Above the Waters ... Done Right: Fly & Dive

Roughly two years ago I rather accidentally stumbled into filming and filming under water in particular. I have to admit that I've been hit hard again ... after seeing the Ready-to-Fly Quadcopter Phantom by DJI Innovations. I immediately knew: my GoPro HD Hero 3 has to go into thin air! I want to film diving spots not only from below but also from above! And those reports were just fueling my idea as they painted a realistic, yet highly addictive image of the Phantom system by DJI Innovations.

It didn't really took me long to reach my decision: I want a quadcopter to fly my Hero 3. It comes with GPS support for holding its position in the sky. This is exactly what an idiot like me needs, as I have no experience in aerial RC models. The order was quickly sent out.

In the interim I studied the well-written English documentation, which nevertheless cannot completely deny its Hong Kong place of birth. But the English videos basically bought me in, as they are extremely well done (at least to my taste). Starting with chapter 1 they introduce to and guide through unboxing the Phantom quadcopter, initial setup, first flight steps, and so on. While I'm a big fan of printed (or electronic) documentation I have to admit that these videos were even much better suited to a complete beginner like me.

Also in the interim I purchased a cheap airdrone app for less than two Euros for my Android tablet. This way, I could try my first attempts at flying a quadcopter in a virtual sandbox without literally sending larger amounts of cash into the sandbox. This strategy turned out to be quite useful for training eye-hand coordination.

And finally, the long-awaited parcel was delivered.

DJI Phantom Quadcopter: almost Ready-to-Fly delivery.

Important: In some countries, such as Germany, you need to have proper insurance. Talking about Germany, since 2006 we now need to have insurance for all kind of flying models, so please reconsider before giving your kids a kite as present. Germany, your second name is Insanity.
While the battery pack gets recharged the Phantom can be quickly completed for its first flight. After watching the first video chapter fastening the landing gear and correctly mounting the propellers is a breeze. Of course, watch out for correctly matching direction of rotation of the individual propellers and motors, quadcopters have two left-turning and two right-turning motors. You'll find a suitable wrench for tightening the propeller nuts. For the landing gear, you should find a suitable screwdriver in your tool box.

When the battery finally finishes recharging, let's go...

Since one battery pack is just good for around ten to twelve minutes of slow and calm flight you should order additional battery packs right with your Phantom. Otherwise, that «spirit of flight» won't last long. Recharging a battery pack will take around 90 minutes.

Armed with two battery packs and the Phantom I headed outside for my first flights of a RC model ever. Fortunately, there's some suitable grassland almost nearby. As instructed by the video I first had to recalibrate the Phantom's electronic compass. This went smooth, albeit may look strange to onlookers, as it needs two pirouettes. Next, I waited impatiently for the initial warm up of the motor controls and different sensor systems. The Phantom indicates its system status through a series of color-coded light flashes using a LED at its rear.

And finally ... we've got the slowly repeatedly green flashing «ready to go» signal! Turning the transmitter sticks into a special position, the engines spun up. Of course, I fall into the usual beginner's trap of being to cautious and pushing the throttle stick too slowly. Ups ... the Phantom went belly-up. Nothing damaged, except my ego. Okay, next try ... this time I quickly pushed the throttle above the 50% mark ... and we had clean lift-off! Back to 50% and the Phantom perfectly hovered a few meters away from me in the air. What a great feeling seeing this...!

My first flights went totally smooth, so I surely spirit of flight right from the start. Thanks to GPS and a pressure cell, the Phantom not only keeps position but also height. It takes some wind before the Phantom starts to slowly drift. Nothing you cannot easily compensate for with a slight turn of your transmitter sticks.

After the first two minutes, I landed the Phantom easily and mounted my GoPro HD Hero 3. The resulting aerial footage is already very promising, even if I'm just starting with a simple damped camera mount. There is visible jello, but much less than I expected. DJI already announced that there will be a zenmuse 2D gimbal which should give excellent footage. When this will be finally available, I will surely upgrade my Phantom. Video footage taken with prototypes are already very impressive!

Update: Meanwhile I've upgraded my Phantom with the Zenmuse H3-2D gimbal system. This upgrade isn't exactly (model?) rocket science, yet needs some patience to carry out successfully.