The advent of drones has revolutionized aerial photography and causes us to appreciate what benefits it conveys. Up until recently, film directors, newscasters, and law enforcement teams were forced to rely on cameras fitted to helicopters that delivered the high-angled tracking shots. Nowadays, drone photography provides high-definition moving images of virtually anywhere on Earth, and that cannot be a bad thing.
In no other medium have we seen such an increased use of drones than film and TV production. Whensoever large swathes of land are to be videoed from an altitude or herds of wildebeest must be followed on their summer migration across the Serengeti, the drone is the first choice of directors.
Although the machines are, at present, constrained by the longevity of their batteries, this is seen as a minor inconvenience, which is more than adequately outweighed by their flexibility, maneuverability, and ability to explore confined spaces. And generally speaking, the stability of the pictures relayed by drones is much greater than that of a camera mounted on a helicopter.
On the basis of these advantages, drones are at the leading edge of aerial photography. Because of their maneuverability, some operators are now using them to enter forbidden areas. We’ve found 17 instances of where drone operators have strayed into prohibited zones to bring us one or more spectacular insights.
17. Scientology Reaps Rewards
The religious beliefs and practices of 1954 author L. Ron Hubbard are concretized by the term “Scientology.” The movement is often criticized for its lack of Constitutional adherence and dubious spiritual values. Famously, the church advocates a donation of a proportion of members’ salaries to the Bigger Picture. “There is no other religion that I know of that requires two and a half hours of your day, a quarter of a million dollars minimum, and at least 40 years of your life,” host and former Scientologist Leah Remini told Business Insider UK in 2016.
This drone footage (sent to journalist Tony Ortega) from a fly-by of the Movement’s headquarters was filmed using a 4K camera. It shows a lavish 500-acre holding called the “Gold Base,” located in California. Such an obvious (yet secretive) display of the wealth of Scientology is a thing its leaders would prefer to have kept quiet.
16. Charlottesville Murder
In the summer of 2017, James Fields (a white man from Ohio) was arrested and charged with murder after he purposely drove his car at speed into a crowd of demonstrators in Charlottesville. Despite POTUS Trump claiming that anti-supremacist and fascists present that day were equally to blame for such an event, the demonstration had been, until then, peaceful. 20-year-old Fields plowed his car amid anti-supremacist demonstrators, killing a 32-year-old woman.
This drone footage shows Fields’s car impacting the woman at a sufficient speed to kill her almost instantly. The drone footage is an exemplar of another benefit of photographic drones as an invaluable tool in crime prevention and law enforcement. It’s especially pertinent to this case when we remember that two Virginia State Patrol troopers were killed when the helicopter from where they were monitoring the crowd crashed while “assisting public safety resources with the ongoing situation in Charlottesville” (Mail Online, 2017).
15. The Ghosts Of Pripyat, Ukraine
In 1986, the Russian Chernobyl nuclear power plant located next to the town of Pripyat exploded. A combination of poor construction, poor maintenance, and negligent operation caused an uncontrollable core reaction, which ultimately destroyed more than half the installation. The explosion released high into the atmosphere fission products, which traveled westwards, covering Europe with the deadly nuclear fall-out.
The devastation at the plant can still be seen today. The high levels of radiation in and around Pripyat make the town uninhabitable. The site is protected by a wide exclusion zone, enforced by the Russian authorities, who view the Chernobyl incident as somewhat of an embarrassment. In other words, the only way to collect images is by way of a drone. This picture was taken by a drone manned by an investigative journalist. It’s of a swimming pool in the disused sports center of Pripyat.
14. Holocaust Crop Store
Should the planet’s food sources be depleted and valuable commodities such as crops and orchards are eradicated, a facility in Norway will provide relief. In Spitsbergen – the northernmost place of human habitation – there’s a subterranean vault containing seeds of every natural food we eat. The installation, which was created in 2006, is nicknamed the “doomsday vault” (LA Times, 2007); it’s from here that scientists will provide the necessary genetic material needed to regrow our food plants should something catastrophic occur to current stock either through war or environmental disaster.
Being located in such an inhospitable location – high above the fjords of Norway – the vault is visited on occasion only by a handful of scientists. But thanks to a drone piloted by an unknown, we’re given a glimpse of the entrance to what must be an impenetrable and closely guarded holding facility.
13. American Missile Strike Aftermath
Let it not be said that the US uses its military strength without good cause. In April 2017, President Assad of Syria ordered the use of chemical weapons against a rebel stronghold as part of a campaign he’s been losing for six years. The Sarin gas attack killed an estimated 70 men, women, and children and prompted POTUS Trump to retaliate with a ship-based multiple-missile launch against an airbase near to the town of Homs. The US action caused an angry response from Russia, President Vladimir Putin describing the strike as an “aggression against a sovereign state in violation of international law” (LA Times, 2017).
Pictures taken by a drone in the aftermath of the attack would’ve likely caused Donald Trump some embarrassment. The strike allegedly killed nine civilians, including four children, and, in the process, also destroyed six Russian MiG-23 fighter jets.
12. Putin’s Holiday Home
Russian President Vladimir Putin was a KGB spy for 16 years before becoming a politician in 1991. He quickly rose through the political system and was left with a clear path to the presidency after moderate Boris Yeltsin resigned the presidency in 1999. He’s been the Russian head of state since 2000. This, on one hand, is a sign of a revered president but, on the other, highlights Putin’s proven ability to deal harshly with opposition candidates and dissenters.
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was handed this drone footage by an anonymous source. It shows the Russian president’s decadent holiday accommodation on Lodochny Island in the Gulf of Finland. There was a cause for Navalny’s willingness to publish the images: to contrast the lavish lifestyle of the president ($200 billion richer than Donald Trump) with his country’s widespread poverty.
11. Camelot Theme Park, Lancashire
A mystery still surrounds the closure of Camelot Theme Park in Lancashire, England. The park owned fast rides with names like “Knightmare” and “Excalibur” and smaller family rides, which also centered on the theme of Camelot, King Arthur, and his round table. It proved hugely popular, but in 2012, to the surprise of many, the park’s management announced that it would be closing at the end of the year and not reopening. Camelot quickly fell into disrepair, but it remains more or less as it was when the last visitor walked from the turnstile.
A drone flight around the park conveys to us that it was once bustling with visitors and a popular choice for thrill seekers. The Mail Online said of the park in 2016, “It’s not a fairy tale attraction anymore: The once magical Camelot theme park now lies abandoned — and looks like a horror movie set.”
10. Fatal Accident In LA
In April 2017, something caused a trailer traveling northbound on a Los Angeles freeway to cross over the central reservation and collide head-on with vehicles heading south. One person was killed and 10 were injured although, judging by the extent of the accident, there could’ve been many more casualties. The crash caused the busy freeway to be closed for eight hours while 75 fire crew members attended to the twisted cars and trucks.
With a drone on the scene in moments, the extent of the accident became apparent. It’s unclear whether this drone was part of TV production equipment, but if it was, its use provides us with a clear example of how such images can be shared with audiences almost immediately. Gone are the days of having to wait for a helicopter to go airborne. On the other hand, had the drone been privately owned, the case of its use raises the question of whether it’s right that such machines are used in a voyeuristic way.
9. Ōkuma, Fukushima, Japan.
In March 2011, a large undersea earthquake caused a tsunami, which raced undetected towards the Eastern coast of Japan. The sea level when it hit land was raised by 128 feet, and the wave caused destruction to great swathes of the Japanese homeland. The energy contained within the tsunami was so great that the waves continued to travel six miles inland. According to the Japan Reconstruction Agency, 15,894 died as a direct result of the tsunami and more than 2,500 are still missing, presumably having been swept out to sea.
This drone footage was recorded around the town of Ōkuma, which was in the proximity of the Fukushima nuclear plant. When the tsunami arrived, the reactors in the nuclear plant were automatically shut down to prevent any ingress of water. However, the wave also damaged backup generators that were on standby to enable operators to cool the water surrounding the reactors. As a result, reactors 1 through 4 at Fukushima went into “meltdown” and released fission material into the atmosphere.
8. Area 51, Nevada — Top secret
A great deal of speculation surrounds a United States Air Force base in the middle of the Nevada desert called Area 51. Because of its reputation as being highly secretive, the base is rumored to be both the place of various alien encounters and the test bed for many futuristic crafts. Because of this, the base has been nicknamed by observers “Dreamland” and “Paradise Ranch.” The designation of the official name “Area 51” came from a leaked CIA document during the Vietnam War.
There’s a strict demilitarized zone encircling the base on the ground and the sky above it prohibiting members of the public from prying too closely. However, this drone footage of the secret base was leaked to a reporter by Hans Faulkner back in 2015. There are now numerous signs forbidding the flying of drones around the site, presumably as a direct result of Faulkner’s leaked video.
7. A Battle Scene in Debaltsevo (Ukraine)
Eastern Ukraine has been the scene of heavy fighting since 2014. In that year, Russian forces took control of the large peninsular region of the Crimea, an offensive that was seen as a prelude to the country’s invasion of Ukraine. Since then, Ukrainian forces have been trying to repel an army faction called the Donetsk People’s Republic – a separatist force that many people believe is backed by Russia. The battle for the city of Debaltseve in the Donetsk Oblast was fiercely fought on both sides.
Many observers have noticed that equipment and vehicles used by the Donetsk People’s Republic are of Russian origin, and on the basis of this, the Ukraine and her Western allies assume that Putin’s leadership is behind the ongoing conflict. This drone footage shows the aftermath of one skirmish in the battle of the Donetsk Oblast.
6. Pig Pollution
Reminiscent of Homer Simpson’s pollution of Lake Springfield, our next drone capture brings us to the state of North Carolina and what could be the world’s biggest pig-processing farm. Smithfield Foods is owned by a Chinese subsidiary called “WH Group.” Its installation at Tar Heel processes around 32,000 pigs per day, according to The New York Times. This in itself renders 6 billion pounds of pork every year.
The industrial unit at Tar Heel has come under intense scrutiny in recent years for the perceived cruelty of its operation, which involves the housing of thousands of pigs in close confinement. In 2014, activist Mark Devries uncovered the appalling conditions of the animals and exposed the plant for its polluting of nearby ground with pig feces, urine, and visceral matter. Devries’s drone footage won’t do WH Group any favors.
5. The Syrian War Continues
Since 2011, Syria has endured widespread unrest. The ongoing war between the forces of President Assad and rebels grew from a discontent for the government regime. Assad’s government has been accused of imposing martial law and committing war crimes. The Syrian President has invoked the help of its allies (including Russia) to try to crush the rebellion but, so far, with little success. It’s a conflict of complex proportions and waged between at least five different religious factions, one of those being the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
This drone footage shows the devastation that non-combatant people in Syria face daily. Not only do they have to contend with the threat of being moved from their homes, but the factions that fight the war (including the President’s army) have a reputation for rape and murder on a massive scale.
4. The Imperial Palace Guards
China has a very strict policy on drone use. In fact, the governmental control of the populace on many matters often seems draconian to some Westerners. Nevertheless, an American living in China called “Trey Ratcliff” took it upon himself to show the world old China from an aerial perspective. Ratcliff flew a drone above the vast old Imperial Palace in the middle of Beijing.
This “Forbidden City” was built between 1406 and 1420 and was the home of the emperors of the Ming dynasty, China’s old ruling family. Despite it now being a museum and UNESCO heritage site, the Chinese authorities were not pleased with Ratcliff’s intrusion of their cultural heritage. The drone was seized by Chinese police and Ratcliff was imprisoned but not before broadcasting stunning aerial shots of the palace to the rest of the world.
3. Tesla Tower
In a world of technology, one of the first aims of a military aggressor would be to disable electrical circuits. Almost every piece of equipment we use in our daily lives uses a microchip, which is why governments go to great lengths to protect their electronic defensive systems from pre-emptive strikes. Experts agree that the forewarning of a nuclear missile attack would be a disabling of electronics by way of an Electro-Magnetic Pulse or EMP.
In the 1970s, at the height of the cold war and the arms race, the Soviets developed a test site called the Istra High Voltage Research Center (or The High Voltage Marx and Tesla Generators Research Facility). It was here, in a quiet suburb of Moscow, that Soviet scientists repeatedly tested EMP weapons by way of a gigantic lightning machine. The installation was officially closed in 1985, but as this drone footage shows, it looks surprisingly operational.
2. Russia’s Secret Metro-2
Sometime after the end of WW2, the Soviets built an underground subway system more extensive than the public one built a decade earlier. While the known commuter subway was called Metro-1, this newer and far longer tube network was called Metro-2, and it remained relatively secret until recent years. Metro-2 is rumored to have been built both in response to a possible nuclear attack by the West and as a way to move politicians and support staff around Moscow without them being seen.
The Soviets were (and to an extent still are) frightened of Western influence and Western-backed change. As a result, their recourse seems always to involve being clandestine. It’s likely that president Putin and his officials would’ve been upset by the leak of these drone captures to the rest of the world.
1. Top Secret Wind
Prior to the First World War, Britain began aeronautical research. The establishment of her first testing site for new airplane designs was called “The Royal Aircraft Establishment,” and it was based at Farnborough Airfield in the south of the country. Over its operational life, the base hosted some of the world’s best aeronautical engineers who worked to build and test generations of aircraft, including early WWI biplanes.
A few years before WW2, Farnborough was the test site for new prototype planes, with designs foreshadowing the advent of the Hurricane and Spitfire and, thereafter, Concorde. Vast fan prop blades 24 ft long were spun in wind tunnels during experiments that aided the development of new and improved modes of flight. The plant is now disused, and research continues at other secret locations in the UK and abroad.
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