Winter Park Flight

A week has passed since my first afternoon of flying, so I decided to take advantage of some nice weather and spend some time flying from Sequoia Park just a few meters from my house. I made a couple of short flights as the "pilot" using the controller. However, my main focus was on using the "Ground Station" feature of the Phantom software on my phone/tablet.

What a great piece of software to complement a great drone. All one needs to do is connect to the WiFi access point created by the controller/drone, open the map, mark a few points on the map, set altitudes at each point, set flight speed and press go. Then, just stand back and watch - either by tracking the drone as it travels across the sky or by using the FPV (Fly By View) feature on the phone/tablet. The FPV actually lets you see exactly what the camera sees along the way.

A few things I learned from the process:

  1. I prefer to use my tablet rather than my phone (both Android), only because the tablet has a bigger screen that is easier to use, especially in the cold weather. My tablet - a Samsung Galaxy Note - has a pen/stylus that makes it easier to manipulate the screen in greater detail when you have cold fingers.
  2. Whenever the tablet is to be used, make sure to pre-download a Google map of the area. My phone can make a connection to the quadcopter WiFi access point and still download maps using the wireless data connection. The tablet only has one connection.
  3. I have to get in the habit of pressing the record button before starting the flight. A couple of times I missed recording the early parts of flights.
  4. The range of the drone seems to be greater than the FPV WiFi connection. I often lost the video feed as the drone got further away. This is something I need to investigate.

 For video editing I have an older copy of Pinnacle Studio, but I always had problems with that software doing unexpected things and crashing at inopportune times. I thought about upgrading Pinnacle, but since upgrading is almost the cost of new software, I took the time to investigate a few alternatives. I downloaded a trial copy of Corel Video Studio - a great piece of software that is easy to use. As part of Boxing Week sales I managed to acquire a copy of Video Studio X7 Ultimate for $50.00.

The video below shows a compilation of several flights.

Flying Camera

It has been about 6 months since my maiden flight - and crash - of my Phantom 2 Vision+. I could have purchased a replacement camera while visiting New York in late September, but I decided to maintain a relationship with my dealer and wait until Flying Cameras of Chilliwack, BC had a camera available. I think I missed a couple of times when they had the camera in stock - so obviously I'm not the only klutz who had to buy a replacement.

Well, the replacement arrived. Once I got everything reconnected I did a couple of tests indoors - without flight involved - to make sure the camera and controls were working. Success!

So, my first flight and camera test took place in Sequoia Park beside our house. I am quite impressed, although I'm thinking that a polarizing lens filter might be considered.


A Drone for Everyone

In the summer of 2013, while attending the Saskatchewan Summer Star Party, I met a fellow astronomer from the Medicine Hat area that has a very interesting job. He is involved with developing flying drones for the Canadian Military. The drones they are developing are made for detecting IED's in Afghanistan and other areas. Apparently their devices can detect a stone that has been disturbed from several thousand feet in the air.

  I thought that flying one of these drones would be very interesting. I think it is safe to assume that I would never get a chance to fly one of these military drones, so I began looking for consumer models. My first thought was the Parrot quadcopters I've seen in various stores. The advertising looked great, but when I did some research I found that you get what you pay for. Not too many people gave them glowing reviews if you considered them anything but a toy.

Eventually, I stumbled upon This company produces some amazing products. After visiting a couple of stores in Calgary, I finally bit the bullet and bought a DJI Phantom 2 Vision+. That was May 21, 2014.

I received my Phantom shortly afterwards, and on the first day out I crashed! Well, actually got caught in a tree, and then while trying to get the Phantom out of the tree I managed to smash the copter on the ground. The penalty for such stupidity - the $750 camera.

The gimbal (camera mount) didn't respond to controls, and after sending it back to the dealer - Flying Cameras in Chilliwack, BC it was determined to be broken beyond repair. Waiting now for the replacement camera to become available from the manufacturer. Such are the problems with buying bleeding edge technology.

Perhaps in hindsight I should have bought the less expensive Phantom 2 Vision that carried the camera with fewer features or perhaps the Phantom 2 that allows the connection of a GoPro camera to a custom gimbal.

At least the copter still flies. I guess flight practice is in order so that I avoid trees in the future. I don't want to break any more cameras - or the copter itself.


Weather Station Changes

My current weather station server has been experiencing reliability problems for the past 6 months. I've actually been using 2 separate programs for collecting data from my Davis Vantage Vue weather station. The first is the Weatherlink software that came from Davis when I bought the weather station. I don't like the the charts and reports this program generates, but it has proven to be a very reliable means of collecting and storing data. The second program is called Virtual Weather Station. It has a great deal of flexibility in designing charts and reports, but this program has been failing to collect data consistently.

I think part of the problem is caused by the fact that everything runs on Windows XP. When I first setup my weather station, I started with a clean install of Windows. However, I think after a while, with all the regular updates, the reliability has suffered. So, I went looking for software that runs on Linux. I found a system called wview. I tested it on a virtual box, and it seems very stable - normal for Linux I guess. After a bit of searching, I discovered that wview will also run on my Raspberry Pi

Last night I spent the evening setting up wview on a fresh installation of Raspbian Wheezy (a version of Debian Linux built for the Raspberry Pi). This looks like it will probably work just fine. It's fairly easy to setup if one follows the advice of a couple experts on the internet - in particular one Pedro Diaz. One nice feature is that it will convert and use all the data collected by the Weatherlink software on Windows, so I get to keep nearly 3 years of data.

As the days go by I will start to implement the charts and graphs from wview on this website. Check back often to see how things progress.


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