April 21, 2020

Things are a’changing

I found out yesterday that the relatively relaxed regime, compared to some other countries in Europe anyway, of controls and rules affecting the flying of ‘leisure’ drones in France is about to change. As from July 1 2020, France will be adopting a common pan-European system of rules and regulations meaning that there will be changes here affecting what you can and can’t do and also what you’ll have to do to even fly a drone anywhere in the country.

There are several classes of drones and I’m not going to go through the whole gamut of changes and how they will affect each class. Instead I’ll restrict myself to describing how the changes will affect me personally as well as the majority of other private drone users, as mostly they will also have drones similar in weight and characteristics to what I own and am in the process of acquiring.

My little Eachine E16 weighs 210 grams and the Fimi X8 SE 2020 that I have on order 765 grams, so both come in under the current weight limit of 800 grams. This means that neither currently has to be registered in any way and anyone can pilot them without demonstrating any kind of skill or experience. Pilots merely have to observe the relatively few regulations that apply and stick to some fairly basic rules. Penalties for breaking them can, however, be quite painful involving terms of imprisonment and fines up to 75,000€ in extreme cases as well as confiscation of equipment which would be relatively trivial in comparison.

The first requirement is that all drones must be flown only in line-of-sight. There is a possibility of allowing flights ‘in total immersion’ ie using just a FPV screen or goggles, but then there must be a second person present. I’m not sure how this would work in practice given that the drone could be out of view of the second person if at some distance, so maybe this still means that the drone must be in their line of sight, but it’s of no interest to me anyway.

The second consideration is that pilots must observe No-Fly-Zones (NFZs) and areas where height restrictions apply. Where there are no other restrictions, the maximum height at which drones can be flown is 150 metres but aside from obvious places like prisons, nuclear power stations, airports and the like there is an enormous number of other areas where height restrictions apply which can be found here on an interactive map covering the whole of France.

The map shows, for example, that there are vast tranches of countryside that are NFZs eg areas of national parks. Also, every town, village or commune of any significance is a NFZ, including Plazac, Fleurac, Rouffignac and Montignac in my area. However, where I live on a hill outside Plazac the maximum height to which I can fly my drone is 50 metres, the same as at Malbec, our airfield. However, should I want to nip across to just south-west of Fleurac, the height increases to 100 metres before increasing further out to the ‘unrestricted’ maximum of 150 metres.

There are other considerations – for example, you’re not allowed to fly over parks, other public places and rivers in ‘built-up areas’ and from time to time, temporary restrictions might apply elsewhere, for an event, for example. Although you should try to avoid them, you are allowed to fly over people and vehicles but you are not allowed to do so over assemblies or large groups. No night flying is allowed whatsoever.

There is a grey area of ‘privacy’. You need permission from a land-owner to fly over private land although this is almost a practical impossibility for an area of ‘significant’ size over which one would fly the Fimi X8, for example, due to the often highly fragmented nature of land ownership in France. I suspect it’s highlighted merely as a way to throw the book at a drone operator in the event of an incident or something going wrong in some way.

There is also a vagueness in the way that ‘personal privacy’ is approached. In a ‘built-up-area’ you are allowed to fly your drone over your garden, but if it has a still or video camera on-board, you should advise your neighbours accordingly. I’ve done that, actually, and all my neighbours know that I have a drone but will be going out of my way to respect their personal privacy and none has expressed any objection. Quite the opposite for some, in fact.

You should also avoid taking pictures of people’s faces and vehicle registrations, for example, that are recognisable or readable, and you are prohibited from publishing such items without their permission. On no account whatsover may you publish such material for commercial reward.

That more or less sums up how things are done at the moment but as from July 1 there will be some changes, some of which are relatively significant. Not all of the details have yet been published, so it’s assumed that where no change has been identified, the status quo will apply.

The most significant overall change is that the ‘unrestricted’ height at which all drones can fly will be reduced from 150 metres to 120 metres. I am not sure how much effect this will have in the normal run of things because I doubt that a change in height of 30 metres is detectable and nobody will be around trying to do checks anyway.

However, drones like the Fimy X8 create a log of each flight (eg I found the ones for the two very short flights that I achieved with the faulty EX4 that is now on its way back to China) and much like the current requirement involving getting permission from landowners to fly over their land, I think that in the event of an accident or incident, the drone operator will be required to produce the flight log for analysis and will be subject to penalty if it’s found that they were flying above the height limit.

The line-of-sight requirement and the other existing height restrictions will continue to apply after July 1.

Now onto the drones themselves. Currently the EG16 and the X8 SE fall within the same category but this will change after July 1. The EG16 will fall into Category A1, Class C0 and the X8 into Category A1, Class C1. They will both be subject to the same basic requirements but some additional demands will be made for the heavier of the two, the Fimi X8 SE.

Both drones will need to have a maximum speed of less than 19 metres/sec (both do have), to be registered on-line and conform to CE regulations, which again both do. Drones which are not CE approved will be allowed in the future but will face stringent requirements for remaining well clear of people and vehicles amongst other things, making them far less desirable.

The other major change relates to the pilots of all drones including both of mine. All pilots will have to take an on-line training course and pass a 20 question multiple-choice exam. I think, but am not sure, that the pass rate also has to be 100% but this is not an overly demanding requirement as the exam is also done on-line and can be attempted as many times as needed until you get through.

This is not the case with the heavier and/or professional classes of drone for which the demands are more stringent and their pilots have to attend the DGAC for both training and their exam.

No other technical requirements will be made of the little EG16 but this is not the case for the heavier X8 SE. The latter will have to have an on-board NFZ Recognition System which will prevent it entering such zones (the X8 SE does have) plus it will be required to have a ‘system for identification at distance’. I have no idea what this means and nobody else does either at this time.

Finally, there are differences in the ‘rules’ that will apply regarding the distances that must be maintained between the drones and people. I will be allowed to intentionally fly the EG16 over people and vehicles but not, as now, over assemblies or large groups. For the heavier X8SE, the same will apply for assemblies and large groups of people but I will only be allowed to ‘unintentionally’ fly over sundry people and vehicles.

This is, once again, a very vague requirement. It presumably means that if you are flying the drone in line-of-sight but at a distance where there are people that you cannot see, you will be excused for flying over them. But as before, if there is an incident or accident involving your drone and those people, may the Lord help you!

I think that’s about it and a reasonable summary of what’s going to happen. Other factors may come to light between now and July 1 but I’m not going to stop my drone flying and will still be going ahead with my Fimi X8 SE 2020 purchase. Actually, at the moment after watching a host of Youtube videos of it, I can’t wait to get my hands on it 😉

April 17, 2020

Still droning on

Something I’ve been accused of quite often in the past but this time we’re talking about something completely different to before. With the strict Covid-19 lockdown still in full force here in France I’m glad that I had the idea of getting hold of a lttle drone to occupy myself with in and around my garden because I’m actually finding the whole experience more and more absorbing. But I’ll come back to that in a moment.

First more on the Covid-19 lockdown. Both here and in the UK it looks as though lockdowns involving a block on all types of private flying will continue through until at least mid-May. Here in France the lockdown has been extended to at least May 11 and although the statements made in the UK have been a bit more vague, it appears that a similar date has been set there, but with a strong possibilty that it will be extended into June. And who knows, the same may happen here in France.

So it looks as though my ex-pat Xair has no possibility of budging from the hangar where it’s being stored in the UK at least until there’s some kind of relaxation on both sides of the Channel. And the prospective purchaser of my Weedhopper has also been keeping in touch and expressing his frustration that he won’t be able to get his hands on it, probably until June at the earliest 🙁

But there’s another possible concern here in France. Government spokesmen have been suggesting that even when the lockdown is released, elderly people will still be subject to enforced confinement until the end of the year, and ‘elderly’ could very well include me! In that case I’d be looking potential disaster in the face. That would mean that the Xair would have been standing untouched and un-run for a full year with everything that means for its airframe end engine.

I fitted a brand new battery last October/November so goodness knows what state that would be in and then there are the implications for the engine which would not have been run for the same period. I think that if it did look as though that might happen, I might have to look at the feasibility of getting one of my contacts in the UK to perhaps go and start the engine for me and also charge the battery, but that’s something for later.

And, of course, there’s also the question of the cost of hangarage which will be racking up in the meantime plus the fact that In December/January I’d be right back facing the same kind of weather-related problems as I did previously regarding flying the Xair over the Channel and down through France. Merely thinking about such issues give me the shivers and I’m just having to put them to the back of my mind for now.

Anyway, back to the subject of drones. As a result of Youtube videos that I’ve seen published by other private pilots, I’ve had the idea for some time that drone shots would be an interesting adjunct to the ULM videos that I’ve been making for the past few years. Actually, ‘trying to make’ is nearer the mark as my cheap little Chinese video cameras have been letting me down so frequently that I’ve been ending up more and more with nothing to show after carefully setting them up and starting them running.

I’ve hopefully now solved the key issue by recently acquiring a couple of real GoPros, both brand new and found on UK Ebay as the prices of even well-used GoPros are silly here in France. The first one was a GoPro Hero 7 Black which I’ve been really impressed with and a week or so ago I also came across a GoPro Hero 8 Black at such a good ‘Buy-It-Now’ price that I couldn’t resist it. That should be with me very shortly and I’m really looking forward to seeing how, as the latest model, it compares to my GoPro 7.

So that should solve all of my conventional video problems and it’ll be interesting to do recordings, for example, with one on the wing amd the other in the cabin as other Youtube pilots frequently do. Goodness knows when, of course, because it’ll have to wait until we’re allowed to get back up in the air again.

But what about the drone footage that I have in mind? Well, I dipped a toe in the water by first acquiring an Eachine EG16 drone that I first mentioned here on My Trike a couple of weeks or so ago, which was quite inexpensive and therefore a good machine to learn on. Here’s a picture of it from Eachine’s web site.

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It’s difficult to tell from the picture that the EG16 is very small and light weighing only 210 grams. However, quite a lot of functionality has been packed into that small weight, including GPS positioning, a bottom-mounted optical flow sensor that further aids positioning, especially in the hover at low altitudes and an impressive AI software capability. And its forte is that it has an onboard front-facing camera mounted on a 2-axis gimbal so it can be remotely raised and lowered, that is capable of recording video at 1080p resolution and still shots at a full 4K.

The serious drone fraternity regard the EG16 as a toy, and I’m now beginning to join them in that point of view as my levels of knowledge and experience increase, but I have to say that I’ve found it to be faultless and totally reliable for what it is. And ‘for what it is’ in the drone world is really all about price.

I realised pretty quickly that I wanted to move forward and was soon able to see how that would not be possible with the little EG16. Firstly, it has a declared range of only 200 metres, which is good for a ‘beginner’ but not for someone like me who has more ambitious ideas and objectives. Also, because of its light weight and fixed 2-axis camera, the videos of which it is capable are always choppy and become unwatchable if shot in anything but the lightest of winds. But the deciding factor was its battery life.

Eachine claims that the EG16 has a battery life of 14 minutes, but like most drone manufacturers, this is far from the truth. Some Youtube reviewers have suggested that the figure is closer to 10 minutes but my own experience is that even this is optimistic. I have not managed to get a video of more than 9 minutes including taking off and landing and mostly 7-8 minutes is the average, which just isn’t enough time to do any kind of ‘serious’ video work. And I’ve also found that the video link between my phone and the drone always fails well before the claimed 200 metre distance limit is reached after which the drone is being flown blind with no idea of what’s actually being shot.

So even at a very early stage I knew that I’d have to move on and acquire a more advanced drone that more closely met my needs. My decision, wrongly as it turned out although I’ll come back to that later, was to look for some sort of acceptable compromise between price and performance and I thought that I’d found the ideal candidate in the Eachine EX4. Here’s a shot of it taken, once again, from the Eachine web site.

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The EX4 is a step up from the EG16 being slightly larger and heavier, weighing in at 437 grams. This puts it in the same weight class as the market leader, the DJI Mavic Mini which is similar in appearance, but whereas the Mavic has superior features, on paper the EX4 looks like an attractive alternative at something like half the price. The main advantage of the EX4 over the EG16 aside from having double its real (as compared to its claimed) flight time, is that its camera is mounted on a 360 degree 3-axis gimbal, meaning that whereas videos shot on the EG16 are choppy, the EX4’s videos have the potential of being ‘rock-solid’ steady in all but the highest winds, albeit at 1080p. Plus the EX4 also has a claimed range of over a kilometre.

Other than that, the two machines have similar capabilities and after ordering my EX4, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. However, I was to be disappointed and would never get the chance to find out the EX4’s actual capabilities, the reason being that apart for a very brief initial flight, I was unable to get a connection between the one that I received, the controller and my phone, making any kind of flight impossible.

That presented me with a dilemma because the supplier, Banggood, said that although I’d had the machine delivered from Spain at higher cost to save time, in order to process a warranty claim, it would have to be sent by me to China. The problems with this are (a) the cost and (b) the length of time that it would take, so I endeavoured to initiate a claim against them via Paypal in the hope of achieving a quicker settlement. However, as I might have expected, Paypal sided with Banggood and said that I had no choice, presumably because they make a lot more out of Banggood than they do out of me. So the EX4 was duly shipped off today although to their credit, Banggood have said that they will refund carriage up to a maximum of $40. Only time will tell if they actually do.

But that still left me with a decision to make. Youtube searches revealed that not only was I not unique in experiencing problems with my EX4, reviewers who had raised issues had also received comments from viewers asking what they had to do to overcome issues that they faced with their own machines. So that got me thinking. It looks as though with drones, as with many other things in life, you get what you pay for and if you purchase a ‘compromise’ as I explained previously above, not only is that what you get but you could also end up with a lot more problems than you bargained for.

So I decided to bite the bullet. I know that I will only be happy so long as I get results that are acceptable to me and for that I will need to look beyond models such as the EX4. Who knows, it possibly did me a favour by being DOA, forcing me think longer and harder and look at what is available in a slightly higher price bracket. And beside flying my little EG16, which still gives me great pleasure every time I do, that’s what has been occupying me for almost the last week.

I have no desire to get into DJI’s, the the brand leader’s, bracket either in terms of available features or price, but I do know what I want – namely good battery life, good range and good quality videos. As a relative newcomer, it’s not that easy sifting through the various contenders. Youtube helps, of course, because there are umpteen drone channels all doing testing and reviews of individual machines as well as play-offs between one or more similar machines and as a result my short-list came down to a choice between two – the Hubsan Zino Pro and the Fimi X8 SE.

Here’s a shot of the Zino Pro taken from the Hubsan web site.

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And here’s a shot of the X8 SE taken from the Fimi web site.

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Here in France, the weight limit for drones is 800 grams – below that the rules and restrictions are minimal but above and you have to take an on-line test that’s similar to what ULM pilots have to do, in order to acquire a drone pilot’s licence. The Zino and the X8, although coming in at over 700 grams each, both conveniently fall below the 800 gram limit. However, the factor that makes the two machines unique in their price bracket is that both sport 360 degree 3-axis gimbal mounted cameras that shoot video in full 4K resolution.

I won’t go into a detailed comparison of the two machines and their features but my conclusion is that the X8 SE stands head-and-shoulders above the Zino. The general consensus is that despite the Zino having been recently updated (to the Zino Pro and the more expensive Zino 2) the X8 has a superior controller, slightly better battery life and a much longer range. The Z8 is also technically superior in having downward-facing optical flow positioning sensors, which the Zino lacks, making it more stable at low altitudes both in the hover and in flight.

But there’s another very persuasive consideration. The X8 SE is just about to be updated from the X8 SE 2018 to the X8 SE 2020 and whereas the earlier version had a range of 3 kms, comfortably more than the latest Zino, the new version will have a proven range of 5 kms, which is simply stunning!

Range per se is however, now less important than it used to be because almost all countries have imposed the rule that drones must only be flown in line of sight, which in practice means up to a distance of something like 1 km in good conditions. Clearly, it’s possible to push that limit when out in the wilderness away from people and habitation but in normal use, long range means a strong connecting signal and therefore little or no chance that the FPV video link between one’s phone and the drone will ever be lost.

So I’ve already placed my order for a X8 SE, regrettably before my EX4 refund is processed by Banggood. The reason why I’ve done this is because the new version is on ‘pre-order’ with a lengthening waiting list. I already know that my order will probably not be processed for despatch before May 15 but if left too long, this leadtime could become even longer. But not only that, all orders placed before the end of April will go into a draw for 1000 units at a price equivalent of only $299, which is an absolute steal. And who’s to know, given the tortuous first steps that I’ve been forced into making into the drone world, that my name won’t come up 🙂

April 13, 2020

Could happen to anyone…

From a report in the Daily Telegraph, 13 April 2020

Pensioner flung from fighter jet at 2,500ft after grabbing ejector seat handle to ‘steady himself’

The French airforce has been told to review procedures that put a 64-year old civilian with no wish to be there in a Rafale-B jet

A pensioner who was given a surprise flight in a £70million fighter jet as a retirement present was flung out at 2,500ft after grabbing the ejector seat handle to ‘steady himself’.

The drama is outlined in a newly released report by French aviation investigators which at times reads like a dark comedy script, as it describes how the unidentified 64-year-old panicked during his first flight in the Rafale-B. Then he shot out at high speed, losing his helmet that had not been fastened round his chin properly, before landing in a field close to the German border.

His anti-g force suit, worn by aviators who are subject to high acceleration forces and designed to prevent a blackout, had also become loose. It was only through good fortune that the pilot was not ejected by his passenger’s actions, so ensuring a certain crash.

The pensioner had ‘never expressed a desire to take part in a flight like this, and especially not in a Rafale,’ reads the report by the Paris-based BEA (Bureau of Enquiry and Analysis). Despite this, his colleagues at the defence contractor where he had worked, set up the flight at the Saint-Dizier airforce base, in north-west France.

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‘The need to keep the surprise until the moment of the flight,’ had hugely risky consequences, especially as regards ‘preparation for the flight,’ reads the report. It continues: ‘This situation generated a feeling of stress for the passenger, and this was particularly felt during the ejection seat briefing where he had to assimilate a large amount of information in a very short time.

‘The passenger said he had a complete lack of knowledge of the aeronautical environment and its constraints, having never flown on a military aircraft.’ The 35-year-old captain on the flight, which took off on a sunny afternoon on March 20 last year, had 2000 flying hours behind him. This included 905 in a Rafale, but he was used to having a military comrade in the back seat of the two-seater jet.

Four of the pensioner’s colleagues had turned up with a professional photographer, and they placed a Go-Pro camera on their friend’s helmet. ‘Faced with a fait accompli on the day of the flight, it was very difficult for him to refuse to participate in the flight,’ says the report. The flight had also been authorised by the French Air Force staff at the request of the Defence Ministry, which also piled pressure on the pensioner who was ‘considered a VIP’.

Analysis of radio recordings show that ‘the pilot was in control of the situation. Once informed that his passenger had ejected, the pilot realises that he should have been ejected too. ‘He then demonstrated a certain calm to pilot following the loss of the rear seat and the canopy.’

The pensioner, meanwhile, had expected a gentle ascent, but the plane ‘climbed at 47 degrees’, compared to around 10 to 15 degrees for a standard passenger plane. This was when the Frenchman reached out to hang on to anything to steady himself and pulled the ejector handle. There was a loud bang, with the force of the ejection tearing his unsecured mask and oxygen mask away.

The Rafale-B’s command ejection system is meant to fire both seats at once – meaning the pilot feared his seat would fly out at any moment. Instead he managed to land, while the pensioner’s parachute worked, and he arrived in a field, shocked and with minor injuries.

The report calls on the Airforce and Defence Ministry to review its procedures for allowing civilians on military flights.

April 12, 2020

More lockdown, more drone stuff

So how’s your lockdown going? I have to confess that although I’m keeping myself busy and still have things to do, I’m getting bored now. And it’s not helped by the wonderful, summer-like weather that we’ve been getting for the past few days which you’d like to be out and about in and doing, well, almost anything except staying at home around the house and garden.

We’ve been getting temperatures in the low 20 degrees C (low 70s F) which are quite unusual at this time of the year and this is probably the best spring that I can remember in the almost 8 years since I’ve been here. And isn’t it typical that we can’t get out and make the best of them by flying and doing all of the many other things that you can do in this glorious part of the world. It’s all very well to sit or lie in the sun and OK, I’ve now got the sort of suntan that I usually only have achieved at the end of the summer, but it begins to pall after a while.

I have, of course, been flying my drone, my little EG16 and not my new EX4 that is defective and that I’m still trying to sort out with Banggood, the Chinese supplier. I’ve made it clear that I’m not going to be messed about – the drone is not fit for purpose and not as advertised – and unless we come to a quick resolution, as I paid for it via Paypal I’m going to pursue a refund through them.

This seems to have focused their minds somewhat and Banggood have already offered carriage up to $40 for the drone to be returned to China. However, it wasn’t delivered to me from China – I paid extra for quick delivery from Spain. By Banggood’s own admission it could take some considerable time (I estimate 60 days or more) for the replacement to be shipped from China, the delay being due to shipment and the time to clear the defective drone through customs back into China.

I’ve therefore naturally rejected that option and said that I am only prepared to ship the drone at their cost back to Spain. As they say that that isn’t possible I’ve offered them the further option of shipping out a replacement controller to me at their cost as it’s unlikely that both the drone and the controller are defective and I’m now waiting for a response from them regarding that possibilty.

In the meantime I’ve therefore had to be content with flying the little EG16 which is OK as far as it goes, but not what I wanted to be doing when I invested in the EX4. But for now I’ll continue to be patient – although not for much longer. I’ve been shooting videos every day as well as one or two still shots and although I’ve not got as many of the latter to choose from, I’ve posted a series below in date order.

Mostly I’ve just resized them and, where necessary, enhanced them a bit to bring out colour and contrast. One or two, however, usually ones where the camera was aimed high and therefore caught the front propeller blades, I’ve cropped and edited in order to create a clear picture without such visual distractions.

2nd April

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6th April

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7th April

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8th April

This picture of my neighbour’s house is my favourite shot so far.

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11th April

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12th April

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For the ones taken today, I switched on the ‘4K visual correction’ setting as although I don’t quite know what it’s for, I think it’s supposed to reduce the ‘fisheye’ effect and reduce the curvature of the horizon. However, I don’t know for sure because the effect is greater the higher the altitude and the wind today has made it unwise to fly too high from where I could take comparative shots.

It’s also interesting to see how in what is a relatively short period, the trees have gone from partial, many no leaf, to full leaf. Most of the colours are glorious, showing what a wonderful time spring is. And I’ve had some interesting experiences along the way too, the most demanding being wind rotor.

Depending on the strength and direction of the wind, because of the roll of the land, the buildings and the high trees, I’ve found that in certain sectors, it’s not uncommon for the drone to begin to go out of control and start rotating faster and faster in a circle of increasing diameter while continuing to face in the same direction. It also begins to lose its height stabilty and if left to its own devices I think control would eventually be completely lost and it would crash, possibly into the ground or more likely a tree.

I found early on that a solution was just to hit the ‘Return to Home’ key which would take back automatic control of the drone after a few moments, bring it back overhead and land it. Even so, you had to be pretty quick to do so because in the time that it took for control to be regained, the drone would still do a couple of large sweeping and dipping circles that could bring it into contact with any trees in its vicinity.

I’ve since found that positive control action usually deals with any rotor instability so long as it’s applied the moment the instability starts and preferably before it becomes too pronounced. So first you increase altitude to ensure that you remain clear of any trees or any other high objects and then you hit the ‘move forward’ joystick. This usually solves the problem because the AI that’s built into the drone’s software decides what it has to do in order to deal with the ‘external’ issues and complete the requested actions.

But in any case, if you’re still not happy, there’s always the ‘Return to Home’ option although I already find that far less satisfactory than taking control of the problem myself, bringing it back close to me and landing it under manual control.

Our lockdown is scheduled to end on 15th April but as the virus is still pretty rampant in France, I suspect that it will be extended to at least the end of the month, frustrating as that will be. I’ll probably use my two DGAC derogations to go to Malbec and run the engines of each of my aircraft for 20 minutes in the first half of this coming week anyway. It’s a pity that it won’t be possible to do the same with my ex-pat Xair that has been languishing these past months in the hangar at Clipgate in the UK 🙁

April 8, 2020

Wouldn’t you just know it

Three small Amazon orders failed yet again to be delivered today, after tracking showed that they were out for delivery two days ago. At least yesterday I received an email saying that they had been delayed and would be delivered today, a day later than expected, but today, nothing. Have they fallen into a Covid-19 black hole? Who knows, only time will tell I suppose.

But yay! At least I had the compensation of having my new upgraded drone being delivered first thing this morning by GLS, who are playing a blinder. That’s twice recently they’ve exceeded delivery expectations at this problematic time with unpredictable delays, staff sickness and other issues coming into play, so kudos to them. I hope that they reap the rewards when things eventually get back to some kind of normality.

The new drone is another Eamachine, this time the EX4 which costs a bit more than the EG16 that I’ve been learning on but with some nice additional features. Firstly, it has a ‘true’ battery life of 25 minutes, which is much more acceptable than the 9 or so that I’ve been getting out of the EG16 with its claimed battery life of 15 minutes 😐

Secondly, it has a considerably better range of about 1000 metres, compared to 200 metres for the EG16 with its FPV video link dropping out way before then, and reviewers on Youtube have also found that it retains its FPV link over that whole distance in good environmental and operational conditions.

And the third advantage that it has over the EG16 is a brushless 360 degree gimbal mount for its video camera. I’ve found while learning to fly the EG16 that it’s video output is considerably degraded by movement and wind and that’s because as a platform it rocks in pitch and roll taking the camera with it because once its angle has been set from the ground, it’s fixed. The gimbal on the new drone almost totally eliminates that making for stable videos that are much more watchable.

When I researched the EX4, I found that it came highly recommended by those who reviewed it on Youtube. The general conclusion was that all it lacked compared to machines costing twice as much was a 4K video camera (like the EG16, it delivers 4K stills but only 2K videos) but for my budget, I decided that I could live with that, certainly until it’s proved its worth anyway.

Here are several shots that I took of the machine and its accessories as I unboxed it and set it up ready to fly.

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But that’s about as good as it got, unfortunately. The way that drones like this work is that you have a controller with twin joysticks, one for up/down and left/right turn and the other for forwards/backwards and side-to-side. So basically quite simple, as I’ve found, made easier by the fact that they come with on-board gyros for stability and GPS so they can be positioned accurately and made to hover ‘hands-off’ at any chosen altitude.

And to pilot them, you use an app installed on your smartphone (only modern ones because the apps link to the drones using 5G wi-fi) giving you a pilot’s-eye view through the video camera that’s known as FPV (First Person View). And this is where my original EG16 and my new EX4 differ. The video link to the EG16 is direct from the phone which I guess must make for its potentially being more fragile depending on the quality of phone being used at the very least.

However, with the EX4 the drone links to the controller which allows for the link to be factory optimised and the phone also links to the controller which is, of course, only inches from the phone. So potentially the link between the phone and the drone is much stronger explaining why the range of the EX4 is so much greater.

The EG16 uses a smartphone app called FPV Go which is readily downloadable from the Google Playstore for Android or the App Store for iPhones. The EX4 uses an app called Enjoy-Fly, which offers similar functions but looks and handles differently. The first problem that I encountered was that when I scanned the download code in for Enjoy-Fly, I found that it’s no longer in the Playstore (I don’t know about the App Store because that’s irrelevant for me).

An internet search revealed that other users had found that there are one or two other drones that are the same model but rebadged and use the same app under different names. However, when I checked the apps for those I found that they’d also been removed from the Playstore. So potentially I had just acquired a drone that was only flyable blind as there was now no app to control it with, thus drastically reducing its potential, which would be a disaster.

But yet another internet search came up with various ‘app’ sites that still had downloadable copies of the Enjoy-Fly app, so it looked as though such a disaster would be avoided after all. After setting it up on my phone (with considerable difficulty I might add as I’m not as savvy with Android as I am with Windows PCs…) as I knew how to make the thing start up and fly after watching a host of Youtube videos, I was ready to go.

First the controller had to be connected to my phone and that happened quite quickly and smoothly as its wifi SSID came up almost immediately. Then the drone had to be ‘paired’ with the controller and the app started on my phone so it could take off and be flown with video. But although the drone appeared to connect quite quickly to the controller, as shown by the indicator light turning to solid green, there was no sign of the app starting up as it should have and as it had done for the many others on Youtube.

But eventually it did and I was up and away. The first thing that I found was that despite its GPS positioning, the EX4 was quite a lot less stable than my EG16. I’d also inserted a SD card so set my video recorder going while I flew away for a short distance and then returned. I had two more goes and decided to call that it for the moment to see what the results had been like.

And they were most disappointing. Although the camera gimbal had worked well, the video itself had lots of missed frames and therefore kept jumping, which was totally unacceptable. And not only that, although I’d taken some stills plus a couple of videos, nothing had been recorded on the drone’s SD card and I was only able to retrieve the results such as they were because recordings had been made to my phone.

After such a debacle, I naturally wanted to try again so went out to fire the machine up once more for another flight. But that was not to happen because this time not only would the app not run on my phone even after waiting for several minutes but my phone also couldn’t see the controller’s wifi signal.

Taking one thing at a time, an internet search revealed that the most recent update of the Enjoy-Fly app (1.3.7) turned out to be a disaster and that users should revert to an earlier version. I found version 1.3.4 and this did seem to start on my phone but that still left the controller wifi problem.

The signal has never returned and I can only believe that there’s a controller wireless problem. I’ve emailed Banggood who I bought the drone off so now must wait for a reply and in the meantime, my new drone is totally useless. After the anticipation and build-up waiting for it to arrive, wouldn’t you just know it 🙁

April 4, 2020

Oh dear…

I’ve been having a brilliant time learning how to fly my little Eachine EG16 drone over the last few days. I’ve got to be careful, of course, not to offend my neighbours because I don’t want them to think that I’m flying over and around their homes snooping on them. The trouble is that these are not normal times and I’m limited to flying it just from my garden being unable to go elsewhere more open and less intrusive because of the strict Covid-19 lockdown that we’re subject to here in France.

As an aside before I get back to my drone flying, I received a message today fom FFPLUM, the French ULM/microlight association of which I’m a member, that’s equivalent to the BMAA in the UK (except much superior) saying that we pilots have now been granted a derogation by the DGAC here in France (equivalent to the CAA in the UK) to be allowed to go out once a month to run the engines of our aircraft for 20 minutes.

We have to carry a copy of the derogation with us plus a copy of the normal ‘attestation’ saying why we’re outside our homes and what time we left, so there are strict rules being applied nevertheless. Even so, it’ll mean that I’ll be able to ‘legally’ go out twice to run the engines of my Savannah and my Weedhopper.

But back to the drone flying. I’ve shot a video every time that I’ve flown (except when I’ve forgotten to switch it on) so now have quite a bit of footage. However, because of the pathetically slow internet that we have down here, it would be a waste of time trying to upload it to You tube because if I did, I’d probably be here until the end of the lockdown!

So what I’ve done is grab images from the videos themselves, a selection of which are shown below. It must be understood that these are NOT drone images, which would be of much higher quality (4K actually). If I’d done that I’d have had to keep stopping the video, taking a still and then starting it up again and life is just too short to keep doing that at the moment 🙂

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And finally, early this evening, a hard lesson was learned. Consider this equation…

Novice + Over Confidence = Disaster

The next three shots are a sequence that happened within a few seconds of each other. Note the proximity of the tree with yellow leaves in the next image.

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Note how much closer it is in this one!

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And this is the final frame taken from the video that was being shot at the time – a shot of my neighbour’s house taken after the drone had come to rest at the end of a branch some 10 or so metres up 🙁

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Although the video link was working on my phone at the time, I had my back to the lowering sun and couldn’t see the image on its screen. Consequently I was judging, or more correctly misjudging, the drones position compared to the tree from a short distance away by eye. Evidently it was not as far to the side of the tree as I’d estimated – not to the side at all actually.

Luckily, it wasn’t a complete disaster. I succeeded in getting it out of the tree undamaged and without a mark on it using the plastic chimney cleaning rods that have been lurking in the corner of my workshop for ages just waiting for an opportunity to spring into use. The only thing was that when I retrieved it I found that one of the little shiny metal caps that fit on the tops of the propellers had been knocked off when it originally collided with the mercifully very thin and light branch in the tree.

Unfortunately, although the drone comes with a few spares, these don’t include even one of these caps, which I think is a bit remiss of Eachine really as they must be near the top of the list of things that will get lost. So I’ve had to order a set of 4 that cost peanuts (the postage is more expensive thatn the caps) but as they’ll be coming from China, they’ll take about 3 weeks to arrive.

And, you’ve guessed it, yesterday I put my EG16 on Le Bon Coin describing it as in ‘as new’ condition, but with a little cap missing, I can’t really do that. So I’ve had to delete the ad for the time being. Not a big deal because as my new upgraded drone didn’t arrive today so will probably do so on Monday, that will then become my main focus of interest and the EG16 will just remain in its box. Pity though 😕

April 2, 2020

Like a boss!

Well, not really, but it’s amazing how much difference a day and a bit more confidence can make. Today I’ve been making a much better job of flying my new Eachine EG16 drone and getting some pretty good results. No videos in this post as quite honestly, it takes far too long uploading them to Youtube with the internet being as slow as it is down here so although I shot quite a few, I’ll save any uploads to later when I’ve got more to show for it.

Having more experience and a bit more confidence I ventured a bit higher and further today than I did yesterday. I was very disappointed to find that when I did, without going to anything like the sort of limits that the drone is supposed to be capable of its WiFi signal dropped out and the image in the app on my smartphone then hung. After that, although the video kept running, I had no idea what it was actually shooting and just had to aim it by eye from the ground.

I don’t know whether the problem was with the drone’s signal being a bit weak or my phone not being sensitive enough but it was annoying because with the problems I’m already having with getting the app started in any case, it was impossible to reestablish the connection. BTW, I’ve found that if I get my phone to ‘forget’ and ‘rediscover’ the drone’s WiFi every time, it links fine, but it’s an annoying rigmarole to have to go through.

The results were pretty good on the whole when I was flying blind, but that’s not the point, is it. On a couple of occasions also, I’m not sure what I did but somehow the videos in question were corrupted and wouldn’t play on my computer. I think it was because I’d switched the drone off when back on the ground having left the video recorder running, but I’m not sure. I just chucked one away but as an experiment, downloaded the necessary software from the internet and recovered the other one. It suffered no harm whatsoever, so that was good to know.

The last bit of news is that I’m so struck with the idea of video recording using a drone that yesterday, on day 2, I already ordered an upgrade. I’ll need better battery life than the EG16 offers as well as a better distance capability both for security and to be sure of getting the sort of shots that I have in mind in the future. But that’s all I’m going to say for now and I’ll tell more when the new, improved version arrives in a few days time 😉

April 1, 2020

My new drone – first impressions

I had a good time flying my new Eachine EG16 drone yesterday afternoon. Not too many spills (the first time I made it take off I hadn’t set it up properly and it flew round-and-round in circles and finally into a tree – without damage luckily) but quite a few thrills. I’m easily excited in my old age 🙂

I’ll do a post with more details later on but for the time being, here’s a short video that I put together from the various clips that I shot during the afternoon and gives my first impressions, which are pretty favourable.

The wind was quite strong and gusting so although the video bumps around a bit as a result, the drone did a pretty good job of keeping its position using its on-board GPS. I’m pleased with the video quality, especially given how much I paid for the kit.

I’m actually already thinking of ordering my next model as an upgrade and putting this one onto Le Bon Coin while it’s still new. I could well get more for it than I originally paid, as I had a 30€ coupon that brought the cost to me down considerably.

Boys and their toys eh… 😉