How I Stumbled Upon Becoming a Drone Pilot

Gear //
How I Stumbled Upon Becoming a Drone Pilot

While sitting in a hospital bed, fresh out of the OR and still feeling the lingering effects of general anesthesia, I made a few bids on 'cool things' on ebay. You see, I have a personal policy on buying things via ebay, and that is to bid the MAXIMUM amount that you are willing to pay for something, while still making it an AWESOME deal. It is important to note that this is not a formula that leads to winning many auctions, but it pretty much guarantees that you get a good deal if you DO happen to win, provided that you bid wisely! This is, in fact, the method that won me a Fender Telecaster body, that ended up being a 3 month long "learn as you build" project. I still have the finished guitar today!

In this particular case, I bid $700 on a DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone package that included the Manfrotto backpack ($329); three extra intelligent batteries ($149 ea.); a DJI quad charger ($99); propeller guards ($14); and three extra sets of props ($6 ea). Once the shipping charge of $25 was added, everything still came out to less than half the total retail cost!

A day later, still in that hospital bed, but now on Oxycodone, I get an alert to let me know that I won. SHIT! Not only do I know NOTHING about flying such an advanced drone, but I have also never piloted anything in my life; nor have I had experience with anything RC, not even as a kid! The lesson from the Telecaster did certainly teach me that I could do it, if I just set my mind to it. The most calming fact for sure, was that I knew that I got an amazing deal. My bidding method really works... sometimes!

Secondly, I knew that my network of filmmakers included several accomplished and experienced drone guys that I could always turn to if I had issues. And lastly, I know that DJI was the leader in consumer and professional drone tech, and that I had bought my way into a an enthusiastic and supportive community. Plus I already own an OSMO, so I knew the image quality I was getting was nearly as good as was available at the time. I also had a hunch that adding a drone to my filmmaking and photography repertoire would increase my marketability.


The First Flight

I was up before sunrise and headed to the roof of a garage in Baltimore's Inner Harbor with my buddy, and fellow photographer Greg of 1304 Photos to get this thing flying. With enough battery for 2 hours of flight time and a city still mostly a sleep, I figured it would be the perfect opportunity. Nope. The DJI Go app warned me of high electromagnetic interference and dangerous flight conditions, so I scrapped the idea and shot timelapse footage instead.

It was not until one week, 3 commercial airline flights, and 12,000 miles later that the first decent opportunity presented itself. I was in Honda Bay on the island of Palawan, in the South China Sea, and there was FINALLY a break in the rain.


Let me first say that while the conditions were ideal, because of the lack of wind, vertical obstructions (aside from a few coconut palms) and electro magnetic interference, doing my first drone flight EVER over water was NERVE WRECKING! But again, I had NO CLUE exactly how ideal these conditions were at the time!

Having already been well read on curteous and responsible piloting (thank you, 14 hour trans-Pacific flight) I sent the Phantom right up into the sky and used an hour of solid flight time to get my bearings, learn the controls, and learn how to trust the super advanced features such as GPS assisted flight, and the information readouts in the DJI Go ap. It gives you height, directional bearings, distance, remaining battery life, a 720p live drone camera feed and so much more.

It was a breeze, really! An hour in a wide open space was all I needed to feel comfortable with the controls so that I could focus my second flight on recording some smooth 4k arial footage! Thank you DJI for this and many more flights to come!