It was inevitable that a DJI Phantom would turn up in my local park. But do these “Dads with Drones” deserve our scorn or our help?

Somewhere in Australia. December 30, 2014…

10865167_407308459419429_159049710_nGiven that DJI Global chose to advertise their flagship product as “The must have gadget for 2014“, it was obvious that sooner or later an overpriced pile of plastic would turn up in my local park. Yesterday was that day.

I had taken the kids for a scooter session when I saw your average middle-aged dad walking across the grass carrying a DJI Phantom. It was so new that it even still had the label hanging off the transmitter. My heart sank. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big park and I’ve flown there before but I just knew what was coming next.

Done dad walked into the middle of the grass (a fair distance from other walkers, joggers, dogs etc.) and powered up his “gadget”. It hopped smartly into the air, hovered for a little bit (whilst I guess he switched to GPS mode), and then shot up to about 100ft. With a jolt it tipped forward and shot off down the park, stopped pirouetted in the air then came back. This time it sped over drone dad’s head and over a family having a picnic. This carried on for the full 25 minute battery life before he landed and walked away.

My biggest concerns were that:

  • Despite the fact the multirotor appeared to be in control, the way it was jerking around and then righting itself suggests drone dad was flying in GPS mode and simply pushing the sticks around. I didn’t see any GPS calibration happen before the flight and if something had gone wrong I very much doubt he would have been able to fly it manually.
  • Whilst he tried to maintain some distance between him and the public, drone dad obviously has no idea of the rules.
  • I also had my dog with me (in an off-leash park). Anyone who has watched some Red20RC videos will know that he doesn’t really like multirotors. He went berserk and ran off to try and catch the thing. With two small children in tow (that I didn’t want anywhere near drone dad) I just had to hope Floyd didn’t bite the chap.

Surviving Dads with Drones

AliShanMao

Ali Shan Mao – a “Real” RC FPV Pilot!

By the time I got home I was hot, had a headache from shouting at the dog, and was livid. How dare this twerp fly his Christmas present in my local park? He wasn’t even wearing the right t-shirt or fiddling knowledgeably with the knobs on his transmitter – heck it isn’t even a proper transmitter anyway. It looks more like the alien from Close Encounters.

My darling bride sat and listened patiently (with that glazed look she gets) as I pointed out everything that was wrong with DJI Global and their marketing responsibilities. Then she asked a simple question…

“So what’s the solution then?”

I closed my mouth for a while and thought. Dads with Drones are putting the future of the sport we love at risk – in that there is no doubt. But should we just sit there, all aloof and superior because we built our multirotors, or do we do something about it?

When you look at the rules, the way I fly my miniquad sometimes is just as naughty in the eyes of CASA/CAA/FAA as what drone dad was doing.

FPV Racing

Photo credit: Highmark Adventures

Licensing/Registration

9CL9UFluro Arm Band 640x480Those that fly for profit have been screaming for licensing and tighter regulation. They want every one who isn’t a member of the club out of the sky so they can monopolize the market and make more money. Here in Australia, the new sub-2kg laws promised by CASA in September still haven’t come into effect because these professional groups are doing everything in their power to stop them. Sadly what happens at the commercial end of the industry will soon have an effect on the hobby.

Licensing and registration isn’t the answer. CASA freely admits they simply can’t police the number or use of small drones such as the Phantom in Australia so the whole idea is pretty pointless anyway.

Flying Clubs/Authorized flying sites

G0040315-19205 years ago, most RC flying was done at your local MAAA affiliated club (our governing body in Australia). More recently though, with the introduction of foam “parkflyers” and multirotors we are seeing more and more new pilots choosing to go it alone and fly in places like the local park, sports oval, or reserve.

Of course, club flying has it’s advantages:

  • It’s a safe environment in which to learn.
  • You are covered by insurance.
  • There are other more experienced pilots there to help.
  • You get to share the fun with others and learn new things.

The problem is, and this is especially true with miniquads and aerial photography:

  • Sometimes you want to fly where there are obstacles etc.
  • You don’t always want to film/photograph the same paddock out in the bush.
  • A lot of clubs still don’t like/allow multirotors and FPV.
  • Club membership can be expensive (especially if you just spent $2000 on a pile of plastic).

I would urge every drone dad to find and join a local multirotor friendly club. Even if it is just to test out new equipment and practice flying properly.

You and Me (The Mutirotor Community)

FPV Friends

Photo credit: www.visual-aerials.com

As much as I hate to admit it. Grinding my teeth and swearing under my breath at drone dad wasn’t the way to react. He doesn’t know any better and by pushing him away I’m not going to improve his flying skills. I’m also not going to stop anyone with more credit than sense going out and buying a DJI Phantom and taking it to the park, beach, sports oval etc.

The only way we are going to protect our obsession is to take these newbies under our wings (excuse the pun) and try to steer them down the path to multirotor nirvana. So next time you see a drone dad down the park:

  • Wait till he lands then go and say “hi”. Explain that you are also a multirotor pilot.
  • Admire his purchase (yes, even if it hurts and you just want to stamp on it).
  • Ask him if he understands the rules governing the use of multirotors in public places. Just don’t do it with the accusatory face we all get sometimes.
  • Ask if he needs any help learning to fly without GPS mode switched on. (Incidentally, self-leveling/angle/horizon is okay in my book. We don’t all need to be hardcore “rate or nothing” pilots).
  • Explain the situation with “the man” trying to ban the hobby or regulate it to the point of extinction. Explain how “flyaways” and crashes into people or property are not good for the sport.
  • Be nice!

There will always be those who, because they read the pamphlet or watched the YouTube video, think they know it all and will shun your offer of friendship. To those ignorant people I say “I hope your failsafe kicks in and your toy helicopter crashes itself into the nearest tree or heads out to sea on its way back to China!

A final word to DJI Global

broken dji phantom

Picture credit: The Verge

Dear DJI Global,

You are probably one of the largest, and most well-known multirotor manufacturers on the planet. Your advances in technology have shaped and led the industry for quite some time.

So for pity sake please stop marketing your products as “gadgets” and “toys” – they are AIRCRAFT!

I urge DJI Global and their resellers to accept some responsibility for their products before they spoil it for everyone. Yes I know I could go to Bunnings now and buy a chainsaw but it won’t have been sold to me as a “must have gadget”.

Rant over…