At the Ag in Motion farm show near Saskatoon this past summer I had a chance to take a look at some UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles), or drones as they’re also referred to. Company cameraman Bruce Sergeant and I got to get our hands on a quadcopter and saw what kinds of aerial photography opportunities it provided. It was a lot of fun.
But for the limited amount of use I could find for such a gizmo, it doesn’t make any sense for me to fork over the $7,000 or so it costs to bring one home. That’s why when I noticed a really cheap model for sale, I thought I’d buy it.
For about $100 this little drone, which really isn’t much more than a toy, might provide a little fun, I thought. And it has an onboard camera capable of taking both digital stills and video. It isn’t anywhere near as sophisticated as that one Bruce and I looked at last summer. But I could afford the price of this one.
The weather was pretty crappy when my cheap drone arrived. So it sat in the box for a week or so. But on a reasonably calm afternoon I decided to earn my wings and put my drone in the air. It took a bit of time to get onto flying it. The first couple of flights were short and ended in abrupt landings. Fortunately, the snow made for a soft touchdown almost everywhere I crashed it.
Finally, I thought my skills had improved enough to chance a high-altitude flight. I activated the onboard camera to film the farmyard as the little drone buzzed overhead. Then suddenly, for some reason, it veered north and headed out of the yard. By the time I reigned in its wandering ways it was hovering over a clump of trees in an un-grazed section of pasture.
Now for some reason, my control inputs weren’t being respected by my disobedient little drone. Maybe it was already a little out of range. I tried to coax it back to the farmyard, but it just stayed there hovering above the trees.
I thought I’d better get this thing back on the ground before I have to drive to town to recover it. So I instructed it to land. That command it did obey. Trouble is, it was so far away I couldn’t really tell where exactly I’d landed it.
I tried to get it to take off again in order to find it, but it was completely ignoring me now. The only alternative was to tramp out through the snow and carry it home. But the biggest flaw in deciding to land the little drone in a snowy, treed pasture soon became clear: it’s white.
So, now all I had to do was walk a few hundred meters through dense trees covered with hoar frost to find a small white drone missing in tall grass covered with by deep snow. Unlike a real aircraft it isn’t equipped with an emergency locator beacon—although that would have been handy.
Not wanting to lose the only asset in my bargain-priced air force, I really hunted for it, but to no avail. I searched those darn trees for a long time trying to find that stupid thing. Today, it’s still out there somewhere.
It’s clear my reluctance to buy a $7,000 drone was good judgement. Losing a $100 aircraft on the first day of flight operations through pilot error is bad enough.