Well, if you have worked your way through all the warnings and advice last time, you deserve some fun getting ready for your first flight!
The Maiden Flight
I don't know why a very first flight is called a maiden flight but it has a nice ring to it, don't you think?
After the compass calibration procedure (see the tutorial on the DJI website) and a careful check of all the switches, LED lights and potential hazards and the flying area, we are ready to launch.
I got myself some prop guards to protect the propellers on my first trial flights. Think of them as your car bumpers. These cost less than $30 and is a good insurance against prop strikes. They are guaranteed to happen. This will delay the inevitable :-). While you're at it you just might want to buy an extra set of propellers (oh, wait! It already comes with a spare set! Great job, DJI!) However, another set is always handy and doesn't cost the earth. And maybe an extra battery if funds allow.
A final check on all the battery levels: first up, the main battery of the PV. That's the one with the shortest life at max 25 minutes. Just don't forget your own smart phone, the 4 AAs that you need for the remote control and the juice in the Wi-Fi range extender....
Of Course There Is an App for That Too....
One of the brilliant things of the newer Phantoms is the ability to clip your smart phone onto the controller, start up the DJI Vision app and see immediately the flight status of the machine and what the camera sees. You can even control the tilt of the camera through a slider on your app. In bright sunlight it may be hard to see the screen and I know a lot of folks have taken to improvising a hood for the phone.
Another issue might be that you can spend too much time looking at the screen and not at the machine and its immediate surroundings. This is a common problem for pilots in real planes as well: sometimes we spend too much time looking at maps, screens and dials in the cockpit and not enough time outside to check for other traffic.
One of the main functions of the app is to start and stop any recordings - maximum resolution of 1080p (30fps or 60i) or take a (RAW) still image at 14 MP. When the PV is too far away to see the LEDs on the battery, your app shows the remaining battery life (bit hard to read) and of course the all-important altitude and location of your Vision.
The video below is in 1080p format - so it's a big file with some great music, courtesy of Marcel (Xenotek).
Post Flight Review
I chose a calm day for the first flight on my property. I have a reasonable amount of room there but also some high trees. Throughout the whole process of getting the machine ready I was pleasantly surprised at the built quality of the unit and that everything just switches on and works as advertised. I put an old door in the middle of the paddock just to have a clean and clear launching platform and got airborne. The Phantom is very responsive to any small movements from the control sticks on your remote. Just like flying a real aeroplane it's not so much the movement of any controls but pressure on the joysticks that will give you the best control.
There is a small booklet in the box that tells you what the basic manoeuvres are that you should master in your initial few flights. It sounds all pretty easy but the machine can quickly run ahead of you. It's amazingly fast at 15 m/s! That means that when you let go of the controls is quite a bit of an inertia before the Phantom become stationary again.
On one of the subsequent flights when I was pushing the envelope a bit too much and started experimenting with speed, I did not anticipate the amount of lag coming down from a high-speed descent. I hit the ground just a bit too hard for my liking. No damage was done but on another flight when I landed in the rough high grass, I chopped off a bit of a couple of propeller blades. I did not notice it at the time and kept on flying which is a testimony to the stabilising features of the Phantom.
On yet another flight I managed to hit a branch of a high tree and chopped off a few leaves without any further damage to my machine.
So you see that it pays to practice in a large open and clear space and to invest in some prop guards.
One of the biggest features of the Phantom line of quadcopters is the ability to come home to the exact spot where you launch that from in case wireless transmission is interrupted. I tested that by switching off the remote and saw the PV in the distance rise up to 20 m, flying home, hovering for 15 seconds before slowly descending, landing and shutting down.
Pretty amazing! However, you need to have a solid GPS connection otherwise it doesn't work. It also won't work if you have any high obstacles on your flight path home unless you are already flying higher than 20 m and you have a clear home run.
The Phantom is very stable even in strong wind conditions. And we have had a few of those days here! It just angles into the wind to correct for the wind speed and direction. It holds its position pretty well and when stationary moves around in a virtual box somewhat smaller than 1 m high and 3 m long and wide.
It might be useful to dedicate a second smartphone - one without a SIM card -- to use when you're flying. Why, you ask? When you get a phone call the app disappears! That can be awkward and there's probably a way around it but it surprised me when it happened...
Fortunately, the craft was still flying and close by and I managed to not be distracted too much.
The other day I woke up and noticed that our whole house was under a thick blanket of smoke.
I went outside to find out the source of what was obviously a bushfire in full swing. We live in a hilly rural area and what I normally do is jump in the car, drive to the top of the hill and check out the neighbourhood to see where the fire is happening.
This time though I grabbed my Phantom Vision, switched it on, waited for a GPS lock and launched it about 100 m in the air. From that high vantage point I slowly rotated the craft trying to spot the fire whilst taking a video.
This is a very fast and easy way to get a fantastic vantage point to check out any fire threats!
This time however, the whole area was blanketed in thick smoke which did not come from anything nearby (later on I found out that the smoke came from a huge bushfire about 50 km away). That's why I was unable to spot any flames and no immediate action to protect my family was needed. But you can see the potential of this little machine.
Here is the same view on a clear day:
Conclusions and Recommendations
If you have read the previous comments and findings it would come as no surprise to you that we can highly recommend the DJI Phantom 2 Vision. It is an amazing flying machine that will appeal to (budding) aerial photographers, RC electric aircraft hobbyists, gadgeteers and basically anyone who loves to toy around with some great technology bundled up in an attractive and capable package.
Yes, you can toy around with it and just enjoy what it can do. Or you can use it in a more serious manner, creating stunning aerial photos (just have a look at Russell Preston Brown's Facebook page who created some fantastic panoramas -with the help of a little Photoshop).
---- Image Courtesy of Russell Preston Brown ---
What is great about the Phantom platform is that there is a whole community out there on forums helping each other, asking and giving advice. This is a tremendous source of support in addition to the guidance from your authorised dealer.
Purchasing a Vision is a sizeable investment at around $1300 and most likely you will want to buy a few accessories as well.
I-Drone is the Australian dealer that we have been getting our Phantom Vision from and we can highly recommend them.
If you have not done so yet, click on the banner below to check out some of the excellent videos that will tell you more about what to expect when you are going to fly a Phantom!
The Phantom 2 Vision is easily the most exciting, challenging and rewarding, innovative and useful package of gadgetry we have laid hands on in the past year.
This DJI product keeps evolving but we feel totally justified to give it our Editor's Choice Award!
In Part 3 we will look at the sum total of our experiences over a couple of months and will post a few more videos and photos.
Please give your comments, questions, hints and tips in the section below.
UPDATE: We will also review a tough case for the Phantom Vision made by GoProfessional.com.au
Keep checking back for this article.