Drones?  What’s the DJI Phantom?  And what is all the fuss about drones?  Until a few years ago, I did not even really know what they were.  Now, however, being a household with 2 working drones, I have learned quite a bit about them.  And…believe it or not, I am fascinated with these fun toys, and will probably have one on my wish list for Christmas this year.

Here we are at the park - the kids love chasing Ruby Red around the field. Don't worry though - she's so fast, they don't stand a chance at catching her.

Here we are at the park – the kids love chasing Ruby Red around the field. Don’t worry though – she’s so fast, they don’t stand a chance at catching her.

I think there are a couple of reasons I’m drawn to them.  First, I’m still a kid at heart and I like most toys, but one of my favorites growing up was a good, old-fashioned remote control car.  I had many as a child, a teenager, and believe it or not, I have had several as an adult too!

Currently, my favorite remote toy is Ruby Red – a car that my husband got me for Christmas a few years ago.  Ruby is a bit scuffed up now after lots of crazy driving, so it’s time I moved on.

Guess what I’m moving on to.  You got it…a drone.  I want one of my very own!  I’m not quite sure which one I want, but I know that I don’t want to spend too much money on it, because I like to use all my spare change buying cameras and accessories for my cameras!

I know quite a bit about two drones – both my son and my husband are owners of drones.  And guess what – they are both guests in this post!  You can read what they have to say about their particular drone below (and by the way – Zach created his own title for his portion)!

What is the Helix Ion?

Before I get off track, let me tell you about the 2 drones that we currently have in my house.  The first one is the Helix Ion by Air Hogs.  If you aren’t familiar with the Air Hogs line of toys, you should give them a try.  We have had several toys from them, and all of them have been great.  The Helix Ion QuadCopter is one of Zach’s favorites.

It is a small drone designed to fly indoors.  On the Air Hogs website, they describe it as an agile, responsive and extremely stable micro quad-copter that can perform amazing stunts. It is 4-channel, with gyro stabilization and 2.4 GHz control for optimal flight response.

Air Hogs patented Exoframe not only protects the rotors from bumps and crashes, but also serves to protect anything or anyone it might crash into. The Helix Ion is perfect for both beginners and advanced pilots!  Master the skies with the high-performance Air Hogs Helix Ion!

Like it says above, this is a perfect drone for beginners and advanced pilots.  I have flown it a few times, and I think I did pretty well.  My kids laughed at me, but it did stay up in the air for quite a while.  Then it got too close to the ground, and my crazy dog jumped up and tried to grab it!   So…I handed the controls back over to Zach.

I wish I could upload my video of Zach flying his Air Hogs drone in our living room, but it that video seems to be lost in my “cloud” somewhere.  If I’m ever able to find it, I’ll upload it so you can see him doing all kinds of tricks!

Guest Writer, The Amazing Zach Mason Who Is Amazing At Writing AND Flying Drones, owner of the Air Hogs Helix Ion

Well, I think the Helix Ion is one of the best toys Air Hogs has invented yet! That means a lot coming from me, because I have pretty much all of their toys! It is great for beginners, intermediates, and pros. It is small, easy to land, and if you can control it well enough, you can really do whatever you want with it!

I love to land it in weird, random places like on the railing of my stairs! I also love landing it on my friends heads and hands! It is pretty easy to charge, and, unlike other brands, it is easy to turn on! I have actually landed it on a fan blade once, but it was VERY hard!!

I got it about half a year ago, and now I have gotten really good with it.  If you can get good enough, try doing the things I mentioned!

I have also flown the DJI Phantom, and if you get good enough, it is really easy. When I first started, I crashed into lots of trees! It has very complicated controls, but I am used to complicated things! I personally like the DJI Phantom better, but the Helix Ion is just about as good!

What is the DJI Phantom?

The second drone we have in this house is the DJI Phantom.  This is my husband’s special toy that none of us are supposed to touch unless he’s with us.  I understand why – this fancy little flying gadget was not cheap.  But man…it is so very cool!

Whenever Mark is out flying his drone, Zach is always close by. Patiently waiting for his turn to fly it!

Whenever Mark is out flying his drone, Zach is always close by. Patiently waiting for his turn to fly it!

The DJI Phantom that we have is so “old school,” that they don’t even make them anymore (but you can get one on Amazon).  They have changed and improved so much that I think it just might be time for an upgrade.

The drone my husband has is the DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter for GoPro.  It was a perfect drone for us – he already had the GoPro camera, so he just needed something to attach it to.

The good news is that since this is the original DJI Phantom, it is reasonably priced now because they have come out with so many more models in the last few years.  I would describe this drone as one for the more serious drone pilots.

I have flown the Phantom a few times, but it can fly so far away from where you are, that I had a hard time keeping it in my sites, and being able to fly it back home was a whole different story.  Usually, after about 5 minutes I would panic and hand the controls back over to Mark.

Guest Writer, Mark Mason, Owner of the DJI Phantom

The DJI Phantom is one of the most amazing Christmas presents that I have ever gotten.  I remember being shocked and so happy, because this is one of those kinds of gifts that I would never just buy for myself.  When I took the Christmas wrap off the package, I was stunned.  Just like a little kid.

It’s was definitely a “wife of the year” moment for Ball Cap Mom.

As a “gadget junkie,” I have always been interested in flying toys.  But, because of the high cost of remote control (RC) airplanes and helicopters (and the radios that operated them), I never had one as a child.  Only rich kids had toys like that, and I didn’t know any rich kids.

As I grew older, remote control toys were always a “nice to have” — but never something that I really needed (or chose to afford).

Several months ago, I was at soccer practice with my son Zach at a huge outdoor soccer complex.  Before practice, we saw this amazing thing flying around.  I couldn’t believe how cool it was.  Zach and I went over to talk to the pilot, and I learned that it was a DJI phantom.  I had never really seen a “professional grade” quadcopter in the wild before.  I was hooked.

I didn’t get to fly the Phantom that day, but I told Ball Cap Mom all about it.

Assembly – Couldn’t be easier.

I’ve had some cool things that were impossible to put together well.  Fortunately for me, the Phantom is simple to assemble.  Really, the assembly boils down to pulling on the blades and charging and installing the battery.  The entire assembly process took me less than an hour (and I was being really slow and careful).  I was so excited.

The blades (there are four) simply screw on with special nuts that are threaded in the reverse direction of the rotor rotation (so the blades don’t come off in flight).  The battery is a rectangular (“candy bar shaped”) battery that plugs in and stores inside the drone body.  Extra batteries can be had at local hobby shops or on Amazon.  These are recommended as the flight time is about 15 minutes per charge for this drone.

There are also some stickers and landing gear that you need to take care of, but these are super-simple.  It took longer to read the instructions about how to fly it (also simple) than it did to assemble this drone.  I would definitely put this in the “nearly ready to fly category” when it comes to assembly.

Hard To Fly?  Not at all!

Of course, the big thing that you worry about when flying an expensive new toy for the first time is crashing (and destroying it).  A lot of flying toys are unstable and hard to control (especially the cheap drones and planes that you find in toy stores).  The DJI Phantom is not like that at all.

I was amazed to learn that this drone has a compass, accelerometers, gyroscopes and GPS.  The control software uses all of this information to “know where the drone is” in space.  That means it not only knows if it is level or falling, but it also knows if the drone is getting blown down the street by the wind.

The software (when in beginner mode) can correct for all of these errors.  So, if you are flying the drone and just let go of the controls, the drone just hovers wherever you left it.  It doesn’t fall out of the sky or drift into a tree.  It just sits there.  That meant that Zach (who was seven at the time) could fly it easily in an open field.

In fact, if the drone gets confused while you are flying it and loses contact with the controller (like it goes out of range, the controller runs out of batters, or falls in the pool, etc) the Phantom uses the onboard GPS to return to it’s launch point and land safely.  Zach and I tested this once by turning the controller off while the drone was in flight.  The Phantom just stopped, got its bearings, and flew back to where it took off from, landing gently.

The View From 1000 Feet

My version of the Phantom (the first version, sometimes referred to as the Phantom 1) has a mount for a GoPro camera.  I purchased a GoPro 3 and mounted it so I could take some cool pictures.  Here is a fun example of some video shots I got at a local elementary school one afternoon when I was out flying with Ball Cap Mom and the family.  I’m not exactly a great drone videographer, but you get the idea.

Mark’s Final Thoughts about the DJI Phantom

I can say simply, this is the coolest toy that I have ever owned.   The capability of this drone combined with it’s ease of use (even for beginners) and ability to attach a camera make it so much fun.  Later models of the Phantom allow you to actually see what the drone can see, which is super cool.  

One thing to note is that the government has gotten involved with drone regulations.  So, if you have a drone, you need to register it and fly by the rules.  It’s all totally worth it.  Even if you don’t get your own drone, you should find one you can fly.  They are so much fun.

Which Drone Should I Buy?

If you are in the market for a drone, you should definitely read the article titled Eyes in the Sky:  Our Eight Favorite Quadcopters and Drones for Aerial Photography.  Yes…I know…my secret is out.  I don’t want a drone just so I have a toy that I can fly around, I want a drone so I can learn more about aerial photography!

Cool, right?  How much fun would it be to get one of these reasonably priced drones with a decent camera and see what kind of footage I can get from flying around!  I know I know…sounds kind of silly, but I think it could be lots of fun.

Out of the eight they listed, I think I am most interested in several of them for various reasons, but one drone in particular because of its features and price point…

Which Drone Does Ball Cap Mom Want?

I’ve watched Mark and Zach both fly their drones, and I have flown them both.  I like both of them – however, I’m not as nervous flying Zach’s drone.  Since it’s quite a bit less expensive, I know that if I crash and break it, I can replace it.  The DJI Phantom, well, that would be a bit harder to replace.

After reading the article Eyes in the Sky:  Our Eight Favorite Quadcopters and Drones for Aerial Photography, I have decided that the drone for me is The Blade 180 QX! There are several things I like about this one.

The Blade 180 QX HD Quadcopter is pretty affordable.  It’s about $160 and it comes with a detachable camera that captures 720p video and 1.3-megapixel photos. It records pictures/videos to microSD memory cards up to 32GB.

The Blade is powered by a 500 mAh lithium-polymer flight battery that should give you five- to 10-minute flight times for each battery. If you have extra batteries with you, then you can fly even longer.

The Blade has three flight modes: Stability Low Angle Mode (for beginners), Stability High Angle Mode for people with a bit of experience, and Agility Mode that gives you the most freedom to maneuver.  The company warns, “This mode should only be used by experienced pilots.” I don’t imagine I will be using this mode for quite some time.

Okay…I tried to want the affordable drone, and The Blade is the affordable one.  The perfect drone for a busy mom who doesn’t have much time to fly one anyway.  But what about the new DJI Mavic?

This drone is so new that it’s not even in the article.  I think if I’m honest with myself and my readers, I need to go ahead and admit that I WANT A DJI MAVIC FOR CHRISTMAS!  Was that subtle enough?  Hopefully, my husband will read this.

What is the DJI Mavic?

On the DJI Website, they describe the Mavic as a small yet powerful drone that turns the sky into your creative canvas easily and without worry, helping you make every moment an aerial moment.

Its compact size hides a high degree of complexity that makes it one of DJI’s most sophisticated flying cameras ever.

Twenty four high-performance computing cores, an all-new transmission system with a 4.3mi (7km) range, 5 vision sensors, and a 4K camera stabilized by a 3-axis mechanical gimbal, are at your command with just a push of your thumb or a tap of your finger.

If you don’t trust me that this is the coolest drone ever, please watch this short video from iJustine.  If you don’t want one after watching this, then I’m not sure what to tell you…

I’ll let you know if The Blade (or the DJI Mavic) shows up underneath my Christmas tree this year.  Since I’m also hoping that a Canon 5D Mark IV shows up, there’s a chance I won’t get the drone too.  Or….maybe I’ll get the drone instead of the new Canon…  I’ll let you know how it all turns out in January!

Also…a great tip in the article is that maybe you should consider buying yourself a very affordable drone – maybe an Air Hog for under $100 just so you can get the hang of flying one.  Then, after you become an expert, you could upgrade to a more expensive drone.

Maybe even invest in one with a top of the line camera.  That is my plan. I’ll figure out how to use The Blade with a more affordable camera, and once I get the hang of it, I can upgrade…maybe!  Or maybe I’ll just  bite the bullet and buy myself a DJI Mavic.  Or maybe it will show up under my Christmas tree this year.  A girl can dream, right?

How Can I Learn to Fly A Drone?

I cam across a great article about an easy to fly drone from Popular Photography – it’s called the Yuneec Breeze (click the name to link to the article)….  It’s a great article, and it’s so great that it makes me want this drone.  But…it’s a little bit more than The Blade.

For now, until I become an expert, I will try to keep my toy under $200.  But watch out…it won’t take me long to get good at this.  When I do, I just might be looking seriously at the Yuneec Breeze!

I read that The Breeze weighs just under a pound and is equipped with a built-in camera that shoots 4K UHD video as well as 13-megapixel still images. It’s meant to be easy to fly out of the box and it has five different modes of operation. Pilot mode is controlled by an iOS or Android smart device.

Selfie mode makes it automatically take a selfie. Orbit mode tasks the drone with doing 360-degree loops around a single object. Journey mode allows it to follow a planned course. Finally, Follow Me mode uses GPS to track a moving object, which is the kind of thing you’re looking for if you’re into extreme sports.  

Sounds like fun, right?

Who is iJustine?

If you don’t know about iJustine on YouTube, you might want to check her out.  Especially if you are into video games, drones, cameras, etc…  I’ve been following her for a while now, and I really wish I had her job.  How much fun would it be to review cool toys on a YouTube channel??

You can click on iJustine’s Video How to Fly a Drone if you want to see her unbox her DJI Phantom 3 and fly it for the first time.  But be ready – once you see it, I’m sure you are going to want a drone of your own!

But at least this video will show you how simple it is to fly a drone for the first time.  And lucky for you, the article I mentioned above details 8 great drone choices for you.

There you have it.  All you ever wanted to know about drones (and then some).  I’m hoping to find my drone, The Blade, under the Christmas tree this year, and I’m hoping it’s got a good camera attached.

If not, I’ll upgrade next Christmas to something even better – like the Yuneec Breeze that has an excellent camera.  Or maybe….just maybe, someone will put the DJI Mavic drone under the tree for me.  I’d even consider sharing it…

Have fun with whatever drone you choose, and let me know how it is flying it for the first time.  In fact, send me some pictures or some video.  Can’t wait to see what you get.  Good luck and have fun!  Until next time…