Wanted: knowledge, altitude, and perhaps more?

aerial photo of a hilly landscape

After my recent posts, I decided that I’m overdue to write a lighter piece. I’ve previously posted about one of my favorite topics, my never-ending quest for knowledge. In envisioning what “retiring early” from my biotech career might look like, I always knew that taking coursework and learning new skills would likely be a big draw for me. In-person classes haven’t been an option for the past year due to COVID restrictions, but I’ve found numerous other ways to satisfy this need. The 6+ months I spent improving my app development abilities is a really good example of that, as have the hours spent in the kitchen trying to master Oaxacan moles! But what have I been up to for the past week, and how does that involve a quest for knowledge, altitude, and perhaps something more?

Drones, UASes, and quadcopters, oh my!

Seven years ago, my wife, Lorri bought me a quadcopter as a gift. It was a nice model in the midrange of the “toy” portion of the drone market, and a fun one to fly. It’s less tricky to pilot than others I’d tried previously, and in its time, took decent quality photos/videos. While I like it very much, I must admit I’ve always eyed the higher-end drones (officially “UAS” or unmanned aircraft systems to the FAA) for their impressive capabilities – particularly in recent years as their high prices finally started to drop. They are much easier to fly, stable in poor conditions, have high quality camera platforms for photography and videography, and fly longer/farther/higher. More recently, watching my friend Eric’s drone footage on his YouTube channel has only made me more interested in these drones.

Early this week, that interest grew after I struggled to control my quadcopter in a moderate wind. I quickly decided that I wouldn’t be able to get the footage for our latest Two Sides of FI YouTube video as I’d hoped. I also realized that the video quality now paled in comparison to 2021 standards. As a result, I started to wonder if this was a good time to consider upgrading. As is my standard response to a knowledge gap, I ended up down a deep rabbit hole of research. I spent hours learning everything I could about the current state of consumer drones. That included some areas I hadn’t thought much about before – federal and local regulations about the use of these craft, the many business uses of drones, as well as lots of content about how to produce high quality photos and videos with the impressive cameras now commonly used in these vehicles. I bet you can guess where this is headed…

DJI Mavic Air 2 (affiliate link)

Yep, I bought a new drone

After much consideration of what I was seeking vs. the options available, I decided on one of the top-rated models from last year: a DJI Mavic Air 2. While prices have come down a lot in recent years, an $800 purchase is definitely not one I make lightly. I slept on the idea, talked it over with Lorri, and decided to go for it. To be sure, this price point is well outside of my monthly “fun money” in our budget. But I’d recently been pursued by a firm looking for some consulting calls with me, and while I’d initially hesitated – freedom to spend my time how I want being something I value a lot – this purchase pushed me to accept some calls to offset the expense. This is a real life example of what I view as the greatest value of achieving financial independence (FI): you can choose to take on work if and when you want to. Here it made good sense to me. As it turned out, it was a good choice. The client’s interests aligned well with mine and I enjoyed the first call I had with them.

So now at the end of the week, how have things gone? I went out and flew on three of the four days (one day I volunteered at the vaccine clinic, so had to skip that one) and plan to get out later today as well. I definitely got much more comfortable flying and took some cool photos and videos along the way. Looking back to why I started thinking about upgrading, it’s hard to believe just how easy this drone is to fly even in strong winds, and also how great the pictures and videos look! Between my hands-on experience so far and all the research I’ve continued to do in between, I’m learning an awful lot. I even got some footage for the YouTube channel – stay tuned!

I’ve also realized that I may want to “do more” with my newfound capabilities. I’m really getting into the videography side of things and I can see a lot of opportunities there. Maybe it will turn into an occasional or part-time business? I certainly don’t know where things may go but I’ve got all kinds of ideas rolling around in my brain. To that end, both to increase my knowledge and to prepare me for that potential next step, I’m working on my FAA Part 107 Certified Drone Pilot license. This certification is required for anyone wanting to pursue any commercial usage of drones. Even if I don’t ever go beyond my current “recreational flyer” status, I’ll have learned plenty that I can put to use. I’m enjoying learning the material needed to pass the exam, and can already see how it will only make me a better, safer pilot.

And if you’re wondering – yes, I’m very responsible about where and how I fly. I’m equally irritated by drones used improperly or where they aren’t permitted! The rules are clear and for good reason.