Testing JournoDrone One

When JournoDrone One met its end last month, taking one final dive into the grass and shattering into foamy bits, it dashed the hopes of DroneJournalism.org developers of an easy solution to drone journalism. However, we were well aware that this enterprise had a learning curve. And we did have some measure of success, and learned some valuable lessons that will help us and other drone journalists in the future.

We can say for certain that the drone flew. It didn’t fly very high – 12 feet or so – or for very long – perhaps 5 seconds at most. But it did fly.

Above is the only on-board footage of the first and only flight of JournoDrone One. For most of the video, the shadow of the drone’s nose is visible in the bottom of the image, except for the last few seconds when the drone lifts off. That’s when the image starts to bob and weave, because there’s no longer wheels and landing gear keeping the craft stable.

Only one minute and eight seconds could be recovered from the GoPro HD camera mounted to the bottom of the craft. That’s because I maneuvered the aircraft with very little altitude, and inadvertently sent it in a downward trajectory. Upon impact, the GoPro separated from its mounting case and ejected its SD card before it had a chance to write the remainder of the flight to the card. This also corrupted the file, and so a freeware program was used to recover what little footage the GoPro managed to record.

Last Moments

Only slight damage was visible after the crash, so minimal repairs were made to JournoDrone One, another attempt was made a week later without the camera. When the winds were favorable, I set up JD-01 in a new location and began to taxi the craft. But the drone never was particularly good at rolling on the pavement in a straight line, and I accidentally ran it into a curb. The landing gear separated from the drone and took a sizable chunk of the aircraft’s fuselage with it.

At this point, with all of the landing gear and much of the fuse missing, I didn’t see the harm in trying another hand launch. I ran to gather speed and then chucked the drone at an angle. The drone climbed from my hand, but either due to a steep launch angle, too much elevator, or not enough power, it stalled and impacted the ground. This was my final experience with the drone.

JD-01 now exists in pieces in the shop. Most all parts of the drone were salvageable and operable: the wings, all servos, radio receiver, motor, electronic speed controller, and battery were all fine. In fact, with some work, the fuse could probably have been repaired and made operable, too. However, that would have added even more weight to the drone, and I still would have questioned the reliability of the thing. And repairing the aircraft wouldn’t have improved its holding capacity at all. It simply made more sense to start again with a more capable airframe.

Posted on October 28, 2012 .