So, what’s your official droney-drone title, Wing Commander?

It’s BNUC-S pilot – that’s the qualification. Just call me Pilot in Command (PIC)!

And how did you get your licence?

Well, I had to go to Edinburgh and sit a theory test. I had two days on the course there to learn about all the theoretical aspects of flying a drone, the permissions you need, rules and regulations – mainly safety-related.

Once I did that, I sat an open book test – which sounds easy, but it wasn’t! You really had to know your stuff. And, then, finally, a 4-hour flight exam in Manchester. The exam was mostly about awareness and safety procedures, and I had my co-pilot, Phil Duncan, there with me!

Wing Commander Mackay and his co-pilot
Wing Commander Mackay and his co-pilot at the AFRC

What does that licence allow you to do, then?

Basically, I’m allowed to film and take photography with our drone and sell it; you need a licence to be able to do that.

I’m allowed to film indoors and outdoors. Obviously, outdoors has a lot of regulations compared to indoors. Indoors doesn’t really have regulations – you’re not in airspace, so it’s really just a case of making sure the environment is safe. Outside is totally different, though. Outside you’ve got congested areas, for example; the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) is very strict about flying in congested areas, over people, near crowds, near any buildings, anything like that. Really, you’ve got to plan ahead when you’re filming outside and put measures in place to make sure nobody’s at risk, especially the public.

It’s all about safety, all about ensuring that no one is going to get hurt, nothing is going to get damaged. You have to do your risk assessments and pre-flight planning, and make sure that you can complete the operation in the safest way possible.

AFRC from above
AFRC from above

How do you make sure that any drone work is completed safely?

First of all, you would always scan the area beforehand to make sure it is safe to fly in, using the likes of Google Earth or anything similar. There are also apps available (like SkyDemon) that let you check air traffic – you’ve got to make sure there’s not going to be any air activity in that area on the day of flying, basically.

When you do a pre-flight assessment, you’re looking for any kind of obstacles that are going to be in the way, if there are going to be any people around – mainly people and structures, really – is it safe to fly in that area? Is it in a no-fly zone? So, the app tells you what fly zone you’ll be in, if there’s any notice to airmen, any aircraft that are going to be about that day – for example, a military operation that’s scheduled that you need to be aware of – and then you use Google Earth to see if there are obstacles, any roads, any people potentially on/near the site (footpaths, etc.). You look into all of that and you write that down on a pre-flight checklist, which gives you an indication of how feasible a project is. The situation might be different when you actually arrive on site on the day, but at least you can get a good idea in advance and be prepared for most eventualities.

Tigh Mor, Trossachs
Tigh Mor, Trossachs

And what’s been the most memorable/most enjoyable thing you’ve filmed so far with the drone?

There’s been a lot of cool places, so far! I would say one of the highlights is probably Tigh Mor or Castle Lachlan. Those two were when I really started to understand the potential you have with the drone, because the shots we were getting were amazing – the fly-in shots, the property shots, all looked really good. I would say they are probably among the most memorable, for me. The indoor aerial shoot at the Advanced Forming Research Centre (AFRC) was pretty special, too – the footage looked great, and it was just a totally different kind of job.

Castle Lachlan
Castle Lachlan

If you were asked to explain what it’s like being a drone pilot, what would you say?

I love flying the drone, it’s great! It really is just brilliant. You get to go and see cool things and do cool things, the kind of footage you can capture with it and the photography you can get is unbelievable. Obviously, you can’t get that with a normal camera. You’re talking about being able to get these super-amazing shots, and when you pull it off and you get it right, it’s amazing.

What can you achieve with a drone that you can’t with conventional filming?

Aerial filming and photography can be used for almost any industry. You can get angles which are just impossible through conventional methods.

As a video production business, it opens up many new industries. For example, you can go and complete a site survey, film a property from above, capture amazing aerial tracking shots, that kind of thing. Same if you’re filming over water, landscapes, oil rigs, anything like that; again, with a drone, you can capture content that you just couldn’t with a normal camera. It does open up a lot of opportunities, definitely, for us as a company and for our clients.

In terms of the creative aspect, it’s in a whole new world, almost. The scale of what you can achieve is amazing.

From the client’s perspective, businesses can have videos which look incredible with aerial footage, and they can get it at a very, very reasonable price. They can stand out from their competitors by having shots that their competitors won’t, Hollywood-style cinematic shots and so on. They can now have content like that and it won’t break the bank.

Kilt Rock, Isle of Skye
Kilt Rock, Isle of Skye

In a few words, why should customers consider aerial filming & photography from Sync or Swim Productions?

Well, we’ve got several years’ experience completing aerial work now, so we know exactly what we’re doing!

I would say our USP is definitely the fact that we have a full-time pilot. A lot of drone pilots are self-employed and only really complete aerial work. They don’t always offer other video production services, but we offer the complete package. AND because we do incorporate aerial work into our packages, it becomes much more cost-effective for the client, and means they don’t need to rely on multiple suppliers; it’s all in one package!

Thanks, Scotty (AKA Pilot in Command)!

You’re welcome!

Aerial highlights from a recent visit to the Isle of Skye: