Hay’s Daze: My drone is a pet rock

So I went flying the other day. Well, more to the point, I went attempting to fly the other day. And I never did get off the ground. Bear with me for second, as I drone on.

I wasn’t personally attempting to fly like, say, Superman or those guys who strap on colorful nylon wingsuits, jump off cliffs and zoom around at 100 km/hr on a wingsuit and a prayer. No I was trying to fly what is commonly known these days as a “drone” and I don’t mean “drone” as referenced in the clever wordplay above in the sense of a low dull monotonous sound such as a politician speaking at a fundraising luncheon, and I certainly don’t mean a male worker bee “drone” because they don’t seem to have any trouble flying at all.

By drone I mean a “quadcopter.” And by “quadcopter” I mean a little helicopter with quad propellers. And by that I mean a small recreational model aircraft that has four props (which is what us cool pilots call the spinny blade things). This one also has a built-in camera and – of course – a complicated computer. And therein lies the rub as somebody dead once said.

Like most things these days, drones are controlled by computers. And like most computers these days important factors like hardware, software, firmware and possibly underwear can – to use a technical computer term – go a little haywire. In the sense that it all works about as well as bathing a cat.

I unboxed the drone, assembled the aircraft, attached the mobile device, linked the remote controller, charged three batteries, registered the serial number with Transport Canada, watched seven “How To Fly A Drone” tutorial videos, read the four manuals, downloaded several apps, swore an oath that I wouldn’t fly near airports and burned several sticks of sacrificial incense to the fickle gods of remote control devices. This took three to five days.

After another week, finally, there was a three hour window of semi- acceptable weather and so I loaded up the car and took the whole kit and kaboodle to the nearest familial farm with a large empty field, assembled the various drone pieces, stumped all the stuff out to the middle of the large dirt pasture, took a deep breath and pulled the control sticks downward to fire up the magical propellers to soar the drone into the friendly skies and break the surly bonds of earth.

Nope. Nothing. No spinning. No lifting. No flying. No kidding.

After about an hour of engaging the suggested drone troubleshooting protocol I noticed that somebody had left one small but important plugin cable back home on the kitchen table. I tried really hard to blame the Better Half or perhaps our cat but remembered neither one of them had been near a drone cable in their entire lives.

Two and a half hours later I’m back out in the middle of the dirt field, the 17 pre-flight test sequence steps completed and finally, all systems are go. I wipe the pre-flight sweat from my hopeful brow, confidently press the button and bravely thumb the control sticks and – Voila! – the drone sits there like a dead pet rock. Mocking me with its unflinching silence.

Did you know that there will be seven million drones in North America in just two years? That 60 per cent of those will be small camera ‘copters operated by hobbyists? OMG, the skies will be positively black with mini-copters! Or maybe we’ll get lucky and they’ll all turn out to be paperweights like mine.

Harley Hay is a local writer and filmmaker.

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