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Finding My Wings (or Propellers) with the DJI Mavic Air

July 17, 2018

I’d never really flown a drone before now. I thought that a journey to northern Norway would give me a good opportunity to get my hands dirty and take a DJI Mavic Air out for a spin.

I spent 2 hours on the plane reading all of the documentation, before diving into the countless hours of tutorials online to utilise all of the drone’s available functionality, only to forget all of it as soon as the drone took off.

Below is a flight by flight account of my experience. 

Flight #1

My first real flight. To begin with, I felt pretty stupid flying directly over the water. All I could think about was the drone just dropping out of the sky. I felt pretty nervous. As soon as I took flight, my heart was pounding. The feeling was exasperated because of Mille, my canine companion, barking incessantly at the drone. I didn’t have a plan and just went upward and forward. As the drone moved away from me it slowly became just a dot in the sky. I was glued to the screen, taking it all in, spinning in circles and from side to side. I travelled 270m at an altitude of 30m before I turned around and got a beautiful shot of the mountain before coming back to base.

My rookie mistakes include: 

  • I forgot to put a memory card in and but luckily I was recording straight to the drone’s hard drive
  • I didn’t done a gimbal calibration so the horizon line wasn’t parallel :-S
  • Having a barking dog beside me

I felt relieved when it touched the ground and felt like I’d just been on another planet. I had only flown for 4 minutes but it had felt like an hour. I can't imagine what it would be like to fly with VR goggles on.

Flight #2

I left the dog at home this time, but I was feeling nervous again. I spent most of the time getting used to the controls and getting more comfortable flying around. I must say that I felt nauseous every time I looked up from the screen to see the drone high in the sky. Again, I forgot to put a memory card in the drone but at least the gimbal seemed to straighten itself out. I got some good shots and started to feel more familiar with flying a drone.

Flight #3

Now with more confidence I increased the maximum flight distance to 2000m. I launched from a wooded mountain side and set off high to the 120m altitude limit to avoid any obstacles to scan my surroundings. It was a beautiful day and I headed out towards the ocean. I felt on top of the world until I saw a seagull fly past, very close to the drone, and having had recently watched some YouTube videos of birds attacking drones, I felt my heart sink. Then, suddenly, I lost the signal to the drone — disaster!

I imagined the seagull attacking the drone, and then the drone falling out of the sky. I panicked, thinking ‘This is it. It’s gone!’. I paced around, holding the controller high in the sky, trying to reconnect. And then just as I had given up, the drone reconnected.

I quickly clicked the ‘Return to Home’ button and prayed for its safe journey back to me, avoiding any more flying obstacles. Surely enough, the drone made the long 4 minute journey back to me, unscathed. I breathed a deep sigh of relief. Being disconnected from the drone for that long felt like some kind of a rite of passage, something all drone pilots have to go through to feel connected to their drones.

———

I’ve definitely got a lot of learning to do to become a good pilot and capture amazing footage like you see on TV.

The DJI Mavic Air is simple to set up and launch, the software is easy to use. It's compact and light making it easy fit into a bag and hike around all day with. Finding the right scenery, flight path and camera angle takes a lot of skill and coordination. I will continue to practice while I’m in Norway of the next 2 months, so stay tuned for the next instalment. And be sure  to watch some of my shoddy footage of the gorgeous settings below. (The sound effects were added in post-production.)

 

David Michael is the Fine Art Printer at michaels camera video digital and is currently flying a DJI Mavic Air around Nordland, Norway.