Cameras in the Cockpit: Another Mounting Option

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The Tackform GoPro Headrest Mount

My YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying, includes many aviation videos shot from inside the cockpit of a Beechcraft A36 Bonanza, an Extra 300L, and other aircraft. I’ve tried several types of mounts to provide a stable platform and a good overview of the cockpit.

You can read about some of these setups and my tips for making videos here and here.

Although the GoPro Jaws: Flex Mount has served me well, it hasn’t proven as stable as I’d like, and it sometimes gets bumped out of kilter, resulting in videos that aren’t properly aligned.

A search for other options suggested headrest mounts used by car enthusiasts to capture driving video. I decided to try one in my Bonanza to capture forward-facing views that show both the instrument panel and the outside scene.


The following video of a short hop from KPWT to KBFI on a rainy day shows how both the Tackform GoPro headrest mount and the Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 performed in the A36. For more details about the headrest mount, read below.


I settled on the GoPro Headrest Mount (TF00-0R05) from Tackform. At about $70, it’s not the cheapest option, but customer reviews at Amazon.com suggest it’s a high-quality, sturdy metal mount, and with various adapters, it works with action cameras from other manufacturers, such as the Garmin VIRB series.

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As you can see from the photos, the arm can be adjusted at four points through a range of angles, and it locks in place. All of the main components, including the ball joints, are made of metal, not plastic, but the mount doesn’t feel heavy, just substantial.

At one end, the mount clamps onto a vertical headrest support. It should fit a range of standard headrest posts. You need the supplied Allen wrench or a suitable driver head to remove and tighten the screws that hold the clamp in place. Otherwise, no tools are needed to secure and adjust the arm and camera.

Ball joints at each end allow you to rotate the arm and the camera to any position.

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You can remove the arm when you don’t want to shoot video, leaving just the headrest post mount in place. Note, however, that with the clamp attached, you won’t be able to lower the headrest flush with the top of the seat. I chose to attach the arm to the pilot’s seat on the left, where I normally sit. But you could just as easily attach the arm to the copilot seat or any other seat that has headrest posts, and you can buy additional headrest clamps and other components separately from Tackform.

Interlocking teeth ensure a firm grip at each pivot on the arm itself.

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The mount includes a GoPro-standard clamp and tripod-style scew adapter on a ball joint at the end of the arm.

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You can find a wide variety of action-camera attachments and adapters online at Amazon and other sources.

My new Garmin VIRB Ultra 30 includes a frame-style camera holder with a GoPro standard connector, and it was easy to secure it to the arm.

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I also attached my older Garmin VIRB Elite with its unique cradle. I had to dig around in the big bag of connectors and adapters to find a Garmin-to-GroPro clamp, but it secured easily.

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The arrangement seems tight and stable on the ground. Just in case, I slid a cloth beneath the headset post clamp and the seat cover to prevent chafing the expensive leather.

 

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Another Go-Pro Camera Mounting Option

I have been experimenting with another option for mounting my GoPro camera in the cockpit of my Beechcraft Bonanza (you can see my videos on my YouTube channel, BruceAirFlying).

Using the GoPro Jaws: Flex Mount, I attach the camera to the headrest for the copilot seat. To provide a large-diameter surface for the clamp, I bought a short section of PVC plumbing pipe. You can either run the headrest post through the PVC or just place it adjacent to the post. I place foam insulation beneath the clamp to damp vibration and to keep the clamp from rotating.

For more information about how I capture and edit videos, see Aviation Video Tips.

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Video Cameras and Airplanes: ‘FAA Safety Briefing’ Article

The January/February 2014 issue of FAA Safety Briefing includes a feature, “Lights, Camera, Action!” that discusses using video cameras in aircraft.

FAASafety-JanFeb2014Cvr-250pxOne of the key questions pilots ask is whether it’s OK to mount cameras externally and how best to do so. The FAA Safety Briefing article includes these comments:

The method of installation matters in terms of whether FAA approval is required. If the camera is a secondary portable unit hand carried onboard (inside the aircraft), the FAA typically will not get involved. Most cameras used by GA pilots are self-contained, portable, and sufficiently lightweight to have no appreciable impact. The method of mounting the camera, however, still has to be evaluated and installed or attached using a method acceptable to the FAA. For example, a yoke-mounted iPad holder has no appreciable effect on handling the aircraft, and these devices do not affect airworthiness.

If, on the other hand, the installation is attached to the aircraft by hard-point methods such as bolts and screws, or if it interfaces with aircraft navigation or electrical systems, it becomes a major alteration because it may appreciably affect airworthiness. This kind of installation requires use of other FAA-approved data or a field approval evaluation. Methods such as glue, suction cups, or duct tape are typically not acceptable, in part because their failure could cause harm to the aircraft or persons on the ground or in the aircraft.

The bottom line is that all installations require some sort of approval. Each must be evaluated for its application and complexity to ensure safety. If you have a question, start by calling your local Flight Standards District Office (FSDO).

As I’ve noted elsewhere, Sport Aviation, EAA’s main magazine, also explored the use of video cameras on and in aircraft in “Pilot’s-Eye View,” a feature in the February 2013 issue.