Captain's Table

Mark Austen

2020.01.18 - Flying Over Water

The weather station at the bottom of our field indicated that the wind was from the North-West but only around 3 knots so I decided to take the drone over to Naiad where I could check her moorings and then walk along the footpath beside the river until I was well away from people, vehicles, vessels and structure and take the drone out for a spin.

When I go to the club I found that the wind was a lot stronger than at the bottom of the field and freezing cold. I lit the heater in Naiad and had a cup of tea before I went off downstream for a quick flight.

There are a number of things you do before flying a drone like checking the weather and whether there are any restrictions where you intend to fly and also a visual inspection. This is something all pilots do and involves checking the aircraft for damage and things that are wrong. Although drone pilots are remote operators in that we stay on the ground whilst the aircraft flies, a visual inspection is still required.

Here's what I found:

This is one of the four propellors.

A closer look at one of the blades reveals a small split.

Here is a closer view.

Time to replace the prop. Easy to do and I had 4 spares in my bag, two clockwise rotating and two anti-clockwise.

The ground was very soft and muddy and I could not find a clear space upon which to put the landing pad, so I stamped a bit of grass down and just launched from there. I really need to make a neck strap for the controller so that I can operate two sticks with one hand for the motor startup meaning that I could hand launch the drone. Still I got it up in the air and flew around until my fingers got too cold. I hand caught the drone for landing as that only requires the use of one control stick. Then it was back to Naiad to warm up.

Here is a short clip from the flight.

The main difference between this and my previous flights is that the drone camera had a Neutral Density Filter (ND Filter) fitted for this flight and a number 16, which allows only a sixteenth of the normal light into the camera. It's like putting sun glasses on the lens.

The reason for doing this is that this drone has a fixed aperture of f2.8 and I manually set the ISO to 100 and frame rate to 60 frames per second. Now convention dictates that the shutter speed is numerically twice the frame rate meaning that I needed to set the rate to 1/120 second in order to get the correct 'motion blur' when close to the ground. But these settings will result in a completely over-exposed image and hence the ND Filter. The result was quite good, possibly a little under-exposed when flying away from the sun, but not at all bad.

The clip I have shown above is unedited other than cutting out the bits I wanted to show, there have been not white-balance changes or colour compensation.

When you also consider that there wind was blowing at around 15 knots and gusty, the 3-axis gimbal does an excellent job of keeping the camera stead.

2020.01.14 - More on Drones

Two things to write about today. The first is that there were four new drones announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vega last week and the one I am really interested in is the Autel Evo II Pro. According to many drone reviewers this drone has displaced the previous Drone Manufacturer DJI as the number one prosumer drone supplier. The cost is 1795 USD and when you add in delivery, Customs Duty and VAT it comes to around £1770.

Reading the specifications of the drone and seeing the various reviews I have to say that it is a stunning piece of engineering. So much so that I may even buy one later on in the year when Autel have produced the initial swatch of drones for the pre-sales sales and production has settled down a bit.

I'd like to be able to afford one before our Broads Cruise in June but that might be a little unrealistic. Still. something to dream about.

The second thing is about a video starring James May, he of Top Gear fame. The video can be found here and it is an hour long video about a drone. Very interesting and great fun to watch.

2019.12.31 - Life Long Dreams

My lifelong dream has been to learn to fly a helicopter. Ever since I found out what a helicopter was I've wanted to fly one. But it is expensive and after an accident in my teens my balance has not been so good and there has never really been the time or money to achieve this dream. But isn't the quote from Robert Browing "A man's reach should exceed his grasp/or what's a heaven for?"?

I have bought and flown a radio controlled (RC) electric helicopter, but despite it being great fun I found myself preferring to use the helicopter model simulator on my computer instead. There were too many things that could go wrong with the model, the blades needed to be balanced, it was too easy to tip it over when landing and break the blades, if there were people around flying was stressful, you needed to have a wide open space on a relatively windless day and so on and in the end I sold the model and just used the simulator.

Over the last ten years or so multi-rotor RC models have become popular. Most of these are quadcopters but a few are hexcopters with six rotors and some with even more. The price of these had dropped as the popularity has grown and I find myself in the position to be able to afford one.

As many of you may know I have a small sailing boat and sail on the local river when the weather is suitable. Downstream from the moorings where I keep my boat is a sluice and beyond that the river is tidal and more complicated to navigate. The main problem is the mud banks in the upper sections of this tidal stretch of the river.

About twenty-five years ago some kind soul published a book of hand-drawn sketches of the river with various land marks visible from the water and the locations of the mudbanks. You cannot get this anymore and it is well out of date but even so, a number of the members of the Cruising Club still use this guide having noted the changes in the positions of the mudbanks in pencil at the beginning of each season.

During a Club Social a few months ago we were discussing the possibility of using a quadcopter, or drone and they are also known, to fly down the upper sections of the river at low tide and photograph the mud banks so that the members could have an up to date reference. One of our members owns company that also flies drones commercially and suggested that this might be a good way to go. But nothing came of this for one reason or another.

Still, it go me to thinking that if I learnt to fly a drone then I could do this and I would also be able to fly a drone for fun. And, although it isn't flying a helicopter, it is perhaps as close as I am likely to get these days.

To cut a very long story short, I bought a drone. Well, two, one small indoor drone and a cheap outdoor drone. I have had great fun over the last few weeks flying these. The indoor one is much harder to fly that the other as it is not GPS enabled with other fancy stabilisation but it is great to use when the weather is not suitable for flying outside. Tina mentioned a few days ago that I now had a hobby that I could do when the weather was not suitable for sailing, and that is true. When the wind is fair I sail. With zero wind I fly a drone outside and when it is too windy to fly outside or sail, I can fly a drone inside!

Drones have been in the news recently, the most notable being the Gatwick Incident of Christmas 2018. It is amazing to realise that over the three days of the event, with 140,000 people stranded at the airport most of whom would have cameras if only in their mobile phones. With the press camping out in their legions and legions of police and army personnel patrolling the area, there is not a single substantiated sighting of an unauthorised drone.

Not a single one.

The CAA's report mentioned that there were 129 reported sightings of which 109 were credible (I might have the exact numbers wrong here but that is the sort of range) and none of those were of drones that should not have been there. The authorities were using their own drones to try and find the pilot of the alleged unauthorised drone.

Nobody found anything.

Gatwick went up for sale that week and as a result of this incident the share price plummeted and so did the sale price.


Personally, I think not.

Still, is is a very interesting time to take up drone flying as a hobby since from 1st July 2020 Britain will be adopting the EASA (European Aviation Safety Agency) regulations for drones despite out not being part of the European Union as from the end of June 2020, the CAA made the wise decision to adopt the rules anyway.

A drone, by the way, in case you didn't already know, is any unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV something also called a Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) be it model aeroplane, helicopter, multi-rotor or such like with the exception of tethered balloons and kites.

At present, in order to use a drone to earn money you need to have Permission for Commercial Operations (PfCO) from the CAA. This requires you to attend a costly course, pass an exam, develop an operations manual, take a practical flight test and then submit your manual to the CAA who then audit the manual and eventually you get your PfCO, renewable every year for a fee and audit by the CAA.

As from 1st July 2020 you don't need to do any of this to earn money from your drone. The regulations are not concerned about why you are flying a drone, just that you do so safely. You may still need to get a certificate but this will depend on how close you will need to be flying to uninvolved people.

There are also a number of interesting new drones coming onto the market and the CES technology exhibition in Las Vegas in January is traditionally the place where new drones are displayed and launched. One has already been leaked whilst it was getting FAA approval and it looks to be a stunning drone. So much so that the worlds leading drone manufacturer, DJI, with nothing like it ready to go, will probably start a price war in order to keep selling its own drones whilst it gets its act in gear and produces a competitive drone. This in turn, along with the perceived tightening of drone regulations, has resulted in many drones being offered for sale at very good prices.

Just before Christmas I purchased a second outdoor drone, £2100 of drone and associated equipment for a mere £800, plus £14 shipping. A fantastic bargain and this will last me for the two and a half years before the EASA regulation become permanent, there is a two year transition period from 1st July 2020, after which I will only be able to fly my drones far away from 'people, vehicles, vessels and structures not under my control'.

By that time I'm hoping that the world's drone manufacturers will have produced a new set of drones for the recreationally market that conform to the EASA regulations.

We shall see.

In the meantime I'm having great fun flying the drones and reading up on modern photography and videography techniques since multi-rotor drone are, in effect, flying cameras!

Watch this space.

2019.09.02 - Fast 800 - Week 24

I looked at myself in the mirror this evening and decided that I am starting to look a little gaunt. It is time to stop the diet and start eating 'normally' again.

I have achieved a weight of 70kg (~11st) having lost 28.5kg (~4st 7lb). My waist now measures 77cm (~30 1/4") having lost 29cm (~11 1/2"). It is enough.

Now comes an interesting phase as I transition back to non-diet eating. I shall have to be careful not to over eat I the next few weeks and let my body get used to having more calories to digest.

A very successful 24 weeks.

2019.08.20 - More Bread Experiments

Today's investigation is in the use of Amish Friendship Starter and wholemeal/white bread, again using the Turbo, No-Knead method. Since the white flour version of this came out so well I used the same proportions except that I used half strong, white bread flour and half strong, wholemeal bread flour. The initial rise time was longer again that the 100% white loaf but still acceptable and the second rise was about twice as long at a hour.

The results?

Not bad at all. It hasn't risen as much as the 100% white bread but it is not as flat as some of the wholemeal breads I have baked.

Again with my mug as a size reference.

This bread was also made with a starter that was nearing feeding but the bread still tastes a little sweet, so I guess that the sweetness or not of the starter is not that important to the taste. This loaf will also have to be frozen until required otherwise 'll just eat it all. I'll save a piece or Tina but after that, in the freezer it will go.

The next experiment will be the same recipe but with the addition of Vitamin C and some honey to increase the rise.

Stay tuned.

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