Experience Flight with DJI Phantom first person vision system

All I need to fly fits in a box!

Everything I need to fly neatly fits in a box and only takes a couple minutes to set up
Everything I need to fly neatly fits in a box and only takes a couple minutes to set up
Flying everywhere I go
Flying everywhere I go

Flight... in minutes

When I first looked at the world from hundreds of feet in the air, I was strapped to a 220 pound parachute instructor. We were slowly drifting down, over a course of 5 minutes or so, as I looked at lush green canopies that reminded me of huge broccoli sprouts.

To get to this point, I spent over 6 hours waiting for my turn to be cramped into a hollowed out Cessna, only to experience a few minutes of skydiving.

I did not experience surprise, as a few years later, in 2013 I was looking at the tree canopies again, only this time using a wireless camera attached to my own DJI Phantom Drone helicopter.

The striking difference was that I was comfortably sitting on a ground, without any risk to myself and it only took me a couple minutes to assemble my drone and launch it, giving me breathtaking view of the earth from 400 feet up.

As a huge smile split me face, I felt like a bird. And I'm here to share this feeling with you, as this hub should contain everything you need to experience flight for yourself, or give a gift of flight to a friend.

My quadrotor setup. First person video system is mounted under the helicopter
My quadrotor setup. First person video system is mounted under the helicopter

I fly DJI Phantom

Remote controlled helicopters are hard to fly. RC planes are a hassle to transport and land. This fact is re-iterated by many members of the RC community. For a long time this kept me from buying one of my own - I was afraid that I would not be able to fly it, or that I will put it on the shelf after a few uses.

Then I discovered that a helicopter or a plane is not the only option for flying a remote controlled model. About a year ago, I learned about multirotor helicopters - 3,4 and 6+ propellers mounted to a single frame. Such platforms are much easier to fly than a traditional helicopter, and are fun to watch, but until recently they required the pilot to also be a mechanic and an engineer to put together one of them.

Things changed with DJI Phantom Quadrotor helicopter - it started a revolution in a commercially available "minimum assembly required" quadrotors. They are practically ready to fly right out of the box. No soldering. No calibration. No mechanical or electrical troubleshooting. No pairing of radios. Just charge a battery and you are ready to fly!


How far can it go?

"So, how far can it fly?" - I hear this question time and time again, as a small crowd gathers around me anywhere I go out to fly. The short answer is 1000 feet. This is a couple medium sized city blocks. It is a size of a small lake. It is enough to cross some rivers. And it's fun.

The drone ( or UAS - Unmanned Aerial System ) that I use is very basic. It is bought at Amazon.com, and serves to help me learn flying. So it does not need to go very far or very high. It just gives me practice, and over time I got very good with it - enough to fly through a forest, around and under obstacles and safely return.

What 400 feet high feels like

About 400 feet high. The camera resists wind at these altitudes and takes clear pictures during daytime
About 400 feet high. The camera resists wind at these altitudes and takes clear pictures during daytime

Technical Stuff

It's time to geek out about flying! Learn all about DJI Phantom!

  • DJI Phantom is an unmanned drone quad-rotor helicopter
  • It can also be called an Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) or vehicle (UAV)
  • The drone operates using a 2.4Ghz radio band and has a range of 300 meters /1000 feet over open air
  • The wireless camera setup is called First Person Video (FPV) system
  • The FPV operates at 5.8 Ghz radio frequency and transmits video from the camera over to video goggles that I wear

The drone has impressive stability and ease of use:

  • It uses GPS to automatically keep itself hovering in the position you left it at
  • The drone can return to launch site if radio signal is lost
  • The drone resists wind up to 30mpg
  • It can fly for 8 minutes carrying the camera and FPV equipment
  • The battery is Li-Ion 2200mAh takes 1.5 hours to charge
  • The drone weights 890 grams with camera and FPV equipment


Great Falls national park. I could fly 2 feet away from the most deadly turbulent waterfalls.
Great Falls national park. I could fly 2 feet away from the most deadly turbulent waterfalls.

So easy, it's like flying a car

Flying remote controlled helicopters is easy, and I've never flown anything other than kites in my life before picking up DJI Phantom's controller. What I found out is:

  • The drone is incredibly stable - it maintains altitude and position
  • Just let go and it hovers there
  • Move it forward, like giving gas to a car
  • Steer it like steering a car
  • Bank left and right like switching lanes in a car

The illusion of driving becomes even more obvious once I put on the First Person Video goggles - it's like looking through a windshield and steering. The camera does not turn to follow my head, but wide angle lenses make it easy to see around the helicopter.

Agility and precision to fly through forest (check 4:30)

Flight for under 2000$

When I talk to people about my quadrotor, I frequently make comments like "If it crashes into a river, I'm buying another one". And it's true! Even after a couple months of ownership, it is still fun to fly, and I'm getting into more advanced flying (see my forest flying video).

All together, the black box that I own with everything inside of it came out to be about 1500$. A more professional setup would cost around 2000$.

It is worth it, and here are some of the points that fly through my head as I think about this price:

  • It is about the same price as a motor scooter
  • Half a price of a reclined bike
  • Much less than a motorcycle
  • Much quicker to setup than real plane or skydiving.
  • Fun, fun fun!
  • Great conversation starter

Accessories to maximize your enjoyment

 
 
1x DJI Phantom Quadrotor
 
8x DJI Phantom battery
 
1x additional charger
 
1x carrying case
 
1x GoPro 2 or 3 Camera
 
1x Anti Vibration mount
 
1x FatShark Predator FPV kit
 
1x GoPro to Fatshark Cable
 
 
 
This is everything you need to get your own FPV setup like I describe

DJI Phantom Quadrotor!

DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter for GoPro
DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter for GoPro

Please note that DJI is coming out with a new model, and this quadrotor is currently being offered at ~480 dollars, 200 dollars less than I bought it for!

 

Get 8x batteries

DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter Replacement Battery
DJI Phantom Aerial UAV Drone Quadcopter Replacement Battery

I got 9 batteries, which ends up in a bit over an hour flight time - a good way to spend time outside. Any less than 8-9 batteries, and you may find the experience lacking

 

Additional charger

DJI CP.PT.000015 Replacement Charger for Phantom Battery (White)
DJI CP.PT.000015 Replacement Charger for Phantom Battery (White)

While DJI Phantom comes with 1 charger, get another one to quickly charge your multiple batteries. It is absolutely worth it, and I'm really glad I got my 2nd charger

 

A case is well worth it

Go Professional Cases DJI Phantom 1 Case for Quadcopter and GoPro Cameras
Go Professional Cases DJI Phantom 1 Case for Quadcopter and GoPro Cameras

I really like this case. It fits everything, but brings the total weight of the package to over 20lbs. Great for car rides, not so great for carrying in one hand. I modified mine, turning it into a backpack, which worked out great

 

Get a wide angle Go Pro camera

GoPro Camera CHDOH-002 HD HERO2 Outdoor Edition
GoPro Camera CHDOH-002 HD HERO2 Outdoor Edition

I read too many bad reviews of GoPro3 to use it as my primary FPV camera, so I use GoPro2.

 

Anti - vibration mount

DJI Phantom Anti Vibration Anti-Jello Vibration Isolator Low Profile Carbon Fiber Mount
DJI Phantom Anti Vibration Anti-Jello Vibration Isolator Low Profile Carbon Fiber Mount

This little widget makes your camera image more stable by removing vibration from propellers from affecting the camera image (known as Jello effect, where video moves like a slab of jello)

 
This is the cable that you need to buy to connect GoPro2 (GoPro HD) to your fatshark transmitter
This is the cable that you need to buy to connect GoPro2 (GoPro HD) to your fatshark transmitter | Source
Predator V2 First Person Video starter kit
Predator V2 First Person Video starter kit

How to assemble your own FPV Drone

I lied. While you can buy the drone itself requiring almost no assembly, you still need to do a little bit of work:


How to assemble DJI Phantom together with First Person Video system.


It's not hard, and I created a website with instructions and parts list required. The good news are:

  • There's no soldering
  • There's no debugging electronics
  • Just buy the components that I listed and glue a matchbox on the bottom of your DJI Phantom.
  • Plug cables and you are done!

This video made me buy FPV system!

© 2013 GreenTieCommando

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