Mounting Cameras In/On Airplanes
Updated: Jan 30, 2021
I got my first flyable airplane in 2001 (just months before 9/11, how's that for timing) and since then I have been looking for ways to mount video cameras so that I could share flights, primarily with friends and family, but with anyone who was interested. I had my first airplane, a 1966 Cessna 150F, for 9 years. At that time, there weren't a lot of camera options available. Once getting the RV-12 flying in 2010, however, there began to be practical options for "affordable" video cameras. I spent the next 10 years trying out various ways to mount various cameras in order to get usable, watchable, enjoyable video. The progression went from the RV-12 to an RV-4 to a Sportsman to my current RV-8. There were some successes and a lot of failures, but I finally found a combination that works.
To see the final result, scroll to the bottom.
As mentioned previously, the RV-12 was completed and flown in 2010. This was where I really tried to get serious about recording video. My YouTube channel is ArlingtonRV and the first 17 or so videos were filmed from the RV-12.
This is a Drift HD170 using a Pedco UltraClamp mount back in 2011.
Here is an example of what it rendered.
This position didn't work out too well. The canopy frame was pretty flexible and moved around a good bit in flight. Causing the usual jelly roll combined with camera shake.
The next thing that I tried was a Drift Suction Cup Mount stuck to the canopy, using the same camera. This was a total disaster. Not only did it move around a lot, but it kept falling off.
I didn't get any really usable footage from this set up and abandoned it after only a couple of tries.
Lastly, I went back to the Pedco mount, but clamped to the roll bar instead of the canopy.
I used this configuration for as long as I had this airplane. I wanted to try some wing mount options, but the wings on this airplane really had nowhere to mount a camera, especially since I didn't want to drill any holes.
This worked pretty well. In fact, with a modern GoPro Hero 7 or higher with image stabilization this would provide some pretty good video, with the exception of the distortion and glare from the canopy. An example of the kind of video I got can be seen here.
Late in 2012 I started flying my new to me RV-4. This created another set of possibilities and problems in camera mounting. I now had the option mounting externally on the wing which eliminates the distortion and glare of shooting through the Plexiglas canopy. It also adds aerodynamic buffeting to the mix as well as vibration. The main problem I encountered was finding a way to mount he camera rigidly enough to eliminate the effects of buffeting and vibration.
The first thing I tried was various ways of mounting the camera to the roll bar using the Pedco UltraClamp I had in the RV-12 and I never did find a mounting solution that I liked.
Most of it looked like this. I also tried using a "Cap Cam" that was either a camera clamped to my regular hat or I found a hat that had a GoPro mount built in. I was never satisfied with this arrangement as I move my head around too much (good for a pilot, bad for a cameraman).
The next thing I tried was a Surface Spud Mount from NFlightCam mounted using one of the screws that attached the fuel tank. This was still using the original Drift HD170.
This produced some pretty good video, well, better anyway. The main drawback here is that it got the propeller in the video and had the right half of the screen covered by the fuselage. In fact, it looked a lot like this.
The final iteration I tried on the RV-4 was using the Rock Steady Surface Base and VibeX (with gel pads) by FlightFlix. This worked a little better still. By now I had upgraded to a Drift HD Ghost camera.
The results of these changes looked like this. I would have liked to mount it using the screws that hold the wing tip on, but on this airplane they were not held on by screws, they were riveted on and I didn't want to drill any additional holes for a camera mount. This gave me pretty good results and is the set up I used as long as I owned this airplane.
By August of 2015 the RV-4 had been sold because we had the Sportsman "finished" and flying. I tried many different mounting options, but never really found anything that I liked. This airplane seemed to vibrate more than the RV-4 and I just couldn't get good solid video. I tried mounts on the struts and on the wing tip, though this time on the lower surface rather than upper. The camera ended up within an inch or so of the lower surface of the wing and I think I was getting more aerodynamic buffeting there.
I was using a home made mount fabricated from a piece of aluminum angle that I thought would be more rigid that what I had seen elsewhere. I did have some limited success with it, but fortunately I found the PlaneAround mount discussed below and had good luck with that.
One good thing I was able to get with this airplane was some multi-camera shots letting me do picture-in-picture in the final edited version. It looked something like this. I pretty much gave up on that as it was really hard to get the two videos in sync.
In December 2017 I sold the Sportsman and bought the RV-8 that I am currently flying. This time I used a PlaneAround wingtip mount with a GoPro Here 7 Black. Inside I also used my old reliable Pedco mount, without the arm mounted to the roll bar to hold my Drift 4K.
I also installed a FlightFlix camera power supply in the wing tip to make up for the dismal GoPro battery life. The installation is detailed in this blog post.
I am really happy with the results. The image stabilization in the newer GoPros really takes the hard work out of mounting situations.
Inside I have my Drift 4K mounted to the roll bar using the old Pedco clamp without the arm on it. This creates a nice rigid mount and gives a pilot's eye perspective, kinda.
I now have results like this.
Bottom line, today's GoPros (Hero 7 or higher) have good enough image stabilization that mounting is now more a function of not dropping the camera than of trying to eliminate all vibration.
Below are the sources I have used to find various mounting options and there are many that I didn't try.
And of course, many options on Amazon.
In January 2021 I upgraded to a GoPro Hero 8 Black. The 7 was acting up and would, with some regularity, simply cease recording for no observable reason. Sometimes it would be an hour or so into the flight, sometimes it would be within a few minutes of hitting record.
There are many things I like about the 8, but for one, it still has dismal battery life and second the foldable mounting ears on the bottom seem flimsy and I would hate to have the camera drop off. I wanted an aluminum case to be able to mount it securely so I went with this by Ulanzi from Amazon.
Another of the drawbacks to the 8 is that in order to use external power you have to remove the side door. Unlike the 7, the side door on the 8 is one piece that covers the power connector and the battery and SD card compartment. This housing includes a side door that retains the battery while allowing connection of external power.
Since having the side door off of the camera leaves it open to the atmosphere and since the atmosphere around here contains a lot of water, I put some electrical tape (at the suggestion of a friend) over the battery / SD card opening in the hope of keeping most of the moisture out.
The 8 also seems to have a more robust image stabilization system, so much so that the first couple of videos I shot with it has the video in the turns being rather jerky, as seen here starting at about the 1 minute mark. Hopefully, turning off the "boost" setting and maybe going with a wider field of view may tame that.
Once the camera is securely mounted and you are able to come home with some recorded video, one needs some sort of software package to aid in editing the final video to publish. The various cameras have their own editing software that is basic and relatively easy to use and there are free and low cost options available. After trying a number of them over the past several years I find that this is yet another example of "you get what you pay for", or, more specifically, if you want something useful you are going to have to pay for it.
What I have been using for a few years now is PowerDirector 365. It is a professional level (or almost) video editing suite. The thing that I like the best about it is that it is very well supported on YouTube and it is easy to get step-by-step tutorials on how to do even complex editing tasks (some that I still don't understand).