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Posted by on Mar 11, 2013 in Blog, Video

Forest Flyers

Slightly sunny Saturday afternoons…

I’ve been looking at the upcoming weather forecast, and it’s really not good. Even as I write this, my house is shuddering ominously in the freezing gale force winds that are battering Hampshire at the moment.

And it’s snowing, and what isn’t being blown away is remaining. I could see it might be a while before flying was a good idea, so took this Saturday as something of a last opportunity to go. Weather isn’t ideal, but at least the sun is trying to emerge…

The sun, trying to emerge.

The sun, trying to emerge.

To the forest !

So here we are on Liss Forest Heath, with a vague plan in mind, and Capt. McT on the ground with a GoPro2 on a hand-held gorillapod, while I’m in the air (not bodily) with a GoPro3. Yet he still has the advantage…

Me & Mr McT, both very much freezing our nuts off.

Capt. ‘Fearless’ McT is trained to go closer to the hex than I will allow anyone else so we can get nice close passes and in-flight shots.

Yes, of course we are also joined by stalwart of British weather ‘The Wind’, which once more set about its furious task of ruining my aerial filmings, and I’m ashamed to report that today it pretty much won the battle and the war :)

If it wasn’t for that, you would have had a much longer and much better video to see – but what can you do –  I might as well film it if I’m going, so here we are. Sorry.

The joy of hindsight

Had I appreciated at the time just how horrible the wind was at 50 ft+ (wasn’t that bad on the ground) I would have done all my flying actually in the forest, but several factors conspired to make me head out for open ground instead; the overcast sky, the pleasing ground shapes and colours, and the thought that I could fly round the perimeter of the open area, nice and close to the tree banks, which are mainly my favourite pine / spruce / fir trees, with occasional patches of elm woodland to throw in some variation.

This I did, with some success, but of course it’s a bumpy-as-hell ride, because of all that wind. I’m going to give de-shake a go, but that’ll probably ruin all the low stuff, so it’ll end up rubbish no matter what I do ! Oh well – there’s always next time…

The right kind of trees.

The right kind of trees.

Flight Planning

I’ve flown here twice before, but never made a video of this bit of Liss Forest Heath – last time I was right up on a hill the other side.

It looks quite an easy site to fly initially, but I know different, and have rated it L3, which means that there are lots of hidden hazards, and I need my full wits about me before I start and for the duration.

There are power lines just below tree height, puddles and lakes on the ground, some housing I don’t want to overfly or go too near (although it’s not technically a congested area) and even on the open heath, lots of trees that reach higher than they look, and which have the exactly the sort of spindly leafless branches that are very difficult to see more than 40 ft away.

When we’re low over the evergreen trees there is the additional hazard of one tree that reaches higher than all the others :)

Technically Speaking…

Today I was using 3 cameras. My GoPro3 was on-board and shooting 1920 x 1080, 60FPS. Captain McT has got my GoPro2, which is doing 1080P but 30 FPS. Lastly, my Flip-cam is doing 720P at 25 FPS.

How to combine them into a single film ?

Using Sony VMS 12 I opened a 30FPS 1080P project and imported all the GP3 clips, and switched those to ‘Do not interpolate’ which tells VMS to discard every second frame. It’s a massive shame, as 60 FPS is so much smoother, specially on pans, but YouTube only deals with 30 FPS film, so I have to drop frames. Then, the GP2 footage came in at its natural resolution and frame rate, which matched the project, and the Flip film clips were last in and got up-sized. I have no idea what VMS did with its frame rate, but it looked fine.

Then I did a global colour correction, and individual clip levels and output to AVCHD 1080P MP4 28.5 Mb/Sec, sound at 48KHz, 192 Kb/Sec which made file size 1.05GB.

Last stage in current workflow is Google’s de-shake tool, which is applied after upload.

Rogue Animals

Added to that is the additional vigilance required at weekends, when every man and his dog / horse / family are out for a lovely stroll in the countryside, and we have a clear set of hazards that need accommodating.

And accommodate them we did. On several occasions I had to ask Mr McT to stop his filmings, and go and intercept dogs that had appeared (as they always seem to do just when I need to land), and I had to issue a loud ‘Please Stop There’ command to some passing horse riders, knowing as I do that some horses go properly nuts when they see a large flying, buzzing thing anywhere near them.

Thank goodness that the first instinct of most people when given assertive commands is to obey them without question. And it does prove the system works. Every time an animal was close enough for me to consider it a problem, we were able to get control of the situation quickly and calmly, complete the landing, verify all was safe, and allow people to continue on their way. The horse-riders were particularly grateful that I had stopped them when I did. So that’s all good.

A nice little village on the edge of a very nice forest.

A nice little village on the edge of a very nice forest.

Amazing Finds

Back in September last year, I was flying my then quadcopter here when one of its legs fell off in mid-flight, after I failed to notice it had been damaged in a previous heavy landing. This caused some problems, not least the fact that I had to land the quad in my hand because to land it on the ground with only 3 out of 4 legs would cause it to topple and flip, potentially causing a lot of damage. This went OK, but having landed, I wanted my missing landing gear back!

I remember at the time I spent at least an hour scouring the ground for it, but ultimately returned home empty-handed, and made a replacement leg.

On my return here today I was flying from roughly the same place, and it occurred to me that it might not be a total waste of time to spend 4 minutes looking for it. To the astonishment of myself and Mr McT, I found it within about 30 seconds of looking. What are the chances of that ?!

Nearly 6 months that had been sitting there, but it was only visible once Winter had set in and all the foliage had fallen back…

How High ?

For the vast majority of these flights I was consistently under 200 ft – I’m after low canopy stuff, so not that fussed about big aerial shots. But the sky was lovely, as was the sun breaking through it, so I did do a single flight with the aim of going to the maximum 400 ft, and we checked that the sky was devoid of planes and anything else before we did.

And that turned out to be a good idea, because due to a small mistake from me, I went a bit higher than I should have done. I was trying to level off at 400 ft, dropped throttle to 50%, and thought I had, but when I next looked down at my sticks, I was 5% higher than 50, so had been inadvertently climbing for about a minute. On landing, my altimeter informed me I had achieved a maximum height of 635 ft, which is bad. Photographically, it’s great, but it’s also illegal, and not something I was aiming to do. Obviously, as soon as I noticed, I dropped throttle, and came back down to complete the remainder of the flight at 300 ft or less. I’d like to have included the footage from up there, but no; the wind ruined it completely.

A very long way above Liss Forest Heath...

A long way above Liss Forest Heath… this is aprox 400 ft.

Just another cold, wintery Heath...

Just another cold, wintery Heath… but I really like this one.

Is that the London Metropolitan Orchestra ?

Yes it is! Well spotted. It’s from the Crimson Wing Soundtrack by Cinematic Orchestra, who here are doing their very best to improve things, so you can at least enjoy that, as hopefully they might, for the additional exposure they get… Disney, who made the film, probably won’t appreciate that, but they should.

An elm grove, yesterday.

An elm grove, yesterday.

See you next time, people…

JW