Category Archives: Photos/Videos

Aerial Photography Profile: SkEye

I wanted to write a short article about a Photography Studio called SkEye Studios.  They are a photography studio out in Hillsboro, Oregon that also has an aerial photography component to it.  I spoke with Chris Kiefer, a production manager at SkEye about a video that was sent to me from the West Coast Walk to Life.

As a reminder, this is not a political or advocacy blog, but I was intrigued by this video because a company was using a UAS to record a large congregation of people in a metropolitan area.  Chris told me that they took this video purely for their own personal interests in photography.  They were curious about the size and extent of the event and wanted to see how it would come out.  They did not do this for commercial purposes, so they are not bumping up against the FAA’s ban on using the Model Aircraft guidance.  While I’m sure the FAA could make some commercial argument, SkEye has done everything right, in my opinion.

SkEye was in contact with both the San Francisco Police Department and the California Highway Patrol to get their buy-in on what they were doing.  Interestingly, neither agency really know what to do, but were excited to help and agreed to the plan that SkEye developed.  SkEye used a Phantom to make the recording and this is what came out of it.

This will be a powerful use of UAS once the FAA does approve small aircraft for commercial use.  Groups of all types will want to document their events and share the extent of participation – both to encourage more to join and to encourage companies to advertise at the event.

SkEye has a lot of work online, and it pains me to show this this one, since I’m a Patriots fan and excited for the Super Bowl tomorrow.  SkEye also took this video of a Green Bay Packers stadium recreation with Christmas lights and portions are filmed with a UAS.  It is pretty cool, even if the choice of teams is questionable.

On that note, don’t forget that aircraft of all types are prohibited around major sporting events year round, but the FAA has issued a special advisory for the Super Bowl and is trying to get out the word that it is a “No Drone Zone.”  No UAS near the Super Bowl – no excuses.  Enjoy the game!

White House, part 2 | Historic Video from a UAS

The White House Phantom story hasn’t gone away. As I mentioned previously, this happened at 3 am in Washington DC, but it also turns out that the user was intoxicated.  I already said he would be in violation of the ADIZ/FRZ, but here are a few other comments:

  • The FAA can take enforcement action against an intoxicated user under 14 CFR §91.13(a) for “Careless or Reckless Operation of an Aircraft.”
  • It can also take action under 14 CFR §91.17 “Alcohol or drugs” – No one can act as a crew member of an aircraft (Note than the FAA considers a pilot of a UAS a crew member and that the regulation says “of” not “on”):
    • Within 8 hours after the consumption of any alcoholic beverages
    • While under the influence of alcohol
    • While using any drug that affects the person’s faculties in any way contrary to safety
    • While having an alcohol concentration of 0.04 or greater in a blood or breath specimen.
  • The District of Columbia (if he was operating from a location in DC under their jurisdiction), could prosecute under D.C. Code § 22–1321(a)(1)  (Disorderly conduct).  Disorderly statutes are written broadly, and there is an argument that operating while intoxicated would qualify if someone was aware and worried about a crash.
  • It doesn’t appear to me that DC’s DUI statute would cover operation of a UAS while intoxicated, but other state laws might.  As one example from my experience (on the prosecuting, not defense side): military UAS users can be charged under Article 111 (Drunken or reckless operation of vehicle, aircraft, or vessel).

In late-breaking news, a friend sent me this.  DJI is sending out a firmware update that will prohibits its products from flying within 15.5 miles of D.C.  Based on comments I’m reading, a lot of people with UAS are not even aware they’re violating FAA regulations by flying in DC.  I know some other companies have added no-fly zones to their products as well.  I’m sure the driving factor for DJI is the PR mess (who hasn’t seen the picture of the broken Phantom on the White House lawn), but it is a good way to educate users who aren’t familiar with VFR maps or airspace restrictions.

Here is an interesting video that was shared with me.

Some might think it is insensitive to record Auschwitz from a UAS, but my opinion is that it is important to share the history so that we remember what happened, and why it must never be repeated.  Someone said that Auschwitz was “built for the negation of faith – faith in God and faith in man…[it was meant to] trample radically not only on love but on all signs of human dignity…built on hatred and contempt for man in the name of a crazed ideology.”  Name the speaker?  For me, it was is powerful to see from above and recall what man is capable of.

Blizzard 2015, Part 2

Apparently the storm was a dud for some, but we were in one of the harder hit areas. A few local recommendations today.s Thanks to a good snowblower recommendation from the local TruValue in Killingworth, CT, my Ariens broke through the snow like it was a dusting!  I miss my post-shoveling Flanders Donuts from Ralph’s in Groton, CT, but fortunately I had some from Beach Donut Shop in Westbrook.

Everyone be safe out there.  Back to UAS updates tomorrow!

Blizzard 2015

UAS at Puy du Fou

Cinéscénie (pre-UAS)

Today I wanted to write about UAS regulations in other countries, and recent news fit in perfectly with that plan. Puy du Fou, the second largest theme park in France, has announced that it will be including UAS in its nighttime Cinéscénie.  I hadn’t heard about this place until today, but it already looks quite extravagant.  Their webpage about the 3 kg “Neopter” says they are custom created to be waterproof and they can be choreographed together.  The Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile Française (DGAC) has authorized Puy du Fou to fly the Neopters.

France is clearly more willing to allow UAS use than the United States, and they have set up a tiered system for the weight of the UAS along with the situation in which it is being used.  Even small recreational users must take various safety precautions that are similar to the small UAS regulations proposed by UAS American Fund.  As the weight and proximity to people increases, the users must take more action.  For those who understand French, the regulations are here.  I haven’t been able to find reliable English translations, so rather than go through line-by-line, please email me if you have any questions and I’ll do my best to translate.

Other Countries:

The theme in all of these countries is that small UAS are generally permitted with some limitations, but commercial use is possible without the difficult 333 Exemption process adhered to by the FAA.  I’ve only summarized the requirements, but I hope this gives you a flavor of what other countries are doing – and why R&D is heading there.

Canada: They have a great site that is very user-friendly. There are two general exemptions, one for UAS less than 2 kg and one for those 2-25kg.

  • Less than 2 kg user must:
    • Not have consumed alcohol or be fatigued
    • Familiarize himself with the relevant aeronautical information
    • Perform a site survey
    • Obtain liability insurance
    • Be trained in the system
    • Fly in Class G airspace only
  • There are other various restrictions, similar to the Model Use Guidelines
  • The 2-25 kg exemption is similar, but contains stricter requirements for pilot training and UAS system requirements

United Kingdom:

  • Generally, UAS under 20 kg are exempt from most requirements with the caveats below.  Above that weight, both the aircraft and pilot will need to be certified.
  • No permissions or certifications are required if the UAS is (1) <20 kg, (2) not being used commercially, and (3) not being flown in a congested area.


  • One cannot fly commercially without permission from Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA).
    • Pilots are required to obtain an Operator’s Certificate – not as arduous as the US’s Private Pilot’s License for 333 Exemptions.
    • Documentation must be filed in order to obtain permission to fly from CASA
    • Could revoke Operator’s Certificate if fly without authorization from CASA
  • Recreational
    • Stay 30 meters away from people and avoid crowds
    • Fly below 400 feet
    • Stay within line-of-sight
    • Do not operate within 5 miles of an airport
    • Fines up to $8,500 (Australian) for violation

United Arab Emirates:  I include this because of UAS flying near the airport in Dubai grounded air traffic for almost an hour yesterday.  I couldn’t find the actual regulations, but the official news agency says that one must have permission from the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority in order to use a UAS in Dubai.  There are also strict privacy laws that forbid the taking of another’s picture without their permission.  So do your research before taking aerial photos in Dubai, or anywhere else for that matter.

Also note that in the European Union, a recent case from the Court of Justice of the European Union found that photographs constitute personal data.  Under the EU Data Protection Directive, each country within the EU must pass laws protecting personal data. So even if one is operating a UAS in the GB or in France under the exemptions listed, taking photographs of people in public is still prohibited!


Afghan rugs, Chernobyl, and Winter X Games

In a lighter post, I wanted to illustrate some interesting ways that UAS have entered our culture.

I recently purchased an Afghan “Oriental” rug for my office and truly enjoy it (Aside:  I strongly recommend the family-owned Kebabian’s, the oldest importer of such rugs in the US).  I found this article which discusses how UAS have shown up in rugs weaved in Afghanistan.  I believe this one depicts a predator drone in the center.

Predator Afghan Rug

ESPN has gained authorization to use UAS during the Winter X Games in Aspen this year.  There are limits similar to those the FAA has placed on other organizations who have gained exemptions.  For example, the UAS have to be in controlled environments and cannot be used over people.  I can’t find a 333 Exemption, so I’m wondering if they are using one of the companies previously granted one for the film industry.  I’ll try to track down more info when I have a bit more time!

Finally, was in the Navy prior to being a private-practice attorney and worked in the Navy Nuclear Propulsion Program.  As such, this video caught my eye:

Volcanos, Agriculture, Ansel Adams, and the role of the FAA

Volcano video
Pico de Fogo, a volcano on the island of Cape Verde, erupted in December, causing significant damage to the nearby towns of Portela and Bangeira. This video shows a valuable potential benefit of UAVs in disaster situations. While it was used for documentary purposes in Cape Verde, UAVs could be used for rescue and delivering supplies.  This brings back memories of Hurricane Katrina.  Whether lava or water, both disasters cut off normal means of access to the municipalities and UAVs could speed recovery.
Advanced Aviation Section 333 Exemption
eBee Ag
There was a second Section 333 exemption granted yesterday, this one to Advanced Aviation Solutions, LLC.  I wanted to get out the post on the Tucson 333 exemption since I thought it provided great insight, but here is the other for completeness. Advanced Aviation have been granted authorization to use an eBee Ag UAV “to conduct photogrammetry and crop scouting in order to perform precision agriculture.”  The analysis was very similar to that for the exemption to Douglas Trudeau in Tucson with a few interesting points.  The petition asked for a special airworthiness certificate in the experimental category (14 CFR §21.191), but the FAA chose to grant an exemption under Section 333 with numerous limitations.
Advanced Aviation asked to operate in an inherently rural area, which distinguishes it from Mr. Trudeau’s application and the FAA felt that Advanced Aviation had a better training program in place.  The Small UAV Coalition again wrote in support and both the Air Line Pilots Association, International (ALPA) and the National Agricultural Aviation Association (NAAA) wrote in opposition.  Advanced will have more flexibility in using their UAV because of the rural nature of their operations, but are subject to most of the same limitations as Mr. Trudeau.  I am sure the NAAA is particularly worried about this exemption and the future of agricultural aviation.
The role of the FAA
I listened to an excellent presentation today regarding drones and the presenter commented that many drone blogs are charged and one-sided.  That has been my experience as well, but I hope that I have tried to stay more detached than some.  However I realized that I have probably been too deferential the the FAA’s position, even as I have been critical of them.  I previously discussed Mr. Pirker’s case, where the court allowed the FAA to fine him for reckless operation of his drone around the UVA campus.  The presentation pointed out that he was not fined for using his UAV for hire (which he was), but for using it recklessly.  I have discussed both these requirements in the past and their analysis of the case is correct, but I missed their take-away: that this has sent the message that use for hire won’t be prosecuted unless done so recklessly.
This is a very fine line.  While the presenters noted that the insurance industry is underwriting the commercial use of drones and Mr. Pirker wasn’t fined for his commercial use, the FAA is publicly on record as stating that any use for hire without an exemption is not authorized.  This puts users in a difficult position – do they seek a 333 exemption with the strict limitation I discussed yesterday and above, or do they try to operate safely and hope the FAA does not send a Cease and Desist order? (Is is better to beg for forgiveness or ask for permission?)  Each user will have to weigh the risks and benefits of each option.
Regardless, this emphasizes what I have been discussing this past month – consider the regulations and local guidance, and then think through your flight plan to make sure you are operating your UAV in a safe and respectful manner.  While you still might be running afoul of the official FAA position, you can protect yourself from liability for reckless operation and invasion of privacy.
Ansel Adams Bill
A new bill, entitled the “Ansel Adams Act” (H.R. 5893), has been introduced in Congress this week.  It’s goal is to restore the First Amendment rights of photographers by statutorily allowing them to take photos in public places.  Here is an article about it and here is the text.  This isn’t exactly UAV-related but is the opposite direction from Europe, where one cannot take pictures of a person in public without their permission – a big concern for aerial photographers.
2014 UAV photos
I will finish on a light note, having found this website.  It includes what the authors consider to be the 19 best UAV photos of 2014.  While I can’t say they are definitively the best, they are beautiful, so enjoy.