Sphincter-Clenching Drone Footage of Climber Ascending 1,500′ TV Tower

by Hugh Brownstone4 Comments

While current FAA drone regulations are still evolving, Prairie Aerial makes a case for preparation, artistry – and not waiting.

OK, maybe that title was TMI. And we here at planet5D are gearheads: not lawyers, legislators or enforcers of the law. But none of this changes the fact that the footage is breathtaking, and the climb itself by Kevin Schmidt even more so.

Produced by the Thorin family (the owners and operators of Prairie Aerial in Sioux Falls, South Dakota), this short is 2:07 of ultimate DJI Phantom 2, GoPro, variable speed motion, and selfie expression — all in service of changing a light bulb atop a 1,500 foot inactive TV tower.


1500′ TV Tower

Via Youtube Description:

Check out our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/prairieaerial

To use this video in a commercial player, advertising or in broadcasts, please email Viral Spiral: contact@viralspiralgroup.com

Somebody has to change out that lightbulb at the top of those tall TV towers!

This is tower climber Kevin Schmidt making the climb to the very top of the now inactive KDLT TV analog broadcast antenna near Salem, SD.

It was a beautiful fall day for a climb and the views are stunning! I would suggest watching at 1080 HD in full screen to get a small taste of the experience.


drone footage DJI Phantom - GoPro Footage 1500' TV Tower

From Prairie Aerial:

We were not flying recklessly. Here is my reasoning: since a normal aircraft is not allowed to fly within 500′ of a structure like that, we decided it was clear for our drone to operate in that airspace, for the same reason it is clear to operate up to 400′ above ground – no interference with normal aircraft.

We were not in compliance with the letter of the law, but with the spirit of the law. Most of the time we were operating within the tower guy wires too so there was zero possibility of interference with normal aircraft there.

Also, being very familiar with communication tower sites, I know there is no damage my little 4 pound plastic drone can do to anything there, even if it fell dead out of the sky. That site regularly absorbs multi-hundred pound chunks of ice falling from the upper reaches.

Line of sight was explained to me by a friend in the aeronautical world as meaning line of sight from transmitter to receiver, not my ability to visually see it, meaning you can't fly your drone “over the horizon” autonomously by programing waypoints, which my drone is capable of doing.

We were definitely line of sight.I have replaced the lens in my GoPro so that we can get pretty close looking shots while being a fair distance away, fair meaning 20 feet. That is perhaps pretty close at 1500 feet, but we were rarely that close and our climber was aware and prepared when we were.

We had a continuous visual through FPV and know our distance from subject based on the amount of subject's body in the frame, not to mention perfect flying conditions. Bottom line: it was some pretty ballsy flying but it was thought out in advance.

Since the NTSB judge decided against the FAA in the Pirker case last March, many small and large drone operators have decided not to accept their government overlords notion that a drone flight to put video on youtube for fun is OK, but to make a dollar from it is breaking the law. I just did it for the youtube page. But now it has become kinda viral and there is income from that so I guess it has become commercial after the fact, you could say.

Should I not monetize it to comply?The big operators in Hollywood have no option but to seek the exemption – if the feds decided to try and make an example of them in the middle of a major production millions of dollars would be at stake, but there has been and continues to be several companies out there in Hollywood and beyond that are operating drones commercially and are not holding their breath for the exemption or waiting for “permission”. I'm throwing in with them.
A pilot's license to fly my little Phantom 2 for pay? Seriously? We're not ruining it for anybody, we're opening the door.

(cover photo credit: snap from the video)

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh Brownstone

Hugh is the founder of Three Blind Men and An Elephant Productions. He and the team write, direct, shoot, score, and edit web-centric films; conduct photo shoots; and write copy, white papers and blog posts. Hugh also writes screenplays (he recently optioned a TV pilot) and just published his first eBook (Apple's iPhone: The Next Video Revolution). If it's about telling stories, it's in their wheelhouse.

And always with the ambition of authenticity, humanity and wit.
Hugh Brownstone


  1. Your best headline ever.  The best video you’ve posted in awhile.  Way to go!

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