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I've been watching a lot of videos shot with mini cameras (like a GoPro) from outside the aircraft. Some look like they're mounted on or under wings, others from underneath the aircraft. This looks cool, I want to do it!

I know the FAA is pretty strict on unapproved modifications to aircraft and I've heard that attaching cameras can conflict with this. What should I know before I attempt to attach a camera to the outside of my aircraft?

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The NTSB actually recommended the use of exterior cameras to the FAA in 2012.

It appears to be something of a grey area, but it looks like you should contact your local FSDO for approval of an external load if you're permanently fixing a camera to a plane.

The grey area comes in that if the camera is temporarily attached, you shouldn't need special approval, but in practicality it could come loose and damage the plane.

GoPro says this about affixing their cameras to planes:

Industrial strength suction cup. Strong enough to pull dents out of a car door or stay attached to an airplane at 200mph+, proven though not endorsed by GoPro per FAA rules.

There's a forum thread where someone asked the FSDO to sign it off as a Minor Alteration, and it was determined that a short logbook entry would suffice:

Temporarily installed a GoPro camera mounted to a standard inspection panel on (Left/Right) lower wing in place of the standard inspection panel. There are no electrical connections associated with this installation. This is a minor alteration as it has no appreciable effect on performance, flight characteristics, or other qualities affecting airworthiness (refer to FAR 1.1 Major Alteration and FAR 21.93). A net weight change of 9 oz is incurred with the temporary installation; therefore, the weight and balance change is negligible (refer to AC 43.13 1B, 10-2 (c)).

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    $\begingroup$ A warning about "industrial strength suction cups" and why they make FAA inspectors frown -- Remember that as you climb the ambient pressure decreases. Climb high enough and the pressure outside the suction cup will equal the pressure inside the suction cup - which means "No more suction!" and the camera will depart the aircraft. This happened to a friend of mine in flight, fortunately with the camera mounted inside the aircraft so all that happened was it landed in a passenger's lap. $\endgroup$ – voretaq7 Dec 18 '13 at 21:19
  • $\begingroup$ Any thoughts on how this might apply to mounting brackets installed on wing struts (high or dual wing types)? $\endgroup$ – Kyle Dec 19 '13 at 4:24
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    $\begingroup$ @Kyle It's my understanding that that would be classed as a permanent alteration. I could be wrong though. $\endgroup$ – Danny Beckett Dec 19 '13 at 15:06
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    $\begingroup$ I spoke with my local FSDO about this recently and was told that while he couldn't say it was approved, as long as it isn't modifying the aircraft and is just strapped to a strut or tie down it would be unlikely to be an issue. He said that a log book entry wouldn't hurt, but ultimately the FAA hasn't ruled on exactly what is required. He also said that they have bigger fish to fry. $\endgroup$ – kevin42 Dec 22 '13 at 1:15
  • $\begingroup$ The NTSB recommendation was however regarding large planes and cameras with video output in cockpit for pilots to better see clearance from obstacles during taxi. At least A380 includes some in standard equipment. $\endgroup$ – Jan Hudec Jul 13 '14 at 20:10

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