I was going to fly solo. That was the plan.
It’s not that I’ve had a lot of time at the controls, but Ted assured me I could do it without crash landing, or even worse losing the craft entirely. That was my fear, coming down behind the fenced in area where I clearly didn’t belong.
Now if my grandson Eddie were with me, I wouldn’t have given my flight over the state’s largest solar farm – 60 acres in Western Cranston – a second thought. He knows what to do intuitively. I’ve seen his skill that lives up to the adage that when it comes to technology, call on a kid.
I witnessed it moments after my son Jack handed me a brightly boxed birthday gift. All eyes were focused on me.
“Dad, you need to open this now,” Jack said when I suggested it might wait until after breakfast.
Eddie, his sister Lucy and their mother, Jen, were waiting for my reaction. Obviously, this wasn’t a new pair of sneakers, although the box was roughly that size. It wasn’t heavy, but compact. I ripped off the paper and immediately saw the word “drone.”
Eddie was practically on top of me as I pulled out the components.
“Two batteries, we’ve got to charge those, Peppy,” he said pulling the matchbox-sized batteries from plastic sleeves. There was no question this thing would be flying sooner than later and long before grandpa read the directions. I reached for the pocket-sized set of directions that I quickly realized was in multiple languages and in print so small that I could barely see it.
“Go online, the video is great,” said Eddie. Stupid of me to even suggest reading the directions. Eddie was prepared; he’d watched the video and operated a drone just like this. He was my go-to guy.
With everything sufficiently charged, we headed out the front door.
“Got your phone, Peppy?”
I handed him my Apple iPhone 4.
Eddie looked at the device as if I’d handed him a relic fresh from an archeological dig.
“It’s so small.” Nonetheless, Eddie fitted it into the arms of the control module, pulling up setting so as to synchronize it with the drone after loading the appropriate app. We didn’t get far. The phone informed us it lacked sufficient memory to run the program.
Now I was beginning to feel like my phone. Maybe I’d be better off without a drone, although, I’ll confess I was intrigued with the thought of flying it.
Jack stepped in to rescue the situation with his phone. Lights flashed on the drone. It’s four propellers buzzed to life. The phone announced, “ready for takeoff.”
It lifted straight up, its camera displaying us circled in front of the house looking up on Jack’s phone. Pictures were as easy as clicking a button. Video was also possible. Eddie put the drone through its paces. It disappeared from sight although I had a good idea where it was from the camera display.
“Watch this,” Eddie said excitedly pushing the “home” button on the controls. I heard the buzzing before I saw it and then after climbing to at least 100 feet, the drone descended slowly to land where it had taken off.
I gave the controls a try and followed Eddie’s directions. That was four months ago.
As I waited to get a new phone, I handed the drone over to Ted. It wasn’t long before he was sending me aerials of the neighborhood. Remarkable.
With Sunday’s clear skies, I figured this would be my opportunity to get shots of the solar array Gold Medal Farm off Lippitt Avenue in Cranston. It is a Southern Skies Solar Renewable Energy project. Southern is the Warwick company that built the far smaller arrays off West Shore Road and the Airport Connector.
Ted gave me a primer. I thought I could handle it.
Finding an access to the solar panels was more of a challenge than I imagined. It was a muddy climb, yet conditions appeared ideal with plenty of sun and not too much wind. I powered up the drone, slipped my phone into the controls but couldn’t get them to turn on.
Frustrated, I called Ted, but he didn’t pick up. After a few more futile attempts and a few ground photos, I headed back to the car.
As I approached Airport Road, Ted called. He quickly diagnosed the problem. I hadn’t tapped the switch and then held it in.
Stupid of me, I was doing just the opposite thing.
Excitedly, I told Ted I could get pictures from the air of what remains of the foundation to the geodesic dome that was once used as the airport maintenance garage. I was right there.
“I wouldn’t do that, Dad, that’s probably a restricted fly zone.”
He had a good point. Not only might the drone have landed on the other side of the fence, but I could have landed behind bars.
My drone flying days would have to wait.