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(Author’s Note: The following events took place earlier this year, prior to Maine’s Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry issuing new rules regarding the use of sUAS in state parks. If you intend to fly your sUAS in a Maine state park, I advise you to contact the DACF for information on getting permission.)

I made it to Popham Beach sometime after 4 AM. I had just enough time to walk from the car, find a good spot for my timelapse camera, walk over to Fox Island, and catch my breath before the sun came up. It was a perfect morning for filming. The skies were clear. There was barely any wind. It was near low tide, which was super important because I wouldn’t have been able to make it to Fox Island otherwise. And best of all, I was the only one around for as far as I could see. At this hour, I owned the beach.

The sunrise was spectacular. It came up slow and steady. I watched it as I finished off a bottle of water and listened to the waves crash against the rocks. It took about 10 minutes before I felt the light was good enough to launch my drone. I then positioned my landing pad (a square piece of plywood). I unpacked my Phantom and calibrated its compass. A quick hover to make sure it sounded normal. And then it was off!

Fox Island, for those who don’t know, is a small little rock outcropping that sits almost half a mile from the Popham Beach State Park parking lot. It’s only possible to get to during low tide. And it provides a magnificent view of the park in all directions.

After 15 minutes of flying around the island, I decided to fly the Phantom out a good distance over the water. I really wanted some footage of it coming back low, close to the waves.

At a distance of 1,534 feet, my Nexus 7 tablet locks up. Thinking it might have just been a frozen video feed, which happens sometimes if there’s bad interference, I tap the sticks a few times trying to elicit a change in the on-screen video. And then a few seconds later, the tablet reboots.


I’m flying blind. I have no idea what the drone’s orientation is. Worse still, I flew it in the direction of the sun which meant I couldn’t see the thing even if it were 20 feet in front of me.

I press and hold the “Return to Home” button on the controller.

“Beep, beep, beep, beep….”

I scan the horizon looking for a sign of my little robot friend. Nothing.

“Please come back, please come back, please…”

An eternity passes by and the beeping on the controller stops. No other sounds but the crashing waves and my heartbeat pounding in my ears. “It gave up,” I thought. “It’s somewhere out there hovering above the water just waiting for its battery to die.”

I sit down, I lay the controller on the rocks, and then hang my head in defeat. It was lost. What would I do? I had hoped to start a photography business with this drone. How would I do that now? And how much crap is my wife, who already hated everything about this little hobby, going to give me?

“Bzzz…” So very faint. The sound would disappear almost as fast as it appeared. I scanned the horizon all around me. Nothing. “I’m hearing what I want to hear.”

“I’m effed,” I thought. More eternity passes.

I was just about to start packing up my gear when I suddenly heard, “Bzzz….” The sound was very strong now. But it was above me.

I looked up and there it was 200ft above my head. The Phantom came back! It was hovering awaiting my instructions. I immediately grabbed the controller and brought it down manually, very careful to land it on its little plywood landing pad. I shutdown the motors and powered down the battery. I picked it up in my arms and hugged it as if it were my child.

“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

The lesson, boys and girls, is always ALWAYS set and reset your home location. Make sure “Return to Home” is configured the way you want it to work. And do one better than me – test it before you actually need to use it. It can, and probably will, save your drone one day. Also, line-of-sight can be lost without something getting between you and the drone. That’s worth keeping in mind too.

On the plus side, video was being recorded the whole time. The entire moment at which the Phantom rotates, rises, and begins its voyage back to me was captured. And although it isn’t exciting for most people to watch, for me it’s the most dramatic.

Practice Flight – 05/27/2017

I took my 250-class quad to Popham Beach over the holiday weekend. It was a little chilly. And it was windier than I would have liked. But, the quad performed like a champ.

Here’s the video. Enjoy!

Tech Specs:

  • Quad Size: 250mm
  • Quad Weight: 976.7 g (she’s a fatty, I know)
  • FPV: Fatshark Predator V2
  • Recording Camera: RunCam 2
  • FC: Flip MWC 1.5
  • ESCs: ReadyToFlyQuads F-30A
  • Motors: RTF Motor 2208 – 2300KV
  • Props: 5×4.5×3 Bullnose
  • Batteries: Turnigy 2200mAh 25-35C 3S
  • Radio: FlySky FS-T6


Fatshark 600TVL Camera Holder for Diatone FPV250 V2

A couple of years ago, I built a 250mm quadcopter using a Diatone FPV250 V2 frame. This particular frame came with some sort of FPV camera holder that doesn’t actually seem to hold anything. So for a very long time, I resorted to zip-tying down my FatShark 600TVL camera. Inevitably, the camera would shift during flight. Sometimes the camera’s orientation would be weird but fine. Sometimes it wouldn’t be so great, often making it hard to even land.

I recently decided to do something about it. Using 3DSMax, I created three different frame-supported camera holders based on a design I found from a guy named Thomas Sevaldrud, which created a 600TVL holder for the ZMR250 frame. Kudos to Thomas for designing such a nice, and well-fitting, 600 TVL camera surround. I basically took his camera surround piece and added in custom frame mounts. All pieces were 3D printed using Shapeways’ “Strong and Flexible” plastic.

Design #1

At first glance, this design seems really nice. However, the tolerances on the gaps between the prop blades and the cage posts are pretty tight. It turns out that one of the props comes into contact with the camera holder. Not great if you actually want to fly the thing. Also, I realized that the camera is quite vulnerable in the event of a crash. The last thing I want is for my FPV system to be a casualty of my bad flying.

Back to the drawing board.

Design #2

This design works much better. The camera sits fully within the cage and the holder posts aren’t in any danger of being knicked by a prop blade. However, with design #2, my worry was that the camera holder was taking up valuable real estate inside the cage. I still have some tidying-up I’d like to do with my other components. So I wondered if I could do better, keeping the camera holder mounted using the front frame posts instead.

Design #3

This sort of blends designs #1 and #2. The camera sits back fully within the cage, and is still mounted using the front frame posts. In the design, I removed material from the frame mounts in the vicinity of the prop blades. It actually works pretty well. The only downside to this design is that I may have seated the camera holder a little TOO far back in the frame. Edges of the holder supports are slightly visible in the sides of the video feed. They don’t particularly get in the way, but they’re noticeable. I’ll fix this if I ever break it and need to reprint.


The latch is important as well. It’s what secures the camera in the holder and is used with all of the designs. (Again, big props to Thomas Sevaldrud for designing this).

The latch can be fastened to the camera holder using 2x8mm screws.


As for which design I like best between #2 and #3, I’m not entirely sure yet. It’s been too cold to fly with them. So time will tell.

If you’d like to try either of these designs out for yourself, here are the links to the STL files.

Design #2
Design #3

The inner diameter of the support posts is a bit tight and may need to be “opened up” a tad depending on your 3D printer settings. This was certainly the case with Shapeways prints. It’s not a big deal though. A 7/32″ drill bit used slowly will clean this up just fine.