Drone 8: Frequently-asked questions

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — After WOOD TV8 took to the skies with Drone 8, we got some questions about how the aircraft works and how we’ll be using it.

Below, Kyle Underwood, who is Drone 8’s primary pilot, answers some frequently asked questions.

What is Drone 8?

Drone 8 is a DJI Inspire 1 model quadcopter powered by four individual electric motors. It has on-board GPS, an altimeter for altitude detection through changes in air pressure and a sonar and camera combination facing downward detecting height off the ground.

>>Online: Learn more about the DJI Inspire 1

Drone 8

What kind of camera does Drone 8 have?

Drone 8 has two camera/gimbal combinations that are interchangeable depending on need. One is a Zenmuse X5 with interchangeable lenses, and the other is a Zenmuse X3 with a fixed-length wide angle lens. Both can capture video up to 4k resolution (four times higher resolution that standard HD) and still images up to 12 megapixels in jpeg or raw. Both use a stabilized three-axis gimbal.

>>Online: Learn more about the Zenmuse X3

Give me some cool stats on Drone 8.

While it is capable of flying almost three miles high, we are limited to 400 feet of altitude by Federal Aviation Administration regulations. The drone can fly faster than 50 mph and weighs about five pounds. Maximum flight time is about 20 minutes per battery.

>>Online: DJI Inspire 1 specs

Can you broadcast live with Drone 8?

Yes. Both controllers output 720p HD video that we can connect to a backpack transmitter or a live truck.

Two controllers? Why?

For safety and quality of video, we always use an FAA-licensed airplane pilot to fly the aircraft and a photojournalist controls the camera settings and gimbal on the second controller. A third person serves as the qualified visual observer who assists the pilot to ensure safe operation.

Do you operate differently than amateurs with drones?

Yes. The rules for commercial operators are more strict than hobby flyers. We cannot fly over people and must respect property owners’ privacy.


>>Online: Learn more about the FAA’s section 333 waiver program

What about my privacy?

While the FAA generally opted not to implement privacy safegaurds for individuals and property owners, WOOD TV8’s owner has. We avoid private property without the owner’s permission and maintain a safe operating distance from people.

Why does Drone 8 have a tail number?

In order to operate commercially, Drone 8 is registered with the FAA. The tail number (commonly called N-number in the United States) is N84TV, representing Channel 8, Channel 4 and television.

For what kind of news stories will Drone 8 be dispatched?

Any story where we can operate safely and give our viewers a better view of what we’re explaining.

Why don’t other TV stations have their own drones?

WOOD TV8 is the first station in West Michigan and one of just a handful in the nation to operate their own drone. The legal hurdles are significant and it requires significant planning and resources. As restrictions are relaxed and costs come down, commercially operated drones will become more common news gathering tools. In August 2016, the FAA relaxed commercial drone rules and more and more operators will be flying soon.

Why not a real helicopter?

A news helicopter powered by a turbine engine can cost as much as $1,500 per hour to operate and burn more than 30 gallons of jet fuel per hour with two or more people on board. While manned helicopters have an excellent safety record, unmanned drones are even safer.

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