If 2014 was the year of the drone, let’s make 2015 the year of the payload!

Admittedly, year of the payload doesn’t sound quite as exciting as year of the drone but it has to be the way forwards for a number of good reasons that I’ll try to expand on in this post.

But first, Happy New Year to all our friends and followers. I hope 2015 is a good one for you!

I often get asked what drone I fly and so end up having long discussions about hexacopters and octocopters in various configurations. Bizarrely, we don’t end up talking about the camera payload very quickly in most cases. The same happens when I get asked to consult on equipment where the conversation often goes something like:

“I’m thinking of buying a drone.”


“I’ve done lots of research and I’ve come down to (insert several drone names with a distinct ghostly or terminator  theme)”

“OK, great, what camera are you thinking of flying?”

“Erm… I haven’t thought much about that, the best I can I suppose.”

If you can imagine the same conversation in a camera accessory shop but insert “tripod” instead of “drone”, you begin to see the problem.

Drones have changed a lot over the last couple of years, moving from aluminium framed box section creations lovingly crafted in sheds and garages to much more uniform designs churned out by the thousand. Reliability is improving, failsafe features are getting there. As a result a proliferation of drone use is occurring, causing a few understandable shockwaves in terms of privacy, legislation etc. that I’m sure will iron themselves out eventually.

So, whilst drone development will continue for a long time to come, it is time that we begin to see them for what they are (at least for the majority of the industry), flying tripods. Incredibly versatile tripods, but tripods nonetheless. Yes, they are fun too at times, but they are still a tripod! As a result we need to be encouraging people to consider payload as the priority and then matching the appropriate UAS to give a total solution.

So what can a change in focus do for the industry? A few ideas that people may wish to discuss.

  • Reduce public fears over drones

Once people begin to look past the drone itself it becomes much more possible to sell the advantages of being able to carry a sensor payload into useful situations without, for example, putting employees into dangerous situations themselves.

  • Allow meaningful conversation with customers

Generally my customers have no interest in whether I am photographing from the top of a ladder or flying the latest cutting edge drone. All they are really interested in is the end product. It makes much more sense to focus on the end result and the payload than the drone itself.

  • Allow effective research and development collaboration

We can make almost anything fly but, at the end of the day, if my sensor payload doesn’t acquire useful data, I may as well not bother. If we begin to discuss payload, and ultimately the data to be acquired, we can generally work backwards to a drone solution that will carry the payload appropriately. This means working closely with end users to develop the complete system.

  • Allow current legislation to be employed for data protection and privacy

A lot of time and effort is being wasted in trying to write new legislation for drone technology. In the UK particularly the CAA has worked hard to develop workable legislation, it may need some fine tuning, but I don’t feel it needs much. We also have perfectly adequate data protection legislation to deal with privacy issues when it comes to cameras. Separating the payload from the drone allows these two issues to be considered independently and much more logically.


Now that the industry is maturing, it also seems to be logical to begin to think about universal payload mounts and power connections but I suspect we are quite a way from that yet.

Just some thoughts, feel free to come and discuss them over at the HexCam website or Facebook.

Anyway, let’s raise a glass and welcome 2015, the year of the payload! 🙂

Versadrones Versa X6

A Versadrones tripod!

Elliott – HexCam



A new route to a CAA Permission for Aerial Work

In January 2015 HexCam Ltd will announce a new route to a CAA permission for Aerial Work. Please watch this space for announcements.

Over the past two years, HexCam Ltd has been working hard on developing a holistic supply and drone training process to build up from a novice drone operator to commercial operations.

By maintaining a good working relationship with the UK Civil Aviation Authority, we have been able to put together a programme that aims to support drone pilot and business development at all stages of the process.

We will be able to help with:

1) Sourcing your drone

Whether you are a recreational user or high end surveyor, our links with drone suppliers such as Versadrones and DJI allows us to tailor a multirotor to your purposes. From 1Kg quadcopters, such as the DJI Phantom to 10Kg octocopters, such as the Versadrones Heavylift, we can supply carefully chosen products. We won’t sell something that we wouldn’t fly ourselves!

2) Sourcing insurance

We work closely with leading specialist drone insurance companies to supply insurance packages that meet your needs. Please contact us for details

3) Initial drone flight training

We have been running drone flying courses for over a year, taking people from absolute beginner to commercial operator. We can supply equipment to try before you buy and tailor training to individuals so it doesn’t matter if you are an absolute beginner or moving from another industry sector, we can provide the right training for you.

4) Commercial drone flight and theory training

Once you have completed our initial drone flight training (or if you already have provable flight skills) you will be able to enrol on our commercial drone flight and theory training course. Our approach is going to be slightly different to the current systems in place which we believe generate excessive administrative load for everybody concerned. (More details January 2015)

5) Assistance with CAA paperwork

We aim to minimise paperwork required for the Operations Manual and information that need to be submitted to the Civil Aviation Authority. Over the last two years we have assisted many operators with this aspect of obtaining a Permission for Aerial Work. Our operations procedures are tried and tested and our operations manuals are well received by the CAA.

Drone near misses with manned aircraft show a need for education and training

As many of you may have heard, on the 22nd of July 2014 the pilot of an Airbus A320 reported sighting a “small black object” to the left as he prepared for landing at Heathrow airport. The airbus was 700ft up when the object was reported passing approximately 20ft over the wing. The pilot was able to land the plane safely, but stated “it was a distraction during a critical phase of flight.” The UK Airprox Board(UKAB) gave this incident an A rating, meaning that there had been “a serious risk of collision”. Investigations were unable to trace the operator responsible.

This incident demonstrates a need for a greater public understanding of drone operations. As statistics come through about the volume of drones being sold monthly and marketing campaigns push for making a drone the gift to get this Christmas, the importance of understanding the rules and regulations surrounding this emerging industry has never been greater.

The operator of the drone involved in the Heathrow near-miss was breaking numerous regulations from take off. The Air Navigation Order 2009 defines a congested area as being “any area of a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes.” You must have permission from the CAA to land or operate within a congested area. Article 138 of the ANO states “A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property”. I believe not only the pilot of the airbus, but the UKAB agrees flying a drone within 20ft of an aircraft is reckless when they gave this incident an A rating. Additionally articles 166 and 167 state the operator must maintain direct, unaided visual contact to monitor its flight path, the operator must not fly in Class A, C, D or E airspace without permission from the air traffic control unit, operators shouldn’t fly at a height of more than 400ft or within 50m of any vessel, vehicle, or structure not under the operators control. New FPV regulations do allow for flights to be higher than 400 feet, but not in the class D airspace around Heathrow and a competent spotter needs to be with the remote pilot at all times.

With at least one other drone near miss currently being put through the UKAB, it is possible that there are recreational drone pilots who may be keen to fly in these areas simply to obtain footage of manned aircraft in flight. I cannot stress how dangerous this could be for the crew and passengers of a manned aircraft.

With the recreational drone market expanding, there’s no reason for anyone to be left stranded on the ground. If you or someone you know received a drone this Christmas it is important to understand the regulations. By following the regulations set out people can experience the wonder that flying a drone can bring without sacrificing any person or property’s safety.

The UKAB report for the Heathrow near-miss can be found here: http://www.airproxboard.org.uk/docs/423/2014117.pdf

You can find more information on the legislation on the CAA Unmanned Aircraft page.

The CAA recently released an information leaflet for owners of recreational drones.

If you are planning on getting or giving someone a drone for hobby flying you can find out more from the British Model Flying Association.

For initial UK drone flight training please contact us via the HexCam website. In early 2015, we hope to offer a full route to a CAA Permission for Aerial Work, which is required to operate drones commercially in UK airspace. New information and websites coming soon.

We would like to wish you a happy and prosperous 2015.