14. Finding North, back on track – part II

Previously: losing direction

A week passed quite quickly. After a busy Saturday, I finally got the time to fix my gimbal mounting with the new rubber connectors and finally test that my gimbal survived the crash.

A quick test at home showed that for the most part the gimbal is working, although it seems like it is not going full range facing down relative to how I remember it, and it starts to shake as it gets to about 80º. I’ll need to verify this later on and see if I need to re-calibrate the gimbal’s range….

Happy and confident, I made my traditional cappuccino and off I go on my way, back to where I left off last week.

Just before leaving, something in me felt like it is about time I’ll mark my drone with some “return-if-found” label just in case I lose it, so that maybe someone nice will actually return it to me if they find it. So I quickly printed some labels with my phone number and a Thank You message and I was ready to hit the road.

If you ever rode any motor-bike, big or small, you probably had an accident with it, jus the rule of owning a motor-bike. Although I only drove a 125cc Yamaha bike, I had my share of crashes and falls. Even got my first cast and first ever surgery thanks to that 2-wheels toy in 2005 which was the last time I ever drove one after realizing that 4 accidents are just too much! So, like any biker recovering from an accident, you have to put yourself at the same spot to get over the fear of the accident.

Yes, I was not actually in mid-air during the crash, but it was still shocking enough to feel like I have to “fix” this fearful feeling.

I got back to the crash site at SkySong, parked, set everything up, and just to be on the safe side, I ran another calibration. I decided to take off from the same spot.

While I was setting up, I noticed a couple of ladies that came to take still photos of the SkySong construct which was my target as well.

I did my quick flight check, made sure the GoPro is set to video mode (a new item on my check list since I made that mistake on our last family vacation, where I ended up with short bursts of photos instead of my video…) and off we go.

For a second I felt like I’m in the matrix, although I didn’t see any black cat, I did see my plastic bird acting as strange as last week, I guess I can’t only blame the calibration for what happened last week, the quad started to fly against my will, and almost hit the buildings around us. I managed to stabilized it and push it towards the white domes of the structure.

The little practice from last week did help, but before I knew it, I hit one of the metal wires that holds the structure in place and my drone is performing a familiar rotation in mid-air and throwing its nose down while starting to fall.

[DRAMATIC MUSIC GOES HERE – pause for 3 seconds and then continue reading]

[3 Mississippi]

[2 Mississippi]

[1 Mississippi]

But unlike last week, it stabilized after about 10 feet and adjusted itself to float in mid-air! Probably a black cat is a must for a real déjà vu, lucky me!

Draining one battery pack, I reloaded and went to my next spot, flying in the center of the structure.

Got some, what I hope would end up being nice shots and was able to attract the two ladies why started to shoot the flying object instead of the original target, what can I say, I man with a drone is like a man with a baby… you can’t go unnoticed…

Feeling more confident by the second, I’ve started my 3rd and last juice load, putting everything in, picking up a new takeoff spot and we are off the ground.

I decide to do a quick vertical acceleration to get a nice shot when I hear a loud POP sound and I can see that the drone has decided to puke out the battery. Luckily for its own good, the wires of the battery are strong enough that the battery can’t just detach from the power plug. Now,  I know you wouldn’t believe me when I’m saying that every time I locked that battery door I was thinking how come it never opens? Well now I have my drone in about 40-50 feet off the ground with its electric “fuel door” unlatched and the battery on its way out, hanging by the power cord…


So, how do I bring it down without causing the battery to fall off it and by that kill the power and drop the drone to its “death”???

As much as I tried to keep the drone level, it kept pulling its nose down which means the battery is ready to jump off….

With a  shaky hand and sweat over my forehead, I managed to bring it for a short pit stop to fix the battery door and secure it before this little touch and go is complete and the drone is back in mid-air finishing some nice aerobatics moves before the battery is emptied and I’m landed with no major issues to report.

So boring that even the two ladies decided they can go without even exchanging contact info with me (so we can share photos and videos, what did you think???)

So finally, after a 2nd weekend, a broken gimbal, and a somewhat restored confidence, I’m giving you: the “SkySong of Scottsdale” video…

13. Losing track of North – Part I

After being grounded for almost 5 months since my last flight, thanks to the crazy heat here in the desert, I finally found it reasonable enough to fly my plastic bird on a fun ~85ºF (30ºC) nice Sunday morning.

I already told the wife that I plan to take it for a flight first thing in the morning, but as I started to pack everything up and check my battery levels I remembered that I never fixed the broken landing skid.

broken landing gear

As quickly as I could, I brought my toolkit and the new landing skid kit I ordered 5 months ago and started to work on the fix.

10 minutes later, I’m ready with a new landing skid that is taller and wider than the one I had.

2014-10-19 10.45.39

Just before living I’m talking to my wife about my dilemma of where should I film today. I’m trying to stay true to my intention to cover Scottsdale first before I got to other places.

We are throwing some ideas at each other and I’m ready to go.

Excited, I take my stuff, and my freshly made cappuccino, and I’m ready to hit the road.

2014-10-19 11.01.01

I got to my final destination… The Sky Song campus of ASU just south of old town Scottsdale.

I find myself a nice parking spot, I take a last sip from my coffee, and I’m out to set everything up and start my day.

I turn the chopper on, making sure that all the controls are properly set, I even adjust the camera’s tilt a bit down, to get a nicer picture with less of the prop-guards, and in my mind it feels like the 5 months of no-flight are behind me.

I pull the joysticks down-middle to kick off the motors… I’m pushing the throttle lever and the baby is starting to rattle, gaining power and lifting off the ground in a beautiful take off using its new legs.

So, my drone has air born in this 15 ft wide street next to my shooting target, the interesting white construct of steel and white sheets of something that looks like a sail. And I feel that something is not normal.

I had tough flights before, but nothing like that. The drone is flying smoothly, but is not doing what I want it to do. When I release the controls it keeps drifting… when I pull it in a direction, it kind of doing it, but mostly not… I thought to myself, probably the buildings around me are causing the GPS to get confused so I lift it up higher to not be blocked by the buildings.

But, as you may expect, not to my enjoyment, it decided that it doesn’t care about what I want… it will try to do whatever it wants.

I tried to control it better, and felt like maybe flying it is not like riding a bike and if you don’t practice for 5 months, you will forget how to do it properly, and especially if all you have on your belt are about 8 or 9 flights…

After trying to fight its drift with no success I gave up and decided to land it back so that I can see what is wrong.

As I tried to navigate it back to a safe landing it kept doing its thing, while flying straight into one of the walls, than back to the other side of the street, hitting one of the metal cables that holds the construct in place, a huge bang sound, it flips in air but tries to stabilize itself, hitting the wire once more and then diving down to the ground while staring at me with a feeling of disappointment.

The next second went in front of my eyes in super slow motion. I didn’t even had the time to change my reaction. The drone just rolled down while diving into the concrete floor 5 feet from me (~1.5 meters) and I see it dies and pieces flying all over!!!

Now I panic. Did I lose my drone in its first flight after so long?

I immediately try to assess the damage:

  • Gimbal is disconnected from the drone
  • Only two out of the four rubber connectors are found
  • GoPro is still running…
  • everything else looks surprisingly still in good shape.

I start looking for the missing pieces while I’m trying to think what caused this strange and new behavior. Is it all my fault for not practicing flying it before taking it on a mission?

I keep searching the floor, finding one of the connectors, but can’t find the other one.

After 20 minutes I gave up, but not before it hits me!

I know what happened! Of course….

Stupid me, when I installed the new landing gear, I had to re-attach the electric compass that is hooked to one of the legs.

What I forgot, is that when you do this, you have to re-calibrate the drone to know how to find the north!!!

This explains everything.

Before hitting the road, I went on Amazon to find replacement parts, and was shocked to see it was about to be delivered same day on a Sunday!!!

When I got home, I pulled the instructions on Google and ran the calibration “dance”.

You toggle one of the remote buttons few times for at least 5 seconds until the orange light comes on, now you rotate the drone 360º horizontally and then while facing down to earth you rotate it 360º on its roll axis.

The normal lights blinked again and I was ready to check if my drone can fly again.

Since the spare parts didn’t arrive yet, I decided to do what I should have done this morning at the first place, take it for a quick test flight without the camera to see that everything is fine.

I went to the local green area in my neighborhood and gave it a test run.

All seems perfect and ready for the next flight.

At 7:50 pm the doorbell rang and my pieces arrived.

Now I’ll have to wait until next weekend and then hopefully I’ll find the time to try this again…

But no blog post can be complete without a video, an especially if this is the video of an epic fail. So I’m giving you: My Epic SkySong Failure


Next: Finding North