Project JournoDrone A fixed-wing drone system for journalism

JournoDrone One


Developers at are launching a project to build a low-cost aerial photo platform for journalists, using a combination of off-the-shelf radio-control components and open source electronics. Their goal is to develop a small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) for journalists that is powerful, durable, transportable, affordable, upgradeable and supported by a community of experts.

Now one month into the project, development on “JournoDrone One,” or JD-1, is approximately 20 percent complete. is working to secure funding to complete the project by the summer of 2012. The knowledge gained from making and using the drone for aerial photography will allow to bring a similar system to journalists worldwide.

Leading the project is Matthew Schroyer, the founder of, who holds a master’s in journalism from the University of Illinois. Mr. Schroyer has a background in engineering, experience with small, radio-control devices, and experience in using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for data journalism purposes.

“We hope this is the first of many drones that will develop,” he said. “It’s a practical exercise of existing off-the-shelf drone technology, and our first step into a frontier that could greatly expand public knowledge.”

Schroyer currently works on a National Science Foundation grant at the University of Illinois called EnLiST, which offers unique leadership training and professional development for science teachers from grades K-12. There, he performs a variety of duties as a communications specialist and social network analyst. He also leads the newly-founded “Drones for Schools” program, which teaches high school students the core science and engineering concepts associated with drone technology, and uses the same technology that is being pursued by

JournoDrone img2

Also on the JD-1 development team is Acton Gorton, a graduate student studying emerging trends in data curation at the University of Illinois Graduate School of Library and Information Science. Gorton is a digital journalist focusing on interactive content creation and web development for community-centric journalism. His interests include pioneering news gathering methods and the subsequent dissemination to the public.

“Now that the price of advanced technology is becoming more affordable, it is becoming practical to pursue the medium of airborne technology and news gathering,” Gorton said.

Part of what Gorton describes as his motivation for involvement in the field of drone journalism is the military involvement with using unmanned aerial vehicles to safely gather information in ways never before possible. A veteran of the armed forces, Gorton spent three years in the 82d Airborne Division as an infantry soldier training to jump from airplanes.

He cautions against the militarization of the skies and says that he worries how the heavy amount of media attention towards militarized UAV technology overseas and recent law enforcement patrols within American borders will send the wrong messages to the public.

“Our skies belong to everyone, not just those with the money and authority to control, much like our wireless airwaves and radio frequencies,” said Gorton. “The sky is a public good, and as we enter into a new generation of technology that allows us to fill the sky with new technology, it is important that as journalists, we do so in a responsible and respectful manner.”

“The people need a drone of their own,” Schroyer added. “This is technology that only governments and militaries previously had access to. We hope to bring high-caliber intelligence directly to the public, while earning the public’s trust at the same time.”

The drone will be flown with the utmost concern to the safety of individuals and property, within the letter and spirit of regulation and law, and will operate with sensitivity to the expectations of privacy of ordinary citizens (both in the legal and ethical context). What learns in its pursuit of drone journalism in regards to regulation, laws and ethics will be published and discussed online for future drone journalists to study.

Through funding from this grant and similar grants, what was previously only possible for large news organizations with ample budgets and news helicopters will be achievable by smaller organizations and independent “backpack journalists.” This development will increase the practical body of knowledge for drone journalism and advance the field of drone journalism, will assist news organizations and independent journalists establish their own drone journalism coverage, and foster even more innovation in journalism. is the website of the Professional Society of Drone Journalists, and home to its Drone Journalism Code of Ethics Wiki. Its mission is to develop the ethical, educational and technological framework for the emerging field of drone journalism. Project JournoDrone advances the organization's mission of developing that framework.

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Comment by Gary Mortimer on February 21, 2012 at 10:49pm

Never paint one until you have flown it, shame to waste paint! Also remember add only lightness, you have added a tiny bit more speed by doing that. But other than that fixed wing is the way to go. A side facing camera flying a circle and STFM here you come.

Comment by Nick Scott on February 21, 2012 at 11:01pm

Excellent, I think that live Google Mapping is a very unique angle.  3D printer prices are now starting to come down too. I was just reading a blog article on one and will post it later when I am on my main computer.  Good luck and I will definitely make sure to follow your website regularly!

Comment by David M Eno on February 21, 2012 at 11:39pm

I've actually heard some of the Chinese quads are down near the price of 3k all set up for drone journalism.    

Comment by David M Eno on February 21, 2012 at 11:42pm

Also, how did the coating affect crash resistance ? Is it holding the foam together better? or is it just for keeping water out?

Comment by Tim Brown on February 22, 2012 at 2:17pm

On the media covered this project last week as well

Comment by John Stuart on February 22, 2012 at 8:12pm

I have an AXN Floater although I haven't put an autopilot in it - I just fly it for practice. Some advice on flying a pusher as opposed to a puller (front mounted engine): these planes dive like crazy when you launch them and in order to not nose-in I do the following:

  1. Ensure that you have maximum control throw on your elevator, its quite small on this model.
  2. Mix a 3-position switch on your radio to your elevator.
  3. Make position 1 equate to 'high' stick back, the mid position to 'mid' stick back and the low position to 'neutral' stick.
  4. Launch with position 1 and once in the air, drop to position 2, when you are at normal flying speed flip to position 3.

This method ensures that you don't nose-dive on launch by having a lot of 'up' on the elevator, but you need to normalise it once airborne in order not to go into a loop cycle :D

Comment by Matthew Schroyer on March 2, 2012 at 3:20pm


Unfortunately for and the remainder of drone journalists, the Gatewing is out of our price range. $65,000! Also, they won't sell it to you here in the states, because they realize the FAA restrictions.

@Gary & @David

Yeah, I'm starting to think the gray primer over the Minwax Polyvinyl wasn't the best approach, either. As the EP is much more flexible than either the coating or the primer, both primer and coating are flaking off in a very big way. I wanted to make it more visually impressive and get people thinking and talking before we flew it, and I had thought that having a basic gray primer would be easy to re-coat and dings. But the types of dives and crashes this thing has been taking makes that a pretty futile endevor -- at least at the moment.


I have indeed been having touble getting the AXN Floater to launch. I can't tell if it's just hand launch technique, or if it's something defficient with the weight distribution, control surfaces, or the weight in general. But for whatever reason, it only wants to go nose down on launch.

I've been keeping the motor at about 25-30 percent on launch. Not tossing it at a heavy angle into the air, and not running while doing it (better control, they say). I'm thinking I really need to get this in a field with tall grass and just practice getting it to glide without any power to get the feel for the hand launch. But any other advice would be helpful.

Comment by David M Eno on March 3, 2012 at 3:34pm

Thanks dude for the info about the coating.  I'm very interesting In coating foam planes.

 Lemme just say this though.  You can pay about 3k to 65k to do what you want to do today or you can try and build one yourself.  After 5 years as a PhD student trying to build things myself instead of just buying them I've had a pretty bad time of it, and it's not because I'm a bad builder.  It's sometimes better to spend the cash to get the thing that does the specific function  that mess about with modifying existing kits that aren't designed around doing what you want to do.  You can also contact the companies directly and ask them if they will sell cheaper in exchange for research papers.  I think the reason gatewing costs so much is that they had to make all the specialist software that puts the pictures together, the Nintendo DS style control box, and the good autopilot.  They are more for people in surveying than they are for journalists.

There is company that makes similar survey aircraft I've heard costs half as much.  I just pick gatewing first because they have a very nice introductory videos.  There are also 3k quads coming out of an Australasian company that are setup for drone journalism.  

Comment by David M Eno on March 3, 2012 at 3:35pm

As for your launch issues.  Find out where the center of gravity is for an AXN floater and balance it.  If it isn't that I'm not sure what to tell you.

Comment by Matthew Schroyer on March 3, 2012 at 8:46pm

No problem at all. I would not recommend a Minwax or Poylvinyl, as it just seems to want to chip and flake off far too easily. It's like my EP foam glider has dandruff or something. And although I haven't tried them yet, I wouldn't recommend similar processes that try to coat and "stiffen" the foam with "cement" like liquids. To me, it just adds too much weight, and you're fighting a losing game as the foam beneath the coating always will flex more than the coating over it.

Instead, I might suggest a film to coat the craft, as it has more flex to it. But if I were to experiment with any method, I would look into applying a latex paint with an airbrush. The latex has a lot more flex to it, it's lightweight, and it doesn't react with fuels. You can put anything on top of latex paint, although I couldn't imagine why you would want to put a less-than-perfect paint on top of your latex coat. Except more latex paint. At least that's what I hear.

And as for your experience as a PhD student, I'll take your advice! That's impressive. And I do think there's something to be said about not re-inventing the wheel, and purchasing a product that already does the job, and therefore rewarding the researcher who already did the hard work. We're looking for grant money at this time, and when we find some, we're going to look at some ready-made solutions instead of (as you said) modifying kits beyond their original purpose. Although, I will say that part of our goal with these modified FPV sUAS systems is to make a cheaper system for hacker/independent/freelance journalists who may not have grant money or an organization who can provide them with a $5k drone. But yes, as soon as we get grant money, we can stop trying to solve problems that have already been solved many times over and actually proceed with Drone Journalism.


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