Working with the CAA

By Stuart Fairhurst — February 23, 2018

NEWSUBSTANCE work in the creation of spectacular one-off structures, technology and performances and in its inception ‘Falling Stars’ began life in a similar way. However we quickly realised that this could be a rare opportunity to create a product with the flexibility to be repeated, re-branded and re-purposed to suit a range of events and methods of activation.

The spinning LED paper helicopters were first conceived as a moment in Secret Garden Party’s Saturday night spectacular. We planned to drop 5000 ‘Falling Stars’ from paramotors (powered parachutes) at 800ft above the main stage crowd. The effect, to those on the ground, would resemble a galaxy of stars falling to earth with each one being a branded souvenir to be taken away by those lucky enough to catch one.

Whilst this in principle sounded relatively simple, it provided a list of unique challenges to ensure a safe and manageable activation for the event. Through our initial investigations we quickly realised that the CAA (Civil Aviation Authority) in the UK would need to be consulted and permission granted for such an ambitious activation. With some trepidation at dealing with such a highly regarded government body, we made our approach, only to discover that the team, whilst being extremely professional, were approachable and receptive when it came to investigating our proposal.

Key to successfully achieving the effect would involve flying paramotors at night, flying over a densely populated area and dropping articles onto said area. Through our preliminary meetings it became apparent that, not one but all of these requirements sat very much outside of all current rules and would require special exemptions to be approved for each. Despite this the team at the CAA’s General Aviation Unit (GAU) – headed up by Matthew Hill – were only too happy to help guide us through the process of applying for exemptions and proving safe test cases along the way.

The first step was exhaustive testing and R&D to ensure that the correct LED weight, paper thickness and cutting pattern were used to ensure that they descended at a rate that not only worked for the desired visual effect but also safely. Making use of a safe testing site we engaged with a team of paramotor pilots to help test the deployment of the Falling Stars and develop a carrying system to secure them during flight. From this we documented our test case through videos, development drawings and calculations to submit to the CAA team for evaluation.

Impressed with the level of detail and diligence that we provided to them, they approved the product for their intended use. The next hurdle was to approve paramotors (effectively an unlicensed vehicle) for flight above a busy festival site at night. The GAU team helped guide our pilots through the process of applying for special display authorisation involving a written test and practical examination as well as providing details of lights required on the air frames for safe night flying.

Our pilot team successfully achieved their display authorisations and we were given the green light for the show at Secret Garden Party.

As an extra level of diligence Matthew Hill attended the event to experience the show in person and met with us after the successful activation to give us a full debrief and even some recommendations for future enhancements and developments to further improve the product and effect.

As an organisation the CAA proved to be not only very approachable and amenable but also positively supportive and helpful in providing guidance through our entire process. With our exhaustive test case and the backing of such an auspicious government body we are now able to provide the ‘Falling Star’ product as a tried and tested effect to shows and events around the world.

The end result can be seen in the movie below.

— Written by

Stuart Fairhurst

— Date

February 23, 2018

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