First Flight“OK here goes,” I say nervously.

“I’ve got the camera on,” my wife says.

A moving of the control sticks down and apart activates the motors. The whine of the four propellers spooling up fills the air, and I take a deep breath.

Kary WrightWell, I have to say, my wife really knocked it out of the park. She definitely gets awarded two goody points for this one. I had no idea what I was going to get for Christmas this year, and feeling like I had everything that I really need, I was okay with getting nothing special.

Then I opened my first gift, and it was a nice backpack.

“Thanks for the backpack!” I said enthusiastically. I can always use something that allows me to pack more junk along with me.

My daughter looked over towards my wife, who grinned back. Hmm, now I knew something was up. She reached under the tree to hand me another parcel. I clumsily tried to unwrap it, with no nondisabled or even canine help being offered, I might add. I just gave it a go, using everything available, namely fingernails, pencil, teeth etc., much to the amusement of the rest of the family. Finally I did tear the paper, and that’s when I saw the word, “Drone”!

I had previously looked at these things online, and loving everything that can fly, had dreamed about owning one someday. I’d heard that they are relatively easy to pilot, very stable, and you can have a live view from the drone on a screen. What amazing technology! They will even come back and land where they took off from if you get into trouble!

My Christmas Day was subsequently filled with watching all of the YouTube videos that I could, so that I would know how to fly it. Afterwards, I thought I was quite prepared. I have had some radio-controlled aircraft experience in the past, and hoped this quadcopter was as easy to operate as the videos said. Since it was quite an investment for us, I was still very nervous at first.

We had performed all of the startup and safety procedures so that it would know where home is, and we had calibrated the compass so it would know what the directions are, so there was nothing left to do but give it a whirl.

Maiden Flight
With the drone sitting on the ground, propellers spinning, I slowly moved the left stick forward to advance the throttle. The motors revved up and the drone jumped into the air! From watching the videos I realized that now all I needed to do was to center the control sticks and it should stay exactly where it was. I gave it a try, and true to form, it hovered about 10 feet in the air in front of us. I slowly guided it forward and back, left and right for a few minutes, not wanting to do anything fancy and cause a problem.

Adding those two wooden dowels to the controller made it quad-friendly.

Adding those two wooden dowels to the controller made it quad-friendly.

Now with the butterflies gone from my stomach, it was time to really start playing with it. I soon find that it is quite easy to fly, and that whenever it feels like it is getting out of control, I can just let go of the sticks.

Soon I was zooming around with the camera on, hovering it, taking selfies, and just plain enjoying flying. This thing is going to be a lot of fun!

With the video camera running, we made it zoom down the beach and way out over the low-tide sand flats, then turn it around and zoom back at us, all the while with the gimbal keeping the camera very stable.

We were constantly watching for the green lights to turn red, an indication that the battery is getting low. Then, all of the sudden I was in a panic — it seemed to have a mind of its own!

Drone“I can’t control it, it seems to be flying itself!”

“What can we do?” My wife says.

About that time I realized that it was flying right at us, and the green lights had now turned red.

“I think that it has detected that it has a low battery, and it must be flying home!” I say, relieved.

Sure enough, it headed right for us, slowly descended, and made a perfect landing about 20 feet away, right from where it took off. Then the motors shut down. Passersby had stopped to watch, and must have thought that I was one good pilot. I couldn’t believe it. I have since read that this is one of the safety features in the new software.

This drone is really going to add a new dimension to other activities like camping, fishing and photography. As a quad with very limited arm movement, to adapt the controls we simply put a couple of pieces of wooden dowel on the control sticks to extend them. You need to keep the control inputs small, which I found to be a bit of a challenge since we quads fly stuff like we are wearing boxing gloves. But with a little practice, it is not that hard.

This is a really cool hobby that most people can enjoy!

Frequently Asked Questions

Where did you purchase this drone?
My wife bought it online. There is probably a hobby store near you that handles them. Drones are very common now.

How do you learn to fly one?
I watched YouTube videos, but I do have some radio-controlled aircraft experience. There are simulators you can hook up to your computer that will help you learn, too.

Can you get into trouble and break the law with these?
Yes, you need to learn where you can and cannot fly them. For example, you’re not supposed to fly them over roadways, and there are also rules about flying them near airports. If you are flying them for profit, you will need liability insurance. Check the current regulations online, as they do change quickly as this hobby evolves.

Here are a couple of videos of my first flights: