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Posted by on Mar 19, 2013 in Blog, Video

Stoner Hill XL

At-height and In-depth

Hey kids – and welcome to an expanded flight log.  This time it’s longer, and has got some behind-the-scenes stuff in it, as I report on Thursday’s Stoner Hill mission…

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Yes, there it is – Stoner Hill. As far as I could see, I was the only Stoner on it.

Just as I suspect that fishing is mainly an excuse for sitting by a nice lake all day, flying gets me out wandering through my favourite bits of the beautiful British countryside and there is a certain joy and freedom in scouting potential fly-sites on foot, before you even get off the ground.

So this time, I thought I’d include some extra video from my head-cam, which shows getting to the site, a bit of set-up, and hopefully gives you some idea what goes on that you don’t normally see. Don’t worry – if all that bores you silly, then skip straight to video 2, which is all the smooth, high stuff, or part 3 which is the exciting, fast, low stuff.

Yep, there’s a lot more that goes on before and after the flights themselves. Below, there’s EVEN more, for anyone interested in what has to happen before, during and after every flight I make…

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The careful route back…

Let’s start with:

T-20 Hours – The Night before

10 14.8vLiPo batteries go on charge, 1 at a time, for about an hour each. This will give us <50 mins of air time, depending on flying style and weather conditions. Of those 50 mins (assuming I remember to start video every time I launch, which is by no means a given) perhaps 15-20 mins of that will produce footage that isn’t ruined by the wind. I aim to improve that ratio as time goes on. But today, there’s a lot more wind than usual, so we’re going to get around 10 mins worth.

TX Batteries (8 x AA) and 3S Li-Po powering the ground-station are also topped up to maximum charge.

Also to be done the night before is the planning – choosing somewhere to go, making sure it’s safe, planning parking and access, plotting some potential flight paths, and formulating ideas about what I want to film when I get there, and how. Google maps and its satellite view is especially helpful at this stage.

Also the first of many pre-flight visits to the BBC’s usually excellent weather page to check on wind speed and likelihood of rain. It was all looking very good. Wind was predicted to be <7 mph, but that was a woeful underestimation – it was at least double that, and of course ground predictions don’t apply at the top of hills, where it is always more, usually around 3 times what it is at ground level.

I don’t know it yet, but I’ll be facing gusting winds of <50 mph.

T-6 Hours – Final checks

After a small amount of sleep, first thing to do on the day of the flight is the Technical Check; a 160-point mechanical inspection of my hex, in which every single component on it is checked, tightened, and inspected for damage, so that when I leave for the flight mission, I have maximum confidence that nothing will fall off my machine in mid-air and that it is safe, and likely to respond well, and be smooth and enjoyable to fly…

Also, back to the weather page to see what that says. Still looking good. Wind has gone up a bit, but nothing to worry about (Oh the joy of hindsight).

T-30 mins – Loading

All the gear is assembled ready for loading into the car. A very heavy battery bag (also carries spares), a sturdy tripod with my field monitor and FPV receiver gear, my TX, and of course the hex itself. 1 person can carry it all, but this person isn’t fit enough to not wish he’d had help. Special Assistant M was asleep, as if that’s an excuse…

On the road…

In the car and off to our fly-site. All the time when driving I am noting weather conditions, checking for signs of wind and cloud movement, and as I get nearer to the site, also noting what else is in the sky, and what it’s doing. In today’s case there is the occasional high-flying passenger jet at a round 20,000 ft (nothing to worry about there), but also Chinook military helicopters, flying wherever the hell they like, and at times most definitely infringing on my potential airspace. One passed at just 100 ft over the tree canopy on the ridge of Stoner Hill. Fortunately – they are so big and noisy that I can hear them approach well before they become a problem, assuming I can locate them in time, which is sometimes difficult given the omnidirectional characteristics of sub-bass frequencies.

I resolve that I will wait for silence before any take-off, and at the slightest sound of approaching craft will immediately begin losing altitude while I locate it, and when I do,  move at 90 degrees away from its flight path as fast as I safely can.

Site inspections

I love woodland, and so I took extra time whilst looking for the best take-off points. Found a Heath Robinson-style swing someone had erected in the woods, and having established that it probably would take my fairly insignificant weight, had some strictly limited fun swinging out over the drop whilst filming from the head-cam. And why not ? No, you can’t see that.

A few minutes wandering later and I found the first of today’s launch sites, which is what I am calling ‘Litten Lane Hyper-view’. That’s not what it’s called, but what it is called isn’t very good, and it deserves better. Being a creature of habit, I chose my 3rd fly site of the day pretty much exactly where I flew from at the height of Autumn, which is 300 meters further down and on the other side of the hill. Along the way I stopped at the entrance to the woods lining that field, and made that my second launch location, safely away from the sheep, horses and low-flying army vehicles.

Flight Time !

At Site 1, there can only really be one flight plan. Lift-off, and dive off the platform edge and go fast out over the valley, taking care to mind the trees, gain some height,  remain for as long as you dare, and then try and get back, in whatever manner seems safest / best at the time. Expect massive wind. Repeat at least 4 times to maximise chances of half-decent video.

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400 ft above Hampshire

At Sites 2 and 3, the aim is to film the wonderful densely tree-lined bowl valley off the South face. Also ‘Don’t annoy / worry the sheep’. ‘Don’t collide with irresponsibly low-flying Chinooks’, and ‘Don’t let your craft go down in the forest’. OK, in truth it was bit more formulated than that, but that’s the main points. Here’s the video of that bit…

How did we do ?

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An impressive drop-off…

In some ways, that went very well. I didn’t crash, despite many many opportunities, I had a nice long walk in the woods and enjoyed some breathtaking views from the ground as well as in the air. Not to mention the joy and challenge of flying, both of which were there in copious amounts.

Film-wise, not so well. Out of a solid 50 minutes of what could have been usable aerial footage; the flying was certainly smooth and cinematic enough, but no, the bloody wind ruined most of it – in the end, I had no more than 8 minutes of decent footage to play with. Fortunately, I can do quite a lot with 8 minutes.

‘Wind Ruination Factor’ does annoy me, but I know why it happens, and for this flight, there was absolutely nothing I could do about it. Except make a 3 part video that showed you other things too, which is why I’ve done that. Here’s Part 3 – ‘Wind Damage’. Enjoy.

What’s that sound ?

In Vid 1, it was Leftfield, in Vid 2 it’s Trevor Morris, and in Vid 3 it’s my favourite electronic lunatics, Pendulum. Well done all of you – I really didn’t have time to write those myself. But I did buy them, and so should you.

JW