The Mavic Air

OK, so I bought a drone.

Flying the DJI Mavic Air in the saddle at the base of Mauna Kea
Flying the DJI Mavic Air in the saddle at the base of Mauna Kea
I have been flying the aircraft for over a month now, logging hours of flight time, and discharging plenty of batteries. I have practiced launch and recovery, navigation, hand catching the drone, and taken some great photos.

Describing the Mavic Air is simple… Impressive.

This is not a review, I am making no effort to list through all of the features and faults of the aircraft. What follows is more my impressions of the drone, a few things I have encountered while learning to use it.

The issue here is that I am completely new to flying a drone, the Mavic Air my first real drone, not considering the cheap $20 toy quadcopter I played with a bit to learn. I have had to learn everything from scratch. It also means I come at this little aircraft with fresh eyes having nothing to compare it with.

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A Night of Bright Planets and a Few Meteors

There were six folks at Ka’ohe last night to greet the dark skies. Clouds loomed dark overhead when we arrived, but that is no reason to give up here. As normal for this site the skies cleared shortly after sunset and we had great skies much of the night.

My observing site for the night, as shot from the Mavic Drone
My observing site for the night, as shot from the Mavic Drone
In anticipation of planet viewing I brought the NexStar 11″ GPS with its three meter focal length. Some care was taken to collimate properly it at the start of the evening.

Views of the planets were nice, the seeing was OK, but not great. Venus nearly at perfect half phase and will waning to a crescent over the coming month. A moon shadow crossing the disk of Jupiter was clearly visible. Saturn was quite nice, the rings are beautifully tilted open for the next few years.

Mars is still badly obscured by the dust, only the polar cap being clearly seen with vague light and dark areas beyond that. I even took a peek at Neptune.

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Where can you fly a drone in Hawaii?

For a new drone pilot, learning the rules can be a bit daunting.

Hawaiʻi is a state that is incredibly attractive to a drone pilot. The scenery, from reefs and beaches, to the soaring volcanoes, just begs to be flown over and photographed from the air.

Droning Over the Badlands
Flying a Mavic Air over the badlands of recent Hualālai lava flows
I am determined to fly responsibly, that means going through all of the various rules. The rules are not simple! They are a patchwork of regulations from federal, state, and local authorities. How do you make sense of it all?

Below is the results of my research on the subject. More than a few hours of reading state and federal websites. The process of writing this post was in itself a means of educating myself. Hopefully others will find this useful. If you know of anything I have missed, drop me a line to let me know.

This post is focused on the Island of Hawaii, home for me. But much of what is discussed here applied to all of the islands.

Federal Rules

So who can make rules governing the operation of drones? Notably the FAA makes it very clear that while the land is under the jurisdiction of the local authorities, the air belongs to the FAA. The agency has recently emphasized that federal rule-making, as embodied in 14 C.F.R. part 107, preempts state and local laws on the use of airspace by drones.

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Hector Brushes Past

Hurricane Hector is just brushing past us with the center of the storm well south of the island. At this point the tropical storm watch and warnings have been cancelled. The only real effect on the island is some rain and high surf along the south shore.

Outside the weather is blustery and raining, but that could just be normal Waimea weather. At least it looks and feels a bit like a hurricane.

Hurricane Hector brushing past the islands as seen from GEOS-West on Aug 8th, 2018

The End in Sight?

When will this eruption end? The answer to that is a question many are asking on this island. Today we might just be seeing the answer.

Tiltmeter data from the summit of Kilauea, 5Aug2018
Tiltmeter data from the summit of Kilauea, as of 5 Aug, 2018 over the past month
Reports and photographs from the eruption zone show a greatly diminished fissure 8, a mere shadow of the lava fountains visible a month ago. The once vigorous lava channel is now sluggish and crusting over in places.

Even more interesting is the deformation data from the summit.

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Culture Police Ride Again

Another interesting incident in culture popped up this week, one that illuminates where our society currently stands on the relationships between cultures. Living and working in Hawaiʻi, within Hawaiian culture made this event resonate on a personal level.

A Chicago based eatery has trademarked the name ‘Aloha Poke’. No issue there, simply a legal filing. What they failed to understand is that the word Aloha contains central concept in Hawaiian culture. Thus, when the lawyers for Aloha Poke sent out cease-and-desist letters to similarly named businesses around the country, including one in Hawaii, they were met with a firestorm of criticism.

Awaiting the Sea
An outrigger canoe awaits another voyage
Attempting claim ownership of such a word, even in a limited business context, is simply total fail. Legal? Yes. A good idea? Nope.

I suspect the owners of Aloha Poke are actually figuring that out. On the other hand the management at Aloha Poke has not withdrawn their legal assertions and have made a non-apology.

The missteps of Aloha Poke aside, what is more interesting is how some in the Hawaiian community have responded to the case. There have been statements from a number of community leaders. One of the most telling is from the head of the Office of Hawaiian Affairs, a state agency charged with administering state programs for the Hawaiian community.

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To Fly

While humans are unequipped to fly naturally we have always envied other creatures the freedom of the air. The dream of flight has inspired men to create ways of overcoming gravity with ever more creative machines and technological tricks. We can fly, at least with a little help.

Mauna Kea above the Morning Fog
Mauna Kea seen above morning fog
A drone allows the operator to fly, if indirectly through the lens of the camera. The drone makes it quite easy, a nominal cost and a little practice allows a drone pilot to access the air so easily. A few moments preparation and the little aircraft is a able to loft hundreds of feet above and over a mile away.

Flying the little Mavic Air has opened this means of flight to me, and I admit I have been quite captivated by the experience. I am late to the game I suppose, but this also means I am learning on a very capable piece of mature technology. The Mavic Air is a superbly designed machine that is quite forgiving to a new pilot.

My interest in the drone is really as an extension of my existing interest in photography. My motivation is to allow photos to be taken from a new perspective. Even now, with drones becoming fairly common, a view from the air adds a sense of excitement to an image.

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