Grounded! For Now…

Why? Well, two reasons, and one of those reasons has two reasons. Confused yet?

First; the simplest reason. The Thai government recently decided all drones should be registered, no matter what their size or purpose. Previously, only the heavy professional drones had to be registered.

The penalties for not registering can be quite severe. So, I decided to wait until the dust settles. Quite often, pronouncements like these get modified or even cancelled.

Not smoking on beaches is a good example. The government suddenly announced that you can’t, then delayed it, then re-instated it, then decided it was not all beaches. Right now I have no idea whether you can or you can’t, but I don’t. So, no matter. But you get the drift.

Well, the drone registration rule remains, but the process now seems way simpler than initial news articles suggested. Fill out a form. Provide some evidence of who you are and where you live. Describe your drone with photos and serial number. And hop along to your local police station. Not too hard to do. And I believe it’s free.

The whole purpose of this is not clear. I read something about drone fliers invading people’s privacy. So now, as you stand naked at your bedroom window you’ll be able to jot down the serial number of the drone staring at you? I don’t think so. But, I believe registration is not a bad thing, and with a few tweaks, the rule may become a good one.

So why haven’t I done it?

Ah, reason #2. I don’t have a drone!

Well, reasons #2.1 and #2.2. Gippy, the Cheerson CX-23, crashed irretrievably. It’s replacement, another CX-23, which I didn’t even get around to naming, crashed irretrievably. Well, at least I have one consistent skill.

Let me explain. You might learn something. I know I did.

One day, while flying in my usual large field that has minimal obstacles, I glanced at an adjacent stand of trees. Almost a mini-forest. It occurred to me how incredibly cool it would be to fly over the trees, with the camera pointed downwards, and then out towards the beach and sea.

Now, I didn’t just go and do it. I planned. The CX-23 controller shows your height. No, not your height, the height of the drone above you. So I thought, first I need to know how tall the trees are. With the camera pointed forwards I flew out to the edge of the trees. 20 meters. Okay. So if I fly at 30 meters all will be well, and I’ll get the video I want.

With the camera pointing downwards – which of course meant I couldn’t see anything ahead – I went up to 30 meters, flew to the back of the trees so I could return towards the beach, and I glanced at the screen just in time to see the drone touch the top of a tree, and looked up just in time to see it fall into the woods. My reaction was something along the lines of “What the bleep just happened?”

I knew pretty much straight away the drone was lost. It was either still 30 meters up a tree, or somewhere in the one meter deep undergrowth. If it had stayed powered on, I might have been able to use the controller to locate it, as it shows the distance between it and the drone. But no such luck.

Yes, those trees.

So I went home with tail between my legs to open up some cans of blonde liquid. And to try to figure just how I’d been so stupid.

Here’s the thing. As you move away from the beach the land rises, say, maybe ten meters or so. Pretty obvious if you think about it, but I hadn’t. This means the tops of the trees may well have been 20 meters above the ground and 20 meters above me, but at the back of the woods they were 30 meters above me. Simple really.

I learned some things: Leave a greater margin for error. Work more slowly – don’t rush into a flight. Think!

So, having figured all that, I bought another one.

I’d already done some nice flying around in beach areas with the new CX-23, but late one afternoon, it occurred to me the light was perfect to fly near the river. Yeah, yeah, you know where this is going, but let me tell the whole story.

First; I went directly upwards. A “punch out” they call it. “They” being drone pilots more experienced than me. On screen it looked great. The river appeared from behind some trees, then the harbor and eventually the sea in the background. Good video. But that took all of three minutes, so what next?

I looked at the river bank and figured I had just enough room to fly from there, out, over, and along the river, turn and come back. The landing may be tricky, I thought, but I’d already resolved to take things slowly and carefully. Again, the on-screen video looked great. So, pleased with that, I turned and headed back.

After about a minute I realized I had no idea where the drone was. On screen I could still see the river, so that was okay. But looking down the river at dusk, all I could see was the blackness of the water and the trees, with a brilliant sky above. And no drone.

I think I did the right thing at this point. I stopped flying. A GPS-enabled drone will just hover, giving you time to think and get your bearings. Well, I couldn’t see it anywhere, so I decided to go straight up, in the hope of spotting this small black object against the bright sky.

Right idea, but wrong location. What I didn’t know was that the drone was close to the bank. Probably only ten meters away from me. So, if I’d kept going ten more seconds it would have appeared right in front of me. Being close to the bank, as it went up, it clipped a tree branch, and I looked up just in time to see and hear the “plop” as it disappeared into the river. The cool video went with it.

It’s in there somewhere.

Subtracting the ordering and delivery time I’d lost two drones in five days.

Several more cans of blonde liquid later, I concluded I hadn’t done much wrong. I was probably a bit ambitious to fly in the low light, but I think that was my only mistake. Being so close to the bank was just bad luck. But again, it would have been better to leave a greater margin for error, which in this case would have meant not flying at all.

I’m undeterred. I will keep flying. I will keep learning. But for sure I need a break. There is no way I can justify losing one drone per week. But at the same time, I realize that to get good video, some risks need to be taken. Heck, even Elon Musk’s first three rockets crashed, and I’ve lost three drones, so…

Actually, I’ve set a monthly budget, which is now approaching the point where accumulated funds will pay for the next drone. But what will it be? I have a short list, but not a final selection. That story soon.


... is fascinated by flying, having worked in the airline industry for many years, and having flown almost two million kilometers. Flying and learning about drones is a natural extension of this interest.

If drones fascinate you too, and you don't know where to start, then come along for the ride, because Paul doesn't know what he's doing either!

Making top quality videos is the ultimate objective, but that will take a while.

In the meantime, mistakes will be made and written about. Drones will crash. Drones will be lost. Foul language will ensue. But eventually everything will work out fine.

If you're also interested in travel, you may like to read Paul's other blog - Twitterings.

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