Thursday, April 14, 2016

Droning On...

I bought a drone. And it’s awesome. On a smiles-per-dollar basis, I can’t think of any recent purchase that comes close.

I’d wanted a drone for a while. A few friends had them and their pictures and videos were breathtaking. I imagined the possibilities: aerial video of dolphins playing in the bow wave, humpback whales bubble net feeding, bears foraging on shore, the boat surrounded by ice in a fjord. But I didn’t know how to fly a drone, I’d be flying it over water and landing it on a small, moving object, and they were expensive. Until recently, the drones I was looking at were priced around $1000—amazingly low considering their capabilities, but too high for something that would surely end up tangled in sailboat rigging or on the ocean floor.

A few weeks ago a friend sent a link: DJI Phantom 3 Standard quadcopters were on sale for $399, free shipping, no tax (Sorry, this deal is gone, but Amazon has them for $449). I jumped on the deal. Thirty-six flights later, I’m hooked.

Flying the drone is surprisingly easy. The controls are intuitive. The performance is remarkable—top speed close to 40 miles per hour, turns on a dime, climbs to 400 feet (FAA maximum) in a matter of seconds, flies about 25 minutes on a charge. If you get confused about where the drone is and need a moment to orient yourself, just take your fingers off the sticks and the Phantom hovers in place.

Laura on Airship took this picture. Robe, drone, is good!
It came with a camera that takes 12 megapixel stills and 2.7k video, and although the lens is wide-angle, it’s not a fisheye like a Go Pro. Most importantly, the camera is mounted on an amazingly good 3-axis gimbal, so the video is tripod-smooth.

I’m still learning, but here are a few early attempts. More to come!
Testing "Follow Me" mode in the dinghy

James Island
Driving the boat and flying the drone at Burrows Island Light.
Shallow Bay, Sucia Island, with Airship
Boating around Burrows Island
Cypress Head


  1. How low can you set the follow me mode?

    1. I think it will fly until it runs out of battery, which takes about 25 minutes. 15-20 minutes is probably a realistic so there's enough buffer to get it landed.