View from the Air

Good news!  Our work with the drone has been published in the ALT Newsletter (May 2015):



Decisions, decisions!

Initially, we used the P2V with a Sony Xperia Z2 ‘phone and whilst it worked very well, the limited screen size (5.2”) meant that it was not that easy to view. As we intend to use the drone with students with physical disabilities, clear viewing is essential. An iPad, we thought! That will provide a screen sufficiently large for clear viewing. And it does. But the big drawback to this is that in order to see the map, it has to be tethered to a ‘phone for the GPS – not ideal for other reasons.  Despite having saved the map, without Wi-Fi it simply will not show.  The jury is still out on this one.

After some initial feedback on the creation of a licence for staff wanting to use the drone with students, there is now a bigger question of whether this is actually the route we should be taking, or whether P2V experienced staff should always accompany and lead these sessions.  For his advice in this regard, we are most grateful to Jonathon Watkins (@PhotoGlow) and we look forward to picking his brain again next week!

Drone Pilot Licence – please comment!

I need your advice and feedback please!

In time, it is intended that the college drone will be available to some members of staff for use in education and learning activities,  With that in mind, I am trying to devise a ‘drone pilot licence’ (achievement will only permit the user to fly the college drone, of course!).  Those wishing to apply for the licence will be provided with information regarding both the legalities and practicalities of drone use.  Once they feel ready, they can then apply for their test.  Below is my draft attempt at writing this test (the format hasn’t quite held but I think you should be able to see what I intend) but I would greatly value any views/advice/suggestions.  Thanks in advance!

Drone Pilot Licence

The Drone Pilot Licence must be achieved before you may borrow the college drone, or fly it independently.

The test has 3 parts: 1 – drone theory; 2 – ground station understanding; 3 – a flight test. You must pass all 3 elements to achieve the licence.

  Activity – Drone Theory Achieved
1 What is the maximum distance you are allowed to fly the drone?
2 What is the maximum height you are allowed to fly the drone?
3 How do you regain manual control of the drone from a pre-programmed flight?
4 How often should you calibrate the compass?
5 How can you tell how much battery life is available?
6 How close to an airport can you fly the drone?
7 What distance should you maintain between the drone and any people?
8 How does the Data Protection Act relate to using the drone?
9 What is the minimum distance required between the drone and any vehicle or structure which is not under your control?
10 Why is it essential that the college drone is not used for commercial purposes?

You must achieve all points below in order to qualify as a drone pilot.

  Activity – Ground Station Understanding Achieved
1 Connect the drone Wi-Fi
2 Calibrate the compass
3 Set a flight path of 5 waypoints
4 Set video for recording
  Activity – Flying Achieved
1 Take off and land with camera facing away from you, battery facing toward you
2 Hover in one spot, keeping camera facing away from you
3 Fly forward, back, left, right
4 Fly the Phantom 30 feet away from you, then fly back, keeping the camera facing away from you
5 Fly a 4-point square box, clockwise, hovering at each corner before proceeding
6 Fly a 4-point square box, counter clockwise, hovering at each corner before proceeding
7 Rotate the Phantom 360 degrees clockwise
8 Rotate the Phantom 360 degrees counter clockwise
9 Fly a circle, clockwise
10 Fly a circle, counter clockwise
11 Fly a figure of eight
12 Video record flying a 4-point square box
Pilot Status Drone Theory Ground Station Flying Test Action Required
Retake required

Pilot Name:                                                                                                                

Examiner Name:             


Pre-set Flight Path and Magic Flying Carpets

For our first attempt at using a pre-set flight path, we (@axessibility and @FernFaux) limited ourselves to 3 waypoints. These were set 100 feet from each other and, for test purposes, this was a suitable distance. However, we had not thought about entering altitude settings! Fortunately, the default setting was 98 feet, which was absolutely fine, and this oversight only really became apparent when, having completed the flight, the drone remained hovering in the air above us! Briefly, I wondered how much flying time the drone had left before it would run out of power, though that would mean an inevitable crash landing which would not be great from a 98 feet height! In moments of desperation the brain seems to kick into a higher gear. This was such a moment and I suddenly remembered the ‘S1’ switch, which took the drone out of automatic flight and back into manual control, where we were then able to land it. I think this is known as making sure you know how to stop the magic flying carpet before you climb aboard … this lesson has now been learned! The biggest problem we encountered was that the iPad was not retaining the cached maps – we still don’t know why … This meant that the only way to use the DJI App for the pre-set flight path was for @axessibility to tether the iPad to his own ‘phone. This is far from ideal and is the next problem we need to resolve.  As can be seen in the video, although the drone held up well against the 35MPH gusts of wind, the video footage was affected by it.

Novice Drone Pilot

How exciting! The drone arrived! Working at the top of the available budget, the drone in question is a DJI Phantom 2 Vision. I must confess, the excitement paled somewhat under the stress of trying to figure out how to actually put the drone together, how to get it charged, how to get it connected to a handset (initially this was a Sony Xperia Z2 running Android Kit Kat 4.4.4) and how to ensure it didn’t plummet to its death on its maiden flight!  Some time later, and with the much needed help of my colleague, Andrew (@axessibility), the drone was in the air and impressing us mightily with the potential we could see for its use with students with multiple disabilities.