I went to drone school in the December 2016 issue of Popular Mechanics and was scared sober by the attention to detail needed to be a commercial drone pilot. Just the safety aspect of operating four flying razor blades in close proximity to other people is enough to have me never wanting to own one. Until now, standing on Signal Hill in a 25 km/h north-west wind, filming breathtakingly scenic vistas.
Anyone can pilot the DJI Phantom 4. If my 5-year-old daughter was standing in my place, I’m sure she’d be fine. GPS stabilising, one-button return-to-home, obstacle avoidance and four powerful motors; it’s a powerhouse that is more than capable of making me look like a pro to the ever-growing, watchful crowd of tourists trying to get a good selfie without me in the frame – but just the drone.
The actual piloting of the drone as a civilian/hobbyist is a lot different from what the pros at UAV Industries teach. The cockpit was an iPad attached to the controllers and I lost sight of the Phantom within 30 seconds of taking to the skies. A bird’s eye view on the world is quite intoxicating and I can see how privacy laws are affected by consumer-grade surveilance systems.
If I’m honest flying the Phantom 4 never felt like flying an aircraft. I was unaffected by the conditions, apart from the drone taking a little longer than expected to return to me when I was trying to get a panning shot of me and Table Mountain. It was a disjointed experience. Kind of the way you get disoriented when you use a VR headset while seated and move around with a joystick. And the fact that it feels more like playing a hyper-realistic game is exactly what makes it so cool. You get to fly like a bird without any of the risks invloved. It’s the ultimate form of virtual reality.
DJI Phantom 4 price: R24 000, wefix.co.za