Mission Type: Aerial Photography
Location: Oregon State Capitol (N44°56'19” W123°1'50”)
Client: AUVSI Cascade Chapter
Airspace: Class D to 2,700' MSL
Clearance: FAA DroneZone
Monitored frequency: 119.1 (McNary Field Control Tower)
METAR Text: 282056Z 17003KT 10SM 15/09 A3005
Platforms: DJI Mavic Pro, Autel Robotics EVO
Remote pilot in command: Patrick Sherman, Roswell Flight Test Crew
This seemed like a straight-forward mission when it was assigned to me, because it doesn’t get much more simple than aerial photography. No autonomous operations, no specialized payload, no carefully choreographed maneuvers—just four spinning propellers and a visible light camera. Having worked as a professional photographer on the ground for many years before drones were ever a thing, I enjoy the process of setting up a shot, experimenting with composition, lighting and all the rest. This mission, I thought, would be simple and fun.
Not so much, as it turns out. The actual work was enjoyable, but it was a long and circuitous path that finally brought me to it. My client for this operation was the Cascade Chapter of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI). One of 35 local AUVSI chapters worldwide, it’s a non-profit organization focused on promoting unmanned systems in Oregon and Washington, and I am a member of its board of directors.
For a promotional video about the chapter, our executive director wanted to get some aerial footage of the capitol buildings in the states we represent. Her goal was to illustrate our efforts advising the legislatures in both states, helping them make laws that protect safety and privacy without harming the UAS industry and all of the potential benefits it brings, including high-paying jobs.
I started with the Oregon State Capitol, located in Salem, about 45 minutes south of my home in Portland. I expected it would take me an hour on site, at most, to get set up and capture some photos, so the whole expedition would take less than three hours.
First, I looked up a few basic facts about the capitol building itself. Work on the structure was completed in 1938 and it features the art deco style popular at the time. The building facade is made of white Vermont marble and atop the dome— which actually resembles a cogwheel—stands a 22-foot bronze statue, gilded with gold.
Entitled the “Oregon Pioneer,” the sculpture is known locally as the “Golden Man.” Standing over a tree stump, he holds an ax in his right hand and a tarpaulin in his left. When it was installed atop the finished structure, Time magazine described the bearded figure as a “brawny woodsman,” which seems quite apt.
Both as a photographer and a drone pilot, I was excited about this opportunity. Among other possibilities, I realized that I could get an eye-level shot of the pioneer: a compelling image that would be impossible to capture by any other means. Best of all, the statute topped out at 166 feet above ground level (AGL)—not even halfway to the 400-foot ceiling established by the FAA in 14 CFR Part 107.
And, even if it had been taller than 400 feet, I would still have been okay. As commercial drone pilots, we are allowed to exceed that limit, so long as we remain within 400 feet of a structure. If you are inspecting a 600-foot tall radio tower, for example, you are allowed to fly as high as 1,000 feet. This was going to be a snap.
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