Drones on the BBC

Small unmanned aircraft (SUA), often referred to as drones, are becoming more and more commonplace in TV and film production. Just last week the BBC announced that one of their news crews had used one for the first time - in a report about a new London station for the HS2 rail link: Hexacopter Changes the Way TV Reporters Work. Richard Westcott, the reporter, claimed that these tiny camera-carrying aircraft were set to ‘transform the way TV news looks in the future’.

Though this was a first for a BBC news crew it was by no means a first for the BBC as a whole. SUAs have been producing some incredible aerial footage for a couple of years for programmes as diverse as Top Gear and the Great British Bakeoff. The BBC Natural History Unit have made particularly stunning use of them filming some breathtaking sequences in their acclaimed Africa series.

At a regional level the BBC and other broadcasters are increasingly looking to SUAs to provide film and video footage that was previously only available from manned helicopters. We recently flew the Highline Aerial Media octocopter at Royal Victoria Country Park in Hampshire for a BBC South documentary due to air on BBC One in the Spring. We were filming the old hospital chapel, which is all that’s left of a vast Victorian military hospital that once occupied the site next to Southampton Water. With our multi-rotor helicopter we were able to capture footage that even a full-scale manned helicopter couldn’t manage, transitioning seamlessly from ground level to 400ft, bridging from crane shot to full aerial filming - all at a fraction of the cost of a manned helicopter. Here are the results – judge for yourself: Netley Hospital Sequence 

With the possibilities that SUAs provide, the incredible shots that they allow a director to realise, and their relatively inexpensive operating costs we are only going to see more and more aerial footage appearing on our screens. So for the BBC news crew, the regional producer and even the Hollywood director this really is just the beginning.