First drone flight

First drone flight!

“Some people just never get out and fly the dang drone. They study and study but don’t get the muscle memory down or actually apply (what they’ve studied).”

Featured photo by Katie McNulty from Pexels

Now that I’d completed the preparation and flight portion of the Aerial Video A to Z course with instructor Alexander Harris and reviewed some instructional videos on flight exercises, it was time for me to “get out and fly the dang thing”.

But I had some trepidation. It’s not easy to consult your notes while you’re flying, so it’s all down to what you can remember. At this point, I probably retained as little as 10 percent of the course information and based on my teenage experience with radio controlled cars, there was a chance my poor little drone might not survive its champagne flight.

But I had two new assets in my arsenal:

  • Unlike my unstable Chinese knock-off, the Mavic Mini 2 drone is a consumer product that people have flown successfully — and if they can do it, I might have half-a-chance.
  • The Drone Launch Academy course was teaching me about flight, cinematography, and post processing — and that just might be the other half-a-chance I need to pull this off.

I’d learned which accessories to buy, such as spare batteries and propellors, and what not to waste my money on. I learned what camera and flight settings to use. I learned to use a pre-flight checklist:

  • all batteries charged: drone, controller, AND the iPhone
  • plan the shot and the flight
  • clear and insert the memory card
  • use a launch/landing pad (especially in grassy areas)

I’d also learned to pay attention to what you could and couldn’t do legally with a drone.

They’re considered aircraft and you need to know aviation rules since fines for breaking them can be in the thousands of dollars. In Canada, the federal agency Transport Canada sets and publishes the rules. In the US, it’s the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and they publish rules for Unmanned Aircraft Systems.

The key rule is that, if your drone weighs 250 grams or more, you need to pass an exam for a drone pilot certificate and register the drone. My Mavic Mini 2 weighs just less than 250 grams so no certificate or registration is required, which makes it a great aircraft for a hobbyist like me to learn on. As usual, there’s a YouTube video for that

And there are flight areas you need to stay away from, such as airports and emergency zones — and you don’t fly over people.

So theoretically speaking — I was ready.

My only objective for flight number one was to get my little Mavic off the ground and not crash it. Anything else I learned was gravy.

All the experts recommend using a big empty field for your first flight, for obvious reasons — we have a big back yard and I figured, why not?

So I flattened a cardboard box to use as a take-off/landing pad, set up my Canon DSLR on a tripod to record the event, and here’s what happened…

As soon as the little Mavic lifted off, I knew this was going to be good. It was stable, responsive, and smooth and it felt natural to fly it — at least within my limited flight objectives. It was so much fun, I exhausted the entire battery.

So what did I learn in my maiden flight?

  • First and foremost, I didn’t hit anything!
  • A well-made drone is very stable to fly — unlike my cheap Chinese kamikaze drone. Even in windy conditions, the software keeps it level and steady.
  • Steady flight makes precision flying possible (at least it will when I learn more about what I’m doing)
  • Taking off manually is a breeze (no pun intended). I used manual for my first time because I’d forgotten where the auto take off control was!
  • There’s no microphone and it doesn’t record audio, so it’s silent footage (and that makes sense because all you’d hear is the propellors). In my first flight video, the sounds you hear come from the DSLR’s microphone.
  • Watch where your light source is (usually the sun) because it’s easy to blow out the video’s highlights when you fly toward the sun.
  • It was really difficult to see the iPhone screen in the daylight but easier in the evening. I’ll likely add a monitor hood to my list of accessories. (The iPhone connects to the controller and acts as the flight monitor.)
  • It may just be me, but the further away the drone gets, the worse your perception of distance and the proximity of obstacles gets.
  • Smooth graceful flight seems to get the best footage — no “herky-jerkies” as Alexander Harris would say.

Overall it worked out really well and now I couldn’t wait to try it again. But with only one battery, I could stay aloft for about 25 minutes before I needed to recharge — downtime that gave me a chance to offload and edit the footage.

I’d already set my objectives for the second flight:

  • Use the ND filters as Alexander instructed and see what difference it makes.
  • Fly and shoot in the “golden hour”, that space of time in the early evening when the sun is low and the quality of light changes to warmer hues
  • Learn how to use the camera gimbal and move the point-of-view around while in flight.

There was so much to learn and I wanted to know it all now… but patience is a virtue (I have to try to remember that). I made the second flight later that night…

Next post: second, third, and fourth flights — high altitude flying and then I nearly lose the drone in a fast flowing river!

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