Attack of the Drone

We're still rookie drone users. Because of that, I'm typing this article with severely bruised fingers. We've flown our Mavic DJIPro maybe a dozen times, usually from land and, if on the boat, always while it was at anchor. Well, this week, while on a cruise of Banderas Bay near Puerto Vallarta, we decided to get some footage of Noeta while cruising. The video is at the bottom of this article.

Flying a drone from a cruising boat adds some unique challenges. 

1) During take off, we had Noeta in a slow forward idle. We didn't have it in neutral due to the small rolling swells. So I set the drone up on the bow and directed it to go straight up - not normally a problem. But with the slow forward motion of the boat, the drone ended up clipping our radio antenna 20 feet up in the air. There was a nerve wracking moment as we watched our very expensive drone wobble and then steady itself. Whew! Didn't lose it to the sea today! Note to self - if moving forward, send the drone up fast and forward immediately after take off.

2) Now it was up in the air and we were still moving forward, therefore the drone was getting left behind. There is a tracking feature, but with the bright sunlight and my racing heart from the antenna event, I couldn't figure out where it was. So I had Pat do a few circles while I figured out where exactly the drone was in relation to Noeta. Note to self - figure out where the tracking button is! The tracking feature will have the drone follow or circle whatever object you tell it to.

3) I finally started taking some video footage. The sun was super bright, making some of the footage really white. But we still finally got some video of Noeta cruising. Note to self - take the footage when it is overcast, early in the day, or at least with the sun behind the drone.

4) Landing. This is where the bruised fingers come in. My low battery alarm signal sounded, telling me it was time to land. This is just a warning, and on land, no biggie, there is 15% of the battery left. You click 'home' and it returns to the same gps location it took off. But on the boat, I had to tell it to land in a new location and I was a little nervous that 15% battery life wasn't going to be enough.  

I decided there was more room to land up on the roof - fewer things to hit. Again we were in a slow forward idle. I flew the drone (after a lot of maneuvering) above the boat, but needed to keep the drone moving forward at the same speed as the boat. I finally had it and directed the drone down. It has a setting (landing protection) that has it stop and hover 4 feet above any obstacle. Then I have to confirm that I want it to land. This would be handy if it were over the water or a tree. However, on the boat, it hovered and the boat kept moving forward. I confirmed that I wanted it to land, but the boat was still moving forward. I was afraid the boat was going to move right out from under the drone and it would land in the water. So when it was about 2 feet above the boat, I grabbed it from the top (big mistake). The propellers didn't stop, and the blades chopped up my fingertips. I was able to press the power button on the drone to turn it off, but the damage was done, I was bleeding and bruised. I have since learned that the drone propeller turns at 5500 rpm (a typical airplane propeller spins at 2400 rpm). Note to self - Um....wear big gloves? Or learn how to land on a moving object. I did find this video and many others listed below (after our somewhat failed test run) and a few others that suggest:

  • a) Hold the drone from the base, both for landing and take off. 
  • b) During landing, leave the drone hovering, and drift the boat to the drone to grab it out of the air. (Sounds simple : o)
  • b) Set the battery alarm for 40%, that SHOULD give me plenty of time to land it before the battery dies.
  • d) Set the drone to track the boat
  • c) Set a Dynamic Home Point - this will keep it from returning to the original gps location and help it land near the drone remote.
  • e) Disable landing protection - this keeps it from hovering at 4 feet. It will just land when I direct it to (ideally not over water).

Nothing is broken (except my nerves a little), some lessons were learned, and we got some decent footage. I will however, be flying from stationary locations until I master releasing and landing the drone while holding its base (while wearing sturdy gloves to begin). My fingers can't take any more typing today....over.

Here's the link to the drone footage and drone attack: 

Other useful videos I watched (after I was attacked by a drone):


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