At COPTRZ, we’re always happy to catch up with our former students to find out how their COPTRZ CAA training is helping them as a commercial drone pilot. This month we had the pleasure of catching up with Peter Hinton, Operations Manager at the Royal Variety Charity, who has started using drones during the proposed redevelopment of the charity’s residential and nursing care home, Brinsworth House.
Read on to find out more about Peter’s experience on the COPTRZ CAA Course and how his passion for drones led him to use them commercially to help the Royal Variety Charity.
Rob Warburton, COPTRZ (RW) – Tell us about yourself…
Peter Hinton, Royal Variety Charity (PH)
I originally trained as an actor and was lucky enough to work as a jobbing actor for a number of years. In 2008, I formed 2act LTD, turning my hand to Producing and Directing for TV and created a mockumentary comedy called The Academy, starring Ian McKellen. By 2013 my wife became quite unwell and so I decided to put everything on the back-burner and take a more stable and dependable job in order to support my family. I went full time at the nearby Priory hospital, where over the subsequent years I worked my way up the administrative ranks. I joined the Royal Variety Charity in September last year, returning once more to the Entertainment Industry.
RW – How did you start using Drones?
I’m a keen photographer and purchased my first UAV back in early 2015. As a hobbyist for the last few years, I mainly flew in my local park, but made sure to take my Drone out with me to ruin many family gatherings, walks, trips to the beach etc… I’d researched doing my PFAW and then PfCO earlier this year but found the costs to be prohibitively expensive – although I had begun to feel that not being able to use my images and videos for any commercial purpose was a shame and that obtaining my PfCO could also end up benefiting the Charity. Drone technology is constantly improving and it’s obvious to the majority of people how this emerging technology can be utilised by so many different industries and in such varied applications. It was during this research that I came across COPTRZ!
RW – So what were your experiences with drones prior to training with COPTRZ?
My first Drone was a DJI Phantom 3 Standard, which I sold after about a week to upgrade to a Phantom 3 Advanced – simply for the Lightbridge software and increased range. Perhaps like many of us who “buy and fly” with no training, I’d done some basic research into the rules of the air, altitude limits etc, but I must admit that on nearly every occasion I took the bird up, I would lose Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) and would rely on my camera feed, and I although I’d be careful, I would quite often fly within 50 metres of buildings, vehicles and so on. I just didn’t realise the gravity of the situation or the risks I was opening myself up to at the time. I rarely posted any images on social media, however, the forums I had joined were rife with ‘peer policing’ and I often read veiled threats of how blatantly unsafe flights could be reported to the CAA. I became increasingly cautious of flying with a lack of proper training and began to question myself as to whether I had sufficient knowledge of the rules of the air and of all the various safety aspects I should be considering.
I think the rapidly growing community of Drone hobbyists are on the whole a responsible and helpful bunch, however I am deeply concerned that it may only be a matter of time before a serious incident involving a Drone occurs – and should that happen, I think it is highly likely that restrictions on the sale of (or use of) Drones by hobbyists will be imposed and enforced rather rapidly. Obtaining a PfCO began to seem like the only sensible option and I also felt that it was something I could arrange in my personal time, independent from the Royal Variety Charity, but which might help benefit them at some point in the future.
RW – So what does the Royal Variety Charity do and how might your PfCO assist them?
The Royal Variety Charity provides assistance to those who’ve worked professionally in the entertainment industry and who might find themselves in need of financial help. In addition to providing grants for beneficiaries who may have fallen on hard times, we also own and operate Brinsworth House – a residential and nursing care home offering round-the-clock care to elderly members of the entertainment profession. I’ve recently been made Operations Manager for the charity and as part of this role, I am Project Managing the early planning stages of some proposed improvements to the Care home. I now have the ability, should it be required at some point down the line, to use a drone to digitally map the site for designers and architects, which I hope may add value and legitimacy to any planning applications which we may make in the future. Should any building work begin, I could now assist with site safety surveys or checks which may be required, which I hope could save the Charity money. Finally, obtaining my PfCO also allows me to document from above any works once they are underway, which we could later use for future marketing or PR campaigns for the Charity, as well as for historical reference by adding to the Charity’s archive.
RW – What did you learn on the course that will help you as a drone operator?
Well, I would suggest that no one should embark on an intensive PfCO training, theory and practical test without having a real passion for drone flying and without at least some experience and/or research prior to signing up. I say that, mainly because although I was a passionate hobbyist and a self-proclaimed geek, I had no clue as to how intense the course would be. I rather brazenly turned up on that first day without having thoroughly studied the pre-theory reading material. When I was informed on Day 1 that the very next day we would be taking our CAA COP-SU Theory test, I was rather fearful that I had inadvertently shot myself in the foot. Our course instructor Lee Bullock was incredibly skilled however, and somehow, by some mystical process of osmosis, helped by his obvious passion and enthusiasm (as well as a good deal of patience on his part), by the time we took the exam, 90% of us passed the first time. The two in my group who didn’t pass the first time, retook the exam later that day (after a short but intense further study session) and indeed everyone had passed before the day was over.
The participants on the course have to take on so much information over those four days, which culminate in the practical test on the last day – however, it was the subject of safety which for me was by far and away the most crucial focus. I began to quickly develop an acute and lasting awareness throughout the training course around the theme of safety as a whole and this has become the focal point for my subsequent Operations Manual for the CAA. I left the course with a comprehensive knowledge and awareness of every safety element I should consider before I next fly a UAV. This has left me feeling empowered and secure in the knowledge that every flight I now take where I will be the ‘Pilot in Command’ will be well planned, executed safely and documented comprehensively.
RW – Anything more to add?
Really just to give my sincerest gratitude and thanks to the COPTRZ team, who throughout this entire process have provided constant support, assistance and professionalism. The COPTRZ CAA Training Course itself was thorough and disciplined whilst actually a great deal of fun, and the support given since, throughout the process of drafting my Operations Manual, has been timely and greatly appreciated.