Creating the UK’s First Specialist Media Drone Training Course

Here was the challenge: devise a training course which could take someone with no flying experience and deliver them ready to film aerials for TV safely, legally, and creatively. All in one week. Thanks to UAV Air and ConsortiQ this is now a reality, and our first candidates have completed their training.

So what was the thinking behind the shape of the course? And how can you best prepare someone for the challenges and pressures of delivering a director’s vision in the real world?

Balancing Theory and Practice

When I started in this business, theory training was all you could get from the big providers. I was amazed. So the UAQ-M brings together these two elements from the start.

And what’s great about learning theory alongside flying skills is that the two feed from each other. The dry basics of LiPo battery tolerances or air law all stick in the mind when you put them into practice in the field within 24 hours. And if logistics allow, we also mix theory and flight training within a single day.

Build Solid Flying Skills

It’s so tempting to plunge straight into scoring that glory shot. But if you can’t fly accurately and efficiently you’ll never reach your filming potential. We decided from the start that executing challenging manoeuvres with no camera on board should be the foundation of the course. Cue figure-of-eights, nose-in hovers and plenty of other fun.

Theory for the Real World

Quite rightly, the CAA sets the core curriculum for all NQE (National Qualified Entity) training. However, there’s plenty of scope to shape the module content within that framework.

On the UAQ-M, unlike a generic course, we know what industry our students are going into. So there’s little point in talking about roof inspections and estate agent shoots. Instead, we decided to tailor the exercises and case studies to the media environment. And we also cover the basics of privacy and data protection, which stand outside the realm of aviation law. Non-UK matters get an airing too. The lack of harmony even in European drone regulations presents a real headache for the media business.

Don’t Train for a Test

Training someone to pass a test is dead easy. In many cases a pilot could scrape through a flight assessment by the end of day one. But it’s an approach which doesn’t serve anyone well, not least because a flight assessment has nothing to do with getting good footage.

Our approach was to train well past the assessment standard. And a media operator needs different skills too. On aircraft like the Phantom 4, panning can only be achieved by rotating (‘yawing’) the drone, and that means a lot of practice flying in different orientations. Flying close to the ground, and also to obstacles is a key skill too. Collision avoidance sensors occasionally come in handy.

Two days are dedicated to shot scenarios too. PTCs (pieces to camera) are a great challenge, plus all manner of reveals, birdseyes, point-of-interest shots and more. It’s far from an exhaustive toolkit, but a firm foundation of shot types for sure.

Simulate the Whole Job

I remember the first time I went out on a shoot with my shiny new operator’s qualification card. It was a shambles. I was shocked at how badly prepared I was. Everything seemed different, not least because I’d spent all my practice, training and examination standing in a sterile field.

That’s why scenario training became a key component of the UAQ-M. We scoured the local area for challenging and realistic locations and tasked the students to plan and execute the shoot from beginning to end.

The Results so Far

With a dozen candidates now graduated, the course has really found its feet. But the exciting thing about the media is that expectations constantly shift. Today’s hero shot is tomorrow’s cliche. Keeping up with the pace of innovation is going to be rewarding and challenging task.

If you’d like to find out about the UAQ-Media course just drop us a line.

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