November 2015

Before I offer an interesting chapter in my ongoing Quad Life, I just want to remind everyone that multirotor craft should be flown at our field in the same manner as fixed wing. Specifically; launch from the flight line and not the pits or sitting area. Why? Because shit happens. Even with the world’s most stable and reliable DJI Phantoms. And, unlike our fixed wing birds, multi-rotors can fly in any direction when things go suddenly wrong and most likely out of control. (Just ask Todd.) Also remember that when invoked, ‘auto return home’ results in autonomous landing to wherever the craft was powered up from and first picked up GPS signals. Not from where it was armed.

One more thing before The Great Caper (w Birds), you might want to know what the pubs are saying about the impending FAA actions. http://dronelife.com/2015/10/21/can-federal-drone-registration-work/. As for me? I could care less about registration as current DJI gear must be registered online with DJI prior to the quad ever arming.

So, check out this incredible but very true recent weekend escapade. Never a dull moment living on the edge of flight.

A while back I decided to upgrade my video platform from my terrific Phantom 2 with GoPro to the latest DJI Phantom 3 Pro.

First, I learned that the P3 and DJI’s complicated firmware upgrade and registration process was tough for me. That, coupled with two defective P3’s for different reasons left me wondering whether I really wanted the P3 new capabilities. I choose to go with the third replacement from B&H. (They are terrific!)

The third P3 shows up and after a number of hours I do end up with a seemingly fully functioning Phantom. In the process, I also found the Litchi P3 control software has advantages over DJI’d Go software. So, off I went to our field to test some stuff out. First, a couple of flights using eye contact and looking at the camera feed on the control tablet attached to the radio. Everything worked pretty well and I came home to learn about ‘preprogrammed, autonomous waypoint flying’. Essentially, that is applying turning waypoints on a Google Earth map at home.

I accomplished that homework assignment, saved the ‘mission’ onto my flight control tablet and head back out to the field. It worked as you can see here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aCBYxTM_H2Q

This is a completely hands-off flight, controlled by the preprogrammed application.

Net-net. I had confidence that I could fly the new P3 as I had imagined and planned for. The next chapter in my adventure was to head over to the coast and do some serious aerial videography out over unrecoverable Pacific waters.

My wife and I chose to go to Bodega Bay Lodge for our 28th anniversary and she graciously agreed to share that weekend with the new Phantom. Bamm! Nailed it.

On Saturday morning we drove up to Jenner and we found incredible early morning weather and sunrise. As you can see from the video link below, life is great. Until Sunday morning, when the Darkside showed up.   

The Darkside. First, I have always been scared shitless of Hitchcock’s’ ‘The Birds’ filmed in early 60’s in freaking Bodega Bay. Ok, big deal. It was just a movie.

I get out of the lodge as the sun starts creeping through the mist and fog. It’s around 8AM as I look out over the rows of fishing boats docked in the Westside Marina.  The fractional sun is directly in front of me and the combination of boats, mist and breaking sunrise should make for some very compelling video. My gear is all out on the edge of the parking lot and my new Phantom 3 Pro is warming up in GPS mode. Everything is ready and I launch choosing to fly down the waterway between the rows of boat sterns.

The flight path is going to be hard because I want to face the right hand side boat sterns and ‘crab’ my way out towards open water. Everything is going well and can see on my flight control tablet that the video will be terrific as I arrive well over 100 yards out at the edge of the marina.  I can no longer see the P3 and I use only FPV at that point. I rise fifteen feet or so to pan the area and BAM. I said BAM!

I hear snap and a bunch of seagulls start screaming as I watch in horror as my screen goes crazy and I hear a final crash. Hard to tell what has happened but the gulls are still going nuts out there somewhere. It is at that time that I realize that my new P3 has been attacked and has crashed.

But, I don’t remember hearing a splash. Only a crash. I look at my flight control tablet and there is actually a photo of something brown and I am getting various ‘end of life’ messages from the P3. With all that water everywhere, I summarize that I must have miraculously crashed onto one of the boats.

Now what? It’s 8AM on a Sunday morning in a marina with locked gates to all of the boats and I have a $1500 drone laying somewhere out there.

The adventure continues. I head over to the marina office and obviously they are locked up so I decide to leave a note about the time I see this guy alongside of the building. I ask him if he works here and he says yes.

Just to recap for a moment. I am flying a very difficult and scary route over water when seagulls attack my quad and it seemingly crashes on a friggin boat and now I have an employee who possibly can unlock the gate so I can attempt to find the Phantom. It is Sunday and Pope Francis is still in the country. I’m good.

Me, “Hi, you won’t believe what happened.” Marina dude, “You crashed your drone onto the Mary Liz?” Me, “?????”. Marina dude, “Someone just called it in.”

Nice guy named Reese and we head out to the Mary Liz. We get to the boat and there is another boat idling in the water right off the stern of ol’ Lizzy. I shout out that ‘a seagull attacked my drone’. He tells me that he saw the drone hovering and then it just disappeared. Fortunate yet again that there was anyone around in a boat at that time and he ‘called it in’.

I find the Phantom sitting upright on its legs, right next to the cockpit of the vacant Mary Liz, so close to the dock that I simply reach over and turn off the battery. It looks relatively undamaged except for two broken prop sides, one of which is laying on the dock obviously broken when hitting the all metal commercial fishing boat.  

On the walk back to the car, Reese tells me that they were thinking about buying a drone to patrol the docks but maybe those plans should be shelved. He also told me that the marina gulls are so aggressive that they attack blackbirds to eat them. I guess they have learned to hunt just like Hitchcock believed.

Upon closer inspection the P3 had a damaged gimbal and a slight crack in one arm. I have a two year unlimited replacement policy with B&H and I will certainly take that option.

Viva Papa Francis for keeping my P3 dry as I am sure B&H would never replace it solely on a ‘seagulls ate my term paper’ story.

Here is the video from the beautiful weekend. https://youtu.be/lfuwqbDx5P0   Don’t forget to click on the full screen icon in the far right.

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