All posts by Sally French

Flight diaries: learning lots Drone Girl

Photo of me toting around two 3D Robotics Y6 copters, by my coworker and resident drone expert Brandon Basso.

Hello Dronies!

It’s been a while since my last Flight Diary. It’s also been crazy busy as Drone Girl. I haven’t been flying as much as I’d like to, but it’s ok, because I’ve been learning more than I think I ever wanted to!

When I started Drone Girl (in June) I was living in Southern California and had just purchased a DJI Phantom, where I experimented with flying and making video mashups of my flights. In just 4 months, I’ve moved to Northern California, been able to do consulting to help others learn how to use drones, gotten to attend intelligent discussions on drones such as the Stanford Berkeley Robotics Symposium or the Commonwealth Club’s Eyes in the Sky: Drones in Law Enforcement event, learned the basics of mechanics and built my own drone, and so much more.

The best part is the incredible people I’ve met.  I’ve met 12-year-old kids who are already using Arduino to make their own projects. I’ve met farmers interested in ways to revolutionize the way they irrigate, spray pesticides or harvest their crops because of drones. I’ve met and worked with an entire newsroom who sees the value that drones could bring to their reporting.

All because I started a blog out of curiosity for a controversial new technology.

So what’s next for Drone Girl?

The sky’s the limit as they say. I want to encourage kids to pursue the educational intersection of science and math with art and creativity. I hope to continue to spread awareness through media of the positive ways we can use technology. And of course, I want to continue to learn more about drones! Happy flying!

History of drones: Navy drones in the 50s and 60s

The following piece is a family history on military drone use. Note that Drone Girl is not an advocate for military drone use, but rather is interested in exploring and researching both their modern day and historical military uses. The ‘drones’ generally referred to on Drone Girl are currently not fully autonomous. The definition of drone is quite broad, and consumer drones operate much differently than a military drone.

The cool thing about being a drone girl is that so many people want to share their stories — my family included.

Photo courtesy of Tom Anderson

Did you know that in the military, drones (defined as pilotless aircraft) aren’t the ones destroying targets, but were the ones being fired at for development?

I didn’t until I just learned that my great uncle, Tom Anderson, was a Navy Pilot from 1958 to the early 1960s in the Target Department at the Naval Air Missile Center in Point Mugu, Ca., just south of Oxnard. His role was providing drones as targets for the development of various missiles, mostly air to air missiles.

Military use of drones is a recent topic in the news, and a lot of people (myself included) certainly fear the concept of a little drone flying over an location in the world and dropping a bomb. But few people (again, myself included) know of how drones have been used for decades.

“With my background in drones, over the years I’ve tended to follow the news with interest,” he said. “The technology improvements have been amazing, opening the doors for many uses. If their practical use approaches the theoretical then significant regulation will be needed in the interest of safety.” Continue reading History of drones: Navy drones in the 50s and 60s

From kites to drones: a 365 photo-a-day, aerial photo challenge

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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie

Kevin Lajoie‘s has been using a kite and 30-foot carbon fiber fishing pole to do aerial photography since 2008.

But his latest tool has no strings attached. Lajoie changed up his aerial photography technique after he received a quadcopter in March.

Lajoie is now in the midst of a year-long, photo-a-day challenge, which Lajoie is in the midst of right now. (Check out the photos lining this post, which have all been taken by Lajoie).

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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie

So far, he captured photos via a kite throughout the winter in Guernsey, documenting their second coolest on recording, including two separate snowfalls, a blizzard, and the airport getting shut down for three days.

When the snow ended, so his drone piloting began. Lajoie received a DJI Phantom drone in March, allowing him to get to places he would have to wait for specific winds with kites.

Here are some of Lajoie’s tips for flying and aerial photography:

  • Coastal locations are my usual preference simply because they are the most interesting.
  • Don’t fly near airports.
  • Be careful flying around areas with more human traffic around.
  • Avoid flying near people by using the summer months to get out early and use the longer days to your advantage.

Lajoie is currently in the Channel Islands, where he has photographed in Jersey, Alderney and Herm. He said he hopes to photograph the last main Channel Island of Sark before the year ends.

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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie
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Photo credit: Kevin Lajoie

Lajoie’s aeiral photography by the numbers (so far):

  • Logged 104 KAP (Kite Aerial Photography) sessions
  • Logged 25 PAP (Pole Aerial Photography) sessions
  • Photographed at 314 with the Phantom
  • Flown approximately 400 times
  • 18,000 shutter actuations logged this year on his Nikon D5000
  • Took 11,000 pictures in 8 hours during one trip to Alderney in May and 7 flights with the Phantom, yielding 3000 images
  • Also uses GoPros and a Canon S100 Powershot

What’s next for Lajoie? He’ll be taking a ferry to France for an international Kite Aerial Photography Conference, where the CVCF (cerf-volant club de france) will be hosting a meet up to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the first recognized kite aerial photograph taken by Artur Batut.

Find Lajoie’s photos on Flickr here.

Related posts:

Own your drone (and paint it too)


I’ve seen a lot of drones, but very few personally painted drones!

I just put together this 3DR Y6 drone for a project at work, but once it was successfully put together according to the manual, I took it home for a fun project that is nowhere on the manual – painting!

Own your drone, and distinguish it from all the other drones when you’re out at meetups, or just happen to work in an offer where there are copters everywhere.


This first drone I painted was space inspired, fitting with the whole flying theme, right?

It was painted using nothing but nail polish!

See the picture below to see what it used to look like. Hopefully I don’t get trolled too hard for this, but that’s what you get when you go out on  a limb and own your drone.

Drone, pre-paint job

Plus I put it together myself, so I can do whatever I want with it, right?

4 accessories you need for your drone

1. Spare batteries! Most consumer drones have battery lives of about 15 minutes. That’s nothing! Easy fix: MORE BATTERIES.


2. Spare propellers! If you crash, they’ll get beat up. Even if they don’t explicitly break, your propellers will wear down. Over time, this will lead to an imbalance in your copter, whichcan result in shaky video or rolling shutter. Fix the problem with nice, even propellers.62

3. An FPV kit. This stands for “First Person View.” You basically put on special goggles which are connected to a camera on the drone, and you can stream what the drone sees. It’s amazing!


4. A brushless gimbal. Want stable video? Use a gimbal, which is basically a mechanism that keeps your camera level. A good quality gimbal will eliminate shaky video. Choose a sturdy gimbal with the ability to balance.


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Drones + Wine: how UAVs can help farmers harvest grapes

552675_536733593074328_1470466379_n-300x199Below is an excerpt from a story I originally wrote for 3D Robotics and which was picked up on sUAS news. I also directed and produced the accompanying video. Note: this project was completely unaffiliated with Drone Girl; I’m simply reposting it here on the blog.

Kenwood, Ca. — Something’s up at Kunde Family Vineyards.

Developers at 3D Robotics went to Kunde Family Vineyards, a family-owned vineyard, to test a project that could revolutionize agriculture by providing farmers with on-demand aerial images of their land.

Those images give farmers a bird’s-eye view, allowing them to see vine stress and color variation. Those variations can help indicate when to it’s best to harvest the grapes.


3D Robotics used both autonomous, fixed-wing planes and multi-rotors with a point-and-shoot camera mounted inside.

“They allowed me to select the section of the vineyard to sample these grapes,” DRNK Wines Winemaker Ryan Kunde said. “If I didn’t have that imagery — I know of some general variation from top to bottom, but I didn’t know about that crescent down at the bottom of the vineyard.”

That crescent is probably home to deeper soil and more water, Kunde said. Those differences mean Kunde can harvest his grapes earlier than he anticipated. Click here to read the rest of the story.

5 stunning images captured by other drones

I’ve always loved Flickr since I got my first camera, a Nikon d40 (ok, I used to have this awesome Polaroid as a kid), and these days Flickr is filled with awesome photos captured by neither dSLRs nor Polaroid — but from drones!

Below are five fantastic photos I found from my frequent browsing of Flickr. I didn’t take any of these photos; I’m just honored to share them here. Do you know someone who took an awesome photo from a drone? Send it to me, and I’ll post it here!

This first photo comes from Andrew Trice. I love the light, and the soft, flowing patterns of the houses seems like it follows the patterns of the sky, which makes for some beautiful composition!

The next photo I chose by Miquel Martorell is awesome just because of the pure risk factor it took to take this photo. First, the pilot probably had to get to where that lighthouse, which is no small feat in itself, and then they had to fly over that water — no room for error! But it shows us a cool scene of a landscape that would be hard to see any other way since the lighthouse is surrounded by water. If you had the chance to shoot this photo again, I would love to see it done at Golden Hour to get a little less harsh lighting. Still beautiful! Continue reading 5 stunning images captured by other drones

Drones don’t just make pretty photos

Today’s blog post comes from a question I got via Twitter from @Elise12192, a science and health journalism student.

twitterquestionShe asks, “Are drones only for the professional photog or are they becoming accessible to hobbyists? (Price, skills required, etc.)”

Well Elise, that’s a great question! There are tons of drones with all different purposes, ranging from children’s toy, to a vehicle that can mount a GoPro, to a drone that can hold a heavy dSLR. Then there are drones that don’t even carry cameras but rather GPS trackers, infrared cameras, or contraptions that can collect particles in the air. A simple search today on for drone comes up with 10,976 results, meaning there are already tons of drones, accessories and parts on the market.

The cheapest drone I’ve seen with a camera on it is the Badboy Quadcopter for $74, though don’t expect that to be great quality. That’s something accessible to low-level hobbyists who just want a cool photo.

On the other hand, it’s not just professional photographers doing great things with drones, though the incredible work by my favorite drone photographers like Wild Pilots, Team BlackSheep and Drone Dudes are hard to ignore.

Drones have been used for years by non photographers!

Continue reading Drones don’t just make pretty photos