Lighting Christmas lights affixed to the WRAL studio-to-transmitter link tower in Raleigh, N.C., is a local tradition marking the beginning of the holiday season that dates back more than 50 years.
But there was an important new airborne element to the Capitol Broadcasting Co.-owned station’s coverage this week of the lighting ceremony, and it had nothing to do with Rudolph, his fellow flying reindeer or a jolly old fellow in a big red suit.
For this Christmas story, the magic in the sky around the 300-foot STL tower was provided by a six-bladed newsgathering hexi-copter drone equipped with a GoPro HD video camera.
“Every year we do a story on the preparations being made to turn the lights on,” says Pete Sockett, WRAL director of engineering and operations. “This year we said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a straight-on shot of the rigger from a drone flying beside the tower?’ ”
Using the DJI F550 drone to capture 1080p footage of the rigger at work the week before the lighting was in no way an impromptu decision, however.
The station has had the drone since the spring and been developing rules for its use in newsgathering.
Besides the GoPro video camera, the drone is equipped with an unlicensed 2GHz transmitter, a gimbal for stable video shots, GPS tracking and an automatic homing device and a feature that instructs the drone to hover at 30 feet in the event of a loss of signal to the aircraft.
Capturing footage of the rigger was a “perfect chance” to inaugurate the use of the drone in newsgathering, says Sockett. “The tower is on our own property above our building and the base of the tower was already sectioned off with caution tape because the rigger was on the tower.”