There are two sorts of people, the modellers and the others. This means there are two sorts of questions... This FAQ is aimed mainly at the others.
How do you get started? Join a club and learn to fly first, and then the photography part is easy.

Is it expensive? Cheaper than golf I guess. You could get an almost-ready-to-fly (ARTF) model for £100, radio £150, motor and controller £20-£30 a go, batteries £20-£30, charger £15 upwards, allow £50 for sundry bits and bobs. Say £250-£300 for the absolute minimum system. Add a camera - £40-£70 if you don't have one. Club membership (includes insurance) £30-£100. Otherwise BMFA insurance is £28.

Do you need a special camera? No.

Does it have to be a digital? No, but in addition to the usual digital advantages consider that film cameras are bigger, heavier and may not have a power wind on feature so it might only take one shot per flight.

How do you aim? Point the wing if sideways mounted, or the whole aircraft if forward looking, as in fighter aircraft. The camera is fixed in its mount.

Do you control the shutter or is it on a timer? Either, but being in direct control is better.

How do you fire the shutter? Either use a servo to press the shutter button or modify the camera to accept electronic control. The latter is technically much more challenging but has all the advantages.

What sort of aircraft is best? Some might say, the one you have. Failing that, a high wing, medium size (40"-70" span and 2-4lb), rudder or aileron models are equally suitable. Electric power is much simpler, quieter and cleaner than glo motors, and more reliable. Gliders are a possibility.

Why do you use twins? I like them, and as in full size aviation, it allows power to be built up from smaller motors. Also it keeps the sharp end of the fuselage free from an optically-interfering propeller when using forward-facing cameras.

What about radio interference? Not a problem if you use 2.4GHz radio.

Where can you fly from? Dedicated (club) flying sites and most public open spaces, provided you are not expressly forbidden, and are operating a suitable model in a safe manner. You must be insured for third-party claims. Suitable model means not too large and not glo (IC) powered.

Do you need insurance? Yes, see above.

Does it cover the camera? No, third-party only.

Can you buy a complete package or must you DIY? There are some such systems about. I suspect that the cheaper ones are marketed by M. Mouse Products, Inc. However, see the Links page. CropCam is a serious surveillance electric-powered glider intended for agricultural use. It is an autonomous GPS-controlled vehicle that will photograph entire field and download the results to a laptop.

Are the planes built from kits? Not mine, usually. I design my own and (obviously) build from scratch.

Why do you use electric powered models? Clean, quiet, light, no problems with twins and fours because one motor will never normally stop on its own (other than in a system failure), unlike IC motors. Can shut down and restart mid-flight.  No starting faff, just open the throttle. Legally, not powered models.

How powerful are they? Sky Eye 2 runs at about 250 watts, 1/3 HP, the other models range from 100-135 watts. Up to several kilowatts is possible. The sky is the limit, as is the depth of your pocket.

What happens if the motors stop? The ground comes up to meet it.

Can it fly on one? No. The power developed by one will not keep it up but in any case the asymetric power would cause loss of control.

Can you use helicopters? Yes, assuming you can fly one. The vibration levels are much higher, which can cause problems with camera-shake. This can be overcome, most effectively by gyroscopic mounts.

How heavy a camera can you carry? The heaviest I have flown weighed 1lb. It depends how big the model is.

What happens to the camera in a rough landing? Nothing, hopefully. You do have to be resigned to writing the whole airborn system off, totally. Or just plain losing it. And before the inevitable question is posed, let me say I am not prepared to tempt providence by answering it...

What sort of batteries does it use? Current technology uses variants of lithium chemistry. Very light, very powerful, very quick to recharge. Capable of several 100A dischange. Yes, you read that right. Sky Eye 2 is low powered at 25A.

How long can you fly for on one charge? Depends how powerful the model is, how big the battery and how you bend the throttle. Also on what lift there is (thermals). Sky Eye 2 routinely flies 30 minute flights on one battery pack.

How far away can you fly it? How far can you see?

How high? Fast? Slow? How far can you see? 1000 ft is as high as I would be comfortable with, visually. Sky Eye 2 flies at about 18-25mph for a guess. Stalling speed is around 15mph and top speed probably not above 30mph as it is very draggy and has the wrong wing section for speed.

How do you know it's taken a photo? You don't, other than having confidence in your set-up.

Is there a local club? Yes, several.

How many photos do you take on a single flight? In a 30 minute flight, up to 400.

How many are good? That depends on your definition of good. Since aiming is a guess, targetting is the main problem. Could be none by that criterion. If you mean technically good - exposure ok, no camera-shake etc. then anything from 60-95% are fair or better. Some are fine after post-processing in an image editor.

What are the main faults? Missing the target, out of focus due to camera shake or motion blurring, and poor exposure of one sort or another.

Can you beam the video stream back to the ground? Yes, then you can wear video googles and fly by the view streaming back. You need a copilot to eyeball it in the usual way since tunnel vision is a problem.

How long does it take to learn to fly? One day to never. How long does it take to learn to drive a car? The two disciplines are roughly similar. As in real commercial and military flying there are very realistic simulators available (on the PC). These are a real help.

How many aircraft did you break learning? None, and no simulator then.
Dave B's Aerial Photography Site
Dave Blandford
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