In our upcoming app for Grant County PUD and Chelan County Power, in addition to swimming with salmon and floating through a turbine, you will be able to simulate flying a drone out over the waterway in front of Wanapum Dam and Rocky Reach Dam. However, before you can do this, we had to capture the footage ourselves.
Enter Ike Isaacson. Ike is an FAA licensed drone pilot with 4 years of experience flying drones commercially, and 22 years of aerial photography using drones, fixed wing aircraft, and helicopters.
After dealing with various security, safety, and insurance concerns, Ike and I planned an aggressive schedule, shooting two dams in one day. We were to arrive at Wanapum Dam at 11:00am, shoot for an hour, then drive to Rocky Reach Dam and fly the drone from 1:00 to 2:00 pm and be home in time for dinner. I was coming from Seattle, and Ike from Spokane.
Everything started out according to plan at Wanapum. Ike flew the drone out over the water and captured the video that we need. He brought the drone back, re-programmed it, and sent it out to take a 360 degree panorama. All this time, it was flying about twelve feet over the water, with the dam in the background, and was pretty hard to see with the naked eye. When it was all done with the panorama, he started flying it back. The batteries were running a little low, but Ike assured me there was plenty of juice left to get it back. As with the first time he brought it back, we should have seen it flying back toward us, but we had lost sight of it, and couldn’t see it coming. That was our first sign that something might be wrong.
On Ike’s screen was a GPS locator map showing that the drone should be right out in front of us, but it wasn’t. We couldn’t see it, but we could hear it. It was nearby, but where? A synthesized warning voice was telling us that the batteries were getting dangerously low, and Ike was getting (really) worried. If that drone ran out of batteries before he was able to bring it back, it was going to land in the drink.
With a flash of brilliance, Ike made a split-second decision to fly it straight up into the air with the last of the available charge. While we hadn’t been able to see it against the dam beyond, we should be able to see it if he could get it up into the sky. We scanned the bright sky for the dark silhouette and sure enough, there it was, directly over our heads. Although the controls seemed to be responding oddly, Ike skillfully brought it down for a soft landing back on the boat ramp. Phew. We could breath again.
When Ike looked at the drone after it landed, he had a real surprise. One of the propellers was broken on both ends! At first, he thought that maybe the drone had hit one of the bird deflection wires that hang over the water in front of the dam. On closer inspection back in his van, it became clear what the problem really was. Ike had recently had the drone serviced, and a single screw had not been tightened properly, allowing to the rotor to tilt toward the drone body, and the propellers to hit a bracket on the drone. Although he had an extra propeller, and the tools to install it, Ike didn’t have the tools necessary to tighten the small loose screw, and we were done for the day. I took the opportunity to sight-see a little. Enjoy the pictures.
Within a few days, Ike had the drone up and running again, and we made a second trip to visit Rocky Reach Dam, this time without incident, so we now have all the footage we need to let app users fly their own drone over the two dams! Throughout it all, Ike Isaacson was a trooper, he not only got the drone out of a sticky situation due to his years of experience, but he got some great footage as well. And by the way, if you are thinking of hiring him, Ike now carries additional tools and has purchased a second back-up drone in case anything goes wrong!