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Flying a Drone over an Amusement Park – Good Idea?

With the advancements in UAV technology over the past few years – coupled with the explosion of video online – it’s no wonder these devices are becoming increasingly popular. But, before you go off buying and flying one of these incredible devices at your local park – know what you’re getting into first…

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Photo by American Coaster Enthusiasts, Northern California region. Used with permission.

1.) Flying over anything is inherently dangerous – gravity ALWAYS wins:

Many people don’t realize that when you’re flying, you’ve got several pounds of equipment hovering over other people’s property and / or selves when you’re flying. That payload can strike someone or something at damaging velocities. One doesn’t have to look far to find plenty of spectacular drone crash videos.

A dead battery, gust of wind, or unexpected obstacle could spell instant disaster for your aircraft, and serious injuries or worse to anyone below. Know that if you cause damage to a park employee, guest or ride as a result of your UAV – they’ll be calling you to recoup the damages – and it won’t be cheap.

There are also significant airspace restrictions to be aware of, too – as you’ll soon see…


2.) Getting permission from a park to fly over is ALWAYS the best move:

(Video by William Francis)

Don’t be like this guy and cause a panic amidst Disney security and guests – while it should be common sense knowledge – you DON’T fly over a park that already has major security protocols in place.

Make whatever argument you can (“The Ferris Wheel was closed,” or “FAA says only MANNED aircraft aren’t allowed over”) the fact remains – flying an unmanned drone, without telling anyone is begging for panic and unnecessary resources diverted away from real emergency situations. There are reports everyday of people shooting these aircraft down – not informing someone you’ll be in their space sets the wrong precedent and reflects badly on the community as a whole. You wouldn’t jump over a fence for a photo update – so how is flying over at low altitude any different?

ALWAYS ask ahead of time and more importantly, HONOR the decision – even if it isn’t what you wanted.


3.) Privacy rights may not be set in stone, but there are common sense limits:

Fences are there for a reason – it’s to keep people out. Flying over construction sites, while a cool perspective at low altitude – can be considered an invasion of privacy. Now, this is where it get’s muddy…at what altitude is too low? Aircraft are required to stay at least 1,000 AGL (above ground level), but drones aren’t quite aircraft – they’re considered “model aircraft” by the FAA at this time. That means they cannot exceed 400 feet AGL. But the privacy barrier isn’t set in stone.


4.) Commercializing (monetizing) your drone video requires more than just a click of the mouse:

When you monetize a video on YouTube, you’re certifying that you own all the rights to the video, you made it yourself and you had all the necessary paperwork to allow it to be commercialized. This means getting insurance, paying all location fees oh – and GETTING PERMISSION TO FLY IN THE FIRST PLACE! When you monetize a video online, you’re making money off of it – which makes you a commercial film producer. There’s far more work that needs to be done as a result…

So, to recap – while UAV’s (drones) offer incredible angles once reserved to just airships / helicopters – it comes with great responsibility to ensure the safety and privacy of everyone involved, including the parks you’re considering a flyover of. Know what you’re getting into before you fly…

*FULL DISCLOSURE: “Great American Thrills” and “Lost Parks of Northern California” utilizes UAV (drone) footage in our work, following all recommended practices, under the supervision of trained professionals and with permission of property owners.

The Ultimate Thrill Ride with Team Oracle

I’ve been on my fair share of thrill rides. From the carnival circuits, to permanent roller coasters – even the Salt Lake City Olympic Park Bobsled Run (in winter, no less!)

But no thrill ride on the ground can compare with the flight experience I had earlier this week with famed stunt pilot, Sean D. Tucker of Team Oracle. He’s currently practicing for the California International Airshow, which is going on this weekend in Salinas, CA.


I was fortunate enough to be “assigned” this story for my real job, which is at 1590-AM KLIV in San Jose.

Sean has over 25,000 hours of flight time under his belt – and normally flies a Challenger III biplane for all his airshows. But for our flight, we went up in an Extra 300, with tandem seating (the biplane only has one seat).

If I look nervous in these photos – it’s for a good reason – that’s a parachute they’re attaching to me. To say the least, this isn’t your ordinary ride in a 737…





Here’s the complete flight experience, from the cockpit:

During our flight, we maxed out the accelerometer to negative 3G, all the way to positive 6G. (Let’s see a coaster EVER do that!) What’s even more crazy is that Sean actually went easy on me – he routinely DOUBLES those forces during his regular show. You truly have to be an athlete in order to stay conscious during these maneuvers!

Some of the maneuvers included: Vertical (klothoid) loop, barrel roll, hammerhead (modified Immelman), 400 degree snap rolls, inverted flying, flat spins and many more! I’m also happy to report, that the two barf bags given to me were never used.


So, if I can make two suggestions to you – never pass up the opportunity to fly in a stunt plane or acrobatic jet – it will stay with you the rest of your life. Second: go out to the California International Airshow to check out Team Oracle as well as many other aerial acrobats as they turn the skies of Salinas into a canvas of smoke and AVGAS. You won’t be disappointed!


Special thanks to Sean D. Tucker, the Team Oracle Ground Crew and the staff at the California International Airshow for the opportunity to fly with them – I’ll never forget it!


On This 9/11 Anniversary…

There’s a very important reason I’ve chosen “Great American Thrills” as the name for this show concept – It’s because I love my country.

The name and logo were no accident, they just perfectly fit with what I hope to do with this show concept – to entertain and inform people about the amazing ways you can still have fun at the quintessential, American amusement park.

Yes, there are some amazing parks being built in China (allegedly) and many of the theme parks in Europe are quite stunning…but where do you think they learned it all from? That’s right – they learned it from us…in the United States.

And so, on this anniversary of the worst attack on our nation’s soil, let us remember the brave men and women who fight everyday, both here at home and overseas, so that we might be able to live our normal lives – and go out to parks to have fun with our friends and families. And that’s the greatest “thrill” of “Great American Thrills” – to have fun with those closest to us. That’s what this show concept (and our country) are all about.

And I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else because of it.

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Photo of the Day: Asiana Airlines Flight 214 Wreckage at SFO

Asiana 214 wreckage. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Now, I’m a big fan of all things aviation – but to take these photos yesterday was both a sobering and ethereal moment for me.

To think of what this aircraft and more importantly, it’s occupants had been through made this one of the more difficult subjects for me to shoot.

Nonetheless, it’s important to document – to think so many people WALKED AWAY from this wreckage is simply astounding.

Asiana 214 wreckage. Photo (c) 2013 Kris Rowberry and Great American Thrills

Big thanks goes out to my friends at BorrowLenses for allowing me to capture such beautiful photos with their gear.

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Asiana Airlines 777 Crashes at SFO

Amazing how many people survived today’s crash – but what’s more amazing was the “meh” attitude of some of the passengers AFTERWARDS! our thoughts and prayers are with those who were injured and may have lost loved ones today…

As a fan of flying and aviation – you always wonder about those people who ignore the safety warnings or don’t put away their notebooks after flight attendants tell them. Maybe you should re-think that the next time you fly…

How to Not Evacuate an Aircraft.

How to Not Evacuate an Aircraft. Photo illustration by Kris Rowberry.