In the beginning, there was one drone purchased for me by tQ as a gift. (You can talk amongst yourselves about what I could possibly do to earn such a lovely gift). And it was good. I immediately took it to film DM’s martial arts tournament. DM referred to it as the moment where I actualized myself. With the exception of the kids tossing objects at it during filming, it was quite the fun weekend.
On the drive back from the tournament, I stopped off at Anderson reservoir to film the sun rise over the water. This did not happen. Instead, I crashed the drone in some dense underbrush. I believe the heavy winds blowing away from me combined with a week signal caused the unit to plummet to the earth. I spent a good hour combing through the scrub brush for the copter. I had to find it because the footage from the tournament was still in the camera. But I found it by listening for the noise of the struggling motors.
Eventually the bloom fell from the relationship. I tried to add a gimbal to stabilize the pictures but things went horribly wrong. My lack of electronics expertise probably played a great part. Rather than stabilizing the camera, the gimbal would just vibrate uncontrollably. My final flight with the twitchy copter was around the capitol building in Sacramento at a Serra Convention. I got some great still shots but no video.
The drone languished on my book shelf until early last year when I made plans to travel to Oregon to work on a short film about fencing master Charles Selberg. Wouldn’t it be great to get some lovely aerial footage of the Selberg property nestled in the cedar forest? The answer you are looking for is yes.
So, I inspected the drone to see what I could do to make it flightworthy. Was it possible to fix the gimbal? Well, one of the big problems is that batteries had sat too long without charging and now, no longer held a charge. I also managed to pull off the connector from the drone to the batteries when I was checking this out.
I went in search of a solution online. What I found was the price of drones had dropped considerably. I could now get a drone with a nice gimbal already built in for a reasonable amount of money. (This would be camera terms reasonable amount of money, not an actual reasonable amount of money) In a few short days, Drone 2 arrived. Life was good.
I brought the Drone to Berkeley where I practiced flying it inside the West Berkeley Fencing Center. This was all hubris. Your first flight shouldn’t be inside. Nor your 10th or even 100th. But I was fortunate and only almost barely missed crashing into the side wall.
Then it was off to the great north woods with visions of great aerial shots dancing in my head. Day one, I flew it in amongst the trees near the new built fencing salle. You know what I said about flying it indoors? The same goes for flying it surrounded by trees. I only had to clip one branch with the propellers before I decided it would be better to get some space between me and the trees.
I took the drone and flew it with great success around one of the other properties. I did drop it and snap one of the rotor protectors, but I fixed that with some super glue.
Then the demon Hubris figured I should I try one more shot in the forest. I did this lovely shot along the road in front of the property when I decided I should try and fly it into the forest. I made it under the gate with no problem. I flew it over the salle without a hitch. Boy, was I proud of myself. What I should have been doing was keeping an eye on the battery level. I should probably have been more conversant with some of the features of the new drone.
The new drone came with a new type of battery that had a built in computer chip which told the drone how much power was left in the battery. There were also warning lights on the battery itself to indicate levels of charge. One of the things the drone did when the battery reached a low level was to fly straight up in the air and then fly back to it’s home point. What a great safety feature, right?
Except if you are surrounded by trees and there is a canopy of branches over your head. I learned about this safety feature a little bit too late.
There I was with the drone suddenly flying by itself and I couldn’t control it. It flew straight into some branches and flipped over. It landed on the ground with it’s propellers spinning in the dirt. I couldn’t shut down the propellers because it was locked into fly home mode.
After much grinding, it stopped. Never to start again. I also bent the solid metal gimbal arm that held the camera. Now, the camera flew cock eyed. Well, if it were to fly at all. Which I needed to do because there was another big hike later that day that I was going to use the drone to film property number two. Not so much. The lights would come on. The drone would chirp happily. But the propellers would not spin. Sigh.
I sent it back to the manufacturer to get it repaired. The manufacturer proved their bad reputation, by taking forever to fix it. And by fix it, I mean they charged me to fix the broken propeller motors and bent gimbal and then just sent me a new drone. With one tiny caveat. The brand new drone wouldn’t fly. It had these red lights that would come on when I started it that meant system failure. Back in the box. Back to the manufacturer and I waited.
I did a terrible thing while I waited and cursed the drone manufacturer. I went online. I looked at new drones, new drones with all sorts of cool mouth watering features. And they were having a sale. And the prices for the new drone with the new features were reasonable. (See note above) I couldn’t get my credit card out fast enough.
The new drone and the repaired drone arrived at the house within days of each other. I’m now the proud owner of two functioning drones. The third drone could probably be made to work but I have enough problems.
Why the drone fever? I do need it to fly over the property in Oregon. And I might bring it back to DM’s tournament. But the real reason is that while I was online checking out the drones, I also checked out the new drone rules. I can now fly the Drone in Ireland without paying exorbitant fees. If I had drone fever before, that note set my skin on fire. Yup, the drone, the Queen and I are going drone flying in Ireland. I’m sure we are doing other things in Ireland but that information is kind of hazy.
The best feature about the new drone is that I can hook it up to tablet to use as a viewfinder. I can now see what the camera on the drone sees remotely. Isn’t that incredible? It works great. It also gives telemetry data. I can control the cameras remotely to choose between video and stills. I’ll stop. But I could go on.
With the shiny new drone and all my hard learned lessons, this time it’s going to be different. I have learned my lesson. I’m going to read all the instructions. I’m going to obey the safety precautions. I’m going to prove I learned my lessons.
I think it was on the second flight I was flying close to high power lines as I tried to get the proper angle on the Sixth street Bridge (At the moment I also have something of a Sixth street bridge fetish. They are tearing it down and I plan on documenting it) Looking at the footage later, I was appalled at how shakey the footage was. But I didn’t hit any power lessons.
I went online to find out what to do, thinking I was going to have another round of sending it to the factory to get repaired. Fortunately after perusing the forums, I found the answer, an answer also readily available in the quick start guide. It seems the camera is shipped with a little foam piece between the gimbal and the camera to keep the camera from shaking during shipment. First instruction on the quick start guide is “Remove foam piece before flying”. I only flew it a couple times with the foam piece attached so get off my back.
Now things are good. Now things are right. I resolved to practice more, to really learn the controls. I went out to flattop to practice and try out the cool new functions. I also wanted to check the new polarizer
I spent a gleeful 20 minutes flying the drone around the radio tower, chasing the crows and the hawks. All was good. Until I brought it in for landing.
To stop the drone’s rotors, you pull both controls down and towards the center. Simple. Except that’s not how you do it with the new drone. Again, I learned this a little late.
The drone touched down gently amidst a cloud of dust by the side of the dirt road. I pulled on the controls like I had done hundreds of times before. The propellers whirled up to speed. The drone stuttered and flopped upside down. The propellers twisted on the ground.
Crap. I ran to the drone to flip it over and avert burning out the motors. As soon as I grabbed the legs and lifted it from the ground, the freed propellers spun to full speed.
Picture if you will me standing there with four whirling blades an actual arm’s length from my head. There was no way to drop it to the ground without causing former damage. If I let it go, it wasn’t going to fly off nicely.
See? Lessons still remain unlearned.
I had the remote control in my hand as I thought quickly about what I could possibly do to stop the buzz saw in my hand. I maneuvered the control under my arm so I could hit one switch with my elbow while I pressed the other switch with my free hand. Mercifully, the propellers stopped spinning. Best o
f all, I was not having an Enrique Iglesias moment.
So, at this moment, it’s all good. My mind continues to plot what I’m going to film via the drone in England and Ireland. I’m sure all my mistakes are behind me.