The other day I flew my new drone for the first time. It was a success, although I did manage to fly the thing into a tree and then the woodpile, scuffing up the propellers in the process. No squirrels or chickadees, however, were harmed.
The machine is a DJI Phantom, one of the most popular hobbyist Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. The Phantom is a radio-controlled quadricopter (a k a quadcopter) with four propellers that carries a GoPro sports-action camera. With it one can take photographs or videos of things on the ground.
Naturally some folks of a leftist bent get upset at the mention of the word "drone," because they bring to mind the U.S. assassination of al-Qaeda and the accompanying deaths of innocent civilians in the Islamic world. Others who embrace rightist views think of drones as black-helicopter government spies in the sky.
But drones are also useful tools for civilian search-and-rescue and law enforcement operations. They can do most anything a helicopter can do, and at much less cost. In my novel-in-progress, Tracking the Beast, Sheriff Steve Martinez employs a drone the size of a garbage can lid to search a vast area in a criminal case, and I bought the Phantom for research purposes.
And for fun, too. It helps make up for having to give up flying my airplane five years ago after a heart attack and triple bypass. (Flying a hobbyist drone is also a lot cheaper than owning a 50-year-old lightplane.)
Here's a Phantom:
So far I've flown the drone only in the tree-shrouded backyard of our Lake Superior cabin, but soon I plan to go to the Porcupine County airport, where a portion of the field is set aside for radio-controlled model flying.