Drone footage from 04/30/2019

Mark Blue

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By now I’m sure a lot of chasers have seen the drone footage from yesterday (see YT video below).


A few years ago we loosely discussed the rules regarding drones in this thread. At the time it seemed like chasers were up against it if they wanted to use a drone - to the point that it was prohibitive. Have the rules changed to allow for what will probably become an increasing trend in the chaser community?
 

Jeff Duda

Resident meteorological expert
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Oct 7, 2008
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I'd be very curious to learn who shot this footage and what technology they used to do it, because the motion of the drone was impressively smooth, and it had to be somewhat heavy-duty to have gotten as close to the tornado as it did (sometimes seeming to have light debris floating past it) without seeming to have its path impacted. Also, it traveled a long distance!
 
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Apr 25, 2009
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...At the time it seemed like chasers were up against it if they wanted to use a drone - to the point that it was prohibitive. Have the rules changed to allow for what will probably become an increasing trend in the chaser community?
I'm a licensed commercial (Part 107) sUAV (small drone) pilot, so I had to study the regs for that. I see nothing in the regs that would prohibit taking tornado footage. However, there are a few rules that one has to keep in mind:
  • You must be able to see the drone at all times
  • You cannot fly over people - the video above might have broken that rule when it flew over the highway
  • You cannot fly higher than 400 feet above the ground
  • You must obey airspace rules, which are complex. Beware if you are within 5 miles of an airport that has a control tower.
  • You cannot operate the drone from a moving vehicle except over a sparsely populated area
  • If you are making money from the flight, you must have the Part 107 license
  • You cannot fly at night
  • and more...
Also, some or most of these rules will apply to non-commercial flight once the FAA updates them. Non-commercial flight of RC aircraft (drones, RC model aircraft) were exempt under Part 336, but that part of the law is gone.

See the law here.

See a summary here.

The license is quite easy and inexpensive to get if you are a *current* licensed aircraft pilot. If you are not, you have to take an online test at a testing center, at a cost of $150. Since I was no longer a current pilot, I had to go that route. I considered the test to be a bit hard - basically, lots of small details and trick answers that could easily get you. There are lots of places selling online courses of study, and you can also find a lot of information for free online. I took a course offered to our Civil Air Patrol ground team for free, by a couple of our members. Then I focused on memorizing the rules, learning the airspace classifications that have changed since I last flew a small plane, and re-acquainting myself with the details of aviation "sectional charts." I also had to relearn how to decode the METAR's and TAF's in their 1930's teletype formats because we all know (okay, the FAA believes) that nobody will have anything but that old, cryptic format to tell them the weather or the forecasts (sigh).
 
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Mark Blue

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I'd be very curious to learn who shot this footage and what technology they used to do it, because the motion of the drone was impressively smooth, and it had to be somewhat heavy-duty to have gotten as close to the tornado as it did (sometimes seeming to have light debris floating past it) without seeming to have its path impacted. Also, it traveled a long distance!
I just saw it on ABC News again and it said Brandon Clement / LSM on the video. I foresee him making some serious coinage from that video. I noticed he stated it was in 4K, so he might have had a GoPro mounted on the drone to save weight, but I’m assuming that part of it.
 

Todd Lemery

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Jun 2, 2014
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I think the video is great! I’ve tried to fly a drone into a tornado the last two years and haven’t even come close to showing I can get it through an RFD. It’s hard enough to get a drone up quick enough and in position to get that video, let alone fly one into a tornado. If someone can do it, I have a standing steak dinner offer to whoever does it at the place of their choosing!
 
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Dan Robinson

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Pretty epic. I don't see any obvious rules violations that would get the operator into trouble with this. Roads look clear of traffic. Line of sight might be difficult, but with good LED lights it might be possible. This looks like a best-case scenario for close drone intercept - a relatively weak, small vortex like that probably doesn't have very intense wind fields around it. I'd be tempted to fly right into it at the end!
 
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Dave C

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Jun 5, 2013
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Indeed I have flown a Mavic 2 in intense winds and it handles winds almost up to its max forward speed of 45MPH with great stability as long as you have battery to get home or land. Stabilization of the gimbal and camera is improved over anything else out there except for industrial/cinema drones, and combined with the vehicle stability is incredibly solid.

I saw no rule violations at all except maybe line of sight, which is a tough call. Below 400, not over people, etc. Brandon is said to be one of the best stringers out there and makes his living doing this from what I hear. He does fly part 107 commercial flights, has the right training, and I've heard might also possess a special use waiver that are very hard to get.

Line of sight is just that- no obstacles between you and the drone on a line. The rule does state you should have unaided visual contact with the craft, but also includes language about first person view and observers in visual range as an alternate. In practical use, for these small drones they can disappear after about just 200-300 yards in some lighting conditions. External nav lights can help really increase that and should be used if available. Practically speaking I don't think it is a blatant safety concern if your drone is momentarily too small and far to see as long as you know exactly where it is and have a clear line to that position, but the letter of the rule is a bit more strict and should be adhered to. For example you know it is over that large tree over there even if it is a speck hard to see or momentarily impossible to see. No aircraft should be below 500 feet away from airports except in emergency or rescue operations, and you would easily be able to force land the drone if you see one in the vicinity of the flight. I think the primary intent of the rule is that you know where not to fly as far as obstacles, people and other restrictions, won't lose control, etc.- hence the alternate allowance of first person view (goggles) with an additional observer doing visual tracking. The strict letter of the rule does indeed say you have to see the drone so even trees or small things in your way are technically not allowed, but it would be interesting to hear enforcement clarification.

Anyway incredible footage, very well flown. Well deserved revenue if he gets it. I've heard he is out there all the time working hard (all grapevine hearsay to me).
 
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I saw the footage, like everyone else - and I'm of the opinion that it's stunning! Some of the best tornado footage I've seen for a while - partly because it's rather different to the glut of shaky, close-range stuff which gets shared a lot these days.

As an aside, I do wonder how drones might be used in the future as a way of getting 'ground truth' of warnings - for example, drones could be housed around an area and then remotely sent out to look at the storm. Of course, there are a whole host of issues this could/would raise, but it's an interesting thought - to me, at least!
 
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Dec 6, 2015
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It gives a great perspective that is not commonly seen.

I have my own concerns with drone usage while chasing. I imagine now that this has been achieved and with such great quality, it will likely begin to increase in user activity. like that of "close range" upticks. Grant it, not everyone can afford or wants to take a risk ruining a drone in weather like this. But, will we begin to see more drones in the air? Image 5 or more drone pilots were on the same storm using the same airspace. In conditions like this, it has to be difficult to see other drones in the air while watching the storm. I'm concerned we may see some issues with air collisions or interference. Flying RC and now drones, just flying takes a lot of concentration and attention. I can't imagine how hard it is to give your full attention to flying as well as being aware of your surroundings.
 
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rdale

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Drones are so small in the grand scheme of a supercell circulation that I can't envision it being an issue, especially if you are watching your drone while flying.

Ones expensive enough to give good video like that also have radar sensing of objects nearby so they would alert you to an incoming drone prior to contact.
 
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May 6, 2017
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Minnesota
Pretty epic. I don't see any obvious rules violations that would get the operator into trouble with this. Roads look clear of traffic. Line of sight might be difficult, but with good LED lights it might be possible. This looks like a best-case scenario for close drone intercept - a relatively weak, small vortex like that probably doesn't have very intense wind fields around it. I'd be tempted to fly right into it at the end!
I see a major violation! It is amazing footage, but there is one major problem, under Part 107, you have to maintain 2,000 feet horizontally from the clouds.
14 CFR § 107.51 - Operating limitations for small unmanned aircraft.

(d) The minimum distance of the small unmanned aircraft from clouds must be no less than:

(1) 500 feet below the cloud; and

(2) 2,000 feet horizontally from the cloud.

Knowing that the FAA Airmen Certification Branch is located in Oklahoma City, I would bet that the person who shot the footage is already on an examiners radar for shooting this footage for violating part 107.51 sub section Part 2 for getting that close to a "Funnel Cloud" or tornado. This could go two ways, the FAA could say meh, don't care or if an examiner wants to, they could pull the license. Hard to say but always best not to test the FAA.

Also, for those that are thinking about flying without a license to shoot video, you can, but you can not do anything with it except give it away without your name. CFR Part 107.3 ..."Compensation (money or otherwise) makes the operation commercial in nature.

I know it is kind of a pain for those that think, it's just a drone, but think of it from the commercial helicopter pilots point of view. They spent tons of time and money to become a IFR Commercial Pilot so the FAA is going to make the drone pilot pretty much legal on nice sunny days.
 
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May 6, 2017
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Agreed. The drone is probably closer than that to the tornado. But since no planes are flying in the funnel cloud, so there is no safety concern at all, I can’t see why the FAA would ever pursue any drone tornado footage.
As I said before, a major FAA office is based in Oklahoma City. It is a government bureaucracy that is huge and should an FAA Examiner or Safety Inspector want to pursue this because he or she maybe does not like storm chasers, not a fan of drones, maybe a bunch of Chopper Pilots called and complained because they are worried about their jobs, or some other reason. They could make an example out of one chaser that works in the media for everyone else and once you bust a reg and get on the radar for a Examiner or Safety Inspector, they can make your life hell.

If you want an example, look at what someone with the FAA did to Bob Hoover, AKA, Chuck Yeagers wing man chase pilot during the Mach 1 flight and one of the best pilots to ever fly. Bob Hoover | Pilot Medical Solutions - LeftSeat.com
 

K. Gentry

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Apr 12, 2019
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Drone Dummy Here: Are there rules against using drones in situations where lightning is present?
 
May 6, 2017
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Minnesota
Drone Dummy Here: Are there rules against using drones in situations where lightning is present?
As a pilot, we're just told to stay away from thunderstorms in general with the standard distances because of clouds, turbulence, hail and wind gust and such. With a drone for a drone pilot, if you are flying under 400 feet AGL limit and maintaining a distance 500 feet below the ceiling and 2000 feet from the clouds, you should be fine from my understandingof the regulations.
 

mschulz

Enthusiast
May 3, 2019
3
0
1
Paducah, Ky
Hello all! I am a new member here on Stormtrack. I have been chasing storms for 7 years now mainly in the Mid South Region, so I don’t have near the experience many of you have. Drones have become much more affordable over the years and are trending to be more common among chasers. I recently jumped on the bandwagon and got a drone. I was able to use the drone for chasing purposes for the first time this week and have to say using a drone while chasing/spotting is such a safety net as well as a study tool for post-event analysis. The dense tree cover of the south really hinders you from being able to see far off at an oncoming storm, using a drone to go above the tree line to investigate what is actually headed your way is essential to me. They also provide such a unique perspective on storms and that unique perspective can be studied later on to improve thunderstorm modeling . People in general are very quick to be condescending and almost rude when it comes to feedback on drone storm footage I’ve noticed, and I know there are many rules that the FAA has set up that drone pilots have to follow, but the general public and even some weather enthusiasts seem to see chasers/drone pilots as arrogant or something like that. We do not need to let the technicalities get in the way of chasing with drones, the possibilities are endless when it comes to drone photography and videography and storms. A few chasers are already using drones and I hope this trend continues, but not to where it causes air space issues with other chasers and their drones on the same storm. Meteorological research could advance from drone footage. Thank you all for allowing more to be part of the amazing group!
 

mschulz

Enthusiast
May 3, 2019
3
0
1
Paducah, Ky
Hello all! I am a new member here on Stormtrack. I have been chasing storms for 7 years now mainly in the Mid South Region, so I don’t have near the experience many of you have. Drones have become much more affordable over the years and are trending to be more common among chasers. I recently jumped on the bandwagon and got a drone. I was able to use the drone for chasing purposes for the first time this week and have to say using a drone while chasing/spotting is such a safety net as well as a study tool for post-event analysis. The dense tree cover of the south really hinders you from being able to see far off at an oncoming storm, using a drone to go above the tree line to investigate what is actually headed your way is essential to me. They also provide such a unique perspective on storms and that unique perspective can be studied later on to improve thunderstorm modeling . People in general are very quick to be condescending and almost rude when it comes to feedback on drone storm footage I’ve noticed, and I know there are many rules that the FAA has set up that drone pilots have to follow, but the general public and even some weather enthusiasts seem to see chasers/drone pilots as arrogant or something like that. We do not need to let the technicalities get in the way of chasing with drones, the possibilities are endless when it comes to drone photography and videography and storms. A few chasers are already using drones and I hope this trend continues, but not to where it causes air space issues with other chasers and their drones on the same storm. Meteorological research could advance from drone footage. Thank you all for allowing more to be part of the amazing group!
I captured this screenshot off of a Facebook post from Tom Skilling out of Chicago, this shows the traditional “tornado alley” shifting east into the Midwest and south US. Tornado frequencies are increasing in these areas and these areas are for the most part littered by trees. Drones could revolutionize chasing and research in the future as a way to get above the trees and obstructions in this new “tornado alley”1DC1408C-A013-4CBA-B9C5-11F7767AB410.jpeg