How did I get here? Or, what makes me think I know a little something about Drones?
I have always been mechanical, good with my hands. For as long as I can remember, I have taken things apart and put them back together. Even to this day, when something breaks, my first inclination is to fix it, not replace it. I must get my mechanical aptitude from my father, as well as my love of vehicles – especially those that fly.
It Runs in the Family
My father was an aircraft mechanic in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II before the U.S. Air Force existed. Growing up, he never tossed me a ball, but he would buy airplane models for me and my brothers to build. Then he would hang them from the ceiling in our basement. He worked with me in the garage, showing me how to use tools properly, take my bicycle apart to pack the bearings, adjust the pedal crank bearing and steering head bearing s as the final step in servicing the bearings. I was the only kid in my neighborhood that took his bike apart every spring for a major service!
My dad and I used to park at the airport in Cheyenne WY and watch the Lockheed Constellation aircraft the army guard flew take off and land. And later the C-130s that replaced the “Connies.”
It’s no wonder I grew up playing with airplanes and rockets. I would build the balsa and tissue rubber band-powered free flight airplanes. Some of them bigger than you would think for a rubber band-powered airplane! It was a natural progression into cox nitro engine powered flight, free flight and control line flight.
An Obsession Develops
My first magazines were model airplane news. I would read them cover-to-cover when they arrived. One day, in a new magazine was an article called, “Part one of how to design an Airplane.” That article and, of course, the consecutive articles changed my life. I already knew the basics of flight, weight and balance and such. (If you didn’t understand that, even the airplane kits you built would never fly right.) These articles took me to a whole new level. In no time, I was designing airplanes on graph paper. Cutting out rib templates for cutting wing ribs from balsa wood. And building my own airplanes.
Of course, like all my friends, I was building and flying Estes Rockets as well. I guess it made sense that one of my earliest airplane designs was powered by an Estes “Cold Propellant” engine. It was a free-flight airplane. She flew great – and really, really fast! That and the several versions of what I called a box Wing Canard were the most memorable planes I designed and built back then.
The Career that Got Away
From about 9 years old until I was 17, I wanted to be an Aeronautical Engineer. I even wrote Cessna when I was 14 years old telling them of my intent to apply for a job with them after college. I mentioned the Cessna 337 Sky Master was my all-time favorite airplane (at the time anyway). They replied with a nice letter stating they were looking forward to my application and sent me a Sky Master brochure that folded open into a big poster of the push pull airplane. That poster stayed on my wall longer more years than any poster I have ever owned. I took as much drafting as an elective in middle and high school as I could.
What happened at 17 to make me change my mind? It was a few long talks with a well-meaning (but misguided) high school guidance counselor. This was the early 80s, and people were starting to get sue- crazy. The liability of manufacturing small single-engine piston aircraft was becoming overwhelming for aircraft manufactures. General Aviation was dying. The consular convinced me of that. And that companies like Cessna, Piper, Mooney would be out of business soon. Or at least out of the General Aviation Business. So if I wanted to be an Aeronautical Engineer, my best bet was to design rockets for General Dynamics or some other company filling military contracts. It wasn’t what I wanted to do, so I gave up my dream of designing propeller powered airplanes.
My guidance counselor wasn’t entirely wrong. While Cessna is still in business, in the mid-80s they did stop producing single engine airplanes for liability reasons. So I decided to be a Mechanical Engineer but never made it finished school. I continued designing, building and flying what we called back then “Model Airplanes.”
From Model Airplanes to Radio-Controlled Aircraft
Not being able to afford transmitters receivers and such, I didn’t get into RC until after school. Reading the RC airplane magazines and playing with different RC kits is where I discovered what would become one of my all-time favorite airplanes: the Lake Buccaneer. Like the real Lake Buccaneer, the RC kit was a bit heavy and underpowered. But what an amazing airplane!
Learning from a Pro
Flash forward several years in the late 90s, early 2000s, I decided to try my hand at rotor wing. Helicopters. After struggling for a while with little RC electric helis and not getting anywhere by myself, I met a guy named Dave at the flying field. He told me to get a Thunder Tiger Raptor .50 kit – and a flight sim. Then to call him when the heli was assembled and I could hover the sim. Not surprisingly, I really enjoyed building the Thunder Tiger Raptor. As for the sim, I struggled and struggled. I told Dave I couldn’t do it. He said keep trying, practice every day – then one day, it’ll be like you flipped a switch.
Sure enough with more practice I finally got it. I met Dave at the RC field in Henderson, Nevada, with my Raptor kit and TX. He went over every little detail, explaining how to properly set up the helicopter. He test flew my helicopter.
Then with two sticks and 4 wiffle balls zipped tied to my gear to prevent tipping I actually hovered an RC helicopter. It was great every day. After that I would head to the RC field to practicing flying my RC helicopter nearly every day.
Becoming a Pilot
In the mid-2000s, I decided time was slipping by and I needed to get my pilots license. Traveling for work made it difficult. Getting a flight lesson two or three times a month is the long way there. But at least I was flying fairly regularly, even if it was with an instructor, or just solo by myself. It took 18 months, but I finally earned my SEL certificate (Single Engine Land).
Two years later I decided to get my SES (Single Engine Sea). Of course there was only one seaplane I wanted to be my first. Lake Aircraft Buccaneer. Getting my sea plane rating was one of the funnest things I have ever done. Flying airplanes is a blast. Flying boats blows it right out of the water.
Fun with the Phantom (My first Drone)
I never really paid much attention to the multi rotors/Drones as they were starting to trickle out – until the Phantom. My first quadRotor/drone was a DJI Phantom 1 V2. Man, what a great, easy-to-fly craft.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the GPS lock and all, but part of me is concerned that thousands of people are learning to guide these things around letting the GPS do all the work. Maybe it’s the old school helicopter guy in me, but I think you need to know how to fly without GPS first. Get a little drone like ethos Q130 and fly the shit out of it. It’s pretty stable, no GPS and a ton of fun. Or at least practice flying your DJI or whatever with the GPS turned off.
Anyway, like I said the Phantom flys great, easy fun. But the video could be better. So the aircraft builder in me kicked in and installed a 3-axis gimbal, now the landing gear isn’t long enough and if I install longer gear, it won’t fit in the Plano case. So, the engineer in me kicked in, and I printed some clip-on gear. So it went until I had way too much stuff in this quadcopter/drone.
Onward and Upward
In the meantime, I continued to pick up and fly smaller multi-rotors, Blade Nano, Aeris Ethos Q130… I’m always evolving and looking for what’s next. Fortunately, I know some great people who share their thoughts with me and even let me fly their stuff, so I have gotten very good at the research side. I love my F550 but it is too big to easily drag around in my RV. Also If I could haul it on my motorcycle that would be a big plus. So time for the next thing. The F550 is for sale.
I have had some friends in video houses and the insurance industry talk to me about doing some filming with a drone. One of the big things is safety. To do this at the next level, they like at least a three-person team. One to focus on flying, one to operate the camera focusing on the shot, and as many safety spotters as needed for the job. The insurance guys also expect perfect grids over the building or whatever they are inspecting.
I currently have a Yuneec Typhoon H on order. I can hardly wait for it. Seriously … I’m impatient, so I’m picked up a Typhoon Q50.0+ to tide me over until the H comes out. It may be a great compliment to it. read about the Q500 in my next post
Well that’s my nearly 50 year love of aviation boiled down to 1600 words. I hope you will come back and read what I come up with next. Reviews, How tos, and just my opinion on all things in remotely piloted aviation.
Thanks for Reading.
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Until next time,
Fly Safe, Have fun.
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