Drones in a War Zone – Some Do’s and Don’ts

Graham Phillips

The world of drone-flying is still new, unchartered territory – affordable domestic Graham drone1drones have only really appeared in the last year, now there are hundreds of thousands all over the world.  They’ve quickly become more powerful too, capable of flying kilometres in range, vertically.

Effective mini-helicopters, free of legislation which has failed to keep up with them. So many ‘who knows?’ about drones – can you fly them in cities? Could you fly one in central London say? Will the future, as they proliferate, be drones buzzing and wizzing about all our skies? There are signs of the law starting to reign in the era of the drone ‘free for all’ –

graham phillips droneI was very pleased to see my drone footage featured recently in the Huffington Post. However, it’s not always been plain flying operating a drone in the war zone.

Back in April, I crowdfunded my first drone, a Phantom 2. It’s actually a fairly basic drone, but there are few feelings quite like your first drone – actually operating what’s in effect a mini helicopter. Putting something up in the sky, more something which shows a live feed of what it can see. You can hardly avoid comparisons to a kid at Christmas and so forth.

I returned to Donbass in May so enamoured with my new gadget, I wanted to fly it over everything, everywhere, all the time. Which I did in my previous stint reporting in Donbass, learning a few important lessons in the process.

Do’s – 

A drone can show destruction in a way just not possible for ground-based cameras. It can show more information than ground-based cameras can, instantly, more effectively. Here we can see, by use of drone, clear demonstration that shelling was hitting entirely residential areas, of Donbass –

A drone is incredible at capturing objects hit by shelling, burning, once again conveying the key visual information much quicker than a ground camera, adding more information. So do it carefully, but do it if you can –

It can make event footage absolutely stunning –

Or just really cool –

So these are all Do’s – now to – 


I was so keen to fly my drone everywhere, I flew it everywhere – including over Ukrainian positions, from DPR positions were I was –

There is a fact of flying a drone on the frontline of battle, that you can’t do it without a commander, or soldier looking over you either from curiosity or supervision. This leaves you incredibly open to allegations of ‘spying’ –

Fullscreen capture 21102015 210858.bmpAnd another fact is you have to show drone footage to the commander of the positions from which you’re filming, as protocol. As in the case of the below drone footage, i showed it, got approval for for. But was still accused of ‘revealing’ positions of the side I was filming from – see comments here –

graham drone2So, it’s tempting to want to film from the frontlines, but for all sorts of reasons, one best to resist. So not to drone on (sorry), to wrap up on a (kind of) positive. A drone puts the power in your hands to show something which can change the world.

This recent footage, from Pervomaisk, was featured in the Huffington Post, and, judging from the messages and feedback to myself, to many, it ‘put Pervomaisk on the map’, making people aware of the dire situation there. It was also one of the key reasons for my signing a contract with Broadband TV to more widely distribute my work –

In a war zone, as a journalist, your drone can be your most powerful weapon. Follow the tips above, don’t turn it up yourself, and it take you, and your viewers, to places you’d never imagined possible.

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