Recording cockpit video and audio

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Hopefully this will help any Microlight or GA pilots out there who want to record their flights with crisp clear audio direct from the cockpit intercom system.

There are a number of solutions around, but most are quite bulky, and, frankly somewhat more expensive that the hudred and thirty odd quid that this lot came to. The main difficulty is in finding a camera system that has external microphone inputs – this alone usually precludes any of the consumer level equipment, so you are left with buying devices that cost over £200.

The video solution

For quite some time I have been recording my flights using a Veho VCC-004-ATOM Muvi Atom Super Micro DV Camcorder (you can buy these from amazon quite cheaply). It’s a tiny little thing I stick to the side of my Dave Clarks with a homemade bracket and some gaffer tape – not the most elegant of solutions, as you can see, but it is easily removable! It can record for around an hour and a half on a warm day, but if you land away then it’s easily recharged using a Power Traveller Power Monkey and you’re ready to go again.

Not the most elegant of solutions, but it works well

It’s a great little video recorder, although it is CMOS based, like most cheap video cameras, so you will get videos with “wobbly propellor” syndrome due to the rolling shutter system. Personally I can put up with this until I want to £150 on one a Mini DVR2 from dogcamsport.co.uk

The Audio Solution

For ages I wanted to listen to the RT, and cockpit chatter – as it can add an extra domension to the recording – especially if you are taking friends or family up and want to capture their every word (or shreaks, screams, and various insults regarding parentage – depending on how you fly) – It also helps analyse where your own RT could do with polishing up. How many times do you hear “erm… sorry” or other non CAP413 terminology? (Incidentally, if you want to brush up, you could do far worse than talk to Andy Moon at planespeak.com)

I have now found the answer, and it works really well. I popped along to www.pilot-europe.com and got their PA80 – Cam Corder Adapter. Well actually it was a birthday present from my Dad – thanks Dad! They also do NATO versions, but the standard GA lead is obviously what most people flying GA will use. It simply goes in between your audio lead (the slightly thicker plug of the two that dangle from your headset) and the aircraft socket. The split-out lead goes to a 3.5mm plug that will go into most camcorders or digital voice recorders. As Pilot Europe say on their site:

General Aviation Video Recorder/CD Player Adapter: This product allows you to interface your video recorder with the aircraft intercom system. Great for creating your own aerial videos without excess cabin noise.

The lead seems to be made from high quality cable, and should take cockpit life and being thrown into and pulled out of your flight bag in it’s stride.

I use a Sony ICD-PX820 Digital Voice Recorder with Flash 2 GB and MP3, again from Amazon to record the audio. I’m actually quite surprised by the quality of the audio from the recorder – I’m sure the signal levels are a bit hit and miss, so I was expecting it to be either very quite or very distorted, but in fact it’s pretty good – perhaps only very slightly overdriven. The plug must have some impedance matching circuitry built in.

Creating your masterpieces

The really nice thing about this whole setup is that you also get th main cockpit raw noise (from the Muvi), plus the intercom audio, so you have some options when putting it all together in your video editing software of choice.

One important tip though, is to record something on both the Muvi and Audio recorder so that you can sync the two up later on – Usually just clapping your hands in front of the camera at the start of the flight (obviously not on the take off roll!) will give you something to sync up the video and audio 🙂

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