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Horsing around at Badminton

It has been a long time since my last blog. If you didn’t know I have a full time job and the weather has not really been kind over January and February so there has not been much flying going on. However, now the clocks have ‘sprung’ forward there is more time in the day to get some ‘development’ flying in. I’ve been researching a number of alternate flying apps, namely Litchi, Vertical Studio and Drone Deploy, so I’ve not been standing still while days are short and weather unkind.

The one I’m most interested in is Drone Deploy. It allows me to create a 3D model of an object or area that you can subsequently view later, rotate around and zoom in/out in a virtual environment so could be useful for future projects. So I’m on the lookout for a suitable structure, let me know if you have one?

In other news I now have night ratings which means I can fly at night, on a commercial basis so this could be used for some long exposure night shots or perhaps filming a firework display, all from a safe distance of course. There have also been a couple of other small jobs completed. A beautiful couple of hours on the Batsford Estate for Lord and Lady Dulverton and a flight over and around one of the most amazing constructions I have ever seen, more on that later in the year. This job also resulted in my first crash, nothing major just an argument between the UAV and an unseen spindly branch.

The big blog news though is all the work I’ve been doing for the world’s most prestigious 3 day event, The Mitsubishi Motors Badminton Horse Trails. As far as equestrian events go, this is one of the biggest ones in the world, and especially so in an Olympic year. I feel very privileged to have been awarded this work. The bulk of my footage will be for the course preview, to be released to the worldwide media next week, but there is also some more to do which will be used for the BBC programme which will be going out from 14:00 on Sunday 8th May, to be confirmed.

I’ve been looking forward to doing this job since the turn of the year and I’m pleased with the results, and so are MBPtv, the company putting the preview together. There was a considerable amount of planning and scoping to do beforehand, creating lots of paperwork. We had 33 fences to film, on the beautiful Badminton Estate which lies in the heart of the Gloucestershire countryside and is home to the Duke and Duchess of Beaufort. The House dates from the 17th century and is set in a beautiful deer park in which world famous horse trials are held. An interesting fact is that the game of Badminton was invented in the house in 1863. Yes really!!

Badminton is NOT a place that you can just turn up and fly, it’s a private estate and permissions had to be sought in the usual fashion. It really is a beautiful place to be and looks even better from the air, if that were possible. Almost a year ago now, I took my home made quadcopter and Go Pro and got some great aerial shots of the lake and shared them with the Horse Trails organisers, and my day job employer (Mitsubishi Motors in the UK). These photos were very well received by both parties and the general public, therein planting the seed to do this on a commercial basis, which is why you’re reading this.

I had to strike a balance between getting good weather and large parts of the course and fences being complete. The course preview is being put together as we speak, almost 1 month before the event so this meant that I had to ready to fly around Easter. If you remember the Easter weekend was pretty grotty but Good Friday turned out to be a belter, so that’s the day I chose and it was really, really good. There was not a cloud in the sky, and for once the ‘Badminton Breeze’ was just a gentle wisp in the trees, of which there are a sizeable many. I had Harrison my son, and spotter, with me, and after a few technical issues, we were away. The plan here was to get as much footage in the bag as possible, and we did. All of the flying was manual, over, through and around the fences that were complete. It was a long but ultimately very enjoyable day. I got the footage uploaded to MBPtv and this was probably about two thirds of the footage we needed.

MBPtv came back a couple of days later with a few changes and I got these done in quick order and sent them back, plus a few more fences that I could now do. So this left us with about 5 fences still to do and some not very nice weather to do it in. The ‘Badminton Breeze’ had returned in a big way and since the beginning of April has been consistent and strong. To get the remaining footage would require some pushing of the envelope and not much time to get it.

The course walk day was booked for the 7th April and I was needed to get some aerial live action shots of the presenters. For 2016 it was to be Lizzie Greenwood Hughes, a BBC sports presenter and Harry Meade, one of Britain’s leading event riders. In addition I needed to complete the remaining fences and complexes so I paid very close attention to the weather forecast leading up to the day. I’ve never spent so much time looking at *METARs and **TAF’s but between these and the last TV forecast they were pretty spot on. I had a window from about 07:00am to 09:00am before the rain came in. Harrison and I got to site early and we bagged the remaining fences, except two which were not built.

At 09:00 it was time to meet up with the filming crew, the presenters, the director and producer and that’s when the rain started, and didn’t stop until about 13:00 so I used that time to review the earlier footage, trim it and hunt a Wi-Fi signal (I used the Badminton Horse Trails Offices, so thanks to them) to send it to the MBPtv graphics team so they could get started on the footage.

We managed to get some aerial shots in the afternoon but the blustery winds did not let up one bit which made it difficult to get slow smooth shots. It was challenging but we were all impressed with the little UAV, who Harrison and I have now named ‘Derek’ (The Drone), and how stable he was in these testing conditions. Luckily the rain never returned that afternoon and I only made one mistake when I forgot to hit record which meant we had to shoot an out of sequence shot which meant a change of footwear (wellies) for the presenters. I was relieved to at least get some live action footage, which I hope the production team can use. We shall see.

So that was it, we got some good and some great footage for the course preview and MBPtv are sure to use it the most favourable way. I’m sure it will be a course preview that we can be proud of and I’m very happy that I was asked to be part of it. I shall add some of this footage into my show reel too, but can’t at the moment as the course is still under wraps for another few days. You can, though, see a 30 second snippet of the Badminton Estate at the end of this blog.

The Mitsubishi Motors Horse Trials are on 4th – 8th May 2016 and if you’re inclined you’ll be able to see the Whirlybird Imaging aerial footage in the course preview which will be published online in many places and then of course, weather gods permitting some pretty footage of the ‘dressed’ course on the BBC TV Coverage which goes out live from 14:00 on the 8th May on BBC 1 or BBC 2, watch in HD if you can. (TBC)

*METAR - Meteorological Terminal Aviation Routine

**TAF - Terminal Area Forecast

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