I want to assemble a fixed wing system for aerial photography, but am wondering what would be a stable platform that could carry a digital camera and all the associated electronics. It would be great if I could find an airframe that could handle landing on less than ideal runway surfaces, too.

Actually this is kind of a two part question, because I am also wondering what camera orientation (side facing, front facing) would be best for snapping photos while the plane is under control of the autopilot? Would straight passes with a forward-facing camera give predictable trajectories(?) for images? Or would parallel passes with a side-facing camera be better? I will be using a wireless downlink so I can see "through" the camera lens as it flies, and I plan on at least having tilt control as this would minimize any issues with framing the shot with each pass.

Thoughts so far...

A high-wing trainer would be a stable and roomy platform, but how could I mount a forward-facing camera that wouldn't catch the prop in every shot? Wing-mounted motors or some type of pusher would alleviate that issue, but is there such a monster? I suppose it wouldn't be hard to build. And if I mount the camera on the nose, is it going to be impossible to rebalance the aircraft?

A powered glider with a pusher would seem like a good option, but how do those airframes perform under autopilot control? I've never been near one, and based on pictures it doesn't seem like there's much room inside the fuselage for any peripheral stuff.

I admit, a mikrokopter would solve my runway, stability, and camera mounting issues. But I'm in it to get some experience with autopilots!

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It's hard to beat the Multiplex EasyStar (powered glider). Cheap, can land or take off anywhere, good carrying capacity, lots of room for electronics. Here's my mod guide.
I built a Blue Baby AP1 which is a high wing off shoot of the Blue Baby trainer. The BBAP1 uses a 60" KFM3 wing. My camera mount attaches so that it can take photos sideways or forward and down at a 30 degree (or greater) angle. The BBAP1 is very stable and the addition of a CPD4 stabilization system makes it fly straight and level for my photo passes.

The BBAP1 can be easily modified to suit your needs, and is extremely easy to build. Here is a link to the plans page: http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showthread.php?t=997484#post11531626 the BBAP1 is in post #2. Here is a link to some photos of my BBAP1 before I added some color:http://www.rcgroups.com/forums/showpost.php?p=10549293&postcoun....

Hope this helps.
Check this: http://www.mikrokopter.de/ucwiki/. This is the Ferrari but we can build one somewhere between 900 and 1500€, depending the size of the camera.
the mikrokopter also has an autopilot. not sure how far they are, but they have gps position hold, which should be "easy" to extend to fly to waypoints.

they also can be made with cheaper hardware. my quadrocopter uses cheap hobbycity motors and esc's (4x (7$ motor + 10$ esc), and easy to use digital sensors (melexis gyros on sparkfun are 60-70$ each, accelerometer is 40$), with some extra-time you could completely build all the electronics yourself. maybe 10-20$ for the frame. and some rc-hardware that i already had around (lipo batteries, transmitter+receiver). atmega168, some small parts and getting the pcb made, not more than 50$.
there are also some projects around, based on similar hardware if your not into electronics and mcu's. but maybe no with autopilot functions...

sorry i got slightly offtopic. i did my first and currently only aerial photography with a multiplex cularis. it's a wonderful plane, it can carry lots of extra weight and more or less every crash can be repaired. i already have it over 1.5 years, and fly it nearly every weekend, that around 10 times the usual lifetime for my planes :)
about the weight. i did some flights with around 300-400g extra weigth (digicam on one end of wing, pointing to the plane, looks great, and a counterweight on the other end). once i fix the last crash (a tree jumper into it...) i'm putting my 450g hd-cam onto it, cant wait =)
What i mean to say is for professional propose platforms like mikrokopter (but not costing 10.000€ like mikeokopter) is a good solution because you can make photography in every places: bridges inspection, structure inspection, high density building area etc, no limits. Papaxiclas is building one for 1.5Kg of weight :D

Best regards,
X6 is the Ferrari these days I think.

But that aside, the Twinstar is a great aircraft and you wont have props in the shot.
i agree, EasyStar is hard to beat...unless you go on the custom side !
I dont like pusher config airframe that much so
I'v gone in the custom side myself, and built an EXTREM power AP airframe
to maximize airflow and reduce vibration ( idea borrow from army AP kit )
I can takeOFF within 2 feets with camera in, and land like an HELI !
watch here:
AP result here:
does anyone have any practical experience with Draganflyer X6? I can only find videos and photos taken by the manufacturer. do I have a problem finding things on the internet?:)

Thanks in advance!

this is very popular in the RC AP circles:

very stable, good on rough runways, should be good for the autopilot as well
EasyStar is very stable and can land gracefully.
The problem with EasyStar is small propeller diameter what means weak static thrust so you have to toss the plane firmly when loaded with 300g of cameras. Other than that camera protection is very good, very good field of view.

http://www.aerialrobotics.eu/flexipilot/flexipilot-installation-en.pdf shows that the whole nose is for batteries and camera.
Stay tuned to Aerosight.com!!

We have just created our own G10 frame set for a AP based plane.
A new alternative to the easystar!!!!

Pusher prop, High wing
plenty of area to bolt your goodies to.
Even has a pan/tilt camera rack in the CG area!!


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