Observations from our first 10 drone flight assessments

Hello everybody! The Aerial Academy has now completed 10 drone flight assessments for pilots moving from manned aviation and I thought I would share a few observations to help people prepare for future flight tests.

The quality of risk assessments and pre-arrival surveys varies considerably but those pilots with previous manned aviation experience seem generally much stronger in this area.

Generally, the quality of GPS assisted flight is very good with people only occasionally struggling with nose-in orientation. Atti or non-GPS flight has proved more challenging. The CAA requires us to assess non-GPS flight as losing GPS signal, although unlikely, is one of the most common challenges that a pilot can meet in day-to-day operations. You must be able to fly competently in Atti mode in a range of orientations. I am generally happy for people to use course lock to recover an atti drift but can’t accept a return to GPS or use of home lock as neither of those methods would work if you have genuinely lost GPS.

We have had a couple of candidates who have been very unsure of how to initiate failsafe or what will happen when they do. Candidates must switch off the transmitter to simulate a transmitter signal loss. This should initiate failsafe but if the aircraft hasn’t been set up right that might not happen. If you are unsure about the failsafe, you must contact your supplier. With most equipment, we can help to ensure it will work before the assessment commences, but if you can’t initiate failsafe by turning off the transmitter I’m afraid that would be an instant fail.

I have also noticed that a number of candidates don’t know how to get best flight characteristics out of their aircraft using the assistant software or app. Gain and exponential changes can often radically change the way an aircraft flies and as a result it is worth taking some time to investigate the best settings for your flying style and operational purpose.

A few candidates so far have been quite blasé about lipo battery safety, particularly those with the “intelligent” DJI batteries. Please remember, they are still lithium polymer batteries and still potentially dangerous. I do not charge lipo batteries in my house. Please see my other lipo battery post and have a quick look here if you still don’t believe me.

Remember, whilst you don’t have to take training before your assessment, we do offer a range of training options from half day, to three day that will enable you to feel as confident as possible before the test.

We aren’t expecting anyone to be absolutely perfect on their flight test, but we are looking for competence, confidence and, above all, safety.

Fly safe! – Elliott


The Civil Aviation Authority Operating Safety Case for UK drone operations

As promised in my last post, here is the beginnings of a post on the operating safety case (OSC) which has been introduced by the CAA in the revised CAP 722 publication. I will try to be as accurate as I can, but as always there are a few grey areas so please contact the CAA for final confirmation! Please consider this post a work in progress!

The idea of the OSC is that it allows commercial drone operators in the UK to apply for an annual exemption to your standard permission that allows you to operate outside the limitations of your standard Permission for Aerial Work. Previously, exemptions were issued on a case by case basis, which has led to an almost unmanageable workload. The most obvious example is it is currently not permitted to fly a 7-20Kg drone in a congested area. This has led to the dangerous practice of weight-stripping; running fairly heavy drones on smaller battery capacities and stripping unnecessary (!??) weight in order to bring a drone below 7Kg (which DOES include batteries by the way, whatever people try to tell you!). A case in point here is the DJI S900 which naturally and comfortably comes in somewhere around 7.5Kg with a Zenmuse and GH4 with a sensible amount of batteries. I find it very hard to justify weight-stripping in order to claim that a machine running with dangerously low battery redundancy is now safer! The operating safety case would allow you to submit procedures for operating the 7-20Kg machine within the congested area. In order to do so you will have to incorporate extra risk mitigation in the design of your aircraft and/or through your operational procedures.

A congested area is defined by the CAA as “any area of a city, town or settlement which is substantially used for residential, industrial, commercial or recreational purposes”. Now, technically that means a town-based golf course is a congested area. This makes sense if you are flying a 747 but probably not when flying an S1000. But, whatever we think, those are the rules.

The OSC is not limited purely to 7-20Kg could also be used to apply for reduced separation distances across the 0-20Kg spectrum., increased working height, EVLOS etc. The idea is that the CAA is moving towards a “concept of operations” (ConOps) approach so that the mass boundaries themselves become relatively unimportant and the key aspect is risk.

conops approach

Figure 1: ConOps approach to drone operations (CAA CAP722)

As you can see from this graph, the right-hand side above 20Kg is irrelevant to most users at present.

So, there are three risk categories, A, B and C. Three factors increase the risk of a given operation:

  • Increasing aircraft mass
  • Increasing aircraft technical complexity
  • Increasing operating environment complexity

So, basically, if you are running a Phantom in a farmer’s field in Norfolk the risk will probably fall into category A. If you are running a 19.9Kg machine beyond line of sight in central London it will be C. It is likely that most people’s operations will fall into category A or B.

I’ll pick that up again later.

The next stage of the OSC is the paperwork you need to produce to submit to the CAA.

The paperwork is divided into three volumes:

  1. Volume 1: The Operations Manual
  2. Volume 2: Systems information
  3. Volume 3: Safety Assessment

The CAA have provided templates in the appendices B-D of CAP 722.

Volume 1 is effectively what we have been writing for 0-20Kg operations up until now. If you wish to apply for a standard PfAW, it is all you need to complete.

Volume 2 should contain as much information as possible about the RPAS you wish to be covered by the OSC. The main focus should be on risk mitigation so your volume 2 could include (but isn’t limited to):

  • Mass considerations
  • Failsafe features
  • Any design and manufacturing standards
  • Full details of the flight envelope (where and how it can be used)
  • Payload details
  • Full aircraft details
  • Single points of failure
  • Additional safety features etc.

Full information can be found in appendix C of CAP 722 but the CAA want you to fully understand your machine, its limitations, how it functions and how it can be made as safe as possible.

Volume 3 gives details of your safety management beyond the aircraft itself and includes sections for risk assessment and self assessment. So, effectively, the idea is to assess as fully as possible the risks associated with the operations you wish to include in your OSC and also to assess the limitations of your crew and procedures. A template is available in appendix C of CAP 722. As you will be applying for an annual OSC it is probably best to try to envisage what you are likely to want to do and to think generically rather than too specifically at first, so think of the type of location you are going to fly at rather than specific locations. Are there any common safety issues between sites. for most people it will tend to be proximity issues that need to be risk assessed.

Going back to the graph from earlier (figure 1), the aim of your volumes 2 and 3 should be to develop equipment and/or procedures that mitigate the risks associated with either the increased mass or increased environmental complexity.

I will try to add to this soon to give more detail on risk matrices and the self assessment method preferred by the CAA. I’m afraid we can’t give direct assistance with individual operating safety cases at the moment as every case is likely to be different and the CAA really want you to take ownership of the process.

This information is as correct as we can get it at the time of publication but may be out of date by the time you read it so please check current guidelines and feel free to contact us if you need more information.

Fly safe!

Elliott- HexCam

To be continued… probably!

The changing face of UK drone pilot qualifications

My original post about routes through to obtaining a Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Permission for Aerial Work (PfAW) is now a little out of date! A lot has changed in UK drone legislation in the last few months so I thought I’d put out a bit of an update. I will try to keep this simple but things seem to have got messier than ever really.

So, let’s start at the end! At present, in order to operate any drone commercially in the UK you need to obtain a PfAW. The PfAW is divided into two categories; 0-7Kg and 7-20Kg. The 0-7Kg permission is slightly less restrictive but still sets high safety expectations.

In March 2015 the Civil Aviation Authority updated their core UAS guidance publication, CAP 722.

One change detailed in CAP 722 means that operators who already have manned aviation experience have the opportunity to take an alternative route to a PfAW. So if you already have a PPL, CPL, microlight licence, gliding qualification or military experience you may be able to go through our flight assessment only process. Please see page 47 of CAP 722 for more details or give us a call to find out more!

Another change is that operators who hold a BMFA A or B certificate for the type of aircraft they wish to fly can now apply directly to the CAA for a PfAW with no further qualifications or assessment necessary. for multirotors, either a helicopter or multirotor A certificate is acceptable.

A further change means that it is no longer necessary to pass assessments on every aircraft you wish to fly or to inform the CAA if you wish to use new aircraft within your assessed categories. One assessment per category (0-7Kg or 7-20Kg) is all you need. there is no requirement to renew your pilot qualification annually as long as you keep your currency up-to-date: at least 2 hours flying every three months. You are required to renew your PfAW annually.

So what do you actually need to do to get a PfCO?

Ah, you noticed the change from PfAW to PfCO! As of August 2016, it is now called a Permission for Commercial Operations.

The CAA are interested in four areas that they call critical elements:

  1. Theoretical knowledge
  2. Initial practical flight assessment
  3. Operations manual
  4. Experience requirement

You apply for a PfCO using form SRG 1320.

So, let’s try to be logical.

As far as the CAA are concerned, in terms of the critical elements above:

  • If you have a BMFA A or B certificate, you already have 1, 2 and probably 3 if you are a regular flyer. If not, get out and fly. I would strongly recommend you read CAP 722 before applying though. You still need to apply and get your PfCO before operating commercially.
  • If you are involved in manned aviation you probably already have 1. You need to get a flight assessment which we can do for you. Get yourself up to speed on the latest UK drone legislation by reading CAP 722 as working outside your aircraft changes things slightly! You will need to make sure you get adequate experience on your RPAS before the assessment. If your manned qualification is expired you will need to contact the CAA to find out if they will accept it. They will not accept expired PPLs, if they expired before 31st December 2009.
  • If you have no previous manned experience and no BMFA certificates, you will need to go through a qualification with one of the full NQEs listed below.

What is an NQE?

An NQE (a National Qualified Entity), is an organisation approved by the CAA to recommend people for a Permission for Commercial Operations.

Restricted NQEs

Restricted NQEs can carry out flight assessments for drone pilots who already have manned aviation experience as described above or satisfy the theoretical knowledge element in some other way. Restricted NQEs can’t offer theory assessment.

Full NQEs

Full NQEs can carry out theory and flight assessments for drone pilots who have no previous formal experience. The NQEs all have their own qualifications or certifications, which tend to differ in delivery style, but as far as the CAA are concerned they are all equally acceptable for applying for a permission for aerial work. Some NQEs claim their offerings are more internationally recognised but it is worth checking carefully with both the NQE and the aviation authority in any other countries you may wish to operate in. Prices and timescales of theory courses also vary with some NQEs using distance learning to enable a shorter theory course. The name of the qualification offered is in brackets.

The Aerial Academy (TAAC): www.theaerialacademy.com

Whispercam (UAPQ-s): www.whispercam.co.uk (now running courses at our Norwich location)

Aerial Motion Pictures (ICARUS): www.aerialmotionpictures.co.uk

Resource Group (RPQ-s): www.resourcegroup.co.uk

Rheinmetall Technical Publications UK Ltd (RPCS): www.uastraining.com

EuroUSC (BNUC-S): www.eurousc.com

What next?

Please feel free to contact us via The Aerial Academy if you need more information. We can also provide basic and advanced flight training and can recommend and supply drone equipment including most DJI equipment and a full custom build service.

I’ve heard about operating safety cases (OSC) what are those?

Basically, if you want to operate outside a standard PfAW, particularly flying 7-20Kg machines in congested areas or if you want to fly at greater heights or closer than standard distances you will require an OSC. Here is my blog post on operating safety cases, but I strongly recommend you read CAP 722 before embarking on any of this. It really is very helpful once you get your head around it!


As always, fly safe! This information is as correct as we can get it at the time of publication but may be out of date by the time you read it so please check current guidelines and feel free to contact us if you need more information.

Elliott – HexCam

UK telephone: 01603 881985

HexCam Ltd increases its range of drone training opportunities – introducing The Aerial Academy

The UK civil drone industry is undergoing a phase of exceptionally fast growth. HexCam Ltd started commercial operations in 2012, specialising in construction and environmental aerial photography and video using multirotor drones. Over the last three years the business has evolved to include flight training and consultancy. HexCam can provide basic flight training as well as advanced training to develop specific skills such as waypointed flight, survey flight and thermal imaging.

In March 2015, the Civil Aviation Authority changed its procedures so that pilots who already have manned aviation experience can take a simpler route to RPAS commercial operations.

HexCam Ltd director Elliott Corke is now a director of The Aerial Academy. On 24th April 2015 The Aerial Academy was granted restricted NQE status by the UK Civil Aviation Authority. This means we can now offer flight assessments to provide the evidence required to apply for a CAA permission for aerial work. This service could be particularly relevant for people who already have current or lapsed manned aviation experience such as an EASA or UK licence, military qualifications, glider licences etc.

Full details of the new paths to a permission for aerial work are available on page 20 of CAA Information Notice IN-2015/008. Please feel free to contact us if you think this may be relevant to you.

Drones are becoming more widely used in onshore and offshore construction, surveying and monitoring in a variety of industries. If you require more information on hiring drone operators, equipment supply or training and assessment please visit www.hexcam.co.uk  or www.theaerialacademy.com (01603 881985).


Elliott with some of HexCam's equipment

Elliott with some of HexCam’s equipment

Keep droning on…

I have written before about getting out there and making yourself known in your local community and spreading the #Drones4Good message. Get out there and speak to special interest groups, photography groups, networking events etc etc.

“But I hate public speaking!”, you might say.
I say, go and do it anyway. Here is why…

Last year I was invited to speak at a local special interest group. I went along, was bought a pint, did a slide show and Q&A for an hour or so about drones and what I do with them (I’ve never met a drone operator who can’t keep a drone conversation going for days!) and talked to a whole bunch of lovely people afterwards. On the day I had one conversation that led to an initial demonstration and a supply and training contract. I have since had contact from another person who was at the same talk that is leading to some really interesting operational survey work. It is likely the combined value of these contracts will be well in excess of £20K. Not bad for an evening out.

Of course, I have done talks where nothing obvious was gained other than meeting some great people and spreading the word. But it may be that other companies have benefited one way or another through what people have heard.

One of our Facebook followers commented on a post about increasing the visibility of the industry to change public perception. This is a great way that, even as small operators, we can spread the positive uses of drones rather than this drone waiter rubbish. We not only get to meet great people and have a fun evening but, slowly, public perception is adjusted.

If you really don’t want to stand up in front of people, but have been approached or have an idea for someone you can approach, our network of operators now covers most of the UK, so let me know where you are and maybe I can put you together with someone who can come with you, provide a bit of moral support and help with the presentation. Together we are stronger and collaboration is a lot of fun.

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.