The Daily Parker

Politics, Weather, Photography, and the Dog

Calm winds, altitude test

We had calm winds in my neighborhood this morning, so after walking Parker I grabbed my Mini and did an altitude test. I discovered that I had to replace 3 damaged propeller blades (more on that later), but after fixing the aircraft, I popped it up to 90 m and had a look around:

In the climb to that altitude I discovered that the tallest building in the area is only 70 m tall, and trees tend to be around 25 m tall. These are very useful data points when flying a tiny UAV that doesn't have obstacle-avoidance features.

Update: Here's the raw footage from the test:

Chicago skyline

It was too windy today to get above 30 m, so I just snapped this still before taking the Mini on a "walk" down the block. But I also didn't want to waste a perfectly clear day, so I snapped this before bringing the drone back down to eye level:

When you learn how to fly real planes, you learn slow flight first, because it teaches you how to control the plane precisely. And before I do something to permanently damage the Mini, I thought learning how to control it made a lot of sense.

Alas, the forecast calls for breezy weather all weekend and into early next week. Someday I'll get up to 120 m and let it get farther than half a block from me. Someday.

Today in the weird

It's day 88 of my exile from the office, but I recently found out I may get to go in for a day soon. Will this happen before the 24th (day 100)? Who's got the over/under on that?

Meanwhile, outside my bubble:

And just in case you're not scared of everything on earth, here's a list of things in the cosmos that can help you feel even more scared.

Morning flight

This morning I took my tiny drone out for a longer flight than the short tests I've done so far, in part because at 8am the winds didn't threaten to blow the thing into the lake. I've also started mapping a source of radio interference near my house that had disrupted previous attempts to get up to real altitude.

So this morning, I went to a more open spot away from my house and took the drone up to 70 meters vertical and 200 meters horizontal from its takeoff point:

After this flight, I "walked" the drone around the block like a levitating dog, until its battery started to go and it decided to try flying back to its starting point. It took me a moment to realize I needed to cancel the "return to home" function to let it land next to me instead of a block away.

I'm really enjoying this toy. And I've only crashed it twice...

A bit windy

Day 3 of flight testing didn't go as well as I'd hoped. The winds picked up a bit, so my little guy refused to ascend past 28 meters and at one point lost contact with my remote. I have a feeling that radio interference will make urban flying more challenging.

I did get a good look at the lake, though:

The weather forecast looks breezy today and tomorrow, calming a bit Saturday. And if it's calmer around 8pm tonight, I'll try to get some dusk shots of the city. Honestly, the weather interfering with testing the drone feels a bit like the fall of 1999 when weather delays kept pushing my private-pilot checkride back.

At least I didn't crash today. Yesterday I hit a shrub and a fence, the latter impact actually costing me a propeller blade. At least the yet-unnamed quadcopter didn't suffer worse damage.

Mini Me

I mentioned yesterday I got a new toy. Finally, after years of thinking about it (and also watching prices come down), I bought a small drone. The Mavic Mini weighs 249 grams (which has legal significance), flies for half an hour, and takes decent video.

For my first test flights, I put the propeller guards on and did some slow flying around my house. Parker could not have cared less. Encounter number one:

Encounter number two:

So I not only have the best dog on the planet, but I may also have the chillest dog on the planet.

Quick personal notes

Note #1: After 108 days—a record, I think—I finally got a haircut.

Note #2: After thinking about it for years, literally years, I got a new toy. It's a lot of fun. And it combines two of my favorite topics: aviation and photography. Watch this space later this week.

Fatal moments in crew resource management

If the initial reports prove correct, the fatal crash of Pakistan International Airlines flight 8303 on Friday may have resulted from the pilots missing a key line-item in their landing checklist:

On May 24th 2020 Pakistan's media quote a CAA official speaking on condition of anonymity that the aircraft made two attempts to land. During the first approach it appears the landing gear was still retracted when the aircraft neared the runway, the pilot had not indicated any anomaly or emergency, emergency services thus did not respond and did not foam the runway as would be done in case of a gear malfunction. The marks on the runway between 4500 feet and 7000 feet down the runway suggest the engines made contact with the runway surface, it is possible that the engines were damaged during that contact with the runway surface leading even to possibly fire.

On May 24th 2020 a spokesman of the airline said, the landing gear had not been (partially or fully) lowered prior to the first touch down. The crew did not call out the standard operating procedures for an anomaly and no emergency was declared. Most likely the crew was not mentally prepared for a belly landing and went around when they realized the engines were scraping the runway.

Gear-up landings do happen, though very rarely. Airports have procedures for mitigating damage and loss of life in these situations, starting with foaming the runway and having emergency equipment standing by. That neither pilot of PK-8303 called "mayday" until they had already destroyed their engines, and that the plane had an extreme nose-up angle of attack in its final moments*, suggests a serious training issue.

* The high nose-up angle would have increased drag and shortened the plane's glide to the airport. The A320 probably has a best-glide AoA around 4° nose up; anything higher, and the plane will slow down and lose altitude more quickly.

Saturday morning news clearance

I rode the El yesterday for the first time since March 15th, because I had to take my car in for service. (It's 100% fine.) This divided up my day so I had to scramble in the afternoon to finish a work task, while all these news stories piled up:

Finally, author and Ohio resident John Scalzi sums up why he won't rush back to restaurants when they reopen in his state next week:

My plan is to stay home for most of June and let other people run around and see how that works out for them. The best-case scenario is that I’m being overly paranoid for an extra month, in which case we can all laugh about it afterward. The worst case scenario, of course, is death and pain and a lot of people with confused about why ventilator tubes are stuck down their throats, or the throats of their loved ones, when they were assured this was all a liberal hoax, and then all of us back in our houses until September. Once again, I would be delighted to be proved overly paranoid.

I have sympathy for the people who are all, the hell with this, I’ll risk getting sick, just let me out of my fucking apartment. I get where you’re coming from. You probably don’t actually know what you’re asking for. I hope that you never have to learn.

Note to Mr Scalzi: I hope to start The Last Emperox this week. I really do.

Evening round-up

Long day, with meetings until 8:45pm and the current sprint ending tomorrow at work, so I'll read most of these after the spring review:

Finally, Sheffield, U.K., wildlife photographer Simon Dell built a Hobbiton for the local field mice. It's as adorable as it sounds.