Cygnus Launch

On Saturday November 2, 2019 NASA launched an Antares Rocket as a resupply mission to the International Space Station from the Wallops flight facility in Wallops, Virginia. Wallops is about 160 miles from my home.

Wallops is fun because I can see the rockets as they start to enter orbit once they get pretty high in the sky (like 80,000 – 100,000 feet). In the evenings it is very easy to spot them but hard to photo. This is my first attempt to see if I can see them during the day.

Friday night I did the research on when the launch was going to be performed. They had a 5 minute launch window to complete the launch. I really wanted to drive to Wallops for the launch but knew I would not have the time due to my work schedule. I’ll save that trip for another time. My mission this time was to see if I could actually see the rocket from my home and do my best to photo the rocket on the horizon.

The morning was very clear and cold but hazy. The sun was very bright making the haze even worth. I didnt think I’d be able to get a decent photo of the rocket. During the event I am listening to an Internet stream from NASA giving me details of the launch in progress. So I had a decent idea of when I might see the rocket.

I decided to use my drone to photo my “process” before and during the launch. It would also serve as a queue on where to sync up the video after the event. I start the video about 2 minutes before launch. Here is that video:

Looking through a 600 mm lens is like looking through a very powerful telescope which makes it quite hard to find your subject “randomly” when you are holding it in your hand looking through a tiny view finder window. You really have to focus. And then focusing on such a faint subject so far away takes a little skill. Even so I was quite surprised that I could seen the rocket so clearly once I locked on the image through the long lens. It wouldn’t last long. Maybe 30 seconds.

The photo I took looked pretty good. Until I got it on the computer I didnt realize that it was in perfect focus and you could see the engine firing through the smoke of the contrail.

Cygnus NG-12

It turns out that I have to wait until the rocket is just about done with its first stage burn at an altitude of about 100,000 feet before it comes into view. For future launches this is helpful to know. And now that I’ve seen many of these launches I know exactly where to look on the horizon.

It was fun to participate in the event even if it was from afar. We’ll get out there soon during one of the launches in the future. Hopefully to get photos that are a little closer.

Alaska.

I never did write much about our Alaska trip back in 2009. It was a crazy time in life with work being busier than I can ever remember. Among other distractions there was big changes in my life.

The entire trip was some of the best times in my life yet if you asked me to pick one thing out of the trip that was the highlight of the trip it would have to be what occurred in this story.

There is a back story. Well in advance of the trip we had to choose the things we would do in our excursions. I don’t remember all the details but by the time I got around to picking what we would do we didn’t have many options.

Fly Fishing was definitely on my list. But on the day that this occurred the options I wanted  were no longer available. The only option left was the most expense of all of the options. That option was to fly in an old de Havilland Beaver to the top of Denali.

Gloria had already chosen what she wanted to do that day so that left me and the girls. So I signed us up to do this together. It was approximately $300 per person for a 1 hour flight. I shrugged at the idea of spending this kind of money for such a short period of time not knowing what I would see. Little did I know it would be on my top 5 of things I’ve done in all my life. Right up there with swimming in the Great Barrier Reef or walking on the Great Wall of China.

I had two youngsters with me, one that didn’t like to fly much. Which is a little odd because she flew so much with me as she was growing up. Being a pilot with an airplane she really had no choice but to come along with me most of the times we flew together.

So the building up to getting on the plane was stressful for some, suspenseful for others. None of knew what we were about to do. There was some speculation that we would not make it to Denali at all because of the frequent weather that is almost always around the mountain. The people at the airfield said that the flight could even be cancelled if things got real bad.

So it was everything from “it’s not happening” to “it could be clear”. If it didn’t happen there were no refunds. We didn’t have any time to do it again another day so we were either going to go or not but we all knew we had one chance.

It did happen!

The plane was a de Havilland Beaver (DHC-2) with a Pratt and Whitney PT6 Turboprop conversion. It was very quiet. We flew with K2 Avation out of Talkeetna, Alaska.

On Denali. Alaska 2009

I flew in the co-pilot seat to and from Denali. Pure bliss. The entire time. All of it.

The Date is July 17, 2009. It’s just one of those days that will stay with me a lifetime.

March 21, 2018 Snow Storm

It seems like I just posted a blog on a snow storm!

The last couple of days has been preparing for another n’easter to come in to the mid-atlantic area as two low pressure systems collide near my home. With the crazy weather brings some interesting photo opportunities; especially for black and white high contrast photography which I enjoy so much.

Doukénie Winery

The Doukénie’s are nice people. I got to know the owners of this winery with my previous work. I’ve since lost track of them but drive by their place all the time as it’s on a road less traveled.

Random corn farm

This corn field is on my regular running/walking route. I give them shit because they use harsh chemical to treat their land. You can’t see any of that under the blanket of snow today.

Fence line of trees in the snow.

Drone photography has really changed the way I look at the earth. The first time I saw my first photograph from the drone I knew it was going to be something that would take the world by storm.

Back then I had the DJI Phantom 1 which did not have a camera mounted to it. Instead, I mounted a then unknown camera to the bottom of the drone … my GoPro (the original).

I remember being in my living room seeing the picture for the first time and saying something like, “Oh My!” which got my entire family’s attention. They wanted to know what I was looking at. It was something like you see here.

Producing the photograph is skill. The equipment is pure science.

The lonely tree

My “new” drone is the DJI 2. Even the DJI 2 didn’t have a camera so I bought a third party gimbal, wired it into the GPS of the DJI as well as into an OSD module.

The OSD, short for On Screen Display, superimposes all of the flight data into the video transmitter which I also procured and wired into the drone. All of this runs on 5 volts of dc power that I get from the drone itself.

Then I put my “new” GoPro 4 in the gimbal and tie that into the entire system.

When I fly the drone I have my FPV, or First Person View, goggles on my eyes and it is as if I am hanging from the bottom of the drone. It is literally like flying an airplane. I have the exact same instrumentation as an aircraft all displayed in front of me.

I control the drone with 2.4ghz DSS. The video downlink is 5ghz analog. It’s worth noting that the use of 5ghz downlink video is not something normally approved without a license. But I do possess the FCC license to do this.

The “wet land” experiment

This camera system that I created is not as fancy as the stuff you can buy today. Since that stuff wasn’t available when I built this I did what I could. It takes a photograph every 5 seconds as well as shooting 1080p 30fps video at the same time. So I get a little of both vs one or the other. But I do have to stay on my target for 5-20 seconds to get the photo I want. That is if I want it in high resolution and not from the video grab.

The video is not the latest 4k with all the latest technology. But for what I am doing with it I don’t need that either. For me and this system anyway, that is just a camera change. Not a drone system change. I just haven’t gotten around to swapping out the camera mainly because I don’t prefer GoPro cameras any longer as they are too expensive compared to all the other technology out there that can do just as well for 25% of the cost.

This is me behind my “camera” this afternoon

I’ve thought about buying a new drone over the past several years and, so far, I haven’t seen anything I’d prefer. There are smaller ones that fit in your pocket but don’t take better video or photos.

I think the next drone I have will be much more sophisticated in the use of aerodynamics. Like quieter props. These are not quiet machines. But they take awesome photos!

Winter is coming (I’m sure).

It’s cool, not so cold. But you can tell winter is on it’s way. Evenings like tonight look very much like winter with the sun so low in the sky and the wispy high cirrus clouds.

Tonight I finished up a project on my #2 tower. On my way out there I set up a time lapse sequence to capture the sunset as I worked out there before the sun set. I’ll never get used to the sun going down at 4:30 pm. By 5pm it’s dark and we are inside. I have to remind myself that in 22 days the sun will be headed back up north a few minutes each day.

I’ve mostly been posting on Instagram lately but I don’t like how it renders my photographs at all. It’s very hard to fit a 16:9 ratio image into a 1:1 hole. I have no idea why they make it so hard to put a picture on a picture platform. Ha. I also heard they are thinking about a “Re-Gramming” option. This would allow people to take someone else’s content and, like Facebook, “re-post” it on to your own timeline. If they do that, it’ll likely be the last time I use the platform. At least now people have to make the effort to take their own pictures.

Helen was home from school last week so we took the opportunity to go get the Christmas tree for the season. We’ve been going to the same place for many years. Each year the picking gets a little slimmer. This year was no different.

We did manage to find a nice tree to fit into our home but it took some time. We also created a bunch of video but the first cut of the video was quite long and the file very large so I’m not going to post it here.

Christmas tree hunt 2017

I’ve been building a new flying wing lately. This is my first wing. I’ve covered mine in laminate so it will survive a few crashes and fly a little faster. This guy is set up for FPV (First Person View) and has a spot for a video camera like a GoPro to record the flights.

RMRC Recruit Flying Wing

My plan is to mostly fly it visually until I can get comfortable flying it with my FPV goggles like I do with my drone. This guy is super fast and will do aerobatics with ease. But I’ll leave the cameras off of it until I can reliably fly it without putting it into the trees. It has three gyro modes so I can fly this with an autopilot of sorts to keep it stable. It’s amazing what you can put in such a small package.

After I finish this guy the next plane I’ll be refurbishing a gas powered biplane that I bought in the summer at an auction. It’ll be my first gas powered plane for about 20 years. The last one I famously crashed in China (no video). But back then the avionics were horrible. I’m going to gut the device and put in all new electronics inside that I’ll use to control the plane from the ground.

I hope you’ve had a good day.

Tuesday Oct 10, 2017

It was a busy day of work that started very early but an otherwise quiet day.

There wasn’t much interesting to talk about or take a picture of while I was working and nothing interesting to report there. After working more when I got home it finally stopped around 6pm. Mongrel, Gloria and I went for a walk for a few minutes to enjoy the sunset and quiet evening in the country.

Sunset yoga at home.

One of my video cameras caught us during a time lapse.

You can see in the video how calm the weather is but what you can’t see is how humid and hot it is. At sundown the temperature is still in the 80’s and the humidity is above 90%.

The trees are starting to change ever so slightly all over the county. They must be confused by the warmer weather we’ve had. I think that the lack of sunshine during the day is what triggers all that. The colors may not be as bright as they’ve been in years past with all the rain and warmer weather. But I’m just guessing on that.

I flew one of my RC planes before the sun went completely down. The wind was calm and air smooth which makes for good weather to do aerobatics. So I did a ton of aerobatics. By the time I landed I could barely see the plane if it weren’t for the strobe lights I have on it. That’s always good fun.

Maybe one day I can do this:

That is so crazy!

I hope you did something fun today.

My day; September 10, 2017

I woke with no specific plan and no place I really wanted to go.

After reading a bit I got up, showered and headed out the door after feeding the cats and eating a light breakfast. Mongrel was all over me to go for a walk so off we went. Like our other walks we stopped at the same trees, inspected everything we’ve inspected before just to be sure and walked essentially the same path as we always do. There’s always something new to see and interesting lights to capture.

Me and my shadow.

Mongrel is content just to be with me. But we’ve got to figure out how to travel in a car together if I am to satisfy his need to be around humans all the time. He’s not a fan of the car.

I ended up in Shepherdstown, WV where I visited with Timothy a little as he played guitar on the steps of the old McMurran Hall. His message is the same; be patient, read the bible, be kind to others, do as Jesus would do.

Timothy with two books: bible and music selections.

I like his guitar sound. But we mostly talked.

On the way home I hung close to the Potomac river and the tiny roads next to the C&O Canal. I stopped at places I normally just drive past to take a few pictures.

Potomac River at 39°23’17” N 77°43’59” W

BTW, do you like the picture above in landscape or this picture below of the same spot but in portrait?

Potomac River at 39°23’17” N 77°43’59” W

I tend to like the landscape photos but this one shows more of the sky and clouds. This part of the Potomac is dammed up south of here near Harpers Ferry that allows people to use normal boats here. There were several pontoons and others mixed with a kayak or two.

C&O Canal at 39°23’17” N 77°43’59” W

The C&O canal extends as far east as Georgetown, District of Columbia all the way up to Cumberland, Maryland. It may go further up towards Ohio but I’m not sure. It’s a long way. You could spend several days on a bike on this if you wanted. It’s said to be slightly declining as you go east. However, when I get on it it is uphill in both directions. I can’t figure that out.

What day would be complete without several ascents into the trees?

Mongrel very focused during his tree acrobatics

Gloria came home tonight from her trip with her mom and sisters. We got to walk together before the sun went down. It was fun to hear about her travel to Cleveland, the restaurants, boat, people and other stories. She let me try to take some portraits of her.

Weary traveler back home – I love her smile.

I’m trying to teach myself how to augment some of my photography with a flash. Flash photography is something I just haven’t spent much time doing over the years. You wouldn’t think you’d need a flash on a sunny day like today … but it helps when the sun is in the sky like this.

And if I could fit just one more thing into the day it would always have something to do with an RC plane or drone. Mongrel joins me in these 20-30 minutes flying sessions. As I bring the plane in slow for landing he will chase after it like it’s a rabbit. It’s pretty funny to watch.

Mongrel ready for “final approach” and landing chase – the plane sounds like an owl when it flies (very quiet). – Photo credit: Gloria Westerman

I started with no plan and ended up with a full day. It’s dark now. I’ll finish this blog and go down and do radio for an hour or two before I finally give in for he day. I did as many of the things I like to do as I could. I was with as many people that I love that I could. Tomorrow’s a “work day” but I hope it is as interesting as today.

Paramotoring

This looks like something I could get into:

Pit stop into a McDonalds

Tucker Gott has been fun to follow the last few month. He doesn’t do anything crazy or break any laws. Lately I have seen a ton of paramotor activity around northern Virginia. Which has me wondering all kinds of thoughts about this activity!

You can check out his YouTube channel here.