Learning to Fly

Learning to fly the Mavic Air has been a pleasure, and actually much easier than I feared.

Droning Over the Badlands
Flying a Mavic Air over the badlands of recent Hualālai lava flows
The purchase of a drone was a bit of leap, one I had been considering for quite some time. When you realize where I will be over the next month the time was now.

Our annual boating trip into the wilds of Alaska and British Columbia offers stunning photographic opportunities for a drone. Not that the island of Hawaii does not offer a great place to learn.

Now or never! So I put down the money and bought the aircraft.

With drone in hand I need to learn to fly it. I need practice to achieve the level of competency I feel is required. I have had a month to practice, a month I have made good use of. Regularly flying and logging quite a few discharged batteries each week.

I am taking learning to fly seriously.

To watch a thousand dollar drone disappear into the sky takes a leap of faith. Faith in the technology and faith in your own skill to pilot the drone back to the launch site. Any number of times I have piloted it far enough away that the drone itself is lost to view, even though I have a clear view of where it is. It is always reassuring to hear the buzzing grow louder and have this little aircraft reappear as it returns.

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Reactions to the Drone

When you take a drone out of the case and begin preparations for flight in a public place it is inevitable that you attract a little attention.

Flying with an Audience
Flying the Mavic with a small audience
The worry? Will that attention be negative?

The news has been filled with negative reactions to drones. To be expected of course, drones are a new technology bound to attract attention, and the media tend to write about something only when it goes bad. If it bleeds, it leads reporting.

The result has been quite a few reports of negative reaction in public to a drone. Reports of spying or snooping into private property have become common. There has certainly been some hysteria surrounding drones, some justified, quite a bit completely unjustified.

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Learning to Drone

OK, flying for a few weeks now with the Mavic Air, my first drone. Fortunately my training area is slightly scenic, just stopping off on the way to work in the morning and burning through a couple batteries.

The video is really an experiment and a learning exercise. With a bunch of video clips from the flights I needed to see what works, and what does not when it comes to editing. No better way to do that than attempt to assemble this material into a video.

What am I doing wrong? Quite a bit, I did not edit all of the flaws away in the video, you will see them. Definitely need to relax and use a bit more finesse on the controls to produce smooth panning motions. I have been experimenting with cinematic mode and slowing the gimbal down.

Why did I buy a drone? I really consider it as a camera that flies, not as an aircraft that happens to have a camera. The drone is a way to give my photography freedom of the air and to gain a new perspective.

Learning to Drone from Andrew Cooper on Vimeo.

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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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.

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 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 applies to all of the islands.

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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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