Ok, we have determined the goal is to allow aircraft owners to hang a HD video camera off the outside of an airplane in some kind of optimized enclosure. We saw no need to reinvent the camera portion, let’s pick the best currently available HD camera and employ it. The product has to be useful, safe, affordable, and it must have the ability to add advanced features over time. Let’s look at these individually.
As you saw from the Alaska video clip in Blog 1, having the camera pointed out to the left of the aircraft delivered some pretty good images, and we had planned the flight to put Mt. McKinley on the left side of the aircraft. But I couldn’t help but wonder what the forward facing view would have been, coming up the Ruth Glacier like it was a big highway? And sometimes the best subject will be on the right side: what if you were northbound in the NYC VFR corridor, with Manhattan on the right and your camera is mounted pointed to the left? So one criteria for “useful” would be that you could orient the camera in any direction (front, left, right, tail), or you could have more than one camera, and cover 2,3, or all 4 angles. Kind of reminiscent of what Carroll Shelby is credited with saying about horsepower in cars: if a lot is good, too much must be better!
Simple to use, and especially simple to attach and detach from an aircraft. Fast ¼ turn fasteners, so “click,click,click,click” and it is on, same for removal.
Useful also implies the cameras have to be simple to insert in the enclosure, and there has to be provisions to defeat the problems photographic systems mounted on aircraft run into: vibration, moisture, fogging, and being around petroleum products.
Also in the “useful” camp is the question of where do you point the camera? A motorized steerable mount would violate other design goals: it would add expense, violate safety criteria by requiring attention from the pilot, and add complexity. But if you take a wide angle camera (most HD cameras are) and just point it horizontally, much of the picture frame will be filled with the belly of your aircraft, and since that mostly never changes, why waste a chunk of your image on that?
As mentioned above, the system needs to not distract the pilot: all the pilot has to do is fly the aircraft, the system does the rest. It also needs to be easy to verify security during a walk around: there have to be visual indicators for the pilot to see if the mounting system is not safe and secure.
Safe also includes “fail safe”: if the cameras are turned on and put into their mounts and the enclosure mounted, it should work, period. If one of the fasteners should come loose, the system should stay on the aircraft.
Finally, interaction with aircraft systems should be minimal, preferably only structural (it does need to be mounted somehow!).
And what is the ultimate determination if something is safe to put on a certificated aircraft? An STC. The FAA’s STC process requires rigorous study and testing of every aspect of a system: structural, aerodynamics, materials, you name it, and at various airspeeds, angles of attack, and altitudes. A major project goal was to achieve a Supplemental Type Certificate covering a wide range of aircraft
Once the Useful goals have been met, the challenge moves to how to make it affordable. The whole culture of these small, incredible quality HD cameras is to make them accessible by keeping prices low. This runs counter to the aviation industry, where EVERYTHING costs $$$$. We want a business that will continue to serve our customers going forward, and we have the costs of the STC process (you don’t want to know!) to cover, but within those constraints we will do our utmost to make this fun and useful product accessible to everyone flying aircraft from homebuilts to 172’s to bizjets.
These cameras have amazing feature sets, and over time we would like to exploit everything they offer. That means there has to be room reserved for add-on subsystems to add amazing new features and make these systems an even more compelling must-have for a pilot. So there is a need for an “avionics bay” to grow the feature set over time.
Now that we have defined the goals, let’s make this project happen! But first, let’s discuss what people should NOT be doing!