Permission To Fly: Filming The World's Highest Marathon In The Himalayas

Acquiring permission to fly in the remote region of Jammu & Kashmir.

Last month we won the Narrative Prize at the London Drone Film Festival. 

Nine months prior to that we thought we’d never see our drone again. 

We had momentarily left our production deep in the Alaskan wilderness to drive into Anchorage in search of phone service. Sitting in a restaurant that had let us in while they cleaned, my business partner Erik Nachtrieb and I shared the phone between us, our ears straining to hear the Indian man on the other side of the line. 

By the time we were off the call we had landed a job in the remote Northern Indian region of Jammu and Kashmir. A region that, depending on where you stand, could also be China’s or Pakistan’s.

As we planned out the production to film The World’s Highest Marathon run from the town of Leh, we knew we couldn’t do the Himalayan landscape justice without a drone camera. So we called up our aerial partner Falkor Aerials and put a very risky plan in front of their pilot and director Larkin Carey. 

The concern was trying to bring in a remote controlled aircraft into the most militarised area of India - also a country that has banned drones. A NASA engineer by trade, Larkin custom build his octocopter and was taking a huge risk flying it in a region where it could quite likely be shot down if it is not recognized as having the specific permits for the area.

How we pulled this off is an award winning story. 

"Permission To Fly" was not just the title of our award winning film at The London Drone Film Festival but our entire flight mission while in India. 

My fellow producers at 1iOpen Productions worked hard with our local Indian contacts, who in turn liaised with the military to gain us special flight permission and a police escort every time we flew. We also had to refer to our 20,000 dollar aircraft as a “Toy Copter”. 

As a result the 1iOpen Productions hard drives now contain exclusive, never before seen aerial footage of a restricted area of the planet. We hiked that drone all over Ladakh, flew over camels on the sandy desert floor of the Nubra Valley and rose to the snowy heights of Khardungla Top, simultaneously clocking our highest flight at over 18,000ft. 

One incredible flight was granted to us after requesting to fly off the ancient Leh Palace. A 17th century former royal castle from the Namgyal dynasty. To the south of the palace was the mighty Himalaya range, to the North the Silk Road weaving the historical footsteps of Ghengis Khan and Marco Polo and right below the palace, a mere 800 yards away, lay a military outpost which we were required to avoid at all costs.

To see the stunning and unique visuals we captured, watch Permission To Fly here:

By Vivienne Smith & Erik Nachtrieb

Executive Producers at 1iOpen Productions 

Please respect the places you find on The Outbound.

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures. Be aware of local regulations and don't damage these amazing places for the sake of a photograph.