Friday, February 19, 2016

Learning to Fly

I've wanted to try flying a drone for some time, but yesterday I got my first chance. Unfortunately, it didn't go as well as I'd hoped, but I did enjoy myself.

One of the local high school teachers said he'd get a photo with his very lightweight quadcopter of the new elementary school under construction. He didn't get the chance to get out and do it, so he offered to let me try. I jumped at the opportunity, and after a quick lesson in the controls, took the copter back to work to charge the battery. After it was charged, I tried it out in the press room, much to the amusement of the insert crew.

My first attempt was... disturbing. It responded far too quickly, and got a rotor tangled in some plastic wrapping. I was able to work out the absolute basics, but I couldn't figure out the camera. So I headed to Google, then went back to the press room for a second try.

My second flight was slightly better than the first. Thank goodness the thing is durable! I scuffed it up good, but I still couldn't get it to take photos. One more try on Google, and one more attempt in the press room... it took photos and video! But none of them worked... the computer couldn't read them. Argh. I emailed the teacher to let him know the problem, then got on with my real work.

He called to help me troubleshoot, and after erasing everything on the microSD card, it worked. The copter took photos correctly in the press room. I was a bit disappointed in the quality, so we made other arrangements for the photos at the school. Then, when I went to lunch, I took the quadcopter out and tried to get a photo of the school under construction from above.

I naively didn't think about wind in my first flight. I thought, "Oh, I'll just go straight up and and take the photos, then come back down." Ha. I went straight up, and up, and the copter started to fly away from the school at a rather disturbing pace, although I wasn't using the controls to turn it or move it at all. Alarmed, I stopped the rotors and it plummeted. Even more alarmed, I gave the rotors just a little power... and it floated into somebody's back yard.


I went and retrieved it, feeling idiotic, and walked back to the starting point, a quarter mile away. This time I was far more cautious. I got several shots, but couldn't check them until I got home, so I packed up and went home before I destroyed the thing.

Once at home, I took the copter into the house where Inkwell stared at it suspiciously, then checked the photos. I got a lovely shot of the sky as the copter was falling, another lovely shot of a bunch of houses, two great aerial shots of garbage bins at the construction site and one not very good shot of the construction site from above, missing most of the buildings. Blah.

Inkwell was about to really start checking out the copter, so I turned it on, which alarmed him due to the lights and beeps. Then I revved up the rotors and he ran to the other side of the house. Then came back, too curious to not check it out. So I tried to follow him around the house with it, having very little success at first, but slowly getting the hang of flying. Every time it stopped, Inkwell would come running out to check it out and see if it would take off again, so I obliged him. I got it to follow him up the stairs, then into the bedroom, where it gave him a scare when it started up on the other side of the bed and then floated over him.

I have GOT to get a mini copter for myself.

Anyway, the mission was not a success due to the wind, but I did have a great time with the copter, which I returned intact to the teacher later in the afternoon.