Another year of flying drones, but it’s not like I started flying drones on the first day of year back in… oh I don’t know, 2012? Does anyone really know when they officially started flying drones?
Mine started with the little Syma helicopter my father purchased for himself, but he never flew it for fear he would crash it. So, he just put it up on the shelf like any other aviation model he collected. But on those occasions I was home, one particular time I inquired about its ability to actually fly. He gave me permission to give it a try, and during that two-week visit of flying the little helicopter, I embarked on my “career” as a drone pilot.
I never flew again until the next year I was home, but after that second visit, I realized I needed to get my own. That’s when I was really hooked. Looking back at my Amazon orders, one could say I was officially on board on the 31st of March 2014 when I ordered, not one, but two Syma helicopters.
But, back to another young year behind me when it comes to flying drones, and the highlights of that year.
On Super Bowl Sunday (February 5,) I took out my XK Detect X380 for a neighborhood flight knowing everyone was indoors watching the game. In what I thought would be a casual and innocuous flight, I watched in horror as the X380 suddenly started drifting and unresponsive to my efforts of correcting the drift. Before I knew it, it was making like a Japanese dive-bomber at Pearl Harbor heading for the deck. As it dove toward a hard and frozen field (instead of a house or someone’s car luckily), it suddenly made a hard turn and flew through the leafless branches of a deciduous tree and then tumbled across the snow-packed road—finally coming to rest by the barely visible curb. Like a runaway truck ramp, the tree branches slowed the quadcopter down enough before hitting the frozen earth to keep the damage to a minimal. Oh sure, three of the four props were lost including all four legs of the landing gear and the gimbal holding the sports camera, but miraculously, every prop arm was only scratched up a bit, while the shell and camera remained intact. Walking home with the wrecked craft, I felt lucky on two accounts: first, I still had a quadcopter that would fly another day, and second, few people (if any) saw the horrible crash. I have yet to confirm what caused this incident, only theories.
On another instance, during a very short test flight (straight up and down) from the backyard after upgrading the firmware of my Phantom 3, a policeman knocked on my door about 30 minutes after the flight to ask if I had been flying a drone. He informed me that although I had not broken the law, a neighbor had reported the flight and was concerned.
One summer morning, I flew out of the front yard and as my Syma X8C was coming in to land, the guy across the street looked up and impersonated the action of someone firing a shotgun at the drone (sound effects included) as he was working about his yard. The drone was never above or near his property. Considering we’ve never visited, I reckoned his conduct as more adversarial than comical.
As a result of these incidents, I’ll probably be much more reserved about flying in the neighborhood in 2018, and limit such flights to only those circumstances that are far beyond the norm.
One other notable item: two of my drone images have hit the printing presses. One image was published in the October issue of The Sun Magazine, while another was used in a promotional piece for the college (where I teach).
As I head into the new year, I can report that I’ve formally logged well over 400 flights (on at least 8 different aircraft over the years) that produced still photography or video. This does not count the many test or pure recreational flights.