Flying Solo over the Shenandoah

When I first saw footage taken on DJI’s new consumer drone, my response was, “MUST HAVE.” I’m now on my second camera drone, the 3D Robotics Solo, and I’m still in search of the elusive magical footage – soaring over the Okavango Delta as a herd of Wildebeest run from some unseen predator, flying in closer to spot the pride of lions crouching in the nearby scrub, ready to pounce. And then you drop a lot of cash, and it ends up being the shaky footage from a model airplane flying over your back yard.

But I still hope.

With 3DR’s latest software upgrade, which now includes a Google Earth representation of all airports, surrounded by “no-fly” radii, and all national parks (also off limits) mapped, I realized if I want to fly the Solo, I’m going to have to hit the road. This is ultimately a good thing, of course – but I had no idea there were so many airports!

So we headed up to a cabin overlooking the Shenandoah Valley, where I was able to (legally) put the Solo through its paces, practice maneuvering it, try out some of the “smart shots” – in which the Solo flies a prescribed route, while keeping the subject in the center of the camera.  I flew the drone in a pretty heavy snowstorm – which the manufacturer does not recommend; got grounded while flying over the Shenandoah river in a state park (no published prohibition but whatever) and had the drone careen out of control and crash under a railroad trestle.  I am guessing that the metal from the rail line messed with the GPS and/or compass – but it was an opportunity to learn what to do when things go haywire.

In a few weeks, we’ll be off to Madagascar – where it seems each flight must be pre-approved by the Civil Aviation Administration.  Always the bureaucracy, but I hope to be able to experience and share some unique views of a place most people only know as an animated children’s film.  In the meantime, here’s a little something from Virginia.

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