So to carry on in the vain of my past few post about “what its like to own a DJI drone” in this post I would like to talk about my personal experiences when out and actually flying.
As I have stated in the past, the Mavic Pro and Pro 2 are stellar flying machines. Personally, I have never had any real bad problems with the aircraft. With my Mavic Pro (the first) I did have one battery mysteriously go bad after about six months. I have dropped a few of my batteries on the ground a few different times and I thought it could possibly be the culprit.
Now as for out flying and in the air, my first big worriment is bird strikes. I have had a few close calls, actually several close calls with birds. Secondly, I worry about someone shooting the drone with a shotgun and third is a “just as luck would have it situation.” There is a farm where I rent space to keep my BBQ cooking equipment for my catering business. I am allowed to fly there however it is a bit tricky because as luck would have it there is a natural gas pipeline that runs right through the farm property. Every day about 10:00am-ish a small single engine plane flies over at about 300 feet. The underside of the wings says “Pipe Line Patrol.” I fly at the farm mostly for practice and testing the different flight modes & profiles. It is a very wide-open space and I am not flying over people; however, I always have to keep a keen eye out for the Pipeline Patrol plane. Sure, it comes by each day around the same time, but what if one day it came at a different time? You just never know.
Birds were a problem from day one. There are several different kinds of birds at the farm, more in the warm weather, of course. The barn swallows like to gang up on the drone if it is 100 feet or lower and the closer to the buildings the more, they dive at it. I have never had one hit it yet, but I think that is because when I see them coming, I move higher and further away.
Hawks are common site at the farm, however they rarely come after the drone. But when they do it is quite scary. Most times the hawk will come in quick, he will first fly past as if not to notice the drone or care about it too much. Then after seeming to fly away and usually higher, the hawk will turn and go into a dive picking up a great amount of speed. His trajectory is usually not perfectly aligned with the done and he actually dives lower than the drone. Then at the last second with all the speed he built from his dive, he will pull up and arc directly toward the drone. Most times when the hawk comes close and I usually go into sport mode and hightail it out of his airspace.
Is the hawk just toying around or is the hawk serious? I’m not an Avian expert so I’ll just leave it at that. Better safe than sorry and at the same time I really don’t want the hawk to get hurt either. I think they are beautiful and majestic and after all I am the intruder here.
The dreaded shotgun; This is something I really do worry about. Although I never fly close and low over people’s houses and I’m not into peering or leering into people’s private lives, I still worry. People can be malicious, especially if they think they can get away with it and most likely they would. I have overheard locals talking about drones and not knowing I own two and also not knowing I was listening to their conversation outside the local convenience store; I heard one man telling another “I hope a drone flies over my property because I’ll blast it with a shotgun.” At this time laws are constantly changing and as far as I know at this very moment, it is illegal where I live to down an aircraft regardless of its size, manned or unmanned. However just because something is illegal doesn’t stop people from doing it. It is illegal to mug someone, still I think I’ll stay out of the dark alley in the bad part of town anyway. Sure, even if you caught the guy for shooting down your drone, the trouble one would have to go through to get another drone would certainly not be worth it.
Now as for encountering people when I fly; I have to say that most people who see me flying my drones are pretty nice and this can be a double edge sword of sorts. While it is nice to see that they are ok with me flying my drone there are sometimes the people who are nice, but very intrigued at the same time. They will come over and start asking questions about the drone because they are honestly interested. However, it can be very bothersome when I’m in the middle of trying to get a shot. Most often this person just doesn’t realize that I am in the middle of actually doing something with the drone. Usually I will say politely that I will answer all your questions in just a minute.
They will run though the typical gamut of questions starting with how much does that drone cost? Are they hard to fly? And then things like; I have a $30 drone that I chase my cat around the house with. They’ll ask about the video and photos and I’ll usually show them some video and photos on my phone or tablet.
In my two plus years of owning drones I have come across one real dick head, to put it bluntly. I was at a location that was an old abandon pharmaceutical farm. It is a large parcel of land that once was a farm that had many buildings and pastures for grazing. The pharmaceutical company housed animals there for testing animal medicines and vitamins for animal use. The land was now owned or controlled by the state and it is still unclear to me as to what the status of the land is. It is not actually a park or a reserve or even a preserve. However, the land does butt up to a park on one side. Rangers patrol the park, but again it is very unclear when I read online as to who has jurisdiction. One read will say it falls into the hands of the local police because it is not a park and another state website claimed it could be controlled by county or state rangers. Either way I though it would be a great place to fly the drone on a weekday afternoon because no one was around. I came, I flew and I left with no problem at all.
Upon returning several months later in the month of September, No one was there, I was flying and had used on battery. I found my locations for good video shots and a few locations for some photos. I use the first 20 minutes to figure out what and where I want to shoot, then I return and replace the battery and away I go. While returning for the battery swap, I see a car pull in the lot. Sometimes you just know, you get a bad feeling in your stomach. The car door opens and out steps a real living G.I. Joe doll. He’s dressed like he just fell of a page from the Cabela’s catalog. He’s decked from head to toe in camouflage and he opens the truck of the car (a Saab) and takes out what looked like a new style muzzle loader rifle. He walked until he is about 20 feet from me and starts to tell me in his Sean Connery voice that what I’m doing is highly illegal and he could have me arrested.
In my 54 years of being on this earth the one thing I have learned is “I know a douche bag when I see one” and this guy was just that. When people first threaten you with arrest in the very first few seconds of meeting you, in a situation where no one or nothing is being harmed, they’re not a police officer and they throw this vast wealth of information in your face… most times they have no idea what they’re talking about. Kind of like a peacock fanning her tail to scare off a perceived threat.
I gracefully continued to hover the drone at about 250 feet in the air and he didn’t even know the drone was up there. He seen me holding the controller and though I was getting ready to fly. I set the controller down on the hood of my vehicle and moved away from it, leaving the drone to just hover high above. I let him continue with his rhetoric, spewing his verbal diarrhea of knowledge about drones. Funny thing was he never once could tell me what the laws were, only that he knew I was not allowed to fly at that location. Of course, he wanted me gone because he wanted to go hunting and felt I was going to scare away the deer. The deer that were still grazing in a meadow about 250 yards from where we were standing. I seen them while I was flying and the drone never bothered them one bit.
I told him my name and said if he’d like he could call the police or whoever he felt he needed to call. “Maybe you need to call your therapist because you seem a little upset” and with that he started to get ruffled and stated “I’m not upset, I’m not upset at all, I know the law and you’re breaking it.” Then I delivered the final blow when I said “you are upset, you appear to have sand in your vagina and it’s ruining your wonderful afternoon of hunting.” Just then the battery on the drone reached its low-level limit and the controller started to beep and giving out the verbal commands of “low battery and returning to home.” This made him very uneasy because now something was happening with the drone and I wasn’t even holding the controller. The drone was slowly descending and you could hear the sound of the props. He was trying to act as if he wasn’t flustered, but he kept looking up and looking at me at the same time.
As the drone was landing, I walked over to his car and put my photography business card under the wiper blade on his windshield and said “just so you have all the correct information if and when you decide to call whoever you’re going to call.” He just continued the blah, blah, blah and I put the Mavic Pro in the car and left. But not before telling him “I hope that sand doesn’t irritate you too much, I hear it can be pretty bad if left untreated.”
Sure, I thought about going down the road, stopping and buzzing him with the drone a few times just to irritate him even more, but then I would be just as much an asshole as him. Needless to say, I never heard a word from any authorities about the incident confirming that he knew nothing of what he was talking about.
So, in conclusion there are a few things out there that can ruin your fun day of flying. It could be a bird, a shotgun, a low flying plane or just a douche bag in a Saab.
Happy flying, be safe and always be aware.