flying General

DIY External Aircraft GoPro mounting

I’m getting a little bored with the in-cockpit got GoPro shots. I feel like there are only two angles really – either out the front or looking at the wing. While these do have some interest, I’m keen to try some external camera shots. 

The problem here is airways going to be how to safely attach a GoPro to the exterior of the aircraft. Safety here is two pronged – one doesn’t want to interfere with the aerodynamic performance of the aircraft. Neither does one want to be responsible for GoPro sized dents in structures or people on the ground. 

I’d imagine the CAA/Police/justice system works take a dim view of damage caused by falling action cameras. Additionally, you can’t simply attach objects permanently to an aircraft. With this in mind I’ve been looking at getting a mount to capture footage like this. 

There are a number of options and ideas to achieve this. The easiest way is to simply use the GoPro suction cup and apply it to the wing. Look. The cup grips well. But I wouldn’t like to bet my GoPro on it. So that idea is out. Then there are some proprietary mounting systems sold mostly on Amazon – flightflix and nflightcam being the two most prominent brands. But they are really expensive, especially once shipped here. 

So I thought I’d have a go at making one myself based loosely on the flightflix tie down mount. 

Parts required:

  • GoPro Tripod mount
  • 90 degree angle bracket – 1.5mm thick steel
  • 6mm bolt and spacers – to attach the tripod mount
  • 8mm bolt
  • 8mm wing-nut
  • Spring washers 6 and 8 mm
  • Large washers 8mm x 28mm
  • Furniture ant-slip felt pads

The total cost for this was around R250 (US$20) – I had the GoPro tripod mount already.

Bog standard steel bracket

The first step is to overdrill the holes in the bracket – they seem to come with 5mm diameter holes – to 8mm for the airframe attachment side and 6mm for the camera attachment side. 

Then you need to connect the camera tripod mount. Once I tried to connect it, I discovered that the bolt receptacle in it seems to taper a little – which means the 6mm bolt only engages the first couple of threads – I was able to tighten it quite a lot though and with a few washers as spacers, it could make a firm connection with the bracket. I reinforced this with some duct tape to ensure it doesn’t move. 

Camera mount side assembled.

After over drilling the other end of the bracket to 8mm, I assembled the mount in the following order – 8mm bolt, spring washer, wide flat washer, anti-slip pad -(TIE DOWN BRACKET )- anti-slip pad, wide flat washer, spring washer, wing nut. 

Bracket assembled – showing the “aircraft’ side

It’s not easy to attach/remove because you need to have a socket wrench to hold the 8mm bolt in place as you’re tightening the wingnut, but once secured it seems pretty tight and after a few test flights it hasn’t moved at all. I should note that all the nuts use steel spring washers to decrease the chance of loosening.

There are a few caveats – firstly, this setup is of questionable legality – there have been some discussions elsewhere about whether or not this constitutes a permanent fitting – I would posit that it is not permanent as it can be removed relatively easily. Permanent mountings require STC certificates as far as I know. 

Legalities aside, the major concern is loss of the camera, both from a financial and a personal liability issue. Should the camera fall off and injure someone, or damage someone’s property that would be a bad thing. A camera lying on the runway could do serious damage to another aircraft. Obviously it is critically important to ensure that this doesn’t happen. The disadvantage of having it below the wing is that I can’t see if it is still in situ or not. 

A new view of liftoff from BaraG

Also it is worth noting that there is a real risk of distraction caused by the use of cameras – especially if tempted to use a phone app to control the camera – I prefer to start them and forget about them – obviously this does decrease the potential usefulness, but I think ultimately it is the safer approach. I need to make another mount for the tail tie down. Watch this space.

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