As an aerial photographer in Mansfield, Ohio, I know that flying in different airspaces require different levels of authorization. Usually, if you’re not too close to an airport, it’s a relatively easy process to get authorization most of the time.

For example, here in Mansfield, Ohio, about half the city is in airspace that needs authorization before you’re allowed to fly under Part 107. The other day, I found myself flying as close to an airport in Cleveland, Ohio as ATC would allow, which required much much more than a typical LAANC request like I would do here in Mansfield, Ohio. Anytime you want to fly in a zone marked 0’ on ALOFT, you have to request special permission from ATC via DroneZone. DroneZone is a great tool to help manage operations near airports, and I was so happy I was able to get permission to fly near BKL.

BKL is the airport that sits next to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, Great Lakes Science Center, and FirstEnergy Stadium- the location we were covering that night. It is why you see “No Drone” signs walking around those buildings.

What I didn’t find out until that day of the shoot was that if you want to fly in a zone marked “restricted” on the DJI software, you also have to get permission from DJI. This was a fairly straightforward process: you mark on the map where you want to fly, upload the documentation from ATC that you’ve already obtained, and wait for a response. I had to fill all this out when I should have been shooting, then move to my next assignment and come back once DJI approved my flight. Luckily, they were extremely fast and were able to approve my flight by the time I was finished with my other shoot.

I went back to the rooftop, set up, and took my photos. That’s when the problems arose.

My drone wouldn’t return where I had launched from. It seems that, in my haste, I failed to adequately select my flight area, and had inadvertently left out the rooftop I was standing on! Somehow, I was able to takeoff from the ledge of the parking garage, but not return to it.

When selecting an area to fly in the DJI app, you can are supposed to outline where you are planning on flying. It is very important to double check your location in satellite view prior to obtaining permission through DJI.

In between me and the football stadium I was shooting was a highway, train tracks, and a small access road. Once we realized I wasn’t going to be able to land anywhere that we could reach, my wife and spotter ran down the parking garage, rented a scooter, and headed for the access road while I climbed up onto the ledge for visibility and landed on the sidewalk.

Because of our cool heads and quick thinking, everything was fine. The drone was landed safely and recovered shortly after. I made a huge mistake by not fully understanding the limits of my equipment, and I’ll take this lesson with me moving forward while planning flights.

Here you can see the highway and the railroad tracks that stood between us and the stadium. This access road is not visible from the parking garage until you climb the ledge to look over. Fortunately it is not a busy road!