Drone mission impossible over Forbidden City, says photographer

BEIJING - A New Zealand-based photographer attempting to fly a drone above Beijing's ancient Forbidden City - which sits next to China's top-secret leadership compound - says he has had his plans thwarted by police.

Trey Ratcliff, who used a camera attached to a remote-controlled helicopter near the popular tourist site and former residence of China's emperors, said on his website that he was briefly detained by police.

The Forbidden City is directly next to Zhongnanhai, the high-security compound where some of China's top ruling Communist party leaders live and hold meetings. It is heavily guarded and not open to the public.

A Chinese assistant gave Ratcliff "absolutely zero help" in warning him that he was about to fly the device near top-security buildings, the photographer said.

Ratcliff was approached by a police officer who gave him a "bad vibe" and was "really harshin' my mellow" as he prepared to launch the drone over the Forbidden City, he added in the account, posted to www.stuckincustoms.com on Thursday.

He was escorted to a "detention centre" and told not to fly the drone in central Beijing, he wrote, adding that he had struck up a brief rapport with several of the officers.

"Hello Nice Chinese Military Police Man! I forgot your name, but thanks for not doing bad stuff to me and stuff," Ratcliff wrote.

Pictures posted on the website showed aerial shots of Beijing landmarks including the striking headquarters of state broadcaster CCTV, designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, and Ming dynasty tombs.

"Beijing is the seat of all Chinese government power," Ratcliff admitted. "So, deciding to fly a drone over China is kind of like Luke Skywalker deciding to ride his landspeeder on the Death Star."