OK, so you've probably heard me mention Operational "this", Operational "that" in previous posts and blog entries and you may be wondering what it's all about. Well today I really found out 'What it's all about' when I had to complete a simulated 'job' for a 'simulated client'.
This Ladies and Gentlemen is called an Operational Evaluation. It is a quite intense skills test and you are judged on your Flight Planning, Pre Flight Briefing, Site and Risk Assessments before you even think about flying. Following your Operations Manual (to the letter) you then have to set up the operational areas and prepare the Drone (from this point on she will be known as the 'UAV').
Once all that's done you get to do the 'job'.
The 'Job' for me was to photograph a recently installed Solar Farm (with lots of delicate, highly expensive equipment), on the edge of an industrial estate, next door to the River Thames (rammed with pleasure boaters), sandwiched between two office blocks, adjacent to a recreational area approaching lunch time. Oh and I was in a field with cows, and only 3 miles away was RAF Benson, one of the busiest helicopter training areas in the country. So not much to worry about then??? Happy to report I picked up on all these hazards, and other weather and airspace issues and was commended for a focused, accurate briefing.
On to the flying bit.
The 'job' started OK for me, after I had donned my sunglasses (mental note, do this before taking off, thanks Andy) and I was quite happy taking some nice pictures. It was pretty easy flying, even though there was a stiff breeze as I was in GPS mode (The UAV holds position through GPS, more on this later) which makes things much easier. All of a sudden my assessor noticed a 'problem' with the UAV and I had to bring it in for a landing. Phew all OK so I carried on. Two minutes later a load of school kids hopped the fence and started marching toward me, interested in the UAV no doubt. Bloody Kids, bunking off school...this was not good. What was I to do?? As luck would have it both these 'incidents' I had planned for and I whipped out my Flight Reference Cards and was able to safely negotiate my way out of the emergencies. Thankfully they were only simulated too, but the procedures are there for just this type of reason. There are some lunatics with drones around, I'm not going to be one of them.
After completing the 'Job' I was asked to perform some manouvres in 'manual' mode.
Remember the bit about GPS above and how it holds position? This bit meant turning GPS off.
The UAV was under full manual control and this was to become a battle between me and the 8 - 11 knot wind, and the wind nearly won. It was all OK going upwind and across wind but when I turned downwind the UAV shot off like Usain Bolt on steroids. Some rapid sphincter twitches and some erratic course corrections got my bowels and the UAV back under control. The same manouvre, a second time was much smoother and more under control. Following a few more controlled manual manouvres I was allowed to put the UAV back into GPS mode, fly back to the primary operating area and land. Engines off. Test Over.
When Andy (Top Bloke by the way) informed me I had passed there was much rejoicing, champagne corks popping, whooping and hollering (in my head anyway). It was a relief, all the theory, homework, planning, writing manuals and loads of other stuff had paid off. All concerns I had, evaporated and the outlook is positive. I am, now, in a select but growing community of CAA Certified UAV operators. Following the finalisation of the CAA application process I will be 1 of only 1000 (ish) operators with permission to operate a UAV on a commercial basis.
It's a small start for me and Whirlybird Imaging but the 'drone' business is booming, hopefully I'll be in a good position to capitalise from this and make a bit of money.
As the legislation catches up, the 'illegal' operators and 'general lunatics' will fall by the wayside leaving more legitimate work for businesses like Whirlybird Imaging. Happy Days.
If you know anyone looking for Aerial Imaging give me a shout. Competitive rates for friends and families of course. Solar Farms a speciality!!!! John
P.S. Many thanks to the team at Aerial Motion Pictures for their training, guidence and support. If you're reading this and considering going down the same path, then these people come highly recommended. More details on AMP Here.