The First Time I Flew a Drone

I bought myself a drone a few months ago. More specifically, I bought myself a DJI Phantom 3. Capable of shooting 24fps in 2.7k (halfway between 1080p and 4k), a range of 1 km, top speed of 30 km/h, and an auto-return home function if I fly it out of range. It’s an incredibly fun toy but it wasn’t the first time I had flown a “real” drone.

I was working at a Summer Camp in Alberta and I figured what better way to utilize my strange/flexible schedule than with a drone? I emailed around to a few of the camp supporters and found out that one of them was a drone-enthusiast and also very generous! He agreed to come up one day, show me how to fly the drone and then leave it with me for a few weeks.

When he arrived at the camp I was giddy to say the least. He brought me around to the trunk of his car and I was transported back to a childhood Christmas day as we assembled the drone. I was talked through the instructions but I didn’t pay any attention — I’m sure my extensive video game experience would come in handy when I finally did take it to flight.

The camp I worked at bordered a rather beautiful lake (for southern Alberta) with plenty of open ground on either side. The Generous Drone-Enthusaist took me through the basics of taking off and landing (both of which are automated) and how to properly control the drone. In minutes I was soaring through the air, chasing kids as they rode their wakeboards through the water.

The camp day was in full swing so I decided to do a flyby of the beach. Beautiful waves rippled against the shore as aspiring portagers took out their canoes. A handful of fisherman were out on the dock casting their lines in the hope of catching something.

“Take it closer to the kids fishing.” The drone-enthuasist insisted.

I looked at him unsure, not wanting to crash the fragile drone. It was little more than a speck in the distance by now and the only thing to guide our flight was the on-screen display with the iPad.

“Oh yeah. You can definitely get it closer.” He said.

I shook my head and handed him the controls. Satisfied I had washed my hands of anything that would happen next, I looked on in anticipation. He was sure with the throttle and pitch, moving the drone into a sweeping view of the kids casting their lines into the blue waters. I took a glance at the on-screen display. A fisherman was pulling back his rod ready to cast when he caught glance of the drone.

Suddenly there was a jolt on the screen. I looked out to the dock where the drone had been hovering. It was no longer there. The Generous Drone-Enthusiast looked over at me and I tried to avert his gaze — It wasn’t me! I promise I didn’t sink your drone.

Without saying a word we both started sprinting to the beach. He was nowhere near a match for my speed or my deep desire to have a drone for the next two weeks. I was at the beach ripping off my clothes, throwing them on the boardwalk as I unloaded my keys, cellphone, and wallet into a pile on the grass. My belt was loosened but a moment of clarity came to me that I should keep my pants on at a Kid’s camp.

In no time I was at the dock where the aspiring fishermen were standing around, wondering who had drowned and why the “boss” at camp was standing half-naked and out of breath in front of them.

I assessed the situation quickly. The drone had been sunk by a line and I could easily jump in and trace the line to it, retrieve the device and be the hero. I stepped towards the edge, took a breath, readied myself to jump, and stopped.

How deep was the water? If I grab hold of the drone with one, or two hands, will I still be able to swim back? I’m a pretty terrible swimmer. Will I drown if I try to rescue this drone?

I stood awkwardly still for an entire minute. Normally 60 seconds is not a long time, but when a director at a camp sprints across the beach like he is in baywatch without saying a word to anyone, one minute can raise all kinds of alarms.

The lifeguard on duty rushed up to me and asked if there was someone in the water. I shook my head and pointed.

“A drone.”

“A what?”

The leader of the fishing skill standing off to the side understood immediately. Without a second thought he slipped off his shirt and slid into the lake. He followed the line to the drone and seconds later he was treading water towards the dock with the drone held over his head.

Thankfully, the Generous Drone-Enthusiast continued to be generous as I handed him back his dripping drone with a muttered apology.

“Don’t be sorry! It’s all part of the fun.”

He thought I was apologizing for what had happened to the drone. I wasn’t. I was apologizing for freezing, for not doing what was necessary when the time came. I was scared. And isn’t being scared the same as being weak?