SIT REP

Capturing the day, FPV style

Most of you have known I have been into the drone/scene for quite some time, They prove to be a valuable tool for many things in both government and private use but for us, it simply does one thing…..it motivates.

When we post drone footage it speaks millions of words and thoughts that a photo can hardly describe and regular video footage relays the average content but the aerial footage is always a stunning cinematic conveyance of where we are and what we are doing.

When I say it motivates it is a true statement but in two ways. It will motivate a Veteran to actually see and understand what we are offering and it will motivate them to sign up and come out with us. It will spur the excitement over the apprehension and get that person out of the house and in our boats for the day. That in itself is a win for us. The other form of motivation this type of footage brings is the donor motivation. There are many Veterans non-profits out there and we just simply offer something very different at no charge and the best footage we can get will convey how spectacular our offerings are. Since we cant take every possible donor down the river to show them the excitement and draw of what we offer we simply have to convey it in the best means available to us and that is drones and quads.

The 2 talents behind the goggles for the day was Robert Pries (sharklotusFPV on youtube) and Adrian Higham (M4D_Pr0p5 on youtube). We suggest you check out their youtube channels to see the exceptional talent these young men have cultured over the years.

Our own Craig Rullman was along for the day and also captured a great read on the experience Via The bunkhouse Chronicles

There has been an interesting conversation going on all around me that I haven’t been paying enough attention to. The topic is drones, drone technology, and the growing group of accomplished and fanatical pilots who fly them.

Most of us are probably aware of drones in one form or fashion; we know that the military uses them, in a variety of configurations and missions, and we might know that behemoth corporations such Amazon, UPS, and FedEx, are experimenting with ways to use drones, and driverless cars, to deliver packages and people to their destinations. We might even have a friend who plays around with one.

But what I didn’t know, until a few days ago when I travelled with Brett Miller–founder of the Sisters, Oregon, based non-profit Warfighter Outfitters–into the lower Deschutes River canyon for a promotional video shoot, is how truly fascinating, useful, and fun they are.

While driverless cars are essentially drones too, much of the allure of aerial drones lies in the fact that, as a pilot, one can don a pair of goggles, and with a controller, fly them in the first-person view, as if you were actually sitting in the cockpit of the tiny machines. Drone pilots, I suspect, would argue that for all intents and purposes, they ARE in the cockpit, with one critical difference: they can walk away from every crash.

FPV, for short, allows an earthbound pilot to scream through canyons, race through buildings, make low-level runs over crashing waves in the surf zone, or play a simple game of chase with other drone pilots, a kind of victimless dog-fighting. The only limits are the pilot’s skill and imagination, and the technical capability—and battery life–of the drone itself.

There is a growing body of accomplished videos shot and produced by FPV pilots on YouTube, which include dramatic scenery from around the world, shot from rarified angles, and not a few equally spectacular crashes.

For the competition minded, there are now drone-racing leagues, sponsored by media heavyweights such as ESPN and FoxSports.

There are some broad and sensible rules, of course–no flying in national parks or monuments, for example, and there are enough drones and pilots now flying around the country that the FAA, in order to apply some measure of accountability, requires drone pilots to register their craft and put tail numbers on them, as one would license a car or an airplane.

Somehow, all of this exceptionally interesting, and rapidly expanding dronery had escaped me.

Prior to the video shoot, my experience with drones was similar, I think, to most people’s:  I was aware of them, but I’d only very rarely been around them.

Last year, while covering the Orbital/ATK military weapons expo in Big Sandy, Arizona, I was able to watch a number of drones put to use by a television production crew, and once, years ago, I was hiking near the Hurricane Deck in California’s Santa Ynez Valley when a Predator Drone from Vandenburg Air Force Base scared the hell out of me–flying slowly, and quite suddenly, overhead—almost close enough to touch.

But before last Thursday, I was, it turns out, largely drone ignorant.

For this promotional video shoot, and believe me, one could find a lot worse places to film dramatic video than the lower Deschutes River, we were joined by experienced drone pilots (please click) Robert Pries, a former U.S. Navy cryptologist and apprentice electrician who has been building, and piloting, his own drones since 2014, and (please click) Adrian Higham, a mountainbiker, camera operator, drone builder and FPV pilot from Bend, Oregon.

Both pilots graciously volunteered their time, and expertise, to shoot drone-based video to help raise money for Warfighter Outfitters’ mission of providing disabled veterans with fishing and hunting expeditions free of charge.

The sublime irony of making jet-sled runs through a Pleistocene river canyon, under the watchful gaze of bald eagles, great blue herons, and herds of bighorn sheep balanced on the canyon walls, and simultaneously filming it all with cutting-edge drones the size of a salad plate wasn’t lost on anyone.

But as Robert and Adrian set up their gear on the banks of the river, and started flying their drones, I was absolutely captivated by not only their skill at piloting these colorful, and surprisingly quiet, quad-rotor machines at breathtaking speed up precipitous cliffs and down, or across the river and through the treetops, but also by a sudden awareness of the simple enjoyment, and ultimate utility, of the drones.

Pries, who flies one of his small squadron of home-built drones several times a week, was enthusiastic about the potential of drones for commercial use. He pointed to their efficiency and utility for delivering packages to remote areas, or for more pressing details like delivering defibrillators to stranded patients on a wilderness search and rescue mission.

And, as if to emphasize the point, just as we were having that conversation an ODFW helicopter descended into the canyon and flew over us on what appeared to be a fish-counting mission.

As in all things photography, light was an important element of these video shoots, which consisted in making a series of high-speed boat runs through some of the more dramatic riffles and canyon turns offered by the lower Deschutes. Brett kept us afloat until a drone was up, and then we started our run downriver–circled, chased, dive-bombed, and essentially harassed by the drone as either Robert or Adrian was at the stick, collecting a video take of each pass.

I will admit that we made many of these high-speed runs, and shamelessly brag that each one was better than the last.

One of my fellow passengers on the boat was Kurt Pries, of Prineville, Oregon, who started flying drones with his son, Robert, 18 months ago. Between takes, while we lolled in a surprisingly warm and golden December sunlight that lit up the canyon walls and flashed in the river’s ripples, Kurt told me that he enjoys flying his own drones with friends, and sees the hobby as a great way to spend time with his son. “You are going to crash a lot in the beginning,” Kurt said, “But you actually get to fly, and it really is a lot of fun.”

Issues of privacy and accountability in the use and enjoyment of drones remain, and legal questions involving their use by law enforcement are winding through the courts, but after watching these drones fly one is left to wonder, at the present rate of technological achievement and advancement, where drone technology might be just a few years from now.

Indeed, all of the pilots mentioned that keeping up with the change is difficult. Obsolescence in drone technology can, and does, happen overnight.

And no matter how skilled a pilot may be, no matter how many hundreds or thousands of hours he or she might have on the stick, crashes still happen. As it did for Adrian, on our last run of the day, when he turned his drone upriver into the sun, chasing the jet-sled through a fast and turbulent section of the river. Momentarily blinded, and too close to the water to pull up, Adrian’s drone went into the drink and his goggles filled suddenly with static.

In drone flying, as in most things, nature often has the last word. With a fair idea of where the drone went in, we searched and searched but never found it. But it wasn’t a total loss.  We’d been filming, flying, and sledding all day, enjoying the canyon and those fast runs across the water, and maybe we had forgotten, just a little bit, about the abundance of life all around us.  And so, in the process of searching for a lost drone in the remarkably clear and fast waters of the lower Deschutes, we were both reminded and rewarded by that abundance in the vision of magnificent steelhead, swimming endlessly upriver in their own solemn pursuits.

 

Les Schwab supports Warfighter Outfitters in a huge way!

Over the last couple months or so I have been in contact with the fine folks at Les Schwab tires headquartered here in central Oregon. Probably one of our biggest maintenance costs per year is tires and batteries. Our trucks and trailers put on some heavy miles every week transporting Veterans to and from the rivers and beyond. As a result, we found our costs getting higher as we become more popular and adding more trips. After sitting down in a meeting with the dream team of Les Schwab store owners and managers and corporate executives we were able to share our story and the needs we have as we experience these growing pains.

After about 15 mins of discussion and many questions and answers, we were told that they would be in touch. Well, they recently got back in touch with us to let us know they are taking care of our tire and battery needs for at least 2018. Why is this a huge deal for us? well simply put it is money that will go further for not only our donors but will enable us to add more trips for Veterans.

There is a reason we went to Les Schwab for the needs and it isn’t what you think. We already use and believe in their products and service. Any river guide will tell you that the Toyo range of tires on the river roads are the most bulletproof tire you can throw at the worst conditions possible. In the years we have been operating in some of the worst roads the river canyons in the west have to offer we have yet to have one single flat. Why is a flat a bad deal for us? well, first of all, we are always towing a massive boat and we always have at least 6 Veterans in the truck. So now we have bodies alongside the road and would have to have at least 2 tow trucks to get us moving again and that is a big “if” we have cell reception. But rest assured we have taken the steps to mitigate the problems if we were to get a flat on the river such as our satellite messenger and pre-orchestrated details to the Les Schwab stores and personnel in the areas that we would be operating in such as the Dalles and Madras, when we are on the Deschutes, Baker city and Lewiston/Clarkston when we are in Hells Canyon. This is why we trust and appreciate Les Schwab. They have all the locations, expertise and ability to get us rolling wherever we may be in the western US. And that for us is a huge piece of mind when towing large boats with a truck full of Veterans.

Bravo to all the folks at Les Schwab and their amazing efforts and drive to keep us on the road and getting our Nations greatest resource on trips. Les Schwab is now featured on our supporters page and is a very welcome addition to the Warfighter Outfitters family!

EVO Gimbals provides gear for content.

 

 

Over the last few months, we have upped our game in the content department. In order to broaden our reach on social media channels and to garner more donor support, we have been uploading video recaps of our trips at least once a month and sometimes once a week. But spending this much time behind a camera trying to capture the places and events has shown a few shortcomings to me personally and as a result, losing some very unique footage and stories.

 

You see it isn’t the easiest for a person whom is half blind, half deaf and has horrible balance and equilibrium to hold a camera steady all day.

Due to injuries, I have a tremble in my hands often and it has been apparent on the cutting room floor when it comes time to edit video. When trying to capture moments in 4 feet of running river water the video comes out poor often. Some will say it is still content but I tend to think that the small things will detur ones opinion of a piece when said and done.

That where EVO Gimbals has come into the picture. After communicating with Peter and Jaymo from EVO over the last couple months they had invited me to their lair of business in Bend. Surrounded by boxes of tech and computers everywhere with the distractions of dogs running through the halls and playing with each other the fellas were eager to sit down and go through the Rage and SS in a way we could get the most out of them.

It felt more like being at a buddy’s house than at a meeting table in a bend tech company and the attitude towards what we do and how they were helping us was very inviting. I tend to gravitate to folks and brands who have a real drive at the personal level and can understand the underdog or may even be the underdog themselves.

After leaving EVO for the day I was inspired by the folks I met, the character of the company and the compassion they put into the customers that cross their paths.

That, in turn, has inspired me to create better content for the audience and followers we have because the content we create and share is not just silly youtube videos. The content we capture is personal stories about very spectacular people doing extraordinary things in their recovery and growth no matter how far along into their post-combat re-integration they are. And if that content is enough to get one donor to send some money or get one Veteran motivated and out on a trip, it is well worth it.

So thank you EVO Gimbals for your support.

 

Video recap of the last 3 weeks of river trips

This last three weeks we fished over 90 disabled veterans and some of their guests out of our 24′ Jet sled on the lower Deschutes river for trout and steelhead. We supplied all the gear and food and gave Spey casting instruction to everyone that wanted to learn. You truly have to come out to see it to believe it. Subscribe at the bottom of the home page in order to get email notification for our trip announcements so you don’t get left behind!