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 David M Eno on February 21, 2012 at 4:22pm

What is this plane ? Can anyone ID it.  It is foam .... not a sky surfer.  

Comment by Matthew Schroyer on February 21, 2012 at 4:43pm

It's an AXN Clouds Fly (AKA "Floater Jet," ). The Aussies seem to really like these ones, and the store was all out of the Bixler at the time. Smaller interior compartment compared to the Bixler, but we are going to work around that.

Sealed it with Minwax Polycrylic, then primered. The underside of the wings and elevators are sprayed silver for reflection, however.

Comment by David M Eno on February 21, 2012 at 4:52pm

We in the FPV community normally don't favor those because of the internal area has been filled up with servos and foam.  Have a look at this plane  You might prefer it.    

Comment by David M Eno on February 21, 2012 at 4:54pm

I'm also working on payload bays for these type of planes made out of 1/8" acrylic if you know how to use CAD we can laser cut them.  

Comment by David M Eno on February 21, 2012 at 4:55pm

Also, if you need sky surfers/bixlers there are a few sources in the US that are cheaper.  

Comment by Matthew Schroyer on February 21, 2012 at 5:04pm

@David -

Wow, that's a pretty spacious plane for the wingspan. We're more interested in a payload bay for a downward-facing camera package than FPV (aiming for areal photography), although we're looking into small, low-res, low-cost FPV simply as a flying aid. That Sirius seems to have pretty ample room for such things.

I do know a bit of CAD. Before becoming a journalist, I spent a year and a half studying mechanical engineering, and CAD was a part of that education. This program really is a meshing of many different technical backgrounds into journalism.

We're hoping to get some grants to help us make journalism drones, and when we do, we'll be finding a means to design and fabricate our own to spec. But until then, we're working on pocket change and dreams, so it's the Clouds Fly for now.

Comment by David M Eno on February 21, 2012 at 5:15pm

Depending on the size of the camera you might need a much bigger plane.  I know a lot of the drone journalist type guys are using quad rotors with a vibration stabilized camera under them.  There are tons of fixed wing guys doing that too and have been doing it for many years, so basically your objective is to lurk over a sight, take pictures, and have the plane return.  Have you ever looked at a gatewing system (30k USD btw)

Comment by eduardo on February 21, 2012 at 7:42pm

Jajajajajajajaj ... i work on the bigger newspaper and television state of my country and i say: no bady in newspaper or television have knowhow to use a drone hahahahah

Comment by Nick Scott on February 21, 2012 at 9:15pm

I am curious why a fixed wing aircraft for Drone  Journalism?  It seems like the more ideal platform would be a copter due to its ability to stay in a constant position. Where as a plane would have to circle around the target items of interest. 

Great concept and smart to start this project now with all the attention not given due to the language in the recent FAA Funding Reauthorization.


Could you possibly approach Universities and specifically their journalism schools to seek grant funding?  This will undoubtedly be an emerging journalistic trend in the coming years.  

Comment by Matthew Schroyer on February 21, 2012 at 9:31pm

Nick, that is a very good question. Multicopters are indeed extremely versatile, stable, and mobile platforms for aerial photography. Many current designs, however, do have a shortcoming: loiter time. You may be able to get 15 minutes out of a flight before you have to change out a battery and let the motors cool. On the other hand, a fixed-wing drone can stay in the air for double the time, and even hours if equipped with thermal-seeking glide technology.

There is an additional reason for going fixed-wing, and that relates to the kinds of missions we're planning. We're going to attempt photomapping missions (think "Google Maps" in real time) to accomplish journalistic goals, which is more feasible with a fixed wing.

We will be developing multicopters later, because those are simply the best platforms for many applications. We're also looking at balloons, for situations when loiter time is of most importance, and mobility is less important. The FAA regs for balloons and other tethered vehicles are much more forgiving, too.

University assistance is all part of the plan, as is grant funding. So far, we've written some grant proposals and hope to get some positive responses from those. But it's not a quick process, and it involves a lot of networking.  When we do get things in order, however, it would be great to work on a joint project with UIUC engineering students and faculty. Talented engineers, a 3d printer, and access to composite materials would be a godsend.


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