Updated: Dec 27, 2019
It's been a while since I was in the Quad Rotor space, or as commonly known now - Drones. Although I have tried a few toy drones, I have not flown or experimented with any serious drones.
That has now stopped as I decided to get back into this space and buy a serious drone. After going back and forth between the various merits of DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Parrot Anafi, I settled on the Mavic 2 Pro. Reasons behind this decision were mainly around that of holistic systems thinking as opposed to any one standout feature. Work done by DJI over the last 5-10 years has been nothing short of amazing, not only in the vehicles themselves but the eco-system around apps, industries and accessories. I was looking for a Drone that would:
Be flyable in most areas
Allow commercial work
Pack into a small bag
Have best in class flight time.
Mavic 2 Pro fits these requirements perfectly. Spark and Mavic Air / Mini were too small for my needs. Commercial work requirements are for conducting some inspections, event video and land surveys. Combined with the fly more kit the Mavic 2 Pro seems like a great piece of kit for these needs.
I got the Mavic 2 pro and accessory kit a few days before travelling to Mexico for Christmas, as such time was not available to do any configuration or test flights before I departed. About the only thing I managed to do was fit everything into the fly more kit bag, drone, batteries, controller and power adapters. My flights included a long layover at JFK, during which time I actually turned the drone on and connected the control unit. Doing this allowed me to get a glimpse of the video feed for the first time and format a 128GB SD card ready for the drone to record to.
Once I got to Cancun I was able to spend more time and register the drone and setup the enhanced coverage from DJI. I consider this to be essential, being new to flying drones in the way I intend requires some confidence that should I crash or bump into something I have at least some extended warranty and somewhere to go and get parts quickly.
Setup consists of going through the tutorial and simulator to practise using the controller effectively. I was surprised at how easy the take-off, landing and general navigation was using the controller. effectively we are commanding the drone where to go and not how to do it. The simulator really demonstrated the fly-by-wire nature of the Mavic 2 Pro. Toy drones I have used before required far more manual input to just get the craft to however and fly in a straight line.
Next up on the setup front was having a good read of the UAV flying code and the no-fly zones around Cancun. DJI Go4 app has a built in screen the view most of the restrictions around an area, using this I could easily see how far the airport no-fly zones extended and where to select my first flying site. Reading the drone flying code as issued by the CAA I decided to take the test to get my Operator and Pilot ID's. Both of these I deemed as essential for future aspirations and given how easy they are to obtain was worth spending 20 mins to take the test.
Finally I turned my attention to the vehicle again, the charging hub that comes with the fly-more kit is great and allowed me to charge all 3 batteries and the controller from a single plug socket. For usage on the road it also includes a car adapter plug, great for when we want near continuous operations in the field.
When all laid out the drone + fly more kit contains quite a number of items, below they are laid out and labeled.
When the propellers and battery is attached the drone takes on an industrial aesthetic as shown below.
The cary case is designed specifically to fit the Mavic 2 and all the additional components in the picture. To cater to this and carrying in general the drone has a gimbal protection cover, which can also be used in flight at the risk of reducing image / video quality.
The gimbal cover itself is bit fiddly to attach once done however it feels well protected. Below is a close up of the camera and attached cover.
I thought that I would share my particular way of packing the drone, just incase anybody else does obsess over these details like I do. For me personally I like the idea that everything is in its place ready to deploy. As such I try and pack my laptop bag in the same way, so naturally it was time pack the drone in the same way. This followed much the same way as the case arrived since DJI have done a good job of designing the interior to fit everything.
My particular packing style involves first putting 2 batteries on their sides into the bottom of the case, separated by the black padding that comes with the case. Then after folding down the separator that acts as padding for the bottom layer I insert the drone into the other side. I do this part next to avoid having to press too hard on the drone, since with all the batteries and controller inserted the tendency for a tight fit is quite evident. Once the drone is in, I then insert the third battery and the controller. This then completes the packing of objects into the inside of the case, the mesh pockets on the outside of the case I use for the chargers, charging hub and plugs. Inside the front pocket I have all the rotor blades.
Preparing for Flight
I choose to fly at an abandoned building side in Cancun, this particular building site was designed as planned community and was abandoned after most of the roads, street lights and some utility buildings had been completed. It seemed like a great place to conduct the first flight and return for 'inspections' later in the holiday. Viewed from satellite imagery in Apple Maps the location is shown below.
Clearly a great place to fly and learn about performing commercial inspection type flights with drones. Next the photo pin is a rectangular feature, this was a partially completed basketball court and served as the control point for the flight. Weather conditions on the day were mostly favourable, although the wind was a little higher than I would have liked. Getting the Mavic 2 ready for flight is a very quick and simple process, attach the propellers and battery, turn on the drone and remote and we are good to go.
Auto Launch and Return Home
Now for the exciting moment, auto-launch. Press the button, slide the control to confirm and away we go. The drone quickly ascends to 1.5m and holds position, this was impressive coming from the experience of toy drones that were very difficult to get into a hover. Also of note was the video feed shown in the app, it is crystal clear and has very little lag.
Once in hover it is time to actually fly, at this point the synergy of the controller hardware and app becomes clear. The versatility of an app combined with the precision of the controller sticks is brilliant. For the first test I simply wanted to increase altitude and bring it back down again. So up I went, the drone ascended to my desired altitude of 10m smoothly and without any drift. Once again I was very impressed. Next I wanted to test the return to home functionality of the drone, this is something that I see myself using when conducting inspections and also flying for leisure. I flew the drone about 20m away and hit the RTH button, sure enough the drone went to altitude and slowly made its way back to the launch point.
By this point I had built up enough confidence to fly a bit further from the launch point. This time I wanted to fly to a street lamp and have a look at the solar panels located at the top. Distance from the launch point was 100m plus and far enough to not be able to determine the attitude of the vehicle by sight. I was relying on the video feed for most of the positioning. It turned out to be very easy to fly in this manner, I was able to see the vehicle at all times and that helped to get into roughly the correct position and then using the video feed to position for the actual inspection image was also quite easy due to the fly-by-wire controls.
Unboxing the Mavic 2 Pro and getting to a first flight was an incredibly easy process. DJI have done a marvellous job of making the preparation and actual flying a breeze allowing all focus to be on using the drone and not flying it.
Camera and gimbal quality is excellent and allows for capture of high quality video and images. I can easily see myself using this drone to perform actual inspections and also capture social events and entertainment.