Flying with Miss Veedol

My first photo flight of the year.

Early Tuesday morning, I lifted off from the ramp at Wenatchee Pangborn Memorial Airport in East Wenatchee, WA on an air-to-air photo flight with Miss Veedol for Voortex Productions and the Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce.

The Miss Veedol was the first airplane to fly non-stop across the Pacific ocean. A 1931 Bellanca J-300 Long Distance Special piloted by Clyde Pangborn and Hugh Herndon Jr., it took off in Japan with 915 gallons of fuel, jettisoned the landing gear to improve aerodynamics, and crash landed 41 hours later at Fancher Field in East Wenatchee, making history. You can learn more about it and its eventual demise on Wikipedia and the Spirit of Wenatchee website.

I recommend you watch this in full-screen mode.

The Miss Veedol I flew with on Tuesday is a replica of the original aircraft that is based at Wenatchee Airport. This isn’t the first time I flew with it — we did a video flight way back in January 2014. Footage from that flight (and a few others) was incorporated into the amazing We Are Wenatchee Part I video. (This video still brings tears to my eyes; I’m so glad I live here and so proud to be part of the team that made the video. I hope you’ll check out Part II and Part III, too.) It was a difficult flight, mostly because it was bitter cold and I was having trouble keeping up with the plane.

But Tuesday was a completely different story. It was a gorgeous morning when we gathered just before dawn. I parked near Miss Veedol’s hangar and discussed the flight plan with my clients from Voortex Productions and Miss Veedol’s pilots. Then we split up. I got the helicopter going while they started up Miss Veedol’s big radial engine. The two photographers climbed on board — I had already taken their doors off — I backed the helicopter away from where Miss Veedol would be taxiing, and then I followed her down the taxiway while the photographers shot photos. By that time the sun was up, illuminating the plane’s orange wings and fuselage and casting long shadows. We circled the plane in the run up area, then moved beside it as it taxied to the runway. We took off in formation, with the helicopter slightly above and behind the plane.

The conditions were nearly perfect for the flight. Light wind, blue sky, gorgeous early morning light. It was just after 6 AM when we reached the river and headed up on the East Wenatchee side. The plane would go up one side of the river and down the other while a photographer and videographer captured images and footage.

Miss Veedol Over Columbia River
Miss Veedol with the city of Wenatchee in the background. The snow-covered mountains are the Enchantments, west of Wenatchee in the foothills of the Cascades. Most of the snow will be gone by late June. (I can see the tops of these mountains from my home.) Photo by Charley Voohris.

One of the most frustrating things to me when I do photo flights is that I can’t take photos. I see the shot but I don’t have a camera handy and, even if I did, it would be impossible to work it properly with just one hand. I have to wonder if the photographers see the same shots I do. I like flying with Charley because he usually does see the same thing I do — or something even better — and gets the shot.

Miss Veedol Over Shadows
I distinctly recall when we were in position for this shot because the shadows beneath the plane made its orange color really pop in the early morning light. Photo by Charley Voorhis.

One of our target areas was a rock formation called Saddle Rock at the top of a hill overlooking Wenatchee. Every time we do an aerial photo flight, we spend time up and around Saddle Rock. (You can see it in the closing shot of We Are Wenatchee Part I above — seriously, you must watch that video.) Part of our mission was to get photos of Miss Veedol around Saddle Rock. Charley succeeded in getting several really good shots as we circled Saddle Rock twice.

Miss Veedol Flies up a Canyon
Spring time is always green here, but this year it’s especially green with all the rain we’ve had. I followed Miss Veedol up this canyon on our second pass for Saddle Rock. I love the textures and contrasts in this shot. Photo by Charley Voorhis.

Another target area was the Senator George Sellar Bridge — which I usually refer to as the South End Bridge. We circled twice at the end of the shoot.

Miss Veedol at the Columbia River Bridge
Charley managed to perfectly frame Miss Veedol between the Senator George Sellar Bridge and the historic Columbia River Bridge. Photo by Charley Voorhis.

Our Flight Path
Our flight path, captured by Foreflight.

After circling the bridges, Miss Veedol headed back to the airport for a few touch and goes before taxiing back to her hangar. We went back for a few more shots at Saddle Rock. By that time there was just enough tailwind to make hovering flight a tad difficult pointing in the direction we needed to point but I think they got the shots they needed. We did a quick run to the north end of Wenatchee and then back to the south, circling Pybus Public Market once. Then it was back to the airport.

Total flight time was 1.3 hours.

I want to thank Charley Voorhis at Voortex Productions and the Wenatchee Chamber of Commerce for allowing me to show these photos on social media and in my blog. It was a great flight and I look forward to our next one!

FAR 107 Explained

I wrote a book last week and it’s available now.

Way back in 2012, I self-published three books. The first was the same kind of computer how-to book I’d been writing since 1991. It was about iBooks Author software and was the first book out about it. It sold about 3,000 copies and continues to sell to this day. The other two were less successful. One, about sorting data in Excel, sold a few hundred copies. The other, about making movies, sold about 500 copies. All of them were available in multiple formats, including print.

I was on track to release a book a month when the idiot I was married to decided he needed a mommy more than a wife and found one online. My life got thrown up into the air. Soon I was busy with a divorce and moving and building new home in another state. My goal of publishing a series of short books got put on the back burner. And then my flying business really took off and I didn’t see a real need to revisit that plan.

Until the other day.

I got a call from a local drone enthusiast — that’s what he called himself. He’d seen on Facebook that Flying M Air, my company, had begun doing drone photography. He had some questions about it. I had some time so we chatted on the phone.

During the course of the conversation, he asked me two regulation-related questions that I didn’t know the answer for. And that bothered me. You see, I’d done everything I was supposed to do to get a remote pilot certificate with a small unmanned aircraft system (small UAS) rating. I’d satisfied the FAA’s requirements and had a printout of my temporary certificate sitting on my desk. I should know the answers to his questions, but I didn’t.

So a few days later, when I found myself sitting around the house on a rainy day, I looked up the answers. And then I started a careful re-reading FAR Part 107, which is the FAA regulations for commercial small UAS (AKA drone) flying. And I realized that just like all the other FARs, Part 107 was written in the same government-style “legalese,” with the usual exceptions and cross-references that make them nearly impossible to understand.

And that’s when I realized that some folks might find it helpful to read a translation, in plain English, so they could actually understand the rules.

So I wrote one.

Part 107 Explained
Here’s the book cover. A friend asked how I got the photo. I basically flew my Mavic to face me on my deck early in the morning when the light was good. I’ll get a new shot when the fruit trees are in bloom for the next edition.

FAR Part 107 Explained: A Definitive Guide for Serious Drone Pilots is the result.

I started with the actual text of Part 107 and inserted my translation, in red type, beneath each section or paragraph. Along the way, I provided in-document links to other sections of Part 107 and web links to other FARs and documents that Part 107 refers to. I even included links to helpful web pages for registering a drone, reporting an accident, taking the course I did to satisfy training requirements, and changing your name or address in FAA records.

The resulting document isn’t long — after all, Part 107 is relatively short — but it is complete and works as a stand-alone guide to Part 107.

I generated two formats (so far): Apple iTunes bookstore and Amazon Kindle. I submitted to Apple on Friday and Amazon yesterday. (Guess which one was available first?)

In any case, if you’re interested in flying your small UAS/drone for compensation, I hope you’ll consider investing $6.99 for my book. Right now, it’s available as an ebook only; if there’s a big demand for it, I’ll consider a print version. You can buy it on Amazon.com or buy it from Apple.

And I have to admit that it feels good to be writing books again, even if they’re short ones like this.

Our Government In Action: Commercial Drone Pilot Rating Edition

How much more inconvenient can they make it?

Mavic Pro
My flying camera takes amazing still and video photos.

Regular readers of this blog might know that I bought a Mavic Pro flying camera back in January 2017. Before spending the money, I did my homework on FAR Part 107, which sets forth rules and regulations for commercial sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial Systems, AKA drones) operations. The certification process was pretty simple for existing pilots: study the rules, take an online training course, pass the test at the end of the course, and submit an application to the FAA for the sUAS rating to be added to my existing pilot certificate. I did all of this on December 20, 2016.

I fully expected to get some kind of correspondence from the FAA in the mail. Although some of my mail was forwarded to me while I was traveling this winter, not all of it was. Still, I didn’t get anything from the FAA for this in my forwarded mail or the mail held for me at home. Nothing.

Yesterday, I revisited the process, certain that I had neglected to do something. I followed the trail of multiple websites to find the place where I had filled in my application. I logged in and reviewed the application, which was dated 12/20/16 with a status of “Submitted by Applicant.” There were no additional instructions or useful information to tell me what I needed to do next or whether my application was even being processed.

I made four phone calls. Eventually, I got a guy at the FAA’s Spokane FSDO (Flight Standards District Office). For those of you unfamiliar with that kind of FAA office, its basically a regional office handling local FAA matters like aircraft and pilot certifications and airport operations. He told me that all I had to do was take my printed application to the FSDO and have someone there check my ID. They could then print out a certificate.

I wasn’t sure I’d heard him right. I had to drive to Spokane — which is 3 hours away by car — and show my driver’s license to someone in the office to prove I was who I said I was? So I’d need to spend six hours of my day, plus whatever time it took in Spokane, just to verify my identity?

Yep. Or I could go to the Seattle FSDO in Renton, WA (also 3 hours each way). Or the Portland FSDO in Hillsboro, OR (5-1/2 hour each way).

Of course, if I knew a DPE (Designated Pilot Examiner) who was closer, I could pay him to verify my identity and let him submit the paperwork. Although the FAA guy didn’t say this, I knew what would happen next: the paperwork would disappear into a black hole at the FAA for another three months.

As you might imagine, this completely floors me. In the past few years, I have made numerous very large banking and real estate transactions, each of which required positive identification, entirely via the Internet. Hangar sale, house sale, land sale, loan applications, wire transfers. Transactions worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in total, all requiring that I be identified before completing the transaction.

Why is it that the banks and title companies I worked with were able to verify my identity online when the FAA — which already has the name, address, phone number, and social security number associated with my existing pilot certificate — can’t?

Apparently, it’s because the FAA treats this as a brand new pilot certificate instead of an add-on rating. It doesn’t matter that they know who I am because they meet up with me at least once a year for my Part 135 certificate. I still have to jump through this ridiculous and meaningless hoop.

Just to get a piece of paper to make my commercial drone pilot operations legal. In the meantime, hundreds, if not thousands, of drone pilots are out there doing the same kind of work that I want to do without any kind of certification. Heck, I’m willing to bet that at least half of them haven’t even bothered to register their drones.

Is there any wonder why people break the rules? Could it be because the rules are ridiculous and cumbersome to follow?

So today I’ll pull my little Honda out of the garage. I’ll gas it up in town and hit the highway. I’ll drive all the way to Spokane and visit the fine folks in the FSDO there. They’ll look at my license and they’ll check a few boxes on the form I’ve printed out for their convenience. Then they’ll go into a back room and punch some keys on a computer keyboard. Moments later, a piece of paper — my temporary certificate, I guess? — will come out of a printer. They’ll hand it to me and I’ll begin the long drive back home, stopping for gas again along the way.

A whole day of my time blown.

In a few weeks (or months?), I’ll get a new plastic card from the FAA’s main office in Oklahoma. I’ll slip it in to my wallet with my existing pilot certificate — another card to carry around all the time.

But at least I’ll be legal to do commercial drone photography. I’ll likely be the only one within 100 miles who is.