This is the second installment of the series "Hard Landings & Flyaways."
The JJRC H-12 has been one of my favorite drones despite its toy-grade classification. The H-12 is a quadcopter that will set you back somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 to $75. In my mind, the best thing about this particular drone is that you can purchase it with either a 2.0 or 5.0 megapixel camera. Mind you, it’s not a high-quality camera, but considering the price, you could do far worse.
So, I’ll just get right to the painful part about this model: I’m on my fifth H-12 as of this writing. And because I’ve purchased it five different instances, it goes without saying that I’ve learned a lot about flying drones via the H-12.
When it comes to “disasters,” I’ve had two accounts that are memorable—both resulting in 100% losses.
My first JJRC H-12 served me well and it flew many, many missions. Once I lost it temporarily to the roof of Ellet High School (my brother’s alma mater) in Akron, Ohio when I was visiting my mom for several weeks. It was a flight around sunset and I was alone. And as these things go, one thing led to another along with an extra gust of wind and the next thing I know, it’s sitting on the roof.
Although I considered pulling off a cat-burglar like stunt that involved finding some way of climbing up to the roof. Then I considered by 50-plus years of age and I conceded to waiting it out until the next day. When I entered the building the next morning in search of a custodian who would assist me in the recovery, I was pondering the story I would offer up in explaining the drone’s location. Because it was the summer and school was not in session, it took me awhile to find the right person, allowing me more time to come up with something where I didn’t look (or feel) so stupid. Finally locating a custodian, I explained to him how my “non-existent son” lost his toy drone on the roof the night before. With little fanfare, he escorted me to a door with roof access and it was back in my possession after only spending one night alone under the Ohio sky.
It would be another five months or so before the H-12 flew its final mission—in Portland, Oregon this time. While visiting my gal Marsha, I stepped out of the back door of her apartment building for a quick flight of the downtown Portland skyline not far away. The wind appeared to be calm at the time, but the sky was dramatic. And as these things typically go, in what should be an easy and quick flight, turned into a confusing and painful experience. At some point while it was at its apex, it must have lost contact with the controller and at about the same time, it was high enough to catch a good gust of wind that sent it over some nearby trees and towards the I-405 and U.S 26 exchange.
I never saw it again. Perhaps it was hung up high in the branches of the many trees that overlooked and lined the expressway, or it found its way to the ground somewhere and was picked up by some homeless/transient person. I’ll never know. Nevertheless, I listened to the local news the following day just to make sure no one reported a drone hitting a car on the busy highway. I was prepared to turn myself in had there been any injuries or damages from the ill-fated flight.
Relative to the lost-in-Portland H-12, the H-12 that replaced it had a very short life—no more than three flights. It was a quiet Sunday afternoon and I decided to go down to Coulter Avenue (the major thoroughfare of Powell) and get an aerial image with the drone’s 5MP camera of the various grain elevators in that area.
Coulter Avenue is a four-lane highway that runs parallel to train tracks that lead to Cody and an irrigation canal. I decided to take off from the vacant parking lot of the Skyline Restaurant on the other side of Coulter from the elevators. It couldn’t be more than 100 yards from the car park to the elevators which is a typical range for toy-grades like the H-12.
As the quadcopter crossed over Coulter Avenue with about 75 feet of altitude, it suddenly dropped about 20 feet. This was likely a drop of signal from the controller, but then the drone came back up as I gunned the throttle. At that point, I should have brought it back, but thinking it was just some one-time glitch or anomaly, I pushed it forward. Within seconds of that decision, it dropped again, but this time it never recovered. Reminiscent of a last-second, half-court shot that wins a basketball game, the drone disappeared, but once out of sight, a splash of water appeared meaning only one thing—it was in the canal.
I froze for several seconds as the unexpected splash of water was finding a place to register in my mind. I crossed over the semi-busy highway—even having to wait for a couple cars to pass—and set a course for where the little drone might be in the swift-moving current of the irrigation canal. Looking over the canal once I arrived, I was awarded a quick glimpse of the submerged drone disappearing into the dark and dangerous waters of the canal.
I almost threw the controller in after it.
Sitting at home that evening with the repeating image of the sinking drone in my mind, I concluded that one of two things happened: the antenna on the drone or the controller wasn’t up to the usual standards, or there was some kind of radio interference in that part of town. But, as these things go, I’ll never know.