Another Happy Landing

I’ve had my drone for about 3 years, maybe a little longer, and I’ve crashed it a fair number of times. Once its sensors went crazy and it flew itself directly into a pine tree, another time I was attempting to catch it (a method I sometimes use to cut the motor and end flight) and I got my fingers just a little bit too close to the blades and ended up with some bloody fingers and chopped up fingernails, and a drone upside down on the ground.

I’ve flown over water before and those flights are usually some of my favorites, getting down close to the water to see the reflection in it is such a cool perspective. When the water is a small pond, I can generally just fly it back and land it next to me on dry land. Fishing trips, however, create a whole new challenge.

I’ve taken off and landed on boats exactly four times, the first time was on a cruise with my family, we went offshore fishing with this great, local captain in the Bahamas. Took off and landed no problem, easy day, and those shots are still some of my favorite I’ve ever captured from the sky. (I’ll write a story about that one day.) The second time was on lake Tawakoni outside of the Dallas area on a small bass boat with my dad, brother, uncle and cousin. It was tight quarters on that boat, but again I was able to safely take off and land it on the craft. The third time, my brother, dad and myself went fishing with a friend of my dad’s on these little two-man boats with trolling motors on a pond. Sunset rolls around and I pop the drone out and get some shots, and bring it back in. The boat was significantly smaller than the last two but still, a happy landing. This fourth time though, was a bit more interesting.

So, if you remember my last post, we took that fishing trip in Florida and had an absolute blast, high waves had the boat rocking, we had the stereo blaring, and it was an all-around good time. I of course brought my drone, hoping the seas would calm enough to give me a window to feel comfortable about landing it in the boat, but I should have known I don’t have that kind of luck.

The whole time we’re out there I’m contemplating launching it, the first mate jokingly tells me he’s seen quite a few drones go straight into the water off the back of this boat, which really helped boost the morale. Toward the end of the trip, I make the decision to just do it, just launch it and capture what I can, and worry about landing it later. So, I do. I launch it and immediately get high wind warning from the sensors on the drone (duh), but I override them and begin my flight. For 10 minutes I fought the wind, trying to get smooth shots of our boat on the rough seas, and was surprised by how well some of those shots came out, but the battery started dipping into the 20% range and I knew it was time to do some problem solving.

I asked the guys to clear off one half of the back deck, I knew there was no way I was catching it with the boat rocking so much, so I was content to just get it below the side of the deck and basically crash land it. Dad stayed leaning off the very back, while Gus stayed next to me, and held a fishing rod I had asked him to grab so the drone didn’t sense it or get tangled with it. Moment of truth. The cleared space is about 6 feet by 6 feet, but with the boat rocking so much it felt much smaller. I bring it down to where it’s just above our heads, and make sure everything is clear, and then continue the descent. It gets to about eye level, when the boat rides a wave and the back of the boat rises a bit, bringing dad closer to the drone and its sensors.

The great thing about the technology on these drones is that they have these sensors that really make it nearly impossible to crash, if something gets within about 5 feet of it, it will it automatically adjust and move in the opposite direction, which is awesome… most of the time. In this case though, it was not so awesome. After it sensed dad behind it, it started moving forward, still eye level, directly at me and Gus. Gus clutched his fishing rod across his chest, and the drone slowly began lowering, but also slowly kept inching toward the two of us. Its blades start hitting Gus in the chest as he’s now leaning almost out of the boat trying to evade the blades. As its sensors start to try to dodge Gus it makes a move like it’s going to go back over the side of the deck, which would leave it a bit more wet than I generally like to keep my cameras, so I take my right hand off of the controller and smack the top of it like you’d smack a good steak you were about to tenderize, open handed, palm first “SMACK!” It hits the deck of the boat, but its blades are still going and its bouncing around at ankle level like a pinball. The first mate finally steps on it and the motor cuts out. Another happy landing.

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