A Drone Of A Different Breed

As an ADHD adult (dig the alliteration!), I've learned to channel my energy into subject matter that will hold focus.  "Squirrel!" doesn't even begin to describe the midway mania that comes with the journey, but projects and deadlines have a way of creating a siren song that pulls me in deep. So deep that just about everything outside of that sphere is lost in the blackness that surrounds that gorgeous shard of laser-light.  Parents are often told by wizened counselors that creative endeavors in school will help both scholastically and behaviorally with young ADHD sufferers and this so will carry on through into adulthood.  Music has been my laser for over 30 years, to the benefit of all that is music and to the detriment of all that is not.  

And in that mad, possessed focus there has been time for few distractions.  As a young adult, feeding off of the drug of accomplishment and spiritually enriched by fully engaging in the communication of music, I stopped watching television, going to movies, listening to radio and doing much of anything except for locking myself in a studio apartment and creating music.  The occasional trip to some place of amusement was always a welcome break from all of the stuff that gets dredged up when you're creating and feeling and hurting.  Probably why my decompression "happy places" are often theme parks; I equate them with a big exhilarating primal scream that resets all the buttons and breakers.  Maybe that's the 14-year old inside who is in full Peter Pan mode and completely unrelenting.

I didn't get into video games or RPGs, never surfed USENET and only latched onto the internet in 1996 because it was partially my job to be there.   The focus was primarily and always The Music.  A tsunami of perpetual mission and purpose.  Never a day off, every day a little bit of work, keep on pumping, score the accomplishment, reward the hard work with a deft skipping off to somewhere fun, preferably with roller coasters or other things that make you want to throw up.

The Cheerson CX-10C: World's smallest camera drone.  The tiny little bug that hooked a big old fish.

So, when Jae bought me this little drone for Christmas 2015, I thought, "well, isn't that adorable" and figured it would be something I could occasionally amuse myself with.  There will come a day when she will rue ever having given me that thing.  She might rue the hell out of it right now because, a year later, it's become a daily gotta-have.  Like I needed another expensive hobby.

Well, I pretty much sucked at it starting off, but it was loads of fun, if only for three minutes at a time.  I'd sling it around the studio, bouncing it off of equipment and the floor, then it would quit and I'd plug it in, go back to work and at some point, take a break and then play with it again.  This went on for about a month or so and then preparations for spring tour began.  Playtime was over for a little bit.

I didn't take it with me for spring, summer or fall tour, so when I arrived back on the day before Thanksgiving, I took it for a whirl.  Now, I had already bought a big packet of replacement propellors because the little things take quite a beating when you're falling all the time, and on this flight I, once again, failed at flying and broke one.  Having recently renovated the studio, I was chagrined to find that I'd most likely heaved the little plastic baggie with the surplus props into the garbage can.

Suddenly, one of those little switches that very rarely gets flipped in the brain snicked quickly from left to right and my eyes widened as I spun towards the computer.  


I don't have to tell you what happens next, so I'll show you a picture instead.

"Perfect; 14 and up."

"Perfect; 14 and up."

I've made all of, what, 30 flights?  And I suck? And I'm gonna buy a...?

"60 dollars!  And a $20 Best Buy coupon!"

I've bought stupider things for sixty bucks.  It showed up a week later.

Of course, the homework was very thorough.  Read a lot of reviews and watched a lot of YouTube, wanted something that had a camera and that could also carry my GoPro Hero 3+ Silver.  Oh, and something nigh indestructible because I was sure enough gonna crash the shit out of it.

Most arrows pointed to the Syma X8C Venture, which came highly recommended for beginners for all of the reasons I specified and more.  I looked up rules and regulations, flying tutorials, watched incredible drone photography videos and got licensed with the FAA.  Good to go.  

This was a birthday present to self and I wasn't sure what the drone compulsion was all about but was willing to roll with it.  Having just finished mixing on What's Old Becomes New Again and getting the new production studio set up, I felt like taking my birthday week easy.  Yeah, some work would get done, it always does.  But I was going to spend a little time learning to be a drone pilot.  Aside from the obvious goof-offery aspect of it, the idea of incorporating aerial photography into my work is a pretty sweet carrot.  As long as it's for work, it's okay, right? 

It goes without saying that the day the Venture was delivered, we had 10 - 15 mph winds as part of a cold front here in Orlando, so I decided to get some low-level practice in.  Very educational.  As I edited the footage, it seemed that learning to fly is a lot like learning to make music.  Shaky at first, but with practice, you just get better.  This is also a whole different animal than the Cheerson nano drones.  Many a flight was spent just hovering and landing.  Then hovering forward in a straight line and back again.  Over and over, just getting used to the controls and feeling the drone as it danced in the wind.  There were a few calm moments and I was able to see how smoothly the Venture hung in the air.  It was awe-inspiring and more nerve-wracking than I had imagined it would be.  Even though it's just a little bundle of plastic and circuitry, it's steadfastly on your mind, "don't crash."  No-one buys one of these things and says, "hey, let's fly this directly into a tree" except those guys with those channels on YouTube that delight in being subversive.  

We came here to fly, man, fly.

Syma X8C Venture

Syma X8C Venture

We live five minutes from Eagle Nest Park, which I didn't know existed until I went hunting for places to fly the X8C.  There have been some very calm mornings these past couple of days and despite having been listed as one of the best places to fly in central Florida, I haven't seen another pilot there yet.  Every day since it's arrival on December 8th, I've flown this thing multiple times throughout the day.  In the front yard, in the back yard, at one park that I thought was cool, but they politely said there was no designated area at Cypress Grove for drone flying.

Designated area?  So droners and smokers are being lumped into the same group now, eh?

"Starbright Holidays: An Intel Collaboration"

My precipitous tumble into the drone piloting world comes at a time of heightened awareness for UAV's (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) in central Florida.  First, Disney drops their new show "Starbright Holidays: An Intel Collaboration" with 300 drones flying in formation at Disney Springs, and then the City of Orlando announced new restrictions and regulations for drone pilots that have many in the media and commercial industry complaining that it unfairly holds them back from making a buck or covering the story.  

When you see just how many aerial videography posts that there are on YouTube for your given city, it's enough to make you want to watch the skies with binoculars to see just how many of them are up there.  What with everyone from Amazon to Domino's Pizza now offering drone delivery, our world is going to start looking like "Blade Runner" here soon, only with smaller vehicles.  

Think about it.  This is now a method of transportation, for cargo in the shape of pizzas, paper towels and air freshener.  On a very basic level, our air traffic is going to increase because the permits have already been issued.  This isn't pie in the sky and "what if?" but very much happening all over.  Live in a land of rivers and lakes?  Buy a boat!  Live in a world where people are using drones to do everything from shopping and surveying property to creating stunning works of art and showing media in a whole different and exciting way?  Get a drone!  As soon as I started posting videos on YouTube, people on Facebook began popping up saying, "oh, I have one too" and that's starting to show me that I'm not alone in this drone zone, amirite?  

So, I'm taking it slow, gonna work this "line of sight" thing for all it's worth.  Like I tell my beginning students, start with these basic concepts and then practice them - don't move on until you're comfortable with your knowledge of what's come before.

Won't be getting one of these for a while: DJI Phantom 4 PRO - $1,500 and upwards.

Granted, I've been dicking around with this thing for about an hour a day, so I'm pushing myself to learn quite a bit, which has led to some very successful continuous flying (flying while changing direction simultaneously) and better landings.  If I don't think about orientation, I do great, but as soon as I get out of the cockpit, it's all thumbs and down we go.  Pilots talk about keeping yourself in that cockpit as you fly so that your thumbs (or fingers) will intuitively know which direction to push.  Right now, this sort of mental hack is very much like riding a virtual rollercoaster with all the implied danger that comes with.  On my second day of park flying, I ascended to what I'm guessing is about 500 feet (seen in the video above) and my heart was pounding in my chest the whole time.

"I can't hear it anymore! Did the engines fail?"

There are models with a feature called FPV (First Person View) which gives you a screen so that you can see what you're drone is seeing.  There are also more sophisticated models which have all manner of flight failsafes like GPS positioning and Altitude Holds, none of which I'm using right now.  This is completely manual flight and I wanted to learn it this way first, before moving on to the fancy assisted stuff.  When it comes right down to it, if those systems fail, you still have to be able to get it back down to the ground gently.  

Nor one of these: DJI Phantom 3 - $900

So much to learn, but I'm having a blast and, yes, it's a skill that can be employed with Dulcimerica, or any other production that I'm working on, so I don't feel totally guilty about going back out into the backyard and flying circles around trees.

Like when I started with the ukulele, I wanted to learn the soprano first, before I went to the concert and tenor and baritone.  The Cheerson nano could be considered a soprano.  The X8C falls into a tenor category, but it's easy to fly and tough enough to survive all the beating I've given to it in the past week.  Sometime next year, I'll look into maybe getting a Hubsan FPV X4 Plus or something in the low $100's that has GPS, FPV, Atti Mode and all that stuff, but for the time being, I ordered a couple more Cheerson CX-10 series drones so that there's always one to fly while the other two charge.  That's a lot like theme park rides, too.  You'll wait in line two  hours for a three minute thrill, but was it worth it?  Hell ya!  Got the Cheerson CX-10A for $12 and the CX-10WD-TX for $30 (with coupon code.)  That'll lower wait times; always a good thing.

After having flown in small aircraft and really wanting to get a sport pilot's license, but knowing that I couldn't afford the hobby (I'm already an RVer, that's a big money hole in the road right there), drone flying seems the perfect compromise.  It'll be a challenge that's fun and rewarding, especially when my skills improve and I lose some of that "holy crap!" energy and slip into a more Zen state of flight.  Flying while keeping my feet firmly planted on the ground is sort of a running theme for the first 50 years of my life.  What a great way to kick off the next phase of this incredible journey I'm on.  Thanks for sharing it with me!




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