Under the Roof – Flying Indoors for Virgin Media

It’s a question which often gets asked: can you fly indoors? And the next question is generally: what are the rules?

Flying indoors is definitely doable, and there are some great shots to be had. For Liberty Media we were asked to get some aerials of a distribution warehouse for the new Virgin set-top box. So it was a good chance to think about how to fly safely and legally indoors.

So, is it legal?
Yes, in short. The one slightly grey area is whether CAA regulations (i.e. the Air Navigation Order) still applies. There are endless discussions on this subject but, for me, it really doesn’t matter too much. The basics of the rules (50m separation from people not under the pilot’s control) are no less sensible indoors than outdoors so I see no reason to depart from them. Besides, if something goes wrong, any court is going to want to hear a good reason for departing from normal methods.

Control
The big challenge in an environment like this is keeping safe. We used a segregated area of the warehouse, controlled by marshals, and chose a time when all but a small number of worker were away on their break. Those present were briefed and kept at a distance where we could communicate with them in the event of any problem.

Technical matters
Here’s where things can easily go wrong. Indoors there’s no reliable GPS, so that system has to be turned off. You’d think that a warehouse is a still environment but, as it turned out, we encountered plenty of strong wind currents which took plenty of concentration to counteract.

The other vital consideration is failsafe. Normally the drone will rise to a set height, then return to the home point and land. So, without a mitigation, the drone will fly up into the roof, and then attempt to return to a non-existent home point (through lack of GPS). Not good news, so it’s better to set the failsafe simply to ‘hover’ which at least gives a chance to make the area safe and try to regain control.

So, as ever, planning is key for an indoor shoot. Challenging, fun, and rewarding in equal measure.

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