GoPro camera strapped to a remote-control helicopter: the ultimate boy’s toy

So how did I come to strap a GoPro camera to a remote control helicopter? (Play video in full screen and select 1080p option for best quality.)

At the recent National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) show in Las Vegas, I was walking down an aisle between two large stands, and felt my hair being gently rustled by a powerful draft from above. Looking up, I saw a quad helicopter sitting a few feet above my head. It was perfectly stable, and under the control of someone off in the distance. It gently, and oh so accurately moved down the hallway, turned right and came to a landing.

Now remote control helicopters are not new. And ones that talk to your iPhone or iPad aren’t new either. Indeed, I bought the AR.Drone when it first shipped. It gave me two live camera feeds back to my iPad, and the facility to record the video. The only problem was that it was rubbish.

John and I are going to visit on a sunny day, and fly the Phantom around the golf course

The device was a pain in the neck to operate, relying on subtle movements of on-screen touch controls. The video was even worse quality. And it was almost completely unstable if you tried to use it outdoors with even a moderate breeze.  I tried a few times, and then gave up. It has been sitting in the cupboard ever since.

So, I was intrigued by this serenely stable newcomer. Of course, flying indoors is a lot easier than outdoors. But after I’d trundled over to the DJI Innovations stand, I found people who really understood the issues. They make proper flight-control systems for proper grown-up devices. Comparison with the AR.Drone could not be more stark.

The model in question, the Phantom, isn’t cheap at around £500, but this gives you everything you need: GPS satellite control, barometers for measuring height, compasses for direction and so forth. It is a real techno-feast.

Better still, it has a mount underneath where I could mount the new GoPro 3 Black Edition camera. The combination was too tempting to resist.

Getting it unpacked and working wasn’t hard, but the documentation is a mess. Once I had everything sorted, it was time for its first flight. I took it outside to the garden, and promptly managed to fly it into the side of the house. Clearly someone with experience was needed. I dropped next door to the pub and found John, our local aviator expert who worked for RAF and can fly seriously big things.

He grabbed the controls and took the Phantom for a spin. Up and down, round and about. There was no stopping him. Despite the significant cross-winds and turbulence, including heat rising from the roof of the house, it was stable, easy to pilot and a joy to watch. I admit he knows what he’s doing, and I need a little more practice, but the results are worth it, as you can see from the video at the top of this blog.

The camera is not at its highest resolution, so picture quality, although already quite stunning, will be better when I switch the GoPro to the highest settings.

Total cost to play with the Phantom and GoPro 3 Black is verging on a grand, so this is a serious boy’s toy. But the results speak for themselves, and it’s more than ready for billable work.

Another pub friend, George, is taking over the management of a golf club. John and I are going to visit on a sunny day, and fly the Phantom around the golf course. It will make brilliant video, and be a great value-add for the club. Chocks away!

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