Flying the Summit

Governor Ige signed the new public access rules, drones would be illegal on the summit in ten more days.

Keck and Subaru in the snow atop the summit of Mauna Kea
Keck and Subaru in the snow atop the summit of Mauna Kea

With a deadline looming much sooner than I had contemplated there was a narrow window of opportunity. While I had wanted to fly the summit for a long time, I now had a few short days in which to do so. On January 23, 2020 the new rules would take effect.

The Office of Mauna Kea Management has attempted to restrict drone use on the summit by posting signs that drones are not allowed. Problem, they did this with no legal authority to do so. In conversations with OMKM staff I had pointed this out and received a quiet admission that it was true.

The new public access rules would change this… Flying a drone would be specifically prohibited on the science reserve, a civil offence with steep fines involved. With the governor’s signature those rules would be in force.

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2018 In Photos

Drone Hysteria

By now anyone reading the news will know that a drone sighting shut down a major metropolitan airport just days before Christmas. London’s Gatwick airport was intermittently closed to arrivals and departures during the busiest travel season of the year, leaving up to 140,000 travelers stranded and scrambling to make alternate travel arrangements.

Waiting to Board
Waiting to board an Alaskan Airlines flight in Seattle

What you may not have heard is that there may never have been a drone involved. This may have stemmed from one bad sighting and a classic case of mass hysteria leading to further drone sightings.

Even worse, authorities looking for anyone to blame arrested and detained an innocent couple for 36 hours. They were eventually released after no evidence was found and an alibi verified. During that time the couple was vilified by name in some major media outlets. The only saving grace here is that the couple is now likely to receive a substantial sum from those newspapers under British libel laws.

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Drone Gallery

A Point Without Shadows

I have run into a significant problem I did not expect.

Flying in the Humuʻula Saddle
Flying the drone in the Humuʻula Saddle region on the way to work
I love to fly the drone in the Humuʻula Saddle in the morning and afternoon. It is an area that I find endlessly fascinating, with spectacular scenery in a dramatic landscape.

Even better, I need only stop off on the way to or from work at the summit to find time to fly here. Leave for work early, discharge a few flight batteries, join the rest of the crew for breakfast at Hale Pōhaku.

Just after dawn or just before sunset the light accentuates this dramatic landscape, intensifying the colors, the low sunlight angle creating shadows that reveals the stark terrain.

The low sunlight angle causes some problems as well. One I expected… The drone camera does not deal well with glare. Take an image pointing near the Sun and the image is often ruined by the glare. This is discussed in some of the review videos I watched before I bought the drone. Easy to avoid, just point away from the Sun before you start that panorama sequence.

The second major issue I did not expect… Many of the images feature a very bright spot directly opposite the Sun in the sky. This spot is intense, creating a peculiar feature in the photograph that I find distracting.

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The Ruins of Namu

There are fewer and fewer good ruins to explore along the Inside Passage. This last year saw one of the best set of ruins bulldozed and burned.

The Ruins of Namu
The collapsing waterfront of the abandoned cannery at Namu
The region is littered with abandoned canneries, mines, and shipwrecks, ample material for those who wish to explore and photograph. I must count myself among those who seek out such places.

The steamship stop and cannery at Buttedale is no longer the picturesque set of collapsing buildings it was when I last visited two years ago. We made a swing through the cove this year to note that most of the structures were gone, replaced with blackened ground and foundations. Just a few buildings and the large steam engine remain.

We did not go to Ocean Falls this year, it is a fair ways off the primary cruising route and we had a great visit a couple years ago. Instead I planned for Namu, a large abandoned cannery on Fitz Hugh Sound I had not had a chance to explore before.

A visit to Namu was not assured on this passage. With our alternator repairs and planning for a crossing of Queen Charlotte Sound before bad weather set in, time to explore the cannery might easily get crossed off the schedule.

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The Mavic Air Panorama Modes

One of the most useful features of the Mavic Air are the built in panorama modes. These are pre-programmed maneuvers, like the quick-shots, that take a series of exposures to stitch into a single frame.

Mauna Kea above the Morning Fog
Mauna Kea seen above morning fog, a Mavic wide panorama of nine frames
The panorama feature was offered in earlier models like the Mavic Pro, the difference in the Air is that the stitching is done on-board, ready to download from the SD card as a finished product at the end of the flight, no need to process in the DJI software.

There are two panorama modes I find myself using regularly. The spherical and horizontal modes both offer a view from the drone that overcomes the limitations of the camera.

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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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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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