The update on the DJI Phantom (The toy) I promised

I mentioned in an earlier update that I would touch base again on the DJI Phantom Quad-copter we bought (The TOY) so here goes.

First off, what IS a quad-copter?

A quad-copter is a multi-rotor helicopter that is lifted and propelled by four rotors. It has four arms, each has a motor and a propeller at their ends. Quad-copters are classified as rotorcraft, as opposed to fixed-wing aircraft, because their lift is generated by a set of rotors (vertically oriented propellers).

Unlike most helicopters, quad-copters use 2 sets of identical fixed pitched propellers; 2 that rotate clockwise and 2 counter-clockwise. The variation of RPM between the motors control lift and the forward, backward, side to side and rotation of the quad. Control of the copters motion is achieved by altering the rotation rate of one or more rotor discs, changing its torque load and thrust/lift characteristics.

Flying a quad-copter is somewhere in between flying an airplane and a helicopter. The left joystick controls the throttle and the yaw (spinning). Pushing the stick up will increase power causing the craft to gain altitude. Pushing the stick left or right will cause the craft to spin left or right accordingly.

The right joystick controls the pitch of the craft. Pushing the stick up will increase the rear prop speed which will lift the rear of the craft causing it to move forward. Push down and it goes backwards. Pushing left and right causes the craft to pitch and move left or right.

Sounds pretty simple right?? Well keep in mind that if you happen to spin it around so that the front is facing you as you fly all of the commands are backwards LOL!! Now that can mess you up pretty quickly if you end up in one of those Oh Shit moments. So practice practice practice.

Flying the new toy is a hobby to me but they have been used in disaster management, recovery efforts, police operations, military engagements, and agricultural applications. So they are also a very useful tool IF used wisely and properly.

I realized a number of months back that I wanted a quad copter and started my research like I normally do. And once I decided what brand of quad-copter I wanted it got easy. There really isn’t much of a variation in price from one supplier to another. It all comes down to what options you want. And it seems most of the suppliers distribute over the internet and I found that very few hobby shops stocked them, well at least the brand I wanted. And as a traveler it was important to research service after the sale. Well that should be important to anyone I guess, not just a traveler.

Knowing that we would be in Portland Oregon and discovering that there is a dealer in Clackamas (a suburb of Portland) that has a good reputation and knowing that I prefer a more personal buying experience where someone could listen to what I wanted to achieve by owning one and to make suggestions made my decision to wait until we reached Portland to buy an easy one. (Well except I wanted the copter NOW,, I hated the wait LOL).

Once we landed in Portland I paid a visit to ATI (Aerial Technology International) and meet with John who answered all of my questions and helped me decide on just what I needed in a flying machine. I then bumped up the list of options a notch for good measure and placed my order.

What did I want? I wanted to be able to take pictures from the air while having a steady platform for the camera to be secured to that would allow for clear pictures and I wanted to be able to control the tilt of the camera from the ground. And I wanted to be able to see from the ground what the camera was taking pictures of as it was doing so. That’s not asking for too much.

What did I buy? A DJI Phantom 2 with a H3-3D camera gimbal and a GoPro Hero 3 Black camera. Along with a Flysight video transmitter that sends a picture from the GoPro to a 7” Black Pearl monitor that mounts to the hand held controller. And I bought an extra battery as well as a couple extra propellers because I’m sure I will chew a few up before I get the hang of flying LOL!!

My new toy (I won't refer to it as a drone because as soon as you say drone people get all tense). A DJI Phantom 2 with a H3-3D gimbal and GoPro 3 Black camera, transmitter and 7" Black Pearl monitor.

My new toy (I won’t refer to it as a drone because as soon as you say drone people get all tense). A DJI Phantom 2 with a H3-3D gimbal and GoPro 3 Black camera, transmitter and 7″ Black Pearl monitor.

ATI will either sell you all of the components and you can do the assembly or for a small fee they will assemble and do a test flight. So because of the small area I have to spread things out and because I don’t even own a soldering iron which is needed to do some of the assembly I opted to have them do the assembly (plus I’m pathetic at soldering LOL!!!)

It was supposed to take no more than 2 weeks for them to acquire all of the parts and do the assembly but because of a bad batch of monitors things were being prolonged a bit. At 4 weeks I made a call to check on the order and was told it would be shipped the following day. I waited a few days and when I had not received my new toy yet I made another call and was told they were waiting on a GoPro 3 in to fill the order,,, WHAT!! When I called and was told it would be shipped the next day I assumed everything was there in order for that statement to be made. I guess not. So I told them to credit me for the GoPro and ship it as is and I would go buy a camera elsewhere. And they did.

Back in the day when I was working and ran a store if I was missing something small to fill a large order I would go as far as send an employee to a competitor if needed to buy the missing item if that’s what it took to take care of the customer. I didn’t care we didn’t make a profit on that one thing, we kept a customer happy and didn’t allow stories like the one I’m telling here get out LOL. (Stepping down from the soap box now)

Anyway, once it arrived I made a run to Best Buy and picked up my new GoPro Hero3. I had been reading everything I could about flying a quad-copter as well as watching numerous videos on YouTube about flying such as how to calibrate the compass, setting the new home position, how not to descend too fast, making sure the Wi-Fi on the GoPro is turned off when flying, how to expect the copter to react when flying in GPS and other modes, what switches should be set where, what the flashing lights mean on the bottom of the Phantom and on and on. Anyway I felt confident that I was ready to fly even though a bit nervous thinking about how many $$$ I was about to send into the sky in hope it would return safely LOL!

In case anyone is thinking about a quad-copter I will supply a link to a forum that I spent many hours on researching the ins and outs of the DJI Phantom.

Fortunately there is a football field in the country about 3 miles from where we are camped that I could practice without much fear of hitting anything so I went there three different days and flew about 1 hour each day.

I just flew easy basic maneuvers like up and down the field, flying circles, doing landings, flying forwards and backwards and side to side going higher and higher and farther and farther away with each flight as my confidence grew. And practicing using the controls on the controller to move the camera while in the air while looking into the monitor so I could see just what the camera was taking pictures of.

I had a RC helicopter for a while and will admit that having experience with it made jumping to the quad-copter an easier transition. In fact so far I find the quad easier to fly but a little more nerve racking because the quad cost’s far more than the helicopter I had.

Here are a links to a video I took while practicing and a couple still shots. Don’t expect anything much.

After 3 days of flying in the football field I felt ready to venture out into the real world. And it was about then I realized I was NOT going to be happy carrying the new toy around in a brown box forever. Especially because I plan to take it along on a few hikes in the future so I ordered a nice backpack carrying case. I will touch on it later.

On my first real outing I took a trip along the Rogue River outside of town and made a few flights before returning home. And when I took a look at the video’s I realized something had gone wrong and each of the clips were only 4 to 6 seconds long!!! Oh well at least I spent a chunk of the day along a beautiful river and got some more flying time under my belt LOL!!

After spending some time figuring out just what the heck I was doing wrong I was ready to head back out the next day for another try. It turns out it was a setting on the Gopro camera that caused the glitch. Oh well, just mark it up as a learning experience. I’m sure there will be many more.

This time Diane was able to come along and manned another Gopro camera I have and added another aspect to the flying.

We spent a few hours moving from one spot along the river to another while flying a little at each location and just enjoying another great day in a wonderful area.

At the end of our day we returned home and because my Roxio Pro editing program has somehow gone on the blitz I had to download a shareware piece of software to do my editing on the video we took. Again between my lack of experience with the copter and figuring out what I should be paying attention to while filming from the air I’m afraid the video is FAR from anything I would brag about but I will share it none the less. This is the same video I posted in an earlier update titled “A sample of the new toy”. So you may have already seen this one.

Earlier I mentioned different modes that you can fly in so I guess I should elaborate a bit. On the hand held controller in the upper left hand corners there are switches for selecting flight modes. “GPS” “ATTI” and “Manual”

In GPS Mode with six or more satellites visible you can actually let go of the control sticks and let them fall into their neutral positions, the Phantom will act like the brakes have been applied and settle right where it was when you let go of the sticks, you can then actually lay the hand held controller on the ground if you want to and the Phantom will hold its position in the air both horizontally and vertically as long as there is no input from the radio controller. With good satellite signal, you can get stable flight performance. (This is what I fly in and really see no reason not to for what I am looking to get out of the system)

The GPS mode is not perfect however. There are areas where it just won’t get a signal and you either go ahead and fly in ATTI mode or just don’t fly. We had that happen when we took a drive down Hellgate canyon. I REALLY wanted to get some footage but just couldn’t get good satellite signals and because I’m still a new flier and most of the view’s I wanted meant flying out over cliffs with some having 200’ or more drop-offs I decided to just not fly until I have more experience. I was sad but didn’t want to make a big $$$$ mistake knowing I wasn’t ready. (That’s hard to swallow by the way LOL!!)


I like the GPS mode because if I’m flying and find myself in one of those “Oh Shit” moments instead of having to figure out what the heck I need to do in a split second I can just let go of the sticks and the bird will settle in one spot while I get my bearings right again. It has saved my bacon at least once already when flying close to a tree.

In the ATTI mode the GPS assist is turned off. The difference is in ATTI mode the Phantom stays at whatever height it is set at but when the forward / back or left / right controls go to neutral the phantom will continue to travel in whatever direction it was going in until an input is added from the pilot. In other words it acts like there are no automatic breaks that stop lateral travel. I can tell you first hand that if you think you are in GPS mode and expect the Phantom to stop when you let go of the joystick and it just keeps going instead it can create one of those “Oh Shit” moments LOL. So make sure you know where the toggle switches are set at BEFORE you take off.

And then there is the Manual mode which turns off all assisted flight characteristics. The difference is in manual mode the Phantom does not automatically hold at any preset position. What I mean by this is there is no altitude hold or GPS hold. All control inputs are from the pilot, nothing is done to assist in making it easier to fly. Some report it’s more responsive in this mode and flies faster but I have NO idea.

Whatever input the phantom receives from the radio controller it will execute. The potential for getting out of control and possible crashing goes way up. For stunt flying and more challenge flight this option is the one to select. If you are new to flying the phantom be aware this is not the setting for you. This is the mode you would want to be in to do flips, rolls or other stunts.

When you first receive a Phantom the ATTI manual mode is disabled in the software and requires you to hook up a cable to the Phantom and your computer in order to log into what is called the DJI Nazzi Assist website and change the setting to activate it if you want. I assume the thinking on having the manual mode initially disabled is a feature to prevent going to that mode without knowing it. In handling the Remote control and in transport it is easy to bump a switch making entirely possible to start a flight with the mode switch in the wrong position. This could result in one of those OH SHIT moments like I talked about in the ATTI mode section. (I have not turned the Manual feature as of yet, and may never)

The Phantom has a few other features that I really like and are part of why I decided on it. One is the Failsafe & Auto Go Home and Land. This means when the communication between the Main Controller and the transmitter is disconnected, the outputs of all command sticks from controller will go to the center or neutral position. If the GPS signal is good enough, the system will automatically trigger the Return to Home. The Phantom will then go to 60’in the air and fly to the position it took off from, hover for 15 seconds and then land itself.

Of course it’s important to recalibrate the compass and make sure you have good satellite lock before taking off at each new location. If you last flew at a spot in Oregon and then flew next in Arizona without resetting the Home Position and the feature activates itself the bird will want to fly back to Oregon. NOT GOOD!!!

It also has a Low voltage protection feature. There are two levels of low voltage protection, a function of the Naza-M autopilot system. It prevents your Phantom from crashing due to low battery voltage. In the first level of protection, the LED indicator on the Phantom itself blinks red to warn you. In the second level protection the system will trigger the Phantom to land automatically. Better that than to just have it fall from the sky!!


Well I think this is getting a bit long myself so I will end here and leave you with a few still shots I took from the air and another video.

Oh wait!!! I said I would touch back on the carrying case I decided on. As I mentioned I decided to do a backpack version so I could take it along on hikes. There are a number of packs to choose from on the internet at a number of price points starting at around $69 all the way up to the $250 range.

I decided to order a Go Professional Case from Amazon. It’s a Tactical type pack with a number of places to attach mole packs if wanted. And it has a pouch to hold a 2 liter hydration bag. The main inside compartment is fitted with foam that has been laser cut to hold the Phantom with places cut out to hold the controller, 3 batteries, monitor, 2 GoPro cameras, extra batteries for the controller, extra propellers, extra motors, chargers and if that isn’t enough there is plenty of other compartments to handle things like food and other things for a short hike.

My toy tucked safely in the ackpack

My toy tucked safely in the backpack.

You can see the backpack in this picture. It's comfortable and well balanced.

You can see the backpack in this picture. It’s comfortable and well balanced.

The pack even feels good without the chest strap or bottom strap fastened.

The pack even feels good without the chest strap or bottom strap fastened.

It’s just a nice backpack period, much better than the backpack I have been using the last couple years. Here is a link to the page on Amazon in case anyone is interested.

Ok,, now I can leave you with a few still shots and another video. I hope you enjoy.


Another still taken with the "toy"

Another still taken with the “toy”

A still photo taken with the "toy"

A still photo taken with the “toy”

A still photo taken with the "TOY"

A still photo taken with the “TOY”

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11 Responses to The update on the DJI Phantom (The toy) I promised

  1. Glad you are enjoy your new “TOY!!”

  2. Lar says:

    WOW!!! Dave you missed a calling as a technical reporter. What great details on a fun “Toy”. I’m sure I have purchased motor cycles for less than what that “Toy” cost. Looks like a lot of fun.

    • Dave & Diane says:

      LOL,,, I’m afraid I would fail miserably as a technical reporter. I worked on that update off and on for a couple weeks so by the time I could get an article put together it would be outdated.

  3. colibabas says:

    I want one!! For now I will just have to live vicariously thru you and your “TOY” pics Dave 😦
    Safe travels!

  4. Lorne Dillon says:

    Would it be possible to connect by phone? I would like to make sure of all the components that you have before I purchase the Phantom 2. I know you have really researched this hobby and I would like to piggy back off your effort. Thanks

  5. Dave & Diane says:

    I enjoyed the chat. And I did get the number and email but took the liberty to edit the reply so it wouldn’t be just out there.
    I know you will enjoy the new TOY.

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