Setting: Extreme Difficulty

I have fallen down a rabbit hole.  A few months ago, I took over a half-completed drone project and started working on it.  I crashed the drone more times than I can count before I had an hour's worth of full flight time.

Recently, I've been getting more aggressive with my flying, attempting and mostly completing flips and rolls.  I've learned some incredibly valuable lessons and have become a journeyman drone builder.

And through the whole experience, I have been having more fun than any one person has a right to have.

Each crash was an engineering exercise in how to make it better, more stable, more air-worthy.  I learned which parts to keep on hand and how to deconstruct and then reconstruct the entire craft in short orders of time.  I learned how to find and flash better and more capable firmwares for the flight controller I'm flying.

I've learned rudimentary electronics in terms of what volts and amperage are and how they go together.  I've learned how not to fry expensive electronics.  I look at the devices I hold in my hands on a regular basis (iPhones, etc) with different eyes now, eyes of awe and wonder, not for their physical beauty, but for the sheer genius of what it must take to design electronics of this caliber.

But, make no mistake:  Every step has been a fight.  Simply keeping the drone in the air has been a challenge, one that I have relished.  The heart pounding moments when you narrowly avoid a catastrophic crash and the crushing despair as you realize that you have blasted the precious pieces of your drone all over the ground.

Yesterday saw both of those experiences come back-to-back.  I got so aggressive with my acrobatics that I overwhelmed the gyro and turned the drone upside down while it was in a mode that should have prevented that.  I popped off auto-level and turned her back over, keeping her off the dirt.  It was exhilarating.

Then, a few minutes later, I witnessed a crash that, quite frankly, I'm surprised didn't completely destroy the drone.  If you want to go find it on Instagram, feel free, but I'll not post it here.  It was epic.

Start the engineering process, I tracked down one of the issues that caused the crash and believe I have narrowed in on the second issue.  She was back in the air, albeit unsteadily, today.

So, imagine my shock when I went flying with a buddy today.  I flew first and offered him the controls and he stepped back like I was handing him a snake.  "I don't want anything to do with that!"

I was kind of shocked.  Granted, there was a nasty yaw issue but at lower throttle it was manageable.  I took her back up and completed a roll for him, then stepped back so that he could show me his craft.

His was a GPS-enable QA350 paired with a Spektrum DX6i (similar controller to what I have).  He fiddled with a few buttons and nobs, waggled the yaw and the craft came to life.  It sat on the ground locking in GPS then took off and hovered at about 6 feet, waiting for his input.

He showed me the flight modes, one of which can only be called "idiot-proof mode", then brought it back down and offered me a chance to fly.

I eagerly took the sticks, put her in the air, and was dumbfounded.  It was easy.  Way easy.  The craft didn't pitch and roll like a ship in a hurricane.  There was not a constant fight to keep her in the air.  At one point, while he was showing me how she flew, he actually took his eyes off the craft, turned around and faced me, and the drone stayed in the air!

While I was flying this tame beast the enormity of what I had done settled in.  I had had glimpses of it previously, but this was a pure epiphany.  I had built, and re-built, and re-built (and re-built again) a craft that was more like a rocket ship than a plane.  The difference in the feel of the flight was enormous.

With the Ugly Duckling, every second in the air feels like a fight for mastery and survival, but the results when you achieve that mastery, when you attain that survival, are incredible.  Working backwards from a pile of parts into a working understanding of electronics and flight has been amazing.

But I literally did it in the most difficult way possible.  Quite probably, that's what drove me on and made me determined to clear the next hurdle.  But, man, when experienced drone pilots tell you they don't want to fly your aircraft, that says a lot (my friend today is not the only experienced pilot to tell me this).

In contrast, the DJIs and ready-to-fly drones out there are incredibly easy to fly within certain parameters.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and for most people, this is a safer way to enter this hobby.

But, I guess for me, the challenge of it all drove me, and it drove me hard.  And I loved every second.