When the great folks at Roosevelt Paper Company requested a drone video of their production facility, I knew it was going to be a fun yet challenging project. The bulk of the video was to show their plant at work. Flying inside presents many challenges. I love using the DJI Phantom 4 Pro for this type of work. Here are a few tips for flying a drone indoors.
1. Site Evaluation. Whenever possible, it’s always a bonus to visit the site with the drone before a shoot and scout out potential hazards. Check the airspace. Even though the FAA doesn’t control the airspace inside of a building, if you are in a TFR or restricted air space, your drone software may get jammed and not be able to fly.
2. Space. It goes without saying that the higher the ceilings and the wider the areas, the easier it is going to be to fly inside. This is a judgment call depending on your level of expertise and experience. I’m not a risk taker. If I think a space is too small to safely conduct operations, I won’t fly.
3. Obstructions. It’s important to watch out for power supply wires descending from the ceiling. The Roosevelt Factory was full of them. So even though it’s a spacious factory, it wasn’t safe to fly the drone too far away. Those wires become hard to see and blend into the background at a distance. Before we started, the plant manager half jokingly said, “please don’t hit a sprinkler head”. That resonated with me, so I kept a safe distance from the ceiling!
4. Compass Errors. Metal walls, structures and electromagnetic fields can mess with the drone’s compass. It’s advisable, (when possible) to bring a drone on the preproduction day to see if the drone has any compass errors where you want to fly. Sometimes the compass error can happen just because the drone is sitting over a hunk of metal rebar in the cement floor. So if you get a compass error, try a few other spots and see if the problem goes away.
5. People. The Roosevelt job required flying while a shift was at work. I had to plan my shots with safety in mind and not fly over factory workers.
6. Propellors Guards. I typically do not fly outside with Propellor guards, but I find them very useful inside because they provide extra safety.
7. NO GPS. You won’t have GPS flying inside so a lot of automated flying won’t work. The Phantom 4 Pro is very stable inside and moves very smoothly. Watch out in low lit areas, the drone can tend to drift.
8. Back up equipment. In case there were areas that I couldn’t fly in for various reasons, I had my Canon EOS-R mounted on the Ronin-S. The factory also made available lifts and ladders for me to get the height needed for certain shots. Fortunately the entire factory was a great space to fly in.
UPDATE: My Drone Mentor and best Drone Pilot I know, Mike Ferguson, reminded me of something that I forgot.
Obstacle Avoidance. Here’s what he had to say, “I flew a shot for a TV show inside last year. It was a very tight hallway. For typical shoots I turn the OA off and fly atti. But for one of these indoor shots I used the system to keep the Inspire 2 about 4’ off a wall because the shot was a simple climb and descend to reveal the action on a balcony. It actually worked much like the GPS holding position. But it gives minimal control laterally so you still need to pay attention. The I2 also gives you the option of a button to temporarily disable the OA to continue moving close to an object with the system on. It was a pretty cool trick of the system.” Thanks Mike, your wisdom and experience is invaluable!
I hope these Tips for Flying a Drone Indoors are helpful.