Orthomosaic Mapping and Photomapping, Part 1

Aerial Drone Photography is the Ideal Technology for Orthomosaic Mapping and Photomapping!

Digital Elevation Model

Digital Elevation Model Topographical Map

Realm of Possibilities

In this article, the term orthomosaic mapping is used to describe the orthomosaic photogrammetry mapping technique, which is a computationally-intense method that yields position and altitude information for each pixel in the map. The term photomapping is used to describe the use of photostitching software to generate large panoramic maps.

Our orthomosaic map deliverables include: ultra-high resolution 2D maps, 3D Digital Elevation Model (DEM) topographical maps, 3D models, and 3D point clouds.

Our Photomap deliverable is a 2D map image similar to Earth-type maps but with ultra-high resolution.

As implied, “high-resolution” means these map image files can be very large – on the order of 3-4 megapixels per acre. For example, an 80-acre map will have around 300 MP and a JPG image file of around 160 MB. Large files for sure, but the terrain detail is amazing!

Who Can Use Orthomosaic Maps?

Surveyors, Architects, and Civil Engineers are several of the many professions that use orthomosaic maps for their land development and construction projects. They have the budget for high-end software, which can further process our orthomosaic map products.

Real Estate marketers and landowners may also need high resolution maps but don’t want to make the significant investment in photogrammetry software. For these users, we offer photomaps, which provide beautiful full-color map images. More on photomapping in Part 2.

Either way, these maps have high enough resolution to detect very small features. For example, a 1 foot by 1 foot object is represented with around 100 pixels. Tract size can range from less than one acre to thousands of acres.

What Makes Aerial Drone Orthomosaic Maps So Special?

Three dimensional computing is at the heart of calculating position and altitude information for each pixel. The numerically-intense software that does this, to my knowledge, hasn’t been made available for personal computers, so most users have to use online mapping services. For more detailed information on how this specialized software works, please refer to this article at ScienceDirect.com.

How Is It Done?

Orthomosaic mapping software requires many photographs of the landscape so each pixel gets multiple look angles. The software then assigns position and altitude information to each pixel. As you might reason, this is a very complicated process. To get good results, very high overlaps of the subject area are required – on the order of 75 to 90%. This requires that each ground point is photographed 16 to 100 times.

Aerial drones with precise GPS-based navigation are ideal for photographing landscape with this kind of precision. Hundreds or even thousands of high-resolution photographs are taken, typically looking straight down, and stored on the drone’s internal memory card. Back at the office, these photos are then uploaded to the mapping service and reconstructed by their orthomosaic software to create stunning, full-color maps, DEM maps, 3D models, and point clouds.

To achieve good results, the drone’s altitude must be around 4-5 times the altitude of the highest object, such as trees. The algorithms work best when there’s low wind and lots of leaves on the trees. Water can be a challenge due to its reflectivity. With less-than-ideal photography, the algorithms have difficulty assigning position and altitude information to the pixels. If done incorrectly, the resulting map either has strangely-shaped areas or areas that are blanked out.

Orthomosaic Map Deliverable Products:

  • 2D Map – full-color image of the landscape, including position and altitude information.
  • Digital Elevation Model – color-coded for elevation, any color scheme is possible as well as contour lines.
  • 3D model – full color three dimensional image. The model can be viewed on-screen from any perspective.
  • Point Cloud – typically viewed with high-end software. It’s a full color 3D model using points.

In part 2, we’ll examine photomapping, which will be of particular interest to real estate marketers and landowners.

Instant Photo and File Delivery, Update

We have improved our method to deliver your photo and video files, so this is an update to our blog “Instant Photo and File Delivery,” posted in March.

We Deliver Your Files via Google Drive

We Deliver Your Files via Google Drive

We Deliver Your Photos and Videos Fast!

Often, our clients are on site so when we finish our aerial drone photography session we copy the files to the client’s computer or deliver them on a USB thumb drive.

When the client is not on site, we deliver their files within two business days using our Google Drive account. The process is easy and no software needs to be installed by the client. We send a link via e-mail and the client simply clicks on the link to arrive at a shared folder where they can view and download their files.

Does Google Drive Work For Smart Phones and Tablets?

We haven’t found a platform yet that doesn’t work with G-Drive! Desktop computers seem to be a little easier to work with for most people, but G-Drive can also be used with smart phones and tablets. Although we haven’t tested all of the devices out there, we have been successful with the latest Android and iOS operating systems.

Android

Click on the link in our e-mail and the G-Drive folder should appear. Select the files and then download. The files will appear in your download folder and can be viewed or copied from there.

iOS

Click on the link in our e-mail and the G-Drive should appear. Select the file to view, then save to your file system. You may have to save your files one at a time.

Note: Earlier versions of iOS may give you access to the device’s local file system. Our iPad 9.7 Pro is running iOS v12, which makes it much more difficult to save files to the device’s local file system. The Apple way is to save your files to “My Drive” which means saving to your account on iCloud, DropBox, Google Drive, etc. If someone finds a better way, then please send me a comment.

What Should I Expect To Pay For Aerial Drone Photography Services?

Let’s Start With Some of the Costs of Running a Business . . .

The Business Part of Aerial Drone Photography

The Business Aspect of Aerial Drone Photography

. . . specifically, our drone photography business. There are many operating costs spread across aerial photography operations. They include: drone hardware, accessories, digital camera, camera glide, desktop computer, laptop, tablet, software, office expenses, Internet access, desk phone, mobile phone, aviation liability insurance, FAA certification, transportation, accounting, banking, taxes, etc. These costs are spread across all of our services.

Is a Drone Shoot that Complicated?

We go through a lot of effort to deliver results so you don’t have to deal with these burdens. A hobbyist can go out and buy a drone for less than $500 and then go into “business.” However, that is where the similarity ends. A professional drone operation is so much more than that, so let me explain some of the preparations that go into every drone photography session:

  1. The first step is receiving the task from our client. Through phone conversations and e-mail, we learn about the location and type of photography services desired. (Photography in this article includes videography.)
  2. From there, we look up the location on Google Maps; then check against the FAA’s restricted flight zones. We can fly in certain areas, but others are off limits for drones. Please read our blog.
  3. We then hand-chart the flight requirements onto a hard copy from Google Maps. Tools include self-developed programs to calculate altitudes, speeds, camera tilt angles, fields of view, etc. We know how to translate the client’s requirements into drone commands and can visualize what the camera’s field of view will look like. We’re good at this, very good. Usually, we get our shots on the first try.
  4. Flight requirements are then entered into drone flight programs. We use several, and select the appropriate program for the mission. Some examples: videography, surveying, mapping, etc. Programmed drone flights provide smooth, repeatable missions. This is particularly useful if the client wants us to fly the same mission again, such as for progress reports or seasonal changes.
  5. Driving time to the client’s site is one of our major cost drivers. We need to charge for extra driving time outside our service area.
  6. On site, we look over the terrain for obstacles that may pose a hazard to our drone, such as trees, power lines, light poles, water towers, etc.
  7. The fun part, flying the drone, goes relatively quickly. The preparation steps above help to ensure a successful mission; while collecting the required photography takes less than 20 minutes.
  8. If the client is on site, we download the photography to their computer or give them their files on a USB thumb drive. Otherwise, we upload their files within 24 hours to a cloud service and send them a link. We operate a fee-for-service business, and deliver unlimited copyright with our products.
  9. Returning to the office, we download the files to a desktop computer and back them up onto a storage server. Periodically, we back up client files to BluRay disks and retain them for several years.
  10. Of course, collecting our fees, processing credit cards, accounting, paying taxes, sending receipts, logging flights, etc., all add to the time commitment.

Just a Quick Note on Postprocessing

If the client has asked for postprocessing services, we have a number of high-end desktop programs for photography, videography, and mapping. We’re experts with this software, taking the uncertainty out of the equation and delivering products that meet or exceed the client’s expectations. Examples of our postprocessing products can be found on our Portfolio page.

So, Just How Much Time Do You Spend on a Standard Drone Shoot?

Six hours, which typically breaks down into thirds: (1) Client communications; (2) Mission planning; and (3) Executing the mission. Compared to most other skilled trades, our prices are very reasonable. In the end, we’re in business to earn money, but it just comes down to the fact that we love to fly!

Zoom-in With a Fixed Lens Camera

Zooming In With Your Drone's Fixed Camera Lens

Zoom-in With Your Drone’s Fixed Camera Lens

At one time or another, everyone has had situations where zooming in on a video clip adds that finishing touch. Whether it’s for effect or for greater stand-off distance, the convenience of camera zoom takes your photography to the professional level.

In this blog, I’ll show you how to get Full High Definition (1080p) results at a zoom factor of 1.4x using a fixed-lens camera. This is good information for venues like sporting events and weddings, which can be recorded from the air but at a great enough distance so the drone’s presence has minimal notice. For more information on camera resolution please read my blog Setting Up Your Aerial Drone Camera.

Do I Need an Expensive High-End Drone and Camera?

Although that would be one way to get zoom capability, it can be a very expensive investment. But, let’s look at just one of many high-end drone/camera solutions:

For a modest investment of $5,000 you can purchase a DJI Inspire 2 drone, Zenmuse X5S camera, and Lumix 14-42mm zoom lens and the results will be quite professional. The Lumix lens gives you the standard camera focal length equivalent of 28-84mm. So, with 50mm as the standard for zero magnification, this camera has a zoom range of 0.6x wide angle to 1.7x telephoto. Remember these numbers.

Is There a Less Expensive Alternative?

There’s another solution that is far less expensive and provides excellent results. Many drones on the market can record Cinema 4K video, which has a resolution of 4096×2160 pixels. However, most users are satisfied with a Full HD resolution of 1920×1080 pixels.

What these numbers mean is that to get a digital zoom capability, you can record video in Cinema 4K mode, which leaves plenty of resolution to render any portion of the frame in Full HD. Rendering the video is done in post-processing, where video clips are transformed into the finished video.

For example, we can use our drone to record the desired scene in C4K mode. We start with the equivalent wide angle focal length of the camera’s lens, which is 35mm (0.7x). Using post-processing software, as much or as little of the C4K image can be cropped for the desired magnification. So, when your video is captured in C4K, you can select a crop “window” of up to 50% and render your new “zoomed-in” video in beautiful FHD. In other words, you get a full-definition 1920×1080 pixels! For this level of cropping, you achieve a zoom factor of 1.4x, equivalent to a 70mm telephoto lens.

Compared with the $5,000 solution, which zooms 0.6x to 1.7x, this digital zoom technique gets you 0.7x to 1.4x.

Any More Slick Ideas?

Two for sure . . .

  1. If you want even more zoom, just crop to get the desired magnification. There’s no limit to how much you can crop, though you will start to see the results of lower resolution. For example, you can crop at 25%, which gives you a zoom factor of 2.8x (140mm telephoto) but the resulting FHD video will display a lower resolution of 1024×540 pixels.
  2. Any method of zoom will increase the image’s sensitivity to camera movement. So a small and acceptable level of vibration at 0.7x may be objectionable at 1.4x. Unwanted vibration can be minimized in post-processing using image stabilization. For more information please read my blog Video Production and Post-Processing.

At FAD-Photo, we use the DJI Phantom 4 Professional V2, which provides a highly stable platform capable of stunning high definition photographs and videos. We have mastered the art of taking C4K videos and using our post-processing software to minimize vibration and render FHD videos.

We deliver the results you would expect from a professional aerial drone photography service! For more information, please refer to our Aerial Drone Photography and Video Services page.

Visual Observers For Your Aerial Drone Operations

 

Ear Buds Provide Hands-Free Communications With Your Visual Observer

Ear Buds Provide Hands-Free Communications With Your Visual Observer

The FAA does not require an Aerial Drone Visual Observer (VO) for Small UAS operations. However, the optional VO is an important member of your team as he/she can help maintain situation awareness. For example, things can get dicey real fast when a low flyer, such as a helicopter, suddenly appears. This is especially true when operating near airports, private fields, hospitals, etc.

The VO helps the pilot assess the drone’s position, attitude, altitude, and direction. The VO also observes the air space for other air traffic or hazards.

Prior to getting airborne, the VO should be briefed on the flight plan and maintain communications with the pilot. The VO is not required to have any kind of certification and cannot operate the drone. If there’s more than one drone operation going on at the same time, the VO must be dedicated to one drone only.

I’m a Drone Pilot, so how can a Visual Observer be Useful to Me?

The FAA states in Part 107.33 that . . . “the visual observer (if one is used), and the person manipulating the flight control of the small unmanned aircraft system must be able to see the unmanned aircraft throughout the entire flight . . .” The FAA goes on to state that either the VO or (emphasis mine) the person manipulating the flight control satisfies this requirement.

Many of my commercial drone flights go behind buildings and landscape features such as trees. So, I often engage the client as a VO or my wife, who accompanies me on many of my flights. For some of my more complicated flight plans, we use earbuds with our cell phones so we can position ourselves to maintain visual contact with the drone and voice contact with each other.

Can I use Binoculars to Keep Track of my Drone?

The FAA states that vision must be unaided by any device other than corrective lenses. Since small drones tend to be real hard to spot when their distance from the operator exceeds several hundred feet, a strobe light can greatly extend your line of sight. For example, Firehouse Technology offers compact, self-contained strobes that weigh less than 8 grams. You’ll want to ensure it doesn’t impact your drone’s airworthiness.

Can I use the Drone’s Camera View to Maintain Visual Contact?

Aerial drones can operate at great distances from the operator and download a camera view in real time. However, the FAA requires that the pilot/VO must maintain visual line of sight to the drone. This question was more explicitly addressed in development (pre-Part 107) documents.

Want More Information?

Please refer to the FAA’s requirements for Visual Observers found in Part 107.33 of Title 14 CFR.

Instant Photo and Video File Delivery

FAD-Photo Delivers Your Photo and Video Files via Dropbox for Super Fast Service

We Use Dropbox for Instant File Delivery

FAD-Photo uses Dropbox.com for instant photo and video file delivery. We upload your files to our account and send you a link so all you have to do is click on the link and then click the download button.

In some cases, you may have to wait up to 10 seconds for the download button to appear. When it does, then click to download the file to your computer or smart device.

When two or more files are delivered, we use 9Zip, a generic Windows 10 application. It combines your files into one “Zip” file and then we upload it to Dropbox. The Zip file you download will display like a folder in most operating systems. For example, with Windows 10 you can open, play, and copy your photo and video files to wherever you need them.

Do I Need to Install any Software for Dropbox or 9Zip?

No worries, you won’t need to install any software or set up your own account.

What is a Zip File?

Zip files make more efficient use of your computer’s storage space by reducing the file size and combining multiple files into one file. It works well and the process is lossless – that is, there’s no decrease in your photo’s or video’s quality. The good news is that you won’t have to install any software on your computer, tablet, or smart phone.

Once downloaded, your operating system will treat the zip file very similarly to a folder. Simply click on the zip file just like you would a folder. Your files can then be extracted (just right click) or individually copied to any location you desire. If you’re using Windows 10, you can view/play your files by clicking on them in the zip file. Many other operating systems work similarly.

What About My Tablet or Smart Phone?

Smart devices, such as Android, treat the Zip file a little differently. Use your file explorer to find the zip file, typically in the Download folder. Then select each file (or all) and extract them. Your files will be found in the Download folder and can be opened, played, and copied to wherever you need them. Apple devices running iOS use a similar process.

Setting Up Your Aerial Drone Camera

Aerial Drone Camera Options

Aerial Drone Camera Options

Video Formats

When you set up your aerial drone camera to take videos, the first thing you’ll want to do is to select the American standard of NTSC (National Television System Committee).  Your other option is PAL (Phase Alternation by Line), which is more common in Europe, Asia, and Africa. A third standard known as SECAM is also common in Asia and Africa, and your drone may offer it as well. When in the USA, select NTSC. The main difference is frame rate where the American standard is based on 60 Hz and the European standard is based on 50 Hz.

Among your camera’s setting options, you’ll find video size, which allows you to select format and framerate. You can select from 4k for the UHD or Ultimate High Definition (think of Sony’s 4k digital cinema in your movie theater), 2.7k and 1080p (also known as FHD or Full High Definition), and 720p (also known as HD or High Definition).

I recommend setting your video to 1080p, which has a frame resolution of 1920×1080 pixels, and is standard among televisions and computers. Unless you have a requirement to use higher resolution, then 1080p is the standard for you. Higher resolutions, such as 2702×1520 and 4096×2160 are gorgeous if you have the hardware to play them. Their downside is the increased amount of time required to render in video editing software. Another downside is stutter when playing them on less than state-of-the-art hardware.

Recently I compared several of the UHD and FHD video formats and found that my computer monitor displayed all of them, but stuttered when the source was 2.7k or higher. I couldn’t tell any difference in their resolution when compared with standard 1080p, but that would be expected with a 1080p monitor. There was also some stutter when I played a 1080p video at 60 frames per second.

For most videography applications, I recommend using 1080p at 30 frames per second. Eventually the market will move to 2.7k and 4k resolutions, so you should be ready to switch when that time comes.

Photo Formats

Common formats for aerial drone cameras include 12MP (4000×3000 pixels) and 20MP (5280×3956 pixels), which are sufficient resolution for super fine-grain pictures. I have found that the resolution of the sensor is typically greater than the limitation placed on it by the camera’s optics.

Check it out for yourself by blowing up an image in your favorite photo viewing software. You’ll see the image is blurred from pixel to pixel, which was caused by the optics, not the sensor. This is why you want the most direct path for light to enter the image sensor. Due to their small size, these cameras (and their filters) pick up finger prints and smudges that will reduce the resolution of your camera. Inexpensive filters are another contributor to lower resolution.

Three-byte color granularity is known as 24-bit color because there are 8 bits per primary color.  It’s also known as “True Color” or “16.8 million colors” since 2 raised to the 24th power is 16.8 million.  Using our drone’s 12MP image as an example, the resulting image file is 36 million bytes (or 34MB).  Fortunately, cameras compress the images and reduce their file size to perhaps a tenth of their original size. You’re probably already familiar with the common file compression standard created by the Joint Photographic Experts Group and known as JPG.

A drawback of the JPG compression standard is that certain pixels are selectively thrown out. The loss in fidelity is usually negligible. However, the compression process is not reversible so some image quality is permanently lost.

For optimum results, professionals use the camera’s raw mode, which compresses image files without throwing out any pixels. The resulting file sizes are 2-3 times the size of a JPG file, but there’s no sacrifice in image quality. DJI’s aerial drone camera options list RAW, but download in Adobe’s Digital Negative (DNG) format.

For most photography applications, I recommend using the JPG format due to its high popularity. For those special shots (or client requirements) then select raw mode.

Other Aerial Drone Camera Settings

Settings for exposure value, contrast, saturation, color filter, etc. are also available for the experienced photographer. Default values will usually suffice for the casual photographer, but when you’re looking for more control you’ll find it under these settings.

Fly Safe!

No Fly Zones – Flying Your Drone in Restricted Airspace, Part 2

DJI's Fly Safe GEO Zones

DJI’s Fly Safe GEO Zones

Is my flight location in a restricted airspace zone?

No matter what make and model drone you’re flying, you can find out if you’re in or near restricted airspace on the DJI Fly Safe GEO Zone Map (GEO – Geospatial Environment Online). Of note, the DJI GEO-Map is much more comprehensive than the FAA’s online map, from Part 1.

DJI’s GEO-Map System delineates where it’s safe to fly, where your flight may raise concerns, and where flights are restricted. Restricted airspace zones that prohibit flights are implemented around locations such as airports, power plants, and prisons. They’re also implemented temporarily around major stadium events, forest fires, or other emergency situations. Certain restricted airspace zones don’t prohibit flight, but do trigger warnings that inform users of potential risks.

The procedures below are specific to the DJI brand of aerial drones. Other drone manufacturers may have their own procedures.

DJI’s Restricted Airspace Boundary Color Codes

Green– warning zone, such as the outer zones of restricted flight areas.

Yellow– authorization zone, such as the inner zones of restricted flight areas – unlock is available online.

Red– restricted zone, unlock is available by providing evidence from an authorization authority to DJI.

FAA Part 107 requires the remote pilot to receive permission from the airport Fixed Base Operator prior to flying within 5 miles of the airport. If your drone is inside the “green zone”, that is it’s inside the 5-mile radius but outside the 1.5-mile radius, DJI assumes the pilot has this permission – your drone will fly; no further action needed. However, if you’re inside the 1.5-mile “yellow” radius, the drone’s firmware prevents the drone from starting and/or entering this airspace.

DJI provides an easy method to unlock your drone’s firmware so you can enter “yellow zone” restricted air space, such as around regional airports. DJI assumes the pilot has this permission and simply verifies your identity in their online process. Here’s how:

Unlocking a Yellow Zone Restricted Flight Area

Unlocking a yellow zone boundary, such as within 1.5 miles of an airport, requires permission via the DJI website, which verifies your identity and coordinates the “Unlock” with your DJI online account. A reminder that you should have a valid reason, such as a commercial photo shoot, prior to asking the airport’s Fixed Base Operator for permission.

Procedure

Open the DJI Fly Safe web page:  https://www.dji.com/flysafe

Click on the “UNLOCK A ZONE” tab and enter your DJI account information.

Enter your drone model, location, authorization date range, and controller serial number. Your remote controller serial number is not printed on the remote, but you can look it up in your DJI Go app. You can also look it up in a Litchi flight log under the column FlyControllerSerialNumber.

Choose to verify your identity by credit card or mobile phone (with text capability):

1. By phone, enter the number (no hyphens), press send and you will receive a text message. Enter the token.

2. By credit card, enter the number (no hyphens) and info.

If successful, you will get this notice: “This Authorization Zone has been unlocked. You can check your unlocking records in the DJI GO app.” Caveat: you may not see the “unlocking record” in your app but you will be prompted to fly safe before taking off. Also, this procedure only works for the DJI Go app; other after-market apps may not work.

Unlocking a Red Zone Restricted Flight Area

Permission to fly in a red zone is done via e-mail to flysafe@dji.com. You will need to provide evidence from an authorization authority. DJI will then process your request and, if approved, unlock your drone via your DJI online account.

Fly Safe!

No Fly Zones – Flying Your Drone in Restricted Airspace, Part 1

Aerial Drone Restricted Flight Zone Signs Coming Your Way Soon

Aerial Drone Restricted Flight Zone Signs Coming Your Way Soon

This blog outlines some of the latest No Fly Zones in the United States. These are places that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) states you cannot fly your aerial drone. This subject is dry and boring, so all you need to know is that you can’t fly your recreational drone near airports, military installations, major sporting events, and nuclear research labs.

Of note for our DJI drone pilots, DJI has software lock-outs to keep their drones out of restricted airspace. Part two of this series outlines the procedure for DJI drone pilots to unlock their drone’s restrictions, such as when they have permission to fly in restricted airspace.

National Security Sensitive Facilities/National Defense Airspace

FAA NOTAM FDC 7/7282 governs restricted air space. The restrictions extend from the ground up to 400 feet, apply to all types and purposes of Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) flight operations, and remain in effect 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

This NOTAM identifies in an online map the FAA’s restricted UAS flight operations airspace: https://uas-faa.opendata.arcgis.com/

At this time, the restricted airspace is typically around military installations, large airports, and nuclear research labs. It seems reasonable to expect that power plants, prisons, and other critical infrastructure will be added to this online map.

This NOTAM also states the enforcement actions and penalties: $32,666 for a small business, $13,066 for an individual not acting as an airman, or $1,437 per violation for an individual acting as an airman; and revoking FAA certificates and authorizations to operate UAS’s under Title 49 U.S.C. Sections 44709 and 46301. I’ve also seen reports that military installations can shoot down unauthorized aerial drones.

Sporting events

FAA NOTAM FDC 7/4319 restricts UAS operations around stadiums and motor speedways.

UAS’s are prohibited from flying at or below 3,000 feet within a 3 nautical mile radius of any stadium with a seating capacity of 30,000 or more people during a Major League Baseball, regular or post-season National Football League, NCAA Division I football game, or major motor speedway event. This temporary flight restriction applies to the entire U.S. domestic National Airspace System, and takes effect starting one hour before the scheduled event time until one hour after the event concludes.

The FAA’s Go-To Resource

B4UFLY is an easy-to-use smartphone app that helps unmanned aircraft operators determine whether there are any restrictions or requirements in effect at the location where you want to fly. B4UFLY pulls its information directly from publicly available FAA data sources and packages the information in a user-friendly and intuitive format. You can download B4UFLY from Google Play (Android) or Apple’s App Store (IOS).

More information is available online at:  https://www.faa.gov/uas/where_to_fly/b4ufly/

Future Developments – ID and Tracking Your UAS

ID and tracking technology is actively being considered as a requirement for UAS’s by the Aviation Rulemaking Committee. Yes – this is about adding transponders to future drones so big brother can identify your drone (and you), and possibly override your control.

Their most recent report is found here:  ARC Recommendations Final Report 9/30/2017

The FAA welcomes UAS questions at their e-mail:  uashelp@faa.gov

Fly Safe!

Everything You Never Wanted To Know About Flying Your Drone in the National Parks

USA National Park Service

National Park Service Policy On Aerial Drones

Flying aerial drones in the National Parks of the USA was outlawed in June 2014 by the Director of the National Park Service in his Policy Memorandum 14-05.

Several incidents led to this interim policy guidance, which supplements Title 36 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR).  For example, I read reports about amateur drones harassing wildlife, interfering with search and rescue efforts, interfering with fighting forest fires, and in one case a drone that crashed into the Grand Prismatic Spring in Yellowstone National Park.

What You as a Drone Pilot Need to Know

Let’s just get down to the important stuff – what can they do to you if you get caught? Park Rangers are permitted by law to make arrests for violations, and if convicted a drone pilot faces fines and jail time.

So, where does it say that?  Title 36 CFR Part 1.5 and the Policy Memo provide the authority, and 36 CFR Part 1.3 states the penalties, which read: “shall be punished by a fine as provided by law, or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, or both, and shall be adjudged to pay all costs of the proceedings.”  I’ve also heard of Park Rangers confiscating drones, but I haven’t seen a policy statement granting them that authority.

What parks are covered?  Title 36 covers all lands that fall under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, including National Parks, National Military Parks, National Monuments, and Battlefield Sites.

Can I Fly Over Other Federal Lands?

Currently, my sources state that you can fly your drone over the National Forests and most lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.  However, watch for changes in policy as lawmakers are crafting new rules regarding aerial drones.

Process for Permission

For most drone pilots, the bar is simply too high to get a waiver or what the National Park Service calls a Special Use Permit.  The NPS Policy Memorandum outlines the process in Exhibit B. Paraphrased, it states the Park’s Superintendent will receive a written request for proposed drone operations and endorse it up the chain of command to the Associate Director, Visitor and Resource Protection office in Washington, DC for approval.

Are There Any Workarounds?

Once your drone is airborne, your flight falls under FAA rules.  The NPS Policy Memo acknowledges this and states “Launching, landing, or operating an unmanned aircraft from or on lands and waters administered by the NPS is prohibited.”  However, under the FAQ section (no. 9), this prohibition is clarified with a very useful statement that aerial drone flights originating outside the park’s boundary ARE permitted to fly over national park lands (because they’re in the air space that falls under the jurisdiction of the FAA).  I will add that the wise drone pilot will fly strictly in accordance with the safety provisions of the FAA’s 14 CFR Part 107.

Fly Safe!