by Adam Mahne
Independent Contractor & Remote Pilot/ Videographer for Northland Athletics
Published in Midwest Flyer – December 2019/January 2020 issue
For the last two and a half years, Northland Community & Technical College has been utilizing small Unmanned Aircraft System (sUAS) technologies to film practice exercises for the college’s football team. Very few people would think of placing these two wildly different areas together. However, in as many years, Northland has also gone to and won their championship games.
Flying at about 50 to 75 feet above ground level (AGL), the drone can capture with amazing quality all the players’ positions and plays. Usually during practice, there will be about 20 plays to run and the drone can capture all of them, starting and stopping the camera in-between to separate plays. Once complete, the plays can then be reviewed back in the classroom to maximize the effectiveness and correct any errors in play. This helps the players’ situational awareness, recognizing what is going on around them, and what they need to focus on to improve.
The advantages of utilizing drone film over regular film are greatly beneficial. When you film practice with a hand-operated camcorder, you don’t get the inclusive value needed to see everything; or if you film from the booth, you get a jumble of bodies with no clear indication of who is who. With drone imagery, you have a clear picture of who is where. Also, there is no need for bulky equipment and lengthy setup times; drones usually taking 5 minutes to set up and takeoff.
With all these advantages, use of drones comes with some downsides. The most obstructive factor in flying at practices is the weather. Since football season is during the late part of summer, fall and early part of winter, weather has a big impact. It is a guessing game if you will be able to fly that day or not. Another downside is battery time. The drone most commonly used by Northland only has a battery life of 20 minutes. The filming portion of practice can last 40 minutes to an hour. This requires multiple battery swaps and landings in-between plays. The good part is, if you have a prepared pilot, he can land, swap batteries and takeoff in under 2 minutes, allowing him to not miss any plays.
As technology improves, so will the demand and need for this type of service will greatly increase. As for now, Northland will continue to utilize flight imagery in support of their football team. Maybe in the future, technology and administration will see greater sUAS potential and advantage for more than just practices being filmed. Will we see more colleges and high schools utilizing drones for their sports programs? Only time will tell.