FPE: The Winter Tradition at McConnells Mill

We’re launching a new feature today called First Person Experiences (FPE) where students can share what they have learned through their personal experience flying drones.  The guiding principle here at Drone Film School is that everyone can make a valuable contribution to further the art of aerial imaging by sharing their knowledge.  Everyone is invited to submit their First Person Experience by sending an email to Steve@DroneFilmSchool!  Here is my first FPE…

I was visiting family near Portersville, PA over the holidays and was disappointed that it had been too frigid and overcast to do any drone flying.  I was getting up at dawn each day to see if the weather would cooperate so that I could get some winter footage at some of the local attractions.  I finally got tired of waiting and ventured out during a snow flurry to film a spot that I’d visited dozens of times as a kid.

McConnells Mill is a scenic location with a working grist mill, waterfalls, and a covered bridge all built in the late 1800s and is now part of the McConnells Mill State Park.

McConnells Mill State Park is situated in a deep valley with the Slippery Rock Creek flowing through it.  Flying conditions weren’t ideal, but weren’t horrible either.  There was very little wind in the valley, temperatures were hovering around the mid twenties fahrenheit, and the snow wasn’t too heavy so I decided to risk flying my DJI Phantom II to see what I could get.

Steve flying his Phantom in the winter near his childhood home.
Steve flying his Phantom in the winter near his childhood home.

When you’re flying during winter conditions there are several things you have to take into consideration.  My biggest concerns were monitoring my battery life and making sure that the moisture didn’t affect the quadcopter’s electronics and cause any mid-flight emergencies.  The Phantom handled the snow like a champ through multiple flights using two batteries.  The biggest challenge I had was keeping the snow from landing and melting on the GoPro Hero 4 Black lens which created a water droplet that reflected the spinning props in the video.  To help mitigate that problem I regularly checked my first person view (FPV) monitor and flew the drone back and wiped off the lens with my sleeve whenever I saw the reflection artifact.

I flew without gloves because I wanted to have maximum control and feel of the sticks, but I knew that would limit my flying time because eventually my fingers got too cold/numb to keep the flight path smooth.  After about 25 minutes of flying, I debated taking a break in the car to warm my hands and potentially use my third Phantom battery to make one more flight.  Unfortunately, the cold temperatures drained the GoPro battery much faster than normal and I didn’t have enough juice to keep recording so I called it a wrap.

Below is the final result:


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