Any One Will Do

Almost any model can be pressed into service as a camera-platform, and there are now available complete ARTF systems including a camera. However, I suspect that these ready-made systems will leave a lot to be desired in all sorts of areas, especially the optics.

The secret of success is to have a set-up that is easy to operate and really that means a model designed for the job. The camera can then be mounted internally where it is reasonably protected in the event of an unplanned arrival with terra firma, and arranged how you want it to be rather than where the model allows.

A non-aileron model can allow the pilot to concentrate on aiming the camera rather than holding a particular attitude, and both of my models are of this type. I am not sure I actually agree with this statement; ailerons allow much more agility and this can only be a good thing when carrying a somewhat fragile and expensive payload. The reason why I opted for an intermediate model was two-fold, a simpler wing and the possibly erroneous idea that a small amount of rudder would hold a given angle of bank and thus make aiming easier. If I ever get around to building a new wing for the model it will probably be an aileron one.

Wing aside, the general features of the model are shown here in the Mk 1 Sky Eye. The camera looks out horizontally and at 90 degrees to the line of flight. Aiming is as simple as pointing the port wing at the target. The camera is eased into place in a nest of closed-cell foam which holds it securely and isolates it from much of the engine vibration.
Electric vs. IC

Having tried both, I can say electric wins hands-down. The benefits of electric are significant for AP, more so than they are generally. The AUW is less, notwithstanding any lighter building techniques, but more importantly the motors won't have a tendency to quit. They can also be switched off completely when taking a shot, thus removing the major source of camera-shake. The absence of oily residue on the fuz is more than desirable since a good grip is possible on launching and there is no chance of getting oil on the lens, or water on the camera when trying to clean the model up. Finally the noise and starting faff are pretty well absent, which means surreptitious flights out of areas worth photographing are much easier to achieve without attracting unwanted attention.
Sky Eye 1

This started out as a general-purpose maid-of-all-work; something for photography, toffee-bombing, parachute-drops etc. The fuz was built as a sort of pod and boom affair with a rear hatch along the lines of a Hercules. The other options have never been tried but the basic idea has been a great success for AP.

The vital stats were 65" span, Clark Y section, AUW 5.2lb including 1lb camera, and elderly OS20. The cargo region under the wing was 4" wide and 5" deep and was completely free as the servos were up in the boom out of the way. The whole area was open when the wing was off and there was also access through the rear hatch.
Smaller Ones Are Juicier

In spite of the above recommendations regardings bigger models designed for the job, it's inevitable that whatever is available will be pressed into service.

Below are Cheap 'n' Cheerful, a simple twin-boom twin with a commercial foam wing and Pointy Thing, a simple twin glider for calm days. Both have only ever been used to carry a FlyCamOne taking video footage due to weight and space constraints.
Models - How to Get the Optics Aloft
New Beginnings

An undercarriage was fitted since hand-launching a greasy model of that weight in dead calm conditions was an Olympic feat not always meeting with success. After two crashes on launch out of three I figured wheels might be a good idea; however, it did not have the power to ROG from grass and so has been honorably retired. The wing has been reused - the observant will have noticed mounting points for twin motors. (The beast has had a checkered history - conceived and part-built years ago, much as shown here, the motor was removed and twin Speed 400s fitted during my initial foray into electric flight. It staggered into the air, grossly underpowered and with insufficient tail area, for a couple of long hops. The OS20 was then returned with a longer nose to take a bigger and better tank, and with an enlarged tailplane it finally achieved success in its original guise. And now it's gone back to twin electric... Do other people do this or is it just me?)

A new fuz has been built and is carried aloft on the old wing fitted with twin 130W out-runners, powered from a 3s pack of 8.8Ah. This provides much the same performance as the original OS20, i.e. sedate.
Sky Eye 2

Same wing and planform, new fuz. Twin-electric makes it cleaner, lighter, quieter, simple to start and more reliable. More attractive, too.

Incidentally, as regards this latter point, electric models are technically not powered. That description is legally reserved for IC-powered models, so those signs saying 'No flying of powered model aircraft here' can be ignored - so I am told.

Bigger models make more stable camera platforms because they are less bounced around by turbulance, so even if the camera is small a moderate sized model is a good idea.

However, I have two other twins of some 40" span and 2lb weight which have produced many acceptable videos using a FlyCamOne simply strapped on top of the wing with rubber bands. Electric twins do not seem prone to more vibration than single-engined electric models.

These two own-designs have been, and continue to be, very successful. However, they are only 40" span and get bounced about in anything but calm conditions so the videos can tend to make viewers green around the gills.

Because the camera is simply strapped on above the wing both models suffer substantial trim changes caused by drag, and the wind noise on the footage is horrible. These issues do not occur with the Sky Eye models as the cameras are internal.
Dave Blandford
Pointy Thing
Cheap 'n' Cheerful
Dave B's Aerial Photography Site
Home | Introduction | Basics | Cameras | Models | Techniques | Photos | Videos | FAQ | Conclusion | Links