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In April, we tagged along with a team from Sony on a trip to Gunkanjima, mecca for urban explorers and movie villains alike. While there, Sony’s engineers used the company’s new Action Cam video camera, mounted on a radio controlled helicopter, to film the island’s ruined ghost town from the sky.

Sony is at it again, this time using this technology to get up close and personal as Hokkaido’s enormous Hoheikyo Dam discharges two tons of water per second. This really is quite the sight.

In the previous expedition to Gunkanjima, Sony employed a single multi-copter (the team’s term for its six-rotor radio controlled helicopters). For this project, they decided to use two of the machines in order to capture as many images as possible in the time allowed.

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Attached to the bottom of each of the units was Sony’s compact Action Cam video camera.

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While the footage from Gunkanjima demonstrated how a city can crumble if left to the forces of nature for 30-odd years, for this round of filming Sony selected a testament to power of modern engineering. The Hoheikyo Dam stands 102.5 meters (336 feet) tall, and holds back a massive pool of 37,000 cubic meters (9.8 million gallons) of water.

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Of course, there are limits to the liquid-retaining powers of any dam, even one of this scale. The reservoir must be partially drained at set intervals, and the awe-inspiring cascade of water this entails is what the team came to record.

A trip to Hokkaido’s lushly forested mountains may not seem to measure up to a deserted ruin-covered island on the adventure scale, but the conditions waiting for the team at Hoheikyo Dam were more challenging than those at Gunkanjima.

You can’t create a gigantic waterfall without also creating wind, and the plummeting deluge as the reservoir drains was going to make keeping control of the helicopter a difficult task. Granted, the multi-copter is far more capable than an off-the-shelf radio controlled helicopter from a hobby store, but that doesn’t mean it’ll stay in the air if it gets flipped upside down by a strong gust.

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As with all mountain locales, weather in the area around Hoheikyo Dam is notoriously unpredictable. As the team arrived, the morning skies grew dark with rain clouds. A storm would only add to the wind levels the team had to contend with, along with adding the danger of losing control of the multi-copters should their internals become damaged by moisture seeping through their protective shells.

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Completely erasing any margin for error was the likely crash site should things go wrong. No one was looking forward to having to be the one assigned to recover the wreckage from the base of the dam. Still, the team wasn’t going to head home empty-handed, and set about making their final flight preparations.

Finally, everything was set, and it was time for the pair of multi-copters to go to work.

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In the time leading up to the dam’s scheduled 9 a.m. discharge, the weather cycled from cloudy to drizzling time and time again, prompting the team to repeatedly ground the helicopters in between bouts of filming the structure.

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▼ There was no concern about the camera itself getting wet, though, as it was purposely submerged to obtain underwater shots for the final video.

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Unfortunately, the rain started to come down much harder shortly before 9 a.m. After another round of discussion, the team made the bold decision to do what they came for, and entrusted their skilled operators to keep the multi-copters flying long enough to record footage of the discharge.

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Finally, the floodgates at the top of the dam opened, heralding the moment the team had been waiting for.

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As expected, fierce winds buffeted the copters, threatening to send them spiraling hundreds of feet to the foot of the dam.

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But while the multi-copters trembled in the wind, neither overturned, and team was able to capture this absolutely stunning footage.

Noted dam enthusiast, photographer, and blogger Masaki Hagiwara, who previously explained why dams make great spots for dates, offered his reaction to the video, as well as explaining what makes it so special.

“My first reaction was, ‘Oh man, that’s so much cooler than the videos I’ve taken!’ Recently, more and more people are getting into dams, and now you can find pictures on the Internet of almost all the major ones in Japan. But since visitors only have access to limited areas, everyone ends up taking their photos from the same angle, so they all kind of end up looking the same.”

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With the multi-copters, though, Sony was able to record images from vantage points that would be impossible for ordinary tourists. “When I saw Hoheikyo Dam’s red crest gates straight on,” said Hagiwara, referring to the flood gates at the top of the structure, “it made me freeze with excitement. Anyone who loves dams would want to see that, and it wouldn’t be possible without this kind of technology.”

▼ Judging from the heart it formed, we’d say Hoheikyo Dam loves its fans right back.

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Source, images: Sony Action Cam
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