WCPO debuts Sky 9 quadcopter to tell stories from a bird's-eye view

Posted at 10:50 AM, Oct 24, 2016

CINCINNATI -- Chopper 9 has been taking WCPO viewers to the front lines of breaking news for more than two years. Now 9 On Your Side is proud to announce the launch of another airborne tool in its news gathering arsenal.

Sky 9 is a quadcopter that provides a bird’s-eye view from a 4K, ultra high-definition camera, enhancing the stories shown on TV and online.

"Sometimes the chopper is the better picture. Sometimes the ground crew is the better picture, and there's going to be many times where Sky 9 has the best picture," WCPO General Manager Jeff Brogan said.

When WCPO anchor Chris Riva set out to tell the story of Weatherwax Golf Course in Middletown closing down, he saw it as the perfect opportunity to debut Sky 9 earlier this month.

“The conditions were right,” Riva said. “There were no roads and no people to fly over.” 

Watch Riva’s report in the video player below.


What some people know as drones are technically called unmanned aircraft systems by the Federal Aviation Administration, and they have plenty of restrictions for commercial use that went into effect Aug. 29.

While the general public can largely fly them just for fun, Sky 9’s operators must obtain a remote pilot certificate and file a flight plan before taking off. Brogan said it took WCPO almost a year to get certified by the FAA.

"We can't just take this thing and go down to the local park," Brogan said. "We've got to get permission."

It takes three people to safely fly Sky 9 per FAA regulations: the pilot, a photographer with separate controls for the camera and a third observer watching for obstacles. The team operating Sky 9 must get permission to fly over a property from the owner and call the FAA to get clearance.

"There are very strict rules that the FAA has, and if they feel like we should not be flying over a potential home or a business or an area, they will let us know and we will not be able to fly in the area," Brogan said.

Sky 9 can also only fly during daylight hours from a maximum height of 400 feet. As Riva mentioned, it can’t fly over people or roads to avoid accidental injuries. Brogan said the operators were also mindful of privacy and police investigations.

"We have a job to do, which is to tell that story, but we want to be within our legal rights to do that," Brogan said. "And then we also want to be within our moral and ethical rights to protect people on the ground, including police officers."

Reporter T.J. Parker recently used Sky 9 to showcase straight-line wind damage during severe thunderstorms on Oct. 19. Watch Parker’s report in the video player below.