I use GoPro cameras to record my flights. They’re lightweight, reliable and come with a range of mounting options.
I shall be updating my equipment in due course, but I currently fly with 3x GoPro Hero 4s, 1x Gopro Hero 3+ and 2x GoPro 5.
What settings to use?
For short flights (less than 2 hours) I will usually record at 2.7k resolution, 25fps on the wide setting. I don’t use ProTune or stabilisation. For flights longer than 2 hours I will record at a resolution of 1080p, 25fps in order to maximise battery life and storage card space.
Even though I’m filming sometimes at 2.7k, I don’t publish my videos in this resolution. I downscale the final edit to 1080p. Filming at a higher resolution though gives you the opportunity to zoom and crop – handy if the GoPro camera hasn’t been perfectly positioned in the cockpit.
Here’s where it potentially gets a bit complicated. It’s one of the most common questions asked of YouTube pilots. The reason it’s complicated is because there are various ways to do it, and there are a few nasty gotchas that you have to watch out for.
Firstly, you need a splitter cable that will take the audio from your aircraft’s intercom. You can buy these at most of the aviation retailers.
GA intercom splitter cable to miniature jack
Next you need to decide whether you want to record directly into your camera, or onto a separate digital recording device. If recording straight into the GoPro, depending on the splitter cable you choose, you may need to buy an adapter to connect the cable from the aircraft into the GoPro socket. Again, depending on the cable you buy, you may need to add in an attenuator…see below.
If you buy a separate digital recording device, you must make sure that it will accept a LINE LEVEL audio input. Sadly, such devices tend to be on the more expensive side. You can expect to spend around £100 for this. If you don’t buy a device with a line level input, your audio will be distorted.
Digital audio recorder with ‘line-in’ socket
The benefit of recording onto a standalone digital recorder is the certainty that you’re going to capture the intercom from the whole flight. I’ve suffered the frustration many times where my GoPro battery has run flat, leaving me not just without pictures, but without audio too.
If you find that your audio sounds distorted, you may want to buy an attenuator. Here’s an example of a 40dB (line level to mic level) version I bought from a seller on Ebay which has cleaned up my intercom sound very nicely. There’s nothing worse than ear-splittingly loud and distorted recordings. Whether you need an attenuator may depend on your aeroplane’s intercom or your recording equipment.
Be sure to set your digital audio recording device to the same sample rate as your video (typically 48 KHz) as otherwise you may find it difficult to synchronise your audio and video with your pictures when it comes to editing.
I currently use a mixture of suction cups and glue-mounted GoPro shoes to mount my cameras in the cockpit. I have two mypilotpro tie down mounts on each wing, which I had to have certified for use on my aeroplane, per EASA rules.You need to check the regulations in your country before trying to mount a camera on the exterior of the aircraft. Never use a suction cup on the exterior – it will fall off.
On most flights, I will have one camera filming from the window, I have one camera pointing back at me, one facing forward just behind the two front seats, and one facing forward looking at the instruments and through the front windshield.
Obviously, use common sense when positioning cameras to make sure they aren’t going to hit you, or jam a flight control if they come loose. It’s worth making sure they are firmly attached before setting off.
This is the biggest issue I’ve had to grapple with. All the GoPro cameras I use will run for an hour without running flat, but beyond that some of the higher spec cameras start to suffer. Most of my flights, including taxying are about 90-120 minutes, so I’ve had to find workarounds for this. I carry spare batteries and can swap those down route (never in flight) to capture the return leg, if landing away.
GoPro battery pack
GoPro used to make a battery pack that you can attach to the back of the Hero 4 Black and Silver versions, and this extends the life considerably. Later versions are not supported.
You can use external battery banks or even aeroplane USB outputs to keep the cameras powered for longer, but be aware of any rules affecting your aeroplane and more importantly consider the risk of running cables around the cockpit area.
I’ve used Final Cut Pro X. How to edit is a big topic in itself and I don’t intend to cover that here.
So having filmed your flight, you now have a terabyte of footage from multiple cameras that needs to be synchronised. Your audio, if recorded on a separate digital recorder also has to be matched up with the footage.
To help with this, I often clap my hands in front of all the cameras just before starting the aircraft’s engine. This provides a good synch point for your footage.
You can edit in a multi-camera mode in your editing software or you may have to lay the footage onto multiple tracks and then cut through the different tracks, to choose the camera angles you want.
I suggest you start small, perhaps with a couple of cameras, get an audio recording cable and see how you get on. I’ve had many failures during the course of filming my flights and it can be frustrating.
One final word of caution. When you get to the stage of mounting multiple cameras, you really need to give yourself plenty of time to rig them. I allow at least 30 minutes to rig the aeroplane and I do this prior to starting my walk-around. If I’m under time pressure, I ditch the cameras and concentrate on preparing and flying the plane safely.
Filming your flights is a great way to learn from your mistakes, hone your landings and extend your hobby to fill the hours between flights.