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  • Writer's pictureCK Chan

Drone Filming in “No-Fly Zones"

Updated: Jul 15, 2019

The tiny island country of Singapore has a very limited airspace. Beside Changi Airport, that handles 58 million passengers a day, there are also 4 military air-bases, Seletar airport, nature reserves and other high-security areas that crowds this airspace. Thus, drone “no-fly” zone covers more than 70% of Singapore’s airspace.

Inevitably, Skyshot gets frequent request for aerial filming and inspections for projects that are within 5 km from an airdrome. The Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS), permits the use of tethered drones for this projects, on a case-by-case basis.

Our first tethered drone - Skyline taught us many lessons about tethered drone flights

Early Tethered prototypes

So in 2017, we started developing a tethered drone solution, we called it, Skyline Tethered Drone. It solves the 2 issues that conventional drones have, limited flight times and airspace restrictions near airports. The Skyline went thru several months of development and several rounds of stringent testing. Finally, in May 2018, the Skyline was approved and certified for operations by CAAS (Civil Aviation Authorities of Singapore).

Skyline is a modified DJI S900 drone with an A3 flight controller. It is powered by 2 portable generators (1 backup) via a tethered cable that enables the Skyline for continuous operation over extended time. It also prevents the drone from ever flying away.

The Skyline requires 3 men to operate because of its large size and weight. Moving around with the Skyline is a challenge.

LIFELINE-S Tethered Drone with Phantom 4 - our portable tethered drone solution

LIFELINE-S – the portable, compact solution.

Skyshot worked with Flare Dynamics to develop a small, lightweight tethered drone system. We wanted a solution that can be adapted to our existing fleet of drones, which consist of DJI drones like the Mavic Pro, Phantom 4 and Inspire 1 and 2. This will allow our UAV pilots to use the tethered system with drones we are familiar with. The LIFELINE-S works with several DJI models, with allow for flexibility when choosing the right drone for the projects.

A number of our projects are beyond the Singapore main island, in Pulau Tekong. Traveling there by small ferry is no easy feet, so portability is key. With the LIFELINE-S, I don't need portable generators anymore. It is battery operated, able to keep the Phantom 4 flying for 2.5 hours. This is sufficient for my project with that has more than 10 launch points. Everything we need in the tethered drone system is a 7kg hard-case, about the size of a car battery. We can move a lot faster, with a setup time of 5 minutes, this is a significant savings from our previous Skyline tethered drone system that takes 20 minutes to set up.

LIFELINE-S Tethered drone - Aerial filming in Tekong.

In tropical countries like Singapore, a sunny day can turn ugly very quickly. The LIFELINE-S is all packed inside a single water-proof ruggedized case, so retrieval and packing can be done less than 3 minutes.

The LIFELINE-S, like all tethered drone systems has the same issues. One obvious problem is the limited horizontal movement. So aerial filming with the tethered drone is unlike conventional drones where dynamic filming shots can be achieved. But it is also this unique feature that empowers the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore to consider the use of tethered drone within the drone no-fly zones near airports.

Since 2018, we have used the LIFELINE-S on a number of aerial filming, 360 virtual tour and aerial 3D mapping projects. We are working with Flare Dynamics on more tethered drone systems. Next read - Secrets to a Successful Drone Shoot Next read - 6 Tools in an Aerial Cinematographer's Bag

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