Breath-Taking Aerial Video of New York City – Taken by RC Plane!

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FPV RC plane flies through NYC

Views like this from a RC plane? Better believe it.

Get ready for a view of New York that would make Spiderman jealous. Expert remote control pilot Raphael "Trappy" Pirker recently took his 54 inch Zephyr model plane on a harrowing tour of Manhattan and the surrounding area. The best part: his RC vehicle was fitted with a camera that wirelessly transmitted an amazing recording of everything it saw - Pirker was piloting his craft with this visual feed. As you can see in the video below, the results were spectacular. The plane looks to be flying within a few feet of buildings and whizzing past bridges with ease. You have to check out around 2:01 when he starts to buzz the Statue of Liberty. Phenomenal! First person view (FPV) flying is a growing part of the RC community and watching footage like this I can certainly see why. Could the new era of personal video recording be spreading to the sky?

New cameras are making it cheaper and easier to record every moment of your life. We've already discussed how this kind of 'lifelogging' could be fueled by our fascination with extreme sports and real world adventures. Pirker's video of Manhattan makes me wonder if FPV flights wouldn't be an even greater enticement to get people recording and sharing their lives. Watching his Zephyr tour New York certainly makes me want to strap a camera to a RC plane and upload the video to the web:

Of course, Pirker's attempt is far outside the bounds of any novice like myself. He custom built his "Ritewing" Zephyr (read about the construction here) and fine tuned the controls and video relaying system so that it can perform at absurd ranges. Pirker has tested his RC and video electronics to a distance of 27 miles. According to calculations, the maximum range would be 120 miles! For a FPV RC that's just insane. Not only is the Zephyr a custom build, Pirker is an expert pilot. He's tested his skills against sheer mountains, strong winds, and treacherous drops. You can't take a plane that flies at 80 mph (130 km/h) through a city full of drafts and radio interference and hope to come out in one piece - not unless you are an expert.

It's the extreme nature of Pirker's flight that has garnered him praise and condemnation. The Academy of Model Aeronautics issued a statement declaring his flight "posed a significant threat to people and property." In an interview with FliteTest, Pirker explained that he didn't violate FAA airspace (the Zephyr was a model craft), and that he and his team took precautions to make sure that the plane wouldn't fall on innocent people in the case of failure. You can see the full interview in the video below. For those worried that the text "Points Proven = 1" was some vague reference to terrorism, Pirker explains that it was about a challenge from a fellow FPV pilot who didn't think he could handle Manhattan. Good to know.

Despite the ethical debate sparked by Pirker's flight, I think everyone can admit that his footage was absolutely awesome. While his Zephyr and control system are obviously custom built and top of the line, we are still talking about an RC system here. It's remarkable how advanced systems like this have become, and the cameras and equipment used are still relatively cheap. You or I, if we invested two years of our lives to gain the experience needed, could do what Pirker has done. How much easier will it become in the years ahead. There already are commercially available drones that are simple to fly and that transmit a video signal to your iPhone. Give it some more time and there could be many more people flying cameras through the sky. Sure, that will raise some hard questions about privacy and safety, but it will also lead to some incredible videos. I'll leave you with one of Pirker's many clips of his FPV piloting through mountain ranges. Don't you want to be a part of this?

Watch more of Trappy's adventures on his YouTube channel.
[screen capture and video credit: Raphael "Trappy" Pirker]
[source: FliteTest]

Discussion — 28 Responses

  • Brent December 22, 2010 on 7:46 am

    I never got into the “RC thing”, but I’ve done some Glider flying that by the nature of it gets you close to mountains and lifting air, and some Float plane flying down rivers, etc… Certainly the visual sensory pleasure of it is part of the motivation. This “RC FPV” stuff … looks like it’s getting close to “the real thing”. Certainly would be cheaper and safer!

    In one of the videos you can see a person walking their dog, and the dog reacting to the RC plane. That’s goanna be real annoying to a lot of people that were out for a quiet walk, and there’s going to be some push back. I stared out flying when you were allowed to drop into the Grand Canyon. That’s not allowed anymore. Even gliders aren’t that quite to people on a mountain top, but usually they’re entertained enough not to complain. They’re going to need to do something to not annoy people and allay their fears of something flying into them for doing this sort of thing to last very long.


  • Joey1058 December 22, 2010 on 7:19 pm

    O… M… G…! Who needs computer adventures when you have something like this?! It makes me want to run out and get a quadcopter and iPhone and cruise through my town now!!!

  • Fake December 24, 2010 on 4:41 am


  • Noone December 24, 2010 on 5:04 am

    It’s just a matter of time before the department of homeland security breaks down this guy’s door and throws him in to the brig on some ship in the middle of the ocean.

    • Skydoogie Noone December 28, 2010 on 11:02 pm

      Then why were RC planes built in the first place? Couldn’t we all be possible “terrorists” if we got an RC plane and wireless video system and flew around people? The TSA is already patting everyone down and “touching their junk,” so who says they won’t interrogate us to see if we have an RC plane of any kind?

  • Chuck December 24, 2010 on 6:05 am

    Ummm so everyone is making a big deal of the fact that he went into Manhattan but the closest he ever got was a building or two along the river. I’d hardly call that flying in Manhattan…I was expecting him to be whizzing between buildings downtown. Frankly, I’m a bit disappointed.

  • Mr. Ham December 24, 2010 on 8:46 am

    I find this amazing, andt he video that amazed me the most was the mountain one. If he’s smart, he’ll start making an selling what he’s made already, I mean, finding people lost on mountains with small tiny RC planes that are cheap and nimble would be a great asset to any rescue taskforce out there.

    Forget UAVs that they sue for spying and war, those things are huge and clunky, and designed to be ultra long range and are designed to carry the occasional bomb or two. One of these could be used for great things, plus, you get to see areas that are not normally accessible. The mountain video made traversing the mountains a breeze, and you get to see areas that most humans have never ventured to, or couldnt prior.

  • Richard December 24, 2010 on 10:08 am

    Looks like the radio gear is readily available, though it sounds like for longer range work you need to use more powerful radio which means a radio licence. There’s a lot of consideration into making the plane reliable, understanding how radio works in that environment, the equipment on the plane reporting back information about the received signal so the pilot can monitor it, the radio itself using techniques to make it more resistant to interference. Looking at the pages about the building of the plane, a lot has gone into its design. It takes both piloting skills and technical skills.

    I agree that the potential use of this technology in search and rescue or major incident response is wonderful. I note in the video that he credits the police so has obviously worked with them for this.

  • Lam Poon December 24, 2010 on 10:58 am

    Given that children are small, what if some small terrorist flew a small bomb aboard such a small plane into a small building (as in through the open doors/windows) containing such small children? Won’t somebody please think of the small children?

    • Codyz Lam Poon December 24, 2010 on 3:18 pm

      Give it break Lam. Most of us just don’t buy the fake concern for “the children”. How many have you saved today?

    • guest Lam Poon December 24, 2010 on 3:55 pm

      gimme a break, I’ve spent *hours* today thinking of the children, my wrist is too sore to do it any longer

    • dewexdewex Lam Poon December 25, 2010 on 6:09 pm

      I think my doll’s house is at risk from micro-terrorists.

  • Kenbo0422 December 24, 2010 on 3:12 pm

    It would have been better without the stupid pop up balloons in it.

  • Anonymous December 24, 2010 on 5:02 pm

    “when he starts to buzz the Statute of Liberty”

    He’d have to lay low until the statue of limitations runs out.

  • Anonymous December 24, 2010 on 5:02 pm

    “when he starts to buzz the Statute of Liberty”

    He’d have to lay low until the statue of limitations runs out

  • 'Ric December 24, 2010 on 5:15 pm

    What is the soundtrack playing? The video is awesome, and I like the music too.

  • Chiron December 24, 2010 on 6:24 pm

    Poor guy is gonna get hammered by Homeland security. Still. That was amazing!

  • Ian December 25, 2010 on 1:02 am

    If you can fit one camera to a plane, you can fit two…. FPV in 3D would be awesome.

  • Guest December 26, 2010 on 1:43 pm

    Nice vid, cool concept, horrible music. Though I must say if one of those was buzzing around in my neighborhood, I’d take out my hunting rifle and shoot it down.

    • Traderdmb Guest February 12, 2011 on 7:09 am

      If you could shoot that down with a rifle I’d give you $50,000.

  • Hhhhh December 26, 2010 on 2:00 pm

    this is why those of us in the rc community are worried–you dont think homeland security and law enforcement are watching these activities as a vulnerability in defense against terrorism–strap a biological or explosive weapon to one of these and you have a short range guided missile. I miss the days of lazy rc club activities at my local middle school.

  • C2009 December 26, 2010 on 3:00 pm

    The music was probably taken from this much cooler base jumping video, a must watch

  • Dmscontractor December 26, 2010 on 6:22 pm

    Don’t Try This at Home; unless, you first get a green light from the: Park Service, Police, Homeland Security and other relevant authorities like these folks did. These folks are professionals and were able to bring this entertaining experience to the rest of us. Thanks to all.

  • Griffmurray December 26, 2010 on 7:03 pm

    Haven’t people been able to put mini cams on RC planes for years now? Why is this so unusual?
    On the other hand, now amateur Timothy McVeighs and wannabe bin Ladens know how to recon a target with toys from Radio Shack. !Happy Holidays

  • Hasu December 26, 2010 on 7:04 pm

    It certainly is not safe to released this kind of a device publicly. But this video proves that you don’t need high precision GPS to run a short-range UAV (and that is not a surprise). It may not be too hard for someone to make such a thing. As you cannot encroach some one else property by ground, the same thing should hold good for air-space as well. Basically police should be authorized to shoot down any of these unauthorized flying objects. (Common sense should be taught in schools).

    • swcowboy Hasu September 4, 2011 on 12:46 am

      Responsible? Cops shooting at a harmless toy?
      Yea! that’s responsible.

  • Dale Fisher Sr. April 9, 2013 on 11:12 am

    Absolutely great. Some dizzling flights that everyone should enjoy…………Dale

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