RC Helicopter Photography

Have you been looking for someone who can provide RC Helicopter Photography, UAV Photography, Drone Photography, or RC Aerial Photography? Unfortunately, for our clients in the United States, we can’t and won’t offer the service today. Why? Because we view it to be illegal, at least for now. Read on to learn more about RC Helicopter Photography’s legal status and what we can provide today as attractive and cost-effective alternatives for Aerial Photography Los Angeles and Aerial Filming Los Angeles services.

UPDATE 2017: While the information on this page was accurate during the initial days of drone aerial photography and drone aerial video Los Angeles services, the situation has changed. The FAA now has a drone commercial pilot license framework allowing for legal drone aerial video services in Hollywood and all over the United States. And we now offer: Drone Services Los Angeles (<< Click to learn more)

RC Helicopter Photography Picture

Drone Aerial Cinematography Los Angeles Video Filming

Let me be clear: I love RC helicopter photography, uav photography, drone photography, rc aerial photography, whatever you want to call it. In addition to being a Los Angeles aerial photographer, I’m a licensed pilot (Private SEL or Single Engine Land). Before I learned to fly full scale (I hesitate to call them “real”) aircraft, I flew radio control (RC) airplanes in Van Nuys at the Sepulveda Basin flying field (now called the Apollo XI Field).

I was just a teenager, barely out of adolescence really, when a friend of my father took me under his wing… literally and taught me to fly his model aircraft. It was incredibly kind and generous of him. I flew a Lanier Comet powered by a Veco 61 glow engine (which means it ran on model gas). I don’t remember the exact model, but I do recall the radio was a Futaba. So for those of you active in RC and RC helicopter photography, please don’t be a hater. I’m one of you and have been, literally, for decades. If I could offer drone photography legally to my clients today, I’d do it. But in the USA at least, it is not legal in my professional opinion. Note: Not my legal opinion. I’m not a lawyer. This is not legal advice. Seek your own legal counsel and share with him or her the resources I’ve gathered below.

So, why do I hold this opinion? Because the regulator of all things flight in the United States of America, where I’m based, the Federal Aviation Administration or FAA, says so. Here is exactly what they say on their website (linked below in the references):

Can I fly a UAS under a COA or experimental certificate for commercial purposes?

No. Currently, there are no means to obtain an authorization for commercial UAS operations in the NAS. However, manufacturers may apply for an experimental certificate for the purposes of R&D, market survey and crew training.

Uh, UAS? I thought we were talking about RC helicopters, multicopters, and drones. What the heck is a UAS?

What is an unmanned aircraft system (UAS)?

A UAS is the unmanned aircraft (UA) and all of the associated support equipment, control station, data links, telemetry, communications and navigation equipment, etc., necessary to operate the unmanned aircraft.

The UA is the flying portion of the system, flown by a pilot via a ground control system, or autonomously through use of an on-board computer, communication links and any additional equipment that is necessary for the UA to operate safely. The FAA issues an experimental airworthiness certificate for the entire system, not just the flying portion of the system.

The question and answer above is also a direct quote from the FAA. Yes, in this context, an RC helicopter is a UA, if, and only if, it is flown for “commercial purposes.” Simply put, if money changes hands to arrange and perform the flight, that’s commercial purposes. The FAA explicitly states this does not apply for hobby (recreation) purposes below 400 AGL (above ground level).

Oh, and NAS means National Airspace System (flight in the United States).

To put this in another context, think of the FAA’s position this way: If you want to hire a pilot and helicopter to fly you somewhere, the helicopter must have an “airworthiness certificate” appropriate for carrying you and the pilot must hold a “commercial pilot’s license.” Makes sense, right? Well no such thing exists right now for RC helicopter photography operators. The FAA is drafting rules and regulations, but they are years away, perhaps out in 2015. What they will do is create the criteria for someone to be a commercial UAS pilot – someone qualified to be paid money to fly a drone or RC helicopter – with a camera or anything else legal on it. The drone will also have an “airworthiness certificate.” So until that happens, commercial operations, which includes hiring someone to shoot your real estate listing or music video is at your legal and perhaps financial peril.

Think about it: If something goes wrong on your shoot and someone gets hurt or property gets damaged, will insurance cover an unlawful activity? Again, not legal advice here, but my guess is no. And do you want your brand associated with such a thing? Probably not.

Don’t believe me yet? How about an associate counsel (lawyer) with the National Association of Realtors? In a recent article (linked below), Lesley Walker writes, “Up to now, using these tiny aircraft for business has been a risky legal proposition; under federal law, the use of unmanned aerial vehicles has been prohibited for commercial purposes.”

She continues, “Current federal law prohibits the use of drones except for recreational use by hobbyists; limited waivers have also been granted to police and first responders. And on a limited basis, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has issued certificates for private commercial operators to operate drones for flight tests, demonstrations, and training. Currently, there’s no other method for obtaining FAA approval to fly drones for commercial purposes.”

The last sentence in her thoughtful piece sums it up perfectly:

In the meantime, in order to avoid liability or face potential penalties, real estate professionals should not use drones until the FAA has made clear the allowable uses and has safely integrated these machines into the national airspace.

Besides, hiring us to shoot your aerial photography and aerial filming in full scale aircraft flown by commercial pilots, even though we deliver “Selling LA” quality, really does not cost any more than the legally risky use of drones. Check out your options below and contact us to get on our schedule today!

Please click one of these buttons to view the professional aerial photography service options near you:

RC Helicopter Photography | UAV Photography
Drone Photography | RC Aerial Photography


Resources (clicking any link will open a new window):

And do watch this space. That’s because as soon as we can, when it is legal, we will offer you uav photography and drone aerial filming right on this very page. As I said above, I love it. And have since I was just a kid.

Update June 2014

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