Game of Drones: Winning the Day at Offroad Events

May 30, 2014

Jason Tarango, co-founder and pilot at Sky Cinema Aerial Productions, teamed up with his brother Matthew back in 2012 to combine their filming experience with their love for offroad racing.

“We took our multi-rotor copters to S.N.O.R.E.’s Rage at the River on a whim,” said Tarango.

Without prior experience piloting drones the brothers quickly discovered they had to learn on the fly.

Their platforms fly using a first person view (FPV) camera which means the pilot sees what the camera sees. The pilot has a monitor on the ground with a video receiver and the quadcopter can be flying as far away as a mile and a half. Initially, there was a lot of trial and error to figure out the best ways to film different offroad events. Their biggest platform is a two-person setup where another person operates a second camera flown underneath on a gimbal. The gimbal rotates 360 degrees and can also shoot still pictures.

Mike Hermogeno, freelance fashion photographer and producer at Dirty Lens Cap Productions has worked alongside the Tarango brothers on a number of races in the last couple of years. “The bird’s-eye view that only a quadcopter can capture is what impresses me most,” said Hermogeno. “The ability to see where the truck is coming from and where it will be going is an amazing and awesome sensation.” Another advantage he notes is the copter’s compact size that enables filming at the fraction of the cost of a film crew in a full-size helicopter.

Tarango believes the technology has evolved exponentially since they began. “Everything has taken off—the setups have progressed and our budgets have increased as the technology has advanced.” In the offroad racing realm, there are professionals using extremely high quality copters and cameras along with a healthy dose of amateurs who are shooting for fun.

Amateurs Assemble!

Amateur pilot Landon List said he first saw a drone when he attended Jeep Beach in the spring of 2013.

“A guy took a quadcopter out of its case, flew it up 400 feet, snapped a bird’s-eye view picture of the Daytona peninsula, then transferred the photo to his iPad,” List said.

Since then, he’s been hooked on the technology and now he pilots a Tarot FY680 hexacopter equipped with a GoPro. List loves the possibilities of shooting offroading races, sporting events, and exhibits.

“It gives you a different perspective and the only drawback now is the cost involved, but those costs will go down,” he said.

“I’m more of a hobbyist and I’ve got a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+ with its own integrated camera,” said Brent Goegebuer, Transamerican Auto Parts Marketing Director. GPS is built into the Phantom 2 to monitor its location and Goegebuer remembers being amazed that it was able to precisely pinpoint and name the Back Door trail in Johnson Valley.

Observing Regulations

One of the flashpoints for drones is the FAA rules that limit flying to 400 feet above ground level. Anything beyond that is considered commercial airspace. There are also regulations prohibiting drones from flying near airports and helipads without FAA clearance.

“The FAA rules are outdated,” said Tarango. He points out that the majority of offroad events are far enough away from airports to allow for filming with drones. Currently, the FAA is updating regulations with drones in mind and sites in six states (New York, Alaska, Nevada, North Dakota, Texas and Virginia) have been chosen as testing grounds.

The Sky’s the Limit

The future of aerial photography using drones is as wide open in the sky. As range, battery power, speed, and technology make exciting advances amateurs and professionals filming offroad events promise to reap the benefits. But don’t forget the benefits to fans of offroading.

“It’s been a huge hit with the offroad audiences and has become a landslide,” said Tarango. Whether it’s a new angle on a short course offroad race or a close up view of mud bogging, unmanned drones are the sort of science fiction that offroad fans can embrace.