“Dronies” are the new “selfies” now that HD video drones become incredibly cheap, portable and accessible to anyone who wants one. China is a very difficult place to shop for drones because they sell all the popular Western brands, dozens of knockoffs and their own drones that have no English reviews on the internet.
We bought our first drone two months ago. After doing lots of research, we chose to buy an UpAir One Plus drone from Taobao. UpAir drones are considered top choices for their price and a genuine One Plus drone costs $100 less in China than it does in the US. We decided to buy it on Taobao instead of JD because it was cheaper, but at the risk of no warranty.
The drone arrived and was as awesome as advertised. It took me two flights to gain confidence and to manage a steady flight – any twitch or sudden turn looks horrible on camera. We even flew the drone 300 meters high on a very windy day and it was impressively steady and returned back safely once the connection to the remote was lost.
Then we got cocky… seeing as we are foreigners, we can get away with anything in China. So we decided to fly the drone off of our favorite rooftop. This place is covered in wires and scary machines that make weird noises. Not the ideal place to fly a device that depends on satellite signals.
First we played it safe. We flew the drone up about 100 meters and landed it back down again. Then we flew it up almost 600 meters! It was so high up that we couldn’t even see it. We kept going up until the connection broke and the drone came back safely, as always. Confidence booming, we decided to fly it over the side of the building to take a “dronie” of us next to the large supermarket sign.
I was nervous, knowing this was a bad idea, but I let my husband fly it over the edge of the building anyway. The street under us was busy with cars, ebikes, pedestrians with little children… we took a quick video and that’s when I made the worst decision ever. I decided to fly the drone along the sign and then turn and fly back towards us to make a really cool video.
The drone flew along the sign just fine, still receiving over 10 satellites. I turned the drone and let it hover while I turned on video. In the blink of an eye, the drone was falling. The motors just stopped. It landed 15 meters below in the middle of the busy intersection, we couldn’t see it but we heard honks and yells. We ran as fast as we could to see who we landed on.
We expected to be greeted by a gruesome car-crash, police officers waiting to arrest us and angry people who we injured, or worse… Instead, the drone lay in pieces, no camera in sight, and no one could care less that we almost caused a deadly accident by doing something incredibly stupid. That’s China for you!
Two guys did come over to see why two foreigners were running around a busy rode picking up trash. Using hand gestures, we explained that the drone fell, broke apart and that we can’t find the camera. They helped us look around, but I was the one who found the camera about 30 meters from the crash site under a parked e-bike. It was quite the fall.
We rushed home and discovered that all of the videos but the one that was filming during the fall were safe. We sent photos of the broken drone to the seller who asked us to send back the drone so they can check for damages and fix it. We didn’t send the drone back until two months later (today). We’re hoping to get it fixed for less than $100 (the drone cost about $270).
Since we are planning a lot of cool trips soon, we also ordered two more small drones. My husband got himself the Elphie (as in selfie elf because it’s small) and I got a brandless micro drone. Both claim to have a 720P camera and cost $80 together!
From now on, we’ll have strict flying rules that we recommend you follow too. Don’t fly our drones off of buildings, above roads and over cars or people!Once we get our UpAir back, we will only fly it in large open natural areas, preferably above water. We are excited to get it back to see if it can really fly 1 kilometer high, like some owners claim.
We won’t get the UpAir back for about a month but our new drones should arrive in the next few drones. The small ones will only go fly up to 100 meters (Elphie) and 50 meters (my “other” brand micro drone), but even 10 meters is high enough for a “dronie” right?