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HMLP inspection in busy airspace

posted Apr 28, 2017, 8:29 AM by George Finlay

This month we finished inspecting 235 high mast light poles (HMLPs) for New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT), subcontracted by S&R Engineers, which specializes in transportation inspections. 

These poles are used at major intersections. As you can see on our map, this means they are concentrated in the northeast part of the state, where busy airports are also concentrated. So for much of this project we were working under FAA waivers allowing us to operate in controlled airspace. These included what was to our knowledge the first waiver allowing drone flights in Class B airspace around Newark Liberty International Airport (KEWR). Our Newark waiver, along our waivers for Teterboro (KTEB), Essex County (KCDW), and Trenton (KTTN) are attached.

As experienced pilots we were already familiar with air traffic communication procedures. And since drone flights are a new type of operations for most controllers, we visited each tower, introduced ourselves, and went over their needs and expectations before beginning operations.

This is the first time NJDOT has used drones for inspections, which led Glenn Stott, NJDOT UAS coordinator, to contribute to an article in Rotor Daily March 3 2017 which explains how drones can do this work more safely and efficiently than methods previously used. In the past, getting a view of the top of these 100 foot poles meant using binoculars or if a closer view was necessary, using a heavy man lift truck which meant closing lanes to traffic and sometimes removing guard rails which is more expensive and less safe.

In minutes we were able to launch our drone and give the inspector a close up view. Sometimes he was surprised at what he found.



Fleet refreshed for 2017

posted Jan 9, 2017, 7:49 AM by George Finlay

Now we are flying 2 DJI Inspire T600 Pros and have a T601 (Inspire 2) on order. Here's why:


We needed the Zenmuse X5 with remote camera controls and a long lens to inspect HMLPs (high mast light poles) for NJDOT (NJ Department of Transportation) without getting uncomfortably close to the subject matter. We are looking for cracks at joints. These poles are 100+ feet high so they are transported in sections and assembled on site. The slip joints, particularly the high joints, are hard to see from the ground. 


Our aim with the Inspire 2 is to upgrade for TV and movie production.

Part 107 and NYC

posted Sep 21, 2016, 6:41 AM by George Finlay


The new FAA rules for small drone operations have made commercial drone flights in NYC easier, but as you would expect there are still requirements to be met.

The day after the rules took place on Monday August 29, we were able to shoot test shots for a TV job on Governors Island in NYC without a COA, without filing NOTAMs, and without a permit from OFTB. The entire island is within 2 Nautical miles (nm) of Downtown Manhattan Heliport (KJRB). Under our Section 333 exemption we had applied for a COA to allow us to fly within 2 nm of KJRB, and been denied.

Of course we were in close touch with the Trust for Governors Island, but all they required was a COI and our agreement not to fly over the two national monuments on the island, Castle Williams and Fort Jay. The Trust charged us nothing, though they noted that there is a charge of $10,000 per day when the island is closed to the public.

A week later, the live shoot came off without a hitch.

A few days ago we were asked if we could shoot a construction project on 32nd Street in Manhattan. Checking the map, I found that all of 32nd Street is within 6 nm of LaGuardia (KLGA) and therefore requires NY Class B authorization. Once I know the exact location, I will apply for authorization. Our FAA contact recommends asking for no more lateral area and no more altitude than we really need for the job. He says this will improve our chances of approval since each ATC facility is developing a grid of their airspace to describe where they will permit drone operations. Asking for as small a volume as possible reduces the chances of "nicking" nearby grid areas with tighter restrictions.

Just yesterday, we were asked to shoot a group shot at a party on Roosevelt Island. That would have been this evening, had it not been for the fact that the VIP TFR is in effect for the opening of the UN General Assembly, and for the fact that all of Roosevelt Island is within 6 nm of LaGuardia, and for the fact that the organization that manages the island, Roosevelt Island Operating Corporation, requires permits for photo shoots.



We love our Solos

posted Mar 16, 2016, 3:23 PM by George Finlay   [ updated Mar 16, 2016, 3:25 PM ]

In fact we have 3 of them in our fleet now.

Under 2 kg fully loaded, these rugged little craft fit easily into a backpack weighing well under 10 kg, even with all the extra gear needed for a shoot. 

We can hike into the most remote spots and use the sophisticated flight control software to set up a complex automated flight, be it a survey or a "take" that a director can have done over and over, knowing the track will be exactly the same each time. 

That particular ability has been dubbed a "cable shot" in a nod to the way filmmakers set up shots like that in the past.

But it is more like (cable x crane)2. Take a look at some of what has been done with Solo in Iceland .


Bureau of Redundancy Bureau

posted Oct 27, 2015, 7:41 AM by George Finlay

We have been invited to participate in a panel discussion at a UAV Symposium in Cape May NJ Friday, October 30, 2015. The discussion, dubbed "Innovator's Dilemma" is to focus on obstacles to overcome as we build a commercial UAV industry. 

From our perspective as holders of a Section 333 exemption the biggest roadblock is the cumbersome and unnecessary amendment and COA process we are required to navigate anytime we want to expand beyond the conditions and limitations of our original exemption.

For example: our original exemption specified operations with a DJI S1000; to fly any other small UAV model, even if it has previously been approved for use by other exemption holders,  we need to file an amendment and wait 3 months or more while an FAA staffer evaluates our request. This is like requiring a pilot to file an amendment to his license for each new model airplane he proposes to file. An absurd waste of time. Kafkesque. Bureau of Redundancy Bureau.

Immediately after our panel newly appointed FAA UAV advisor Major General (Retired) Marke Gibson is scheduled to speak. Hopefully he will agree with our suggestions and be able to implement them.

Event details can be found at UAS KWWD

We're approved to work on movie and TV sets

posted Aug 23, 2015, 9:34 AM by George Finlay   [ updated Oct 27, 2015, 7:48 AM ]

August 20 the FAA approved our Motion Picture and Television Operating Manual (MPTOM). This makes us one of just a few companies in the country approved to fly on movie and TV production sets.

The same August 20 amendment to our Section 333 exemption #11633 permits us to fly the 3D Robotic Solo in commercial operations.

A few weeks earlier we were granted permission to fly within the Class D airspace around the Morristown NJ Airport (KMMU). That freed us up to accept assignments for the many large corporate headquarters within about 5 miles of the airport.

South by South Orange

posted Jun 2, 2015, 7:58 AM by George Finlay   [ updated Jun 2, 2015, 8:10 AM ]

We will be in the Loft at SOPAC on Sunday June 28 from 1 pm to 2 pm, chatting about the potential drones have safer low-level aerial photography, emergency response, search and rescue and other peaceful missions.

Learn more about this 3 day festival at:



Principia approved to fly drones commercially

posted May 21, 2015, 7:03 AM by George Finlay   [ updated May 21, 2015, 7:35 AM ]

On May 20, 2015, the FAA awarded us an exemption that allows us to fly drones commercially.The full text is below, along with our certificate of authorization (COA).

Of course we will keep on testing new equipment and helping the students studying drones at Columbia High School and Stevens Institute of Technology. Now we will also start to contract with companies anywhere in the country that are looking for safe, certified, insured services from drones. Those services feature low-level aerial photography for TV and movie production as well as detailed surveys and inspections for insurers and emergency response teams.

Thank you to our team: Frank Galella and Andrew Svec at Next Generation Aviation Services, editor Diane Reus, lawyer Richard Brown at Day Pitney, advisors John McGraw and Grady Boyce at McGraw Aerospace Consulting, and photographer Duncan Pettigrew.


April 10, 2015

posted May 4, 2015, 11:29 AM by Nathaniel Cauldwell   [ updated Jan 7, 2017, 1:07 PM by George Finlay ]

Our partner Next Generation Aviation Services received an FAA exemption permitting them to charge for remotely-piloted commercial services.

March 4, 2015

posted May 4, 2015, 11:28 AM by Nathaniel Cauldwell   [ updated May 4, 2015, 11:28 AM ]

Principia filed a petition with the FAA for an exemption that will allow us to provide remotely-piloted commercial services before the final rules for such operations are approved by the FAA.

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