Making Videos of Your Flights
One of my guilty pleasures with recreational flying is the use of video. It really adds to the experience and lets you share and relive moments like never before. It’s great fun to spend a few hours between flights putting together a nice edit; it can really transmit the essence of what your flight was like. With the onset of social media you are guaranteed to reach a wide audience and who knows who you may be inspiring.
I often receive questions about the equipment used when people are making videos of your flights, mounting locations, editing, etc. for the videos I’ve made.
Here are two of my most recent edits. They are far from perfect. My friend, over at Flight Chops on YouTube does some really awesome edits that are both instructional and entertaining. Link here: FlightChops on YouTube.
This brief article will outline what I have done and what works for me. Obviously, there are many ways to skin this cat, this is just my personal experience; I’m far from an expert
The equipment I use:
1 Van’s RV-8 aircraft
1 GoPro Hero3 Black Edition camera
1 Drift 170HD camera
1 iPhone 4S (now 5S) for the occasional selfie or short in-cockpit clip
2 High quality SanDisk Ultra 16GB SD memory cards
Various mounting brackets for each (some modified)
2013 MacBook Pro (retina display) with MovieMaker installed
Sorry, I don’t patch in audio, but I know folks who are really into aerial videography who have this perfected. Spending a little time with Google and you can add this to your repertoire.
There are a lot of great cameras on the market today and they are pretty affordable, especially by aircraft standards. I only have experience with the DRIFT 170HD and the GoPro Hero3.
DRIFT 170HD: This is a high definition wide angle solid state camera that does a good job of shooting 1080 video. It’s not as high quality as the GoPro, but in fairness it’s not as expensive either. I like the more aerodynamic shape and the ease of mounting. You can even rotate the fisheye no matter the position of the camera which is very handy – GoPro are you listening? Where it has failed me is the inconsistent quality and lock-ups, especially on the exterior of the airplane. Lock-ups are particularly problematic in that they cause you to loose all of the footage. But it’s not a bad camera and I have no intention of eliminating it from my arsenal.
GoPro Hero3 Black Edition: This was the top of the line when I purchased it last year. It takes amazing images and does great in low light. Mounting is certainly more cumbersome and it’s about as aerodynamic as a Mack truck. What is lacks in physical attributes, it makes up in performance. You can really get some great shots with this camera. You can even preview with a iPhone app – neat but kills battery life. Because of mounting complexities I usually have the GoPro inside the cockpit.
With both of these cameras, the batteries seem to be the big limitation. I don’t expect to get more than 60 minutes out of either of these cameras fully charged. Certainly there are settings on both devices that can help or hurt this problem so it will require some experimentation. If you plan to do a lot of video in a short period of time, carry spar batteries and SD cards. I get by with single batteries and single cards because most of my flights are under an hour. Longer flights or multiple sorties in a day usually render me loosing some of the shots at the end.
I shoot in 1080 at 30 fps (frames per second) on both of my cameras for consistent resolution. Again, experiment what works for you in terms of quality and quantity.
Since we are going to explore software and editing in the next post, we’ll skip over that and head to mounting and camera angles.
Obviously interior mounting is the easiest solution and I do plenty of video from inside the airplane. I have used the GoPro suction mount with great success. I have also used a headband for my drift, which is really fun. I need to get a headband for the GoPro, but just haven’t sprung for it yet. I have even just laid the cameras on the dash at times. I have tried temporary velcro mounts, but it allows for too much vibration in my airplane.
Exterior mounting comes with it’s own set of complexities and liabilities depending on the aircraft type. Composite and fabric airplane have it tough as mounting locations are pretty limited. Metal airplanes with lots of screws are really a dream come true for this, as are airplanes with struts. I have mounted cameras to my tailwheel, wing tie downs, inspection covers, wing tip attach screws, and the top of my vertical stabilizer with no adverse affects. Some of my mounting schemes are vibration prone so you have to experiment with dampening. Staying out of the slipstream is usually recommended. My airplane gets up to 170KIAS during aerobatics and I have had no issues. The suction cup that comes with the GoPro says it’s rated to like 200mph, but I’m too chicken to try it with my expensive camera. Also some have used the 3M adhesives that come with these cameras with success, but again, I just can’t bring myself to trust several hundred dollars worth of equipment to a little glue. In any case, make sure your mourning does not interfere with any moveable surfaces or induces adverse aerodynamic forces. I would never mount a camera to the rudder, elevators, or ailerons. You also need to consider the potential for localized structural overloads where the camera is mounted. If you have a certificated aircraft you really need to be careful to not run afoul of regulations that govern such installations. You are much safer from a regulatory standpoint to just using the camera inside the airplane.
Note in the photos above, most of the mounts were the ones supplied with the camera that I drilled holes into to align with screw hole patterns on my airplane. I also do a lot inside the airplane with the Drift headband and the GoPro suction mount.
In either case, the more camera positions and angles you can shoot the better chance you’ll have of producing a good video. Nothing is more boring that watching a 10 minute video that shows just a single camera angle from start to finish. That’s why I use two cameras (and I would do more if I had them). I have even been know to do some filming, land, and then move the cameras around and fly again to double my points of view. It really spices up your video.
One thing you should also try to do is use that handy smart phone to get some stills or movie clips on the fly. Remember to fly the airplane first, but a few random clips or stills here and there can enhance the viewer experience.
My initial advice:
1) Get started now
2) Video each flight (even the boring ones) this footage might come in handy on a later edit
3) Try different camera angles and positions
4) Experiment with editing – get creative
5) Buy good SD cards. Cheap ones corrupt and lock up your camera causing you to loose valuable footage
Here are my videos channels where you can peruse my work. Notice they have gotten better over the years. We’ll discuss why I use both YouTube and Vimeo in the next installment.
Video can make ordinary folks do extraordinarily dumb things. There is something about filming that inspires the HEY-WATCH-THIS mentality. Don’t forget that flying is a deadly activity that does not suffer fools. Fly appropriately.
Big Brother is Watching. What you put out there on the Internet lives on in perpetuity and if you did something that violates FARs, expect to have it come back to haunt you – when you least expect it. There is no statute of limitations on regulatory violations so think carefully before you share. In addition, mounting cameras on the airframe can be interpreted as an installation or modification to the existing type design, which would require an STC (supplemental type certificate) – use caution if you are flying a factory-built aircraft. Experimentals have much more latitude in this area, but still need to research all the gotchas. I am not aware of any specific regulatory language on this for Part 91 operations.
Part 2 Editing (coming soon)
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