Aerial 360 Sphere Panorama – How we captured Inverclyde from the Lyle Hill

We’ve had such an amazing response to our latest Aerial 360 which was taken above Inverclyde, so we thought we would share how we captured the view.

Step One: Weather

First of all one of the biggest variables you need to understand is the weather, not just if the environmental conditions will be favorable for flight, but also how it affects the aesthetic quality of the shot composition.

So how do we do that? Well, first we check a range of weather apps, mainly AccuWeather and Apple Weather to see if a flight is going to be possible (check for high wind and dense rain).

Step Two: Operational Planning

If all looks good (and on this day it did!) then we need to move to planning our operation – Where do we want to fly from that is A: Safe, B: Respects all CAA Regulations, C: Provides the best angle for the shot we want to capture.

After some quick research on Google Maps and Google Earth, we found that the Greenock Golf Course at the Lyle Hill would be our best position, it’s easily accessible from some steps at the top of the hill which makes life easy when transporting all the equipment, provides a breathtaking view and allows us to take off and land 30-50m away from anything not under our control (roads, persons, property).

  1. Identify operational position.
  2. Identify and address any risks.
  3. Identify which equipment required.

We gave Greenock Golf Course a call to ask if they would allow us to take off and land from their grounds, which they were very accommodating of, so the next thing was to work out where the safe boundary would be to take off and land – which is explained in the below image.

Flight Plan

On the ground we had the pilot set up on the golf course and then a secondary team member along the road monitoring traffic and relaying information to the pilot. At the time of day there was very little moving traffic along the road so there was no delay in getting up in the air.

Step Three: Composing the Shot

Our next step was to work out exactly what time the view was going to look its best. To do this we use an app called The Photographers Ephemeris – This is an app that allows you to input some data on where you are positioned with the camera and what you are looking at, from this it will tell you where the sun will be, whether or not it will be obstructed by the topography of the land, and even how impressive the clouds will look during sunset.

From this information, we knew there was a nice amount of clouds relatively high up which would become set on fire as the sun goes down and exactly what time and location.

Step Four: Taking the Photos

So this is relatively easy, we used the Litchi app for flight – this simply automates the process. We set Litchi to take 16 photos in a circle and at four angles (from the sky down) so we end up with 64 photos. We also tell Litchi to take 4 photos of the ground at North – West, known as Nadir’s.

In addition to the 68 photos we set the camera to take 5 RAW images of each position at -2 to +2 EV, so 5 photos of varying exposure for each shot. This allows us to merge all 5 into an HDR to get the best exposure possible across all areas and capture all the colours and textures that you see, so in reality, this is 340 photos in total.

Step Five: Stitching Together

The last step is to take these 68 HDR images and import them to software which allows them to be stitched together, for this we use the Microsoft Image Compositor. Load the images and in a few seconds (CPU speed depending) you have a completed 360 Panorama!


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DJI A3 Pro Flight Controller: The Correct Setup

DJI released their current flagship flight controller and upgrade modules back in 2016 and since then they have been used on a huge range of systems, one of our favourites is the Acecore Technologies: NEO – The design alone is enough to think you would have pinned up a poster of it back when you were a teenager.

With the A3 series, like most new technology in this industry there are teething issues with compatibility, and none more so than with DJI products. We’ve all heard about those that jump on DJIs products such as the Inspire range to be known as the beta testers. It is for this reason that you find many operators holding off for six months to a year in order to sit back and see what unravels.

DJI is a big player in our industry, some may argue the biggest. Sure they have the biggest reach with a ton of products but its when you go to the high-end of industrial applications that you see other manufacturers with much more refined systems – such as the Zenith – however saying that DJI have also just released their M200 series, and it looks very interesting, but without testing one and seeing how teething issues pan out over the next year, we are not ready to make a judgement.

The A3 on its own comes with the main flight controller unit, which houses the usual internal IMU, and comes with an attaching GPS puck. The pro system comes with the A3 main unit, 2 additional IMU units as well as the internal IMU of the A3, and 3 GPS pucks.

This all means that the A3 Pro has triple redundancy in IMU measurements and GPS readings, a bit plus for those operating in sensitive and tricky locations.

With all this kit though, you need to be able to know how to mount it correctly, and there is a ton of conflicting information out there on what the ‘best’ way is to mount the hardware to your drone.

The bottom line here is that DJI developed the A3 system and so what they say in regards to its installation should be taken above all unless there is a clear typo! With this said, you will find many operators telling you how they think its best to interpret the instructions – the most common is for the flight controller location to be entered relative to the centre of gravity and then both additional IMUs and three GPS pucks to be relative to the A3, this, however, is wrong.

The way to do it is simple, here’s a quick breakdown of how to do it.

  1. Mount the A3, IMUs, and GPS Pucks according to the manual.
  2. Get your centre of gravity in the middle, this may require movement of the batteries.
  3. Measure where your COG is – it should be in the middle and is usually a few inches bellow the top of the system (payload depending).
  4. Measure where all the A3 hardware is in relation to the COG.
  5. Input this data into the DJI Assistant 2 software.
  6. Remember – Everything is relative from the COG, not from the A3 main unit.

Here is our setup for the A3 Pro on a custom X5 series S900.

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Drones & Airports: Can drones be used to inspect runways?

Drones have been around for a long time but in recent years the application of the ‘multi-rotor’ design has taken up the number one spot in both commercial and hobby sectors. So naturally, there is a new task or application being considered with their use nearly daily.

We’ve seen everything from the beautiful aesthetic video in blockbuster films, structural inspections, to coordinated light shows from swarms of these brilliant machines, and of course everything in-between.

Dronely always takes the approach of thinking how can we make our systems work for the client. Not a day goes by where we don’t think – ‘what’s next? How can that be made easier? How can drones make X more efficient?!’.

Recently the news has started to cover the use of drones with more rigour, and much are reports of ‘possible’ drone sightings near airports or runways, so naturally many shy away from the idea of using these machines in the proximity of an airport for the fear of endangering travelers and aircraft.

The reality is much different, drones have been used on site at airports for a while now, Easyjet even has its own fleet for inspections. The truth is, drones provide a level of access unmatched by other current methods, and they will only become more practical as time goes on and attitudes evolve toward them.

With that in mind, we thought it was time to look at another area where drones could be useful at airports. The thought? Apart from the aircraft, what else is absolutely integral to a safe flight?

The Runway, of course! It comes back to that old saying by Sir Isaac Newton – ‘What goes up, must come down’.

Cement Construction Labor Worker Runway Patching – Image courtesy (CC) of Max Pixel

Runway maintenance is no small task, it’s a constant cycle of checks and repairs.

Runway surface integrity is met through regular inspections. Maintenance requires renewal of the wearing surface (the top). The intervals at which the re-surfacing occurs is dependent on the type of surface. Concrete and asphalt are the most commonly used surfaces. Not only does the surface need to be re-made, rubber deposits also needs to be removed.

Just from a visual point, drones can speed up the identification of issues such as rubber deposits, cracks, and other wear on the surface of the runway. Dronely is currently working towards creating a solution to use drones to carry out such tasks.

The goal here is not just to fly around and mark potential areas for detailed inspection and/or repair, that’s the starting point, the end goal is for the system to intelligently identify issues and report them back to the repair team.

For more information go to Dronely’s website:

CAA Changes to Insurance for Commerical Drone Operators

The CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) issued a statement to all commercial operators on Wednesday – 05/04/2017.
In the CAA’s statement which was sent via email, it stresses that all commercial operators must make sure their insurance cover is EC Regulation (758/2004) compliant.

So what does this mean for commercial operators? In truth, not a lot. It’s simply now a requirement that any insurance schedule issued by an insurer details that its cover meets the minimum requirements for EC Regulation (758/2004).

Simply put this is a change that happens at the insurer’s end, but it’s something that any operator should still know about and understand.

The CAA have stated that any application for permissions (PfCO/PfAW) whether they be new, variations or renewals must have insurance cover that provides evidence of such compliance, if not it will cause delays to application processing times, or at worst denial for permissions and that means lots of ground time.

Dronely Ltd currently works with Coverdrone for our commercial insurance needs, but other big players in the ‘drone insurance’ scene have been quick to act, such as Moonrock.

Coverdrone even have the ‘Fully compliant with EC 785/2004’ tag on their landing page of their website:


Moonrocks MD – Simon Ritterband was quick to send a message to the ARPAS – Association of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems user group to let them know that they were on top of things and would be sending out an email to all their clients.

So what do you need to look for in the insurance documents to make sure you as an operator or the operator you are hiring is compliant? Simply make sure the insurance documents mention EC 785/2004.

If you want to read the full breakdown of what EC 785/2004 is, then head to EUR-Lex – the Official Journal of the European Union.

Alternatively, you can read up on EC 785/2004 from the UK Parliment publications website.
For more information, check out Dronely Ltd.