Build complex toys and simple tools
by Tony Karp
It was cold and windy the day I received my Mavic Pro. After a carefully unboxing, I calibrated and assembled everything. I'd read the manual and watched enough videos to have a fair idea of what I was doing. But, as I'd never flown a drone before, it was a bit intimidating.Donning our winter gear, the muse and I proceeded outside for our first flight. I set the drone down on the little launch pad that I had bought for it. Then I started up the drone, the remote controller, and the smartphone that would display the video feed. The big moment was at hand.
Some background:The Mavic comes with a remote controller that communicates with the drone. It has the joysticks, wheels, buttons, and antennae you need to control the aircraft. It also has an LCD readout that's like a dashboard for the drone. (The Mavic is the only DJI drone with this feature.)There's also a holder for a smartphone or tablet that plugs into the remote controller and adds a lot more features. You run an app from DJI on the phone. The most obvious feature of the app is that it will display exactly what the drone's camera is seeing, in real time. It's a first-person view, just as if you were actually sitting in the drone. The app also adds more controls for the drone, lets you calibrate and adjust the drone, creates detailed flight logs, and gives more information in its readouts. You interact with the app through the phone's touchscreen.
Ready to go.On the smartphone app, there's a button to make the drone take off automatically. So I pressed it. The drone revved up, jumped up into the air, and hovered there. Wow! That's amazing. There's also a Return-to-Home button. I pressed it and the Mavic made a beautiful landing. Wow, again. My first flight, and no skill required.Then I got a little more adventurous. You start the motors by pulling both joysticks down and together at the same time. Vooom! Now you push the left stick forward to ascend. Push, push, push and the Mavic jumps into the air. Let go and it hovers. VOOOM! It's a tiny drone, but it's really loud in flight.Push the right stick forward and the drone moves forward. Pull backward and the drone moves backward. Moving the stick side to side moves the drone side to side. Moving the stick at an angle moves the drone forwards or backwards at that angle. What does moving the left stick from side to side do? It makes the drone spin on its axis. Push right for clockwise, left for counter-clockwise. And this is how you steer the drone. Just use the left stick to turn the drone until it's pointing in the right direction, then use the right stick to move forward in that direction.The important lesson is that when you let go of the sticks, everything stops. It's like freezing time. A chance to evaluate the position of the drone and what to do next.And finally, I bring it back for a landing using the return-to-home button.
While most Mavic owners use the DJI app, there are third-party apps out there that add things like being able to plan and fly a drone mission, and to allow access to some features not in the DJI app. I bought an app called Litchi, which had these features and it also had an interface that I liked better than DJI's. I started using it on my second day of drone ownership, and I've used it for every flight since.
Like the DJI app, the Litchi app creates a detailed flight log. There's a site called Airdata.com (used to be HealthyDrones.com) that has a deal with Litchi. After each flight, the Litchi app automatically uploads the log. The picture above shows a flight path superimposed on a Google Maps satellite view.
So, from that first tentative flight, I'm slowly becoming as one with my Mavic. The pictures and the flight log in this post are all from my first two days as drone pilot.
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