UPDATE DEC. 2013: For information on the new Phantom 2 Vision quadcopter from DJI, please see my interview with DJI's Colin Guinn.
ORIGINAL POST OCT. 7, 2013: Last weekend since my initial review, I flew the DJI Phantom quadcopter that I reviewed last month up to nearly 2,000 feet, and ended up in the clouds! Check out the video:
Predominantly, I am using the Phantom to send it up a couple hundred feet to get "over the trees" to look at storms, and this is not something I'd recommend or try again, but I was curious how high the quadcopter would go. While a couple of people on YouTube have claimed to get their Phantom up to 1,800 or even 2,350 feet, they've offered no concrete proof on video. When I decided to see how high it could go, I tied on a tiny altimeter, which showed the elevation increasing to 1,951 feet (starting out at -4, for a total of 1,955 feet). Ending up with a view above the clouds was just pure luck, I thought they were higher on that day, and I had lost audio and visual with the unit. The Jolly Logic AltimeterONE was perfect for the job -- it was small, light, and could be mounted to the copter's leg.
The GoPro Silver camera which I have reviewed before was used here, and worked flawlessly with its Tripod Mount.
This was actually my second height test, the first one (moments earlier) only went up to 1,400 feet as a proof of concept, before I pushed it to the limit. Why did my flight not result in a crash like so many others (even at lower altitudes) have? Whenever you fly your quadcopter, take this advice:
1. Make sure you're adhering to FAA rules. Right now, there are no regulations for hobbyists (there are only voluntary recommendations from 1981, even though some sites such as this page say things like: "Older laws for model aircraft forbade flying anything above 400 feet. While the 2012 act re-authorizing the FAA removed the height ceiling for model aircraft (providing the aircraft is operated in a manner that does not interfere with and gives way to any manned aircraft), flying a drone within 5 miles of an airport requires notifying that airport."
2. Run on a new, fully-charged battery. When the Phantom starts to run out of juice, it attempts to rapidly descend straight down, which can be a problem.
3. Don't fly it in the woods, for goodness sakes! Do this in an open field where you'll have visual if it comes back down in the wrong place.
4. Do it on a CALM day. I would have rather done this test on a clear day (wherever there are clouds, there is turbulence). Unfortunately this was the last calm day I was going to have for a while, but at least there was no wind at the surface. If there is, don't do it. Not only could the quadcopter go out of control, it will drain the battery much faster as the GPS tries to compensate for changes in direction and speed.
5. Run new and calibrated. I had just installed new propellers (and prop guards) before this test, and had recently calibrated the internal compass (to make sure the return-to-home would bring it back down to the right place) and the quadcopter itself, via the Nav software (you also have to turn ON the return-to-home ability within the software).
DISCLAIMER: These are my opinions as a weather hobbyist. Product was supplied for this review.
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