Preparation is everything when it comes to aerial filming so here’s some guidance to help you plan a successful shoot.
PDG Helicopters hold a valid Air Operators Certificate issued by the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) and conform to the exacting standards for commercial helicopter operation. We have permanent filming exemptions in place.
Our experience in aerial filming for television, movies and commercials extends over 40 years. PDG Aviation Services work with the biggest names in the entertainment industry including BBC (approved supplier) ITV, STV, Channel 4, Channel 5, Sky and RTE. We work with advertising agencies, production companies, broadcasters and movie production companies from all over the world.
Helicopters are the ideal platform to deliver the camera and capture amazing aerial shots but your choice of helicopter is important as this can limit the height and location of your filming. A twin engine helicopter will generally get you closer to the action and allow you to fly lower over a city or fly further over water, whereas a single engine machine will have greater limitations in such areas, however is ideal for its manoeuvrability and speed in open areas. Aircraft type and size should also be a consideration, as you may need room for your crewmembers and their equipment. Small 4-seat helicopters may cost less but your comfort, safety and quality of filming could be at risk if it’s overloaded.
Gyro-stabilised camera systems offer a massive advantage over handheld cameras. The initial hire cost of a gyro stabilised system over hand held shots may seem expensive but the restricted views and inability to use a long lens combined with the vibration means it could take you much longer to capture a decent shot. Compare this to a nose mounted 5-axis gyro-stabilised system with long lens, the stabilised system will get you the shot in a fraction of the time and deliver far more material in the time that you have. Always use the highest resolution possible as this can extend the life of the footage and allow you to use it for future projects.
Discuss your choice of filming locations with us as soon as possible, the locations may seem perfect to you but flight restrictions might be in place. We will know where they are and we can apply for special exemptions from the CAA.
If you are planning to film somebody on the ground or in a vehicle it’s a massive benefit to have air band radios. These operate on a different band to normal 2-way radios and will allow communication between the aircraft and the ground crew through the aircraft radios and ultimately make the whole process of filming much easier and save valuable flight time.
When filming for long periods in remote locations it may be wise having a portable fuel bowser on site for the aircraft, this can save both time and money if the closest airfield with fuel is more than 30 minutes flight time away. We can supply bowsers for all location shoots.
Further Help and Guidance
BBC provide this information for aerial filming
Please note PDG Aviation Services are an BBC approved supplier of aerial filming.
If you need any further help and guidance please don’t hesitate to contact us.
Q. What happens if the weather is unsuitable on the day of the shoot?
A. Providing the aircraft has not yet flown or positioned to a location you can postpone and reschedule the shoot without charge for the helicopter or camera system, however if we have specially hired in a camera, lens or other accessory this will incur a charge.
Q. How many people can fly in the aircraft?
A. Normally the aircraft can seat 5 passengers + pilot but when the aircraft is fitted with a camera system it limits the number of passengers that can be carried to 2 people. However, we recommend that just one person flies where possible. This allows the aircraft to carry more fuel and increase duration.
Q. Where will I sit in the aircraft?
A. The director normally sits next to the pilot in the front left seat.
Q. How long can we film before needing to re-fuel?
A. This depends on the aircraft type and how many people are on board etc but as a guide: Twin squirrel 1.5 hours, Single Squirrel 2 hours.
Q. Is it warm in the aircraft?
A. The aircraft is equipped with cabin heating, which is controlled by the pilot.
Q. How can I communicate with the film crew on the ground?
A. Standard Walkie Talkie radios don’t work well in the aircraft due to having to wear a headset and are incompatible with the aircraft radios. We offer the use of our portable air band 2 way radios. This will allow the pilot to relay your messages to and from the crew on the ground. Please let us know your requirements.
Q. Do I need to bring anything with me for the flight?
A. For your comfort we advise passengers to bring a warm jacket and possibly a drink and something to eat.
Q. Can you supply a microwave downlink?
A. Yes we are able to arrange a for a downlink to be used with our camera systems and installed on our aircraft. Please let us know your requirements and we'll be happy to provide further details and pricing.
Q. Is it possible for a stills photographer to fly with us and get stills at the same time?
A. Yes it's possible for a stills photographer to fly in the aircraft and capture stills whilst filming with a camera system. It generally requires one of the rear windows to be removed to improve the still image quality. Please call us to make the necessary arrangements.
Q. Can I record the audio from the aircraft intercom?
A. It is possible to record the audio from the aircraft intercom, however the quality isn’t very high as the intercoms don’t have a dedicated recording output so there are two ways to overcome this:
a. We can supply you with a UK NATO to XLR adaptor cable (output is line level).
b. You can use a tie clip microphone and place it between a spare headset in the aircraft.
Q. Is there room for my cameraman to film my presenter's PTC’s while we fly?
A. Depending on how many people you need to fly in the aircraft, it is possible to have your presenter in the front left seat and your cameraman in the rear right seat and shoot PTC’s.
Q. Can the aircraft be used to transfer film crew and equipment to the location?
A. If the aircraft is fitted with a camera system this will reduce the number of passengers and amount of equipment that can be carried but we will always find a solution, this may include a separate aircraft equipped with a special external load basket to carry bulky equipment.
Q. Can the aircraft be used as an aerial crane to move large heavy items to the location.
A. As part of PDG Aviation Services we can supply specialist aerial crane helicopters and crew to lift and transport heavy and bulky under slung loads up to 9000kg. See our main website for aerial crane and contact us for additional information.
Q. Is it possible to hire a camera system without aircraft?
A. We do hire out our camera systems without aircraft. Systems are supplied complete with our operator/technician.
Q. Will I be able to see the image from the camera?
A. Yes we provide a handheld HD LCD video monitor.
Q. Is it possible to replay/review shots in the helicopter?
A. Yes we can review shots and play back the footage.
Q. What does the camera record to and what is the capacity?
A. For HD shoots we record to a Convergent Design Odyssey 7Q recorder which uses special SSD cards and has a capacity of around 4 hours when using ProRes HQ.
For 4k and beyond, the camera records to removable internal memory cards so it's necessary for the aircraft to land when a card swap is required. The amount of recording time depends on the resolution and compression levels. Please discuss this with our camera operators prior to the shoot.
Q. After the shoot, when can I have the footage?
A. Depending on how much we’ve filmed and the file size will effect the time it takes to download and back up the footage, however in most cases it will take a few hours. It's not usually possible to complete this on location unless you are using the services of a DIT. In most cases we will return to our base and download and backup your footage.
Q. How can I take the footage away?
A. We ask all our customers to supply us with a suitably sized portable hard drive. We will back up the footage to your drive and ship it to you via courier.
Q. Can I take the memory cards away?
A. We don’t allow our memory cards to be taken away as they are the only copy of the filming and we need our cards for the next job. We are happy to supply our cards to an on set DIT but they must be returned to us before we depart.
Q. What happens if I lose or damage my hard drive containing the footage or the drive is lost or erased?
A. After the shoot we will backup the footage using Shotput Pro software and make a copy to your hard drive. We will also make a redundant copy, which we will transfer to our LTO 7 system using PreRoll Post software. This copy will be kept for you for 3 months, after this it will be erased. There is a £120+VAT admin charge to retrieve LTO copies. If you would like us to keep a copy for longer periods please get in touch and we will supply a quotation.
Q. Do any of your camera systems support VFX logging?
A. Yes our Shotover F1 camera system supports VFX logging. It saves all the telemetry data from the gimbal to an SD card where it can be accessed and supplied with the footage. If we're shooting on a Red camera such as our Epic-W, the camera will capture the GPS position of the aircraft each time a recording is started, this data will appear in the R3D file metadata.
Q. Can my camera/lens be fitted in the helicopter camera system?
A. Only Shotover systems allow this option and it depends on the camera/lens make/model/size etc and if it can be remotely controlled through the system. Please call us with the details of your camera and lens.
Q. Is it possible to extract high resolution still images from the video footage?
A. When using a Red Dragon, Helium or Monstro based camera (6k-8k resolution) it is possible to extract high resolution stills from the footage but bear in mind that the optimum settings for video won't suit stills and vice versa so we have developed a successful method to rapidly swap between the required settings, see our case study and contact us for further details.
Q. Can the Shotover F1 be shipped via excess baggage on flights?
A. Yes we have the full set of excess baggage shipping cases. The system dismantles into smaller parts and each case weighs around 30kg. Each case is fitted with wheels for easy handling. The system can only be dismantled and re-assembled by an experienced Shotover technician which we can supply with the system.