Geeks Can Fly!

Like many geeks, I have a fascination with flight.

I got my first “real” quad, copterquadcopter, for Christmas this past December. I have been interested in remote controlled (RC) aircraft for a long time. I have flown RC planes going back to the old line-controlled planes that only went in circles and made you dizzy. Helicopters are a lot different and much more difficult to learn to fly both in the real world and in the RC world. The newer gyro-stabilized helicopters sold in stores are much easier to master.

While multi-rotor aircraft have been around since early in the last century, Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) Quadcopters have not been around all that long. These vehicles use sophisticated microcomputers and sensors to stabilize the aircraft. For more history and explanations, see Wikipedia.

Their size and maneuverability make them perfect for one of my other passions, photography, especially video. Even some of the inexpensive and smaller toy quadcopters come with cameras. Here is a link to the Syma X5C 4 Channel 2.4GHz RC Explorers Quad Copter w/ Camera (WHITE, 1)

My choice was the 3DR Iris + for several reasons. I liked the size and support options. I already had a GoPro Hero 3 camera I could mount on it for video. I really like the ability to create autonomous flights using my Android Nexus 7 tablet or Samsung smartphone using the free planning software available. I can also use my new Pebble Smartwatch to control it!

People fly RC aircraft for different reasons. Some like to perform aerobatic flying. Some folks like the scale modeling aspect of the planes. You will see vintage aircraft, military aircraft, even jets and commercial airlines, and just about anything that can fly at the events held around the the world. I like that stuff, too. But my main reason for wanting the quadcopter was as a platform for my video camera. I like taking movies of the cool places we visit and the people we see. I consider my drone a really tall tripod or selfie stick. I love being able to take video like this of our motorhome on the road.


I am not interested in spying on anyone. I don’t fly over private homes to photograph celebrities or anything like that. I do like to capture video of events we attend to promote and entertain. I also really enjoy editing the video to create stories with music and titles. We teach Microsoft Live Movie Maker so that is what I use to edit. Here’s another example, a video of the Escapee’s Happy Hour held in the desert of Quartzsite, AZ.

Most people who see me flying think it is a cool and geeky thing. I get lots of questions from curious spectators.

  • Does it have a camera? Yes.
  • How much does it cost? You can get a good drone for under $100 or you can spend thousands! My Iris+ was $750 for the basic ready-to-fly unit with battery and radio controller. I already had the GoPro camera for underwater video. $200-$500, depending on model. My camera cost $300 a couple years ago. Total for my current setup is about $1500.
  • How high can it go? It CAN go over a half mile under control. The FAA says you should stay below 400’ and always have it in sight.
  • What happens if you lose radio signal? The computer inside the drone is SUPPOSED to fly back to the launch point and land using the built-in GPS. If the battery gets below a certain level, it is supposed to return to launch or land where it is.
  • How long can you fly on a battery? Somewhere around fifteen minutes, depending on weather conditions and flight characteristics. The camera transmitter and gimbal use the main battery for power, too.

I really enjoy the technology and continue to learn to fly my quadcopter as a video platform. Just wait until I get the waterproof drone!

Signing off, from Malibu, CA