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SBG Reaches New Heights With DJI Drone

WASHINGTON—As the Unmanned Aircraft Systems Chief Pilot for Sinclair Broadcast Group, I get to combine my love of flying and passion for storytelling as Sinclair leads the industry in bringing drone journalism to our local news stations across the U.S. We have 40 drone journalists operating in our markets today and we expect to double that by the end of 2017.

Our audiences love the new perspective drones bring to their local news reports, from breaking news stories to scenic views. And with so much riding on our UAS effort, it’s imperative for us to have the right equipment in every market. That’s why our stations are among the first flying the DJI Inspire 2 drone, a craft designed for video production that is extremely well adapted to newsgathering operations.

The Inspire 2 drone used by Sinclair features a Zenmuse X5S camera and can be powered via an iPad.IN FLIGHT
The Inspire 2 video feed sends a reliable HD signal back without the need for range extenders, parabolic reflectors or other antenna tricks. Other drones can lose signal as it moves during live shots, forcing camera operators to stop their motion until the signal comes back—making for very disjointed shots for viewers at home. It makes such a difference to make smooth moves while you can see it uninterrupted, while feeding live through the LiveU bonded cellular.

The Inspire 2’s sense-and-avoid capability offers significant safety benefits. While all UAS pilots prioritize safety, this drone’s ability to provide an extra layer of security is an obvious advantage.

In addition, the “spotlight” feature is a natural news camera delight. We use this mode frequently—it’s perfect for positioning the camera on a person, car or even a building and automating the camera’s motion. It works so well it should have been called “news mode.”

We use the Zenmuse X5S camera with the Lumix 14-42 zoom, which allows us to vary our shots. We use full-size iPads for the majority of our workflow, from checking weather and airspace restrictions before flight, to controlling the Inspire 2 and its camera, to logging flights afterward. In the past, our iPads would not have enough power to last through the day. The new feature of being able to power the iPad from the remote is fantastic.

The Inspire 2’s dual-battery system featuring an extended run time is a huge advantage. We have four sets of batteries at all our stations, and with large inverters in our crew cars charging while we fly, we can feed video easily through an entire newscast and beyond. Even with that power, though, we’re still able to carry these batteries on an airliner—a big help while travelling.

The purchase of 10 Inspire 2 drones in January was an easy sell to our corporate leaders. The safety features alone make it a no-brainer, but combined with the overall package, this is an outstanding newsgathering platform. We are on track to have 45 stations equipped and flying this year and continue the count into the next. In each new market we meet with local authorities to display the equipment and share safety protocols. Officials walk in worried about journalists with drones, and walk out with their fears alleviated.

The Inspire 2 is making the Sinclair UAS program succeed in a big way, and we’re glad that our viewers are the winners.

Jeff Rose is a veteran photojournalist with Sinclair and now serves as Sinclair Broadcast Group’s Chief Unmanned Aircraft Systems Pilot. He can be contacted

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