<![CDATA[Mark and Romeo's Aerial Adventures ... - Mark's Blog]]>Fri, 15 Dec 2017 06:54:55 -0800Weebly<![CDATA[The Power Within A Hundred Days]]>Mon, 08 Sep 2014 19:20:08 GMThttp://visual-aerials.com/marks-blog/the-powerwithin-a-hundred-daysPicture
Back in December 2011 my commitment to cycling had survived having two bikes stolen and I had lost 15 pounds while making healthy changes in my eating habits. Sadly, my enthusiasm and commitment were completely trashed when my 16-year old son took his own life by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge.

I simply had no heart for much of anything after that tragedy and the coup de grace was delivered a few months later when thieves used a cutting torch in the dead of the night to completely disassemble the iron fence inside my gated condo community in order to make off with my wheels again. In truth, I didn't care and my only real priority was to somehow survive the unimaginable blow that had come just six months after my father's funeral.

Needless to say, the wages of caloric sins is fat and I packed on the pounds. In time I did make some attempts to reform myself, but there was always something waiting to derail my best laid plans. I found myself reminded of all the New Years Resolutions I've made over the course of my life only to rarely get through February with any of them intact. Moreover, I was acutely aware of the extremely discouraging statistics that have been collected by a legion of scientific authorities to prove that the vast majority of American dieters will put back on every pound they've lost within a year (and often with more than a few additional ones to boot). I recall one depressing afternoon spent chasing down everything I could find on the "set point theory" of weight gain only to find myself eating a bowl of Hagen-Daz that I didn't even remember getting out of the freezer.

Fortunately for me, my good friend from England, Martyn Cox, had accomplished one of the most remarkable personal transformations that I've ever seen. On his own, the guy had changed from a pasty white pudgy character to an amazingly fit hard body. Furthermore, he had massively improved every measurable index of health as measured in his annual physical checkups. Best of all, he allowed me to follow his daily record from his MyFitnessPal account so that I could see every day what he ate, how he exercised and what his caloric balance was over time. There were no great secrets other than the same mantra of moderation and consistency that my dad used to harp on.

I made it a point to study what Martyn had done to see what lessons I could learn. One thing became very clear to me: he had a true motivation that allowed him to make permanent changes in his lifestyle. That really struck home to me as I recognized that every New Years Resolution, every fad diet and every private pep talk I've had with myself was doomed to fail simply because I did not have a real CORE motivation. Over time I, like almost everybody else, would become distracted, disheartened and defiant so that any progress made would disappear in a sack of Doritos or other high calorie snacks.

Finally, I had a true epiphany this past spring. I realized that my son was the best motivational tool I could ever hope for. You see, there isn't anything on this planet that I would not do for his sake and to honor the joy and beauty that he gave to me. For the rest of my life the most important role I will ever play (and the role I strive every single day to fulfill) is that of being a good father. I talk to my boy almost every day and I tell him how important it is that I work hard to be the kind of man I wanted him to become. I look at every new day as a gift and an opportunity for me to try and honor David's spirit and his memory by my actions and my deeds.

As I looked in the mirror I was struck by the fact that if I promised my son that I would do something, then I knew that I would see it through. That's when I came up with the notion of devoting 100 day chunks to specific projects as a way to honor my boy. I chose to make June 1st the first 100 day project and made the first task a rather simple one of eating well and exercising.

Today is the completion of that first 100 days and I can honestly say that its been one of the easiest and most pleasurable endeavors I've ever committed to. I ride my bike 20 miles each morning and I am loving the new eating habits that I've embraced. The results have been extremely gratifying and I cannot express how excited I am to start the next 100 day program.

I've decided to make a new commitment to my boy that will continue my 20 miles a day on the bike along with doing some modest toning every other day in the nice gym we have here in my condo complex. In addition to that continued commitment to health, I'm going to commit to writing every single day. You see, I have a book project started and I'm going to promise my boy that part of every day for the next 100 will be devoted to it. David had a dream of becoming a writer himself and I can think of nothing better than to take these next three months to really work hard at writing.

Of course, when it comes to weight loss, I am aware that I've only done 100 days and that I'm still within that big gray bell curve that researchers confidently point to as being a population that will almost always fail over time as far as becoming fit and keeping weight off permanently. However, I've never been more sure of myself than I am now. The simple truth is that I have a son whom I am going to hold myself accountable to. Every day that I keep my promises to him is a day that I know he would be proud of me for ... and that, my friends, makes all the difference in the world to me.


<![CDATA[MOMENTOUS LEGAL RULINGS AFOOT]]>Fri, 07 Mar 2014 22:31:24 GMThttp://visual-aerials.com/marks-blog/momentous-legal-rulings-afootPicture
Legal pundits were stunned this week by two court rulings. In the first, a Federal Administrative Law judge found that the Federal Aviation Administration has no current authority to prevent or restrict the use of remote-controlled aircraft being used for fun or profit in American skies. The second decision was handed down by the Massachusetts Supreme Court shocking almost everybody by finding it legal for scurrilous villains to use cameras to snap photographs under the skirts and dresses of women riding mass transit.

While the latter decision unquestionably caused the most consternation, the former ruling has far greater consequences for far more people. For, you see, the august authorities at the FAA
have been consistently maintaining that they have ironclad authority to control and restrict the use of so-called drones in American airspace. Furthermore, as is typical among many monolithic agencies, the FAA had a tendency to throw its weight around rather imperiously.

When it came to flying your RC aircraft to take pictures for money, the FAA essentially said that nobody could play. I can count on one hand the number of instances where the FAA actually approved commercial operation of a drone and, even in those cases, the operational requirements and restrictions were heavy handed and almost impossible to meet by mere mortals.

Of course, those of us familiar with the field have been very aware that commercial aerial photography has been accomplished with multi-rotor craft for many years now. In fact, USA TODAY recently ran a big feature devoted to real estate photographers and videographers who are making bank flying the same little Phantoms that Romeo and I are so fond of. Moreover, it is no secret that almost every single major Hollywood motion picture has a number of "crane" or "boom" shots that actually were taken with so-called camera drones. Not to mention the high tension line inspectors who use the technology or the wedding photographers who are promoting aerial bridal shots all over the net these days.

You may have noticed that on our own site we have stressed that we do not operate commercially. Frankly, that's because we did not want the 800 pound gorilla to come down on us and you can be certain that more than a couple White Russians will be downed this weekend as Herr Durscher and I celebrate our new freedom to make a few pennies shooting pictures for the people who have been bugging us to do so. We think this is a good thing - and not just because it benefits us.

You see, the government all too often takes stands that it can't properly back up (War Against Drugs Guys, are you listening?) I'm the first to admit and agree that responsible regulation of our skies and our commerce is necessary. However, when an agency with so little in the way of enforcement resources pretends that it can keep a real estate photographer or a wedding videographer from making a buck from consenting parties, it only encourages revolt. Rather than making it impossible to fly commercially, the FAA needs to encourage the responsible use of technology and focus on safety rather than draconian edicts that purport to ground everybody.

Of course, the best regulation is self regulation. Just because it is now legal to operate an up-skirt drone for money in Massachusetts doesn't mean its a good idea.

(UPDATE: The Massachusetts legislature has just enacted a law closing the loophole behind Wednesday's ruling. Sorry for those of you who were applying to Shark Tank with my idea ... :)

<![CDATA[FOUR YEARS AGO TODAY ...]]>Sun, 09 Feb 2014 23:54:13 GMThttp://visual-aerials.com/marks-blog/three-years-ago-today Picture
Romeo and I were at the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral watching the big mission clock counting the time that Space Shuttle Endeavor had been aloft since the glorious pre-dawn launch we had witnessed the day before. Thanks to Romeo's NASA connections, we were given the privilege of watching the liftoff from the press complex near launch pad 39A where the Apollo missions all originated from and where all the Shuttle launches would also occur. As the sun was rising I snapped these pictures with my iPhone and I ran across them today.

To me this was hallowed ground and it is difficult to put into words what it meant to me to be standing where so much history was made. I remember vividly being a kid of 14 in 1967 when the first launch from pad 39A was broadcast. Even though it was an unmanned mission, it was the first launch of the giant Saturn V rocket that would take us to the moon two years later and I had already filled a scrapbook with drawings and photographs of the big rocket.

NASA received a total of 510 requests for press accreditation (in comparison to the 3,493 journalists who were present at the Cape two years later for the launch of Apollo 11). It was a Thursday and I got up at 5 am to watch the coverage (liftoff was 6 am CST). Walter Cronkite was seated at the large window of the building on the right, and as the enormous booster began its rumbling ascent, he exclaimed:

 "Our building's shaking here...the floor is shaking...this big glass window is shaking, we're holding it with our hands!"

I can't begin to tell you how emotional it was for me to be on, what was for me, hallowed ground. It still stuns me to think that so much technology was developed from scratch more than 40 years ago that has never been superseded.

When 1967 comes to my mind I usually conjure up images of Don Draper from Mad Men or I hear strains of music from Sgt. Peppers or The Doors. It all seems so quaint like this cover from that month's Popular Electronics Magazine.

Who were these super-beings that rolled up their sleeves and designed engineering marvels like the Saturn V rocket, the great Crawler-Transporter, the Vehicle Assembly Building or the Lunar Excursion Module? Just how extraordinary those feats were was underscored back in 2011 by the simple fact that much of that technology was still an indispensable part of the launch of Endeavor.

Sadly, there would be only five more Shuttle missions after STS-130. Now the big Crawlers remain moribund and the entire Launchpad 39 facility sits quietly while seagulls wheel overhead. When NASA's Project Constellation was shelved in 2010 the future of all that brilliant oversized technology became very much in doubt.

We visited Endeavor at the California Science Center in Los Angeles a year ago and it was more than a little sad for me to reflect on the fact that our Space Program is being surpassed by China's and our astronauts are forced to hitch rides to the International Space Station via Russia's Baikonur Cosmodrome. At the same time I am, if anything, even more awed and humbled by the reality of what was accomplished during my teens.

I especially prize the fact that I have become very good friends with Roberta (Robyn) Villavecchia, who was an Apollo Engineer and actually involved in the quest that led to mankind's greatest triumph to date. While I sat in my living room in front of the black & white GE television, Robyn was operating in the rarified air and environment as a participant where I arrived late to the party in 2011 as a tourist.

My brother and most of my friends were in awe of sports stars back in the 60s while I spent my time writing the NASA astronaut office, clipping pages about the Space Program from TIME and LIFE and making pencil drawings on the empty white space on the back of geological well logs that my father brought me home from his work as a geologist. I would unroll the paper and fill page after page with drawings of astronauts, planets and, of course, spacecraft.
Thus, to be able to hear Robyn describe behind-the-scenes events from her real life experiences is priceless to me. She has given me a true appreciation for the value of doing something you love and also something that carries a measure of importance beyond your own life.

Life moves on -- and not always in the ways you would prefer or even want. Things change and nothing is permanent. Nevertheless, we do have our memories and we alone are in a position to decide what memories we will build in the days, months and years remaining to us.
<![CDATA[The Ephemera]]>Thu, 06 Feb 2014 22:18:04 GMThttp://visual-aerials.com/marks-blog/the-ephemeraPicture
I was fourteen and in Junior High School when one of my assignments introduced me to a short essay written by Ben Franklin titled The Ephemera: An Emblem of Human Life. Our illustrious founding father was in his seventies when he penned the little story for one of the French ladies he was enamored with (Madame Brillon, of Passy). Although the object of his affection was married, this did not deter Ben from expressing his devotion to her through a series of flirtatious letters. Whether or not his efforts were returned with more than simple appreciation is not known. However, his essay left an impression on me that has been indelible.

The playful narrative describes a fictional creature he describes as "a kind of little fly" called an Ephemera. Of course, this is a play on the word with Greek origins referring to things that are not permanent or which last only a day. Franklin's imaginary Ephemera were creatures "whose successive generations, we were told, were bred and expired within the day." He tells of overhearing an "old gray-headed one, who was ... talking to himself" and he purports to write down what the elderly Ephemera said in his soliloquy:

"It was," said he, "the opinion of learned philosophers of our race, who lived and flourished long before my time, that this vast world, the Moulin Joly, could not itself subsist more than eighteen hours; and I think there was some foundation for that opinion, since, by the apparent motion of the great luminary that gives life to all nature, and which in my time has evidently declined considerably towards the ocean at the end of our earth, it must then finish its course, be extinguished in the waters that surround us, and leave the world in cold and darkness, necessarily producing universal death and destruction. I have lived seven of those hours, a great age, being no less than four hundred and twenty minutes of time. How very few of us continue so long! I have seen generations born, flourish, and expire. My present friends are the children and grandchildren of the friends of my youth, who are now, also, no more! And I must soon follow them; for, by the course of nature, though still in health, I cannot expect to live above seven or eight minutes longer. What now avails all my toil and labor in amassing honey-dew on this leaf, which I cannot live to enjoy! What the political struggles I have been engaged in for the good of my compatriot inhabitants of this bush, or my philosophical studies for the benefit of our race in general! For in politics what can laws do without morals? Our present race of ephemera will in a course of minutes become corrupt, like those of other and older bushes, and consequently as wretched. And in philosophy how small our progress! Alas! art is long, and life is short! My friends would comfort me with the idea of a name they say I shall leave behind me; and they tell me I have lived long enough to nature and to glory. But what will fame be to an ephemera who no longer exists? And what will become of all history in the eighteenth hour, when the world itself, even the whole Moulin Joly, shall come to its end and be buried in universal ruin?"

Then Mr. Franklin concludes his little parable with a final plea to Madame Brillon:

To me, after all my eager pursuits, no solid pleasures now remain, but the reflection of a long life spent in meaning well, the sensible conversation of a few good lady ephemeræ, and now and then a kind smile and a tune from the ever amiable Brillante.

I recall vividly how, at fourteen, this little essay struck me with a realization that life is short and that any measure of its duration is relative. Indeed, at 70+ years, Ben Franklin had a strong sense of his own impending mortality and his little story was a poignant plea to recognize that, however brief, the value of a moment lies in its quality and not its temporal length.

My thoughts were drawn to The Ephemera today as I reflected on the fact that my boy would have turned 19 today. In turn, it caused me to think about the many happy days I had with him and with my Mom and Dad. I came across this picture of the three of them when my father was honored as Grand Marshal in the Ellinwood After Harvest Parade.

While the sense of melancholy from the loss of those we love is unavoidable, I believe the moral of Ben Franklin's essay is an important lesson. Every day we have is, in truth, a curtain closing that will be, at most, an imperfect and fleeting memory that itself has no more substance than a dream of the shadow of smoke.

To become preoccupied with permanence is ultimately foolish and sad. Now and then I look up the poem Ozymandias as a reminder. For what we have -- and all we have -- is the moment and the now. In this moment and this day I am reminded of how blessed and fortunate I am to have the history that populates my memories. The stream of my life is what defines me and, truly, the sadness of loss is merely the measure of how much joy and love I have experienced.

The whole "Life is Short" and "Carpe Diem" philosophies that I try to live by really came into focus for me as a result of a little incident that occurred when I was practicing law back in Kansas City. I had been assigned to prepare an automotive expert named Harley Kopp for his deposition in a case my firm was handling. What transpired eventually became the inspiration for a semi-annual event I host called The Friendship Party. Several people asked me to write down a little narrative of the event and so here it is, my own little essay devoted to the spirit of The Ephemera:


Ok, you gotta imagine we're sitting at a little bistro in North Beach. Maybe outside of Rose Pistola. Got it? I've brought along a bottle of 1985 Silver Oak Bonny's Vineyard that the waitress has uncorked for us and I tell you that I have a story about this wine that you might find interesting. You encourage me to go on ...

"Well, this all happened back when I was practicing as a lawyer," I begin.

"I was going to ask you about what that was like," you respond.

"Well, I studied graphics undergrad but went on to get my law degree at the University of Kansas. I was a trial lawyer in Kansas City handling catastrophic injury cases and mass disasters,"

"No shit!" the waitress adds (she's now pulled a chair over and is sitting at our table with us.)

"Anyway, one of the firm's senior partners called me into his office and handed me a plane ticket to Orange County along with a $500 expense check. He explained that the firm had hired a renowned expert witness named Harley Kopp who had been one of the top automotive engineers at Ford. Mr. Kopp was the star witness in a tragic case involving a talented high school quarterback who had been left a quadriplegic when his Subaru rolled over on a country road"

"The senior partner explained that the firm had already paid Kopp $30,000 without even getting his deposition taken. I can remember it like it was yesterday that the partner said, 'Johnson, we're hemorrhaging money. Get your butt out to San Clemente and prepare Kopp for his deposition.' I was delighted to take on the adventure and so in two days I was buzzing down the 405 in a rented Miata. The sun was shining, the ocean was gorgeous and I felt like a million bucks."

"I was supposed to meet Kopp at his home at 10:00 a.m. but my plane was about thirty minutes late. I still got there only ten minutes past the hour and I was just taking in the sight of his gorgeous mansion on a cliff overlooking the Pacific when a man came out of the garage mad as a hornet. I quickly came to understand that this was the legendary Harley Kopp and boy was he pissed off. He laid in to me for being late, for not calling him, for wearing casual clothes - in short, he was rude, boorish and insulting."

"I followed him into the house while he kept a steady flow of invectives directed back at me. I kept  my mouth shut and put up with Harley's insults that now had grown to encompass my whole law firm, the state of Kansas and the Japanese auto industry."

"Now, you must understand that while I wasn't enjoying his verbal attacks, I was still pretty much immune to their weight. I didn't have any idea how great automotive authorities acted and as far as I was concerned I still had a Miata and five-hundred bucks in my pocket so I was golden. I kept my composure and we settled into his office above the beach and got to work. We sort of developed a routine where I would cover an issue and he would proceed to tell me how stupid I was. However, in the process of pointing out my ignorance he did cover the necessary points so that we were making progress of a sort."

"The insults were constant and, if anything, increasing in their vituperativeness. So it was a surprise when Harley's demeanor changed abruptly as an old Grandfather clock chimed noon in the hallway. The man lifted his head, cocked it to hear the bongs and then it was as though scales were lifted from his eyes. He looked directly at me and I swear I saw the start of tears welling up as he said, 'Mr. Johnson. You must forgive me.... I have not enjoyed good health as of late. I offer you no excuses but do issue sincere apologies. ... And now it is noon and we may have wine.'"

"The expert struggled to his feet and once more I was in tow behind him. This time, however, there were no aspersions to my character and it was as though his evil twin had left to be replaced by one who was both hospitable and engaging. We walked down a long passage to the rear of the house and eventually entered a chamber that I was later to learn was part of a cellar complex that constituted one of the largest private wine collections in California."

"Harley caressed bottles as we walked and he would pause occasionally to pick up one, holding it gingerly as he looked at it with what could only be compared to a parent's love for a child. I was naive about wine and found his running commentary to be fascinating. Where he had been rude and abrupt before, he was now patient and as helpful as a devoted teacher. I don't know how much time passed in the cellar but I learned more about wine in those hours than I have in all the years since."

"Finally, Harley picked out a bottle of Silver Oak - Bonny's Vineyard. He told me how the wine represented a love story and how the wine maker, Justin Meyer, started out seeking to create the perfect California cabernet from a little 4-acre patch of vineyard in a rich volcanic soil. Mr. Meyer became successful and the winery's holdings and partner-vineyards grew to include rolling hills in both the Napa and Alexander valleys. However, he was devoted and terribly in love with his wife so that each year they would bottle a special reserve lot from the little 4-acre vineyard iand he named the wine 'Bonny's Vineyard' in honor of his true love."

"By virtue of the fact that the vines were some of the oldest producers in the valley and partly because of the charm of the story, Bonny's Vineyard became something of a small cult favorite and you couldn't get a bottle easily without making arrangements with someone at the winery. Harley explained that he was honored to be among Justin's close friends and he was given a special allotment of Bonny's each year. And, by the way, they stopped producing Bonny's back in 1992 and the bottle we have here today is probably the last I'll ever see. I'm glad I can share it with you."

"Now, back then in San Clemente, Harley took the wine bottle upstairs to a little balcony looking over the ocean. He pulled a crystal decanter from a hidden cupboard and then brought out two of the biggest cabernet goblets I had ever seen. After pouring the wine in the wide-mouthed decanter to let it 'open' Harley eventually poured two glasses and offered me one. As I took the glass he looked directly at me with an intensity I won't forget. At first I thought he was going to make a toast but instead he said some words that have become meaningful to me."

"Harley Kopp held the glass up where the sunlight caught it and sent shafts of ruby light dancing over the balcony. He then said the following:

    'Mark, let me tell you a few things that may be of some small value to you. You see, people live their lives as though life is like a well that they can draw from endlessly. But that's a sad illusion. Life is short and as ephemeral as the wind passing through the space we occupy at this moment. Good wine should be a reminder of that fact and it, like life itself, should be cherished for the moment and shared with good friends. Let good wine be a reminder to you that while all of this is surely fleeting; it is also at the same time rare, sensual and precious.'

"Now, I must confess that at the time Harley said those words I didn't attach that much significance to them. By that point I was pretty much in overload with all of my senses overwhelmed in the smell, taste, sight and feel of that great wine. And, to complete the quintuplet of senses I should also mention the sweet tone of the crystal goblets as I idly let a fingertip wetted with wine sing a song around its rim in lazy circles. In fact, someone once told me that other than sex, wine is one of the few experiences that touches all five senses so well."

"So, the rest of the afternoon passed into an evening of stories, wine and, in fact, some actual work on the case. I said my goodbyes to Mr. Kopp and he sent me with a bottle of wine as a token of his apology for his behavior in the morning. And all of this would likely have passed into a pleasant but not particularly remarkable memory if not for the fact that when I touched down in Kansas and returned to my law firm I was greeted by a stone-faced paralegal who informed me that Harley Kopp had suffered a fatal stroke there among his precious wine bottles shortly after I left him."

At this point your eyes are wide and you take another sip of the Bonny's without saying a word. The moment is broken only slightly by the young waitress who lets out a soft but earnest "Holy Shit!" We all laugh and I set my glass down. For this moment in time Harley's words are as true as though he were saying them fresh to us this very moment. The city is beautiful, the sun is casting a long shadow across Columbus Avenue as the skyscrapers tower above us. It's all there as rare, precious and, yes, ephemeral as old Harley Kopp admonished. The wind picks up and a few napkins blow from tabletops.

With an empty bottle and a few more shards of conversation I finally say, "There is a small postscript to the story. You see when I moved out here I sought out the Silver Oak vineyard. It was a rainy day and there were only three people in the tasting room waiting for a scheduled tour. I approached the young woman at the counter and asked politely if she had ever heard of Harley Kopp. She queried me as to my interest and I told her enough that she left the counter and went upstairs to return with Justin Meyer himself. I told an abbreviated version of the tale and, swear to God, Meyer said, 'Screw the tour' and took us all back to the shipping shed. We sat on oak barrels while the rain hammered the old tin roof and Mr. Meyer had someone go to the wine library where they found a bottle of '85 Bonny's Vineyard. Glasses were found and we all sat on the barrels drinking the Bonny's and toasting the memory of that complex gentleman, Harley Kopp." 

<![CDATA[THE MAN ON THE CRANE]]>Mon, 03 Feb 2014 19:18:27 GMThttp://visual-aerials.com/marks-blog/the-man-on-the-crane
This morning I took my Scotty dog, Mac, with me to the top of the covered parking lot between San Pedro and Market Streets where Romeo and I flew Phantoms yesterday. I wanted to get some more reference shots of the big cranes to help me formulate a plan for doing a touch down landing on one of them. Just before the sun was fully up I approached the big crane working on the project at Santa Clara and San Pedro and I discovered that the crew starts early as a crane operator was already up on the boom.

He saw my Phantom and walked back toward the ballast where I was flying and, to my delight, he grinned broadly and gave a little salute before pulling out his own cell phone to get shots of the little quadcopter orbiting his workplace. It was one of those very small encounters that gives your whole day a nice lift. I'm glad he enjoyed the deviation from the routine and the footage sure gives me an appreciation for the guys who work that high aloft!

<![CDATA[THE BIG CRANE]]>Sun, 02 Feb 2014 21:28:42 GMThttp://visual-aerials.com/marks-blog/the-big-cranePicture
I've always been fascinated by those big construction cranes that appear whenever a tall building is being built. There are two of them downtown right now and one is located right across from San Pedro Square Market where I usually walk Mac and get a cup of coffee several times each week. For quite awhile now I've been musing about the feasibility of landing a Phantom on top of one of these behemoths. From the ground its difficult to tell what's up there but, finally, this morning Romeo and I did a sunrise flight downtown and I was able to get a look at the crane by San Pedro Square.

Right at the back near the ballast is a small cabinet-like structure that I call "the outhouse." I'm thinking that with a careful descent it might be possible to land on the roof of the outhouse so, naturally, I'm thinking I need to try this. Over oatmeal I discussed with Romeo the possibilities. I would have to have the FPV camera pointed directly down during the descent because the target is so small. Probably the biggest issue is controlling the descent down to touchdown because it is so difficult to judge distance and motion through the FPV goggles. Romeo suggested hanging a small washer from the landing gear to give a visual cue of first contact. He explained that something a bit more high-tech but on similar principal was used by Neal Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during the first landing on the moon. It seems they had touchdown probes extending down from the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) so that they could be alerted before the landing pads themselves were engaged.

I'm going to try some practice landings via goggles and I'll probably go back up to take a better look at the target tomorrow or the next day if the weather is good. I can't help but think how much my boy David would have loved this kind of frivolity. He was so amazingly facile with his X-box and PlayStation that I'm sure he would have taken to this aerial stuff like a pro. ... Mark

<![CDATA[New Props for S800 EVO!]]>Tue, 28 Jan 2014 21:00:32 GMThttp://visual-aerials.com/marks-blog/new-props-for-s800-evoPicture
Ok, this is totally geeky, but I am stoked to announce that we have just obtained new propellers for our heavy-lift hexcopter. These babies will give us 10% more efficiency, which translates into longer flight times, which is huge for us. Many thank to Joseph at Century Helicopter in San Jose for taking time to track me down just to let me know these had come in.

<![CDATA[The Magic Hour in Davenport California]]>Sun, 26 Jan 2014 22:26:05 GMThttp://visual-aerials.com/marks-blog/davenport-and-sharks-tooth-rockPicture
When I was young my father would take my brother and me hunting on cold Kansas mornings. I often wonder whether my affinity for getting up early was instilled by those wonderful times with my Dad.

These days I find pre-dawn pots of coffee are a fixture of my life because my friend Romeo is addicted to the quality of light found in those first minutes when the sun crests the horizon. I, too, have long been fascinated by "the magic hour" as it is referred to by cinematographers and directors intent on capturing the warmth cast by the sun's disc when it hangs low on the horizon. In fact, one of my favorite movies of all time is Days of Heaven by the great director Terrence Malick and starring Richard Gere, Brooke Adams, Sam Shepard and Linda Manz. Malick insisted on shooting the majority of the picture in the 30 minutes or so available only at dawn and dusk during "the magic hour." If you haven't seen it I highly urge you to go watch it on Netflix.

Today we got a late start due to me soldering the wrong connectors on a video transmitter but we still caught some of those gorgeous warm rays when we arrived at the old cement factory outside of Davenport, California. Though the place has been shut down since 2010, it is still locked up and patrolled by a roaming security guard so that our only option was to fly the site from across the highway. We decided to not put the big hexcopter in the air and, instead, flew the factory with our small Phantom 2 quads.

The weather was glorious and there was something eerie and almost haunting in the quiet old iron towers and tanks that stood high above the surrounding pine trees. We made several flights until a pair of gentlemen politely asked us to move so they could set up their fruit stand. We were happy to pack up as we both were already craving the heavenly heuvos rancheros that we've come to crave at the Davenport Roadhouse just a couple miles down Highway One.