst flying, we were watching live from the second VR headset and there were some extremely nerve racking moments as it looked too close for comfort, had no idea how he was to escape from tight spaces including the cockpit and undercarriage...
As much as it gave us the urge to enter the FPV market ourselves (just for the fun of flying these things!) we will leave it to the professionals such as Sam and other partners of ours when the the next request comes in and concentrate on what we do best!
Check out some of Sam's flying skills here and watch the finished project below!
the completed video
behind the scenes footage