Unmanned aircraft systems

Ant Miller from BBC Research & Development and experienced operator Clive Bailey describe the workings of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS)

An unmanned aircraft system (UAS) is a small remote-controlled aircraft fitted with a camera, which is used to gather footage that would be difficult or impossible to film from the ground. The UAS is able to gather shots that would usually require a full-sized helicopter, removing the need for the manpower and bulky equipment that a helicopter entails.

Ant Miller, a senior researcher for BBC Research & Development, goes through the benefits of UAS and explains why this technology has suddenly surged in popularity. The UAS is ideal for filming large events such as Glastonbury, or providing sweeping shots of stunning nature scenes. With cameras mounted on gimbals which allow them to move independently, and GPS hold to maintain position even in high winds, shots can be more precise than ever. 

“The new shots are mind blowing. We’ll be doing stuff soon that we haven’t even dreamed of yet” – Ant Miller 

However, as UAS operator Clive Bailey points out, the aircraft still need at least two operators and a very steady hand. UAS users need to be aware of no-fly zones and ensure they obtain flying permission from the Civil Aviation Authority. The UAS only has a short battery life (20 minutes), so they are unlikely to replace helicopters totally at this point. Nevertheless, the possibilities which UAS opens up are extremely exciting for programme makers.


Archive UAS footage sources
Thanks to Hexcam for the Congo cycle race, church, house, pond and under the trees footage; Horizon AP for footage of the castle, harvester and Utah cycle race; Bailey Balloons for footage of Bristol Harbour; BBC Global Video Unit for footage inside New Broadcasting House; British Technical Films, for BBC Earth Productions of footage of biker in mountain location. (BBC Earth Productions Limited is a wholly owned subsidiary of BBC Worldwide Limited)