Now that I have a drone, I've been looking for historical aerial photos of Chicago. I found this 1933 photo of Uptown through the Chicago Public Library collection:
Here's approximately the same view about an hour ago:
Some things immediately jump out. First, the trees. My how they've grown! Second, in the distance you can see the construction of Montrose Harbor in 1933 and the completed harbor (by 1937) in 2020. Third, we have a lot more parking lots and a lot less grime on our buildings these days. And what the hell is that huge industrial building billowing smoke at the corner of Montrose and Clarendon (upper-right corner of 1933)?
Since drones can only legally fly 120 m above the ground in the US, I couldn't get exactly the same angle as in the original photo. My best guess from a number of clues is that the top photo was taken from an airplane flying about 250 m (maybe not even that high) AGL shortly after 1pm on a sunny but hazy early-April afternoon. The air quality in Chicago in 2020 is so much better than at any point in the 20th century that almost no aerial photos from that era will have light as sharp and clear as we get today.
I have a couple more of these up my sleeve. Stay tuned.
The Mini has a service ceiling of 120 m AGL (above ground level) by default. I can jump through some hoops to increase that, but for now, while I'm getting to know how the aircraft handles, that seems just fine.
For example, here are two shots from 110 m half an hour after sunset:
The second one is a dry-run for a before-and-after pair I really can't wait to share. I just want to say, I hope I'm giving historians of the future some good data.
Why didn't I get one of these things years ago?
A combination of crystal-clear air, calm winds, and a setting sun gave me some great shots from the Mini this evening. I visited two locations in Lincoln Square: Welles Park, and the corner of Wilson and Ravenswood. I got this still just a few seconds after taking off:
And here's the highlight reel:
After dinner, I discovered on a third flight that it doesn't shoot great video in low-light conditions. Good to know.
Update: Here's the raw video from my altitude test this morning:
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:
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.
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.
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...
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.
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.
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.