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Hobby Ideas for Dad: How My Father Became a DIY Drone Pilot

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A couple of years ago, my father retired from the military. He had served more than 30 years and was ready for a much-needed, well-deserved break. At first, post-Army life seemed to agree with him—he golfed more; he got caught up on his exhaustive list of "honey-dos.” But after a while, I got the sense he was having some trouble filling the hours.

Or, as my mother put it: “I think your father needs a new hobby. He just spent all morning winter-proofing the house.” It was August, and my parents live in Oklahoma—for them, winter is a two-week respite between the seasons of summer and even more summer.

I agreed a hobby might be in order, perhaps even a new toy. But what to get? I considered what I knew about him: he’s a born handyman; he loves to build and fix things. Also, I knew that he had always wanted to get his pilot’s license.

Drone flying seemed an obvious choice. Or, at least, a good place to start. To gauge my dad’s interest, I floated a trial-balloon for his birthday: the Kolibri U818A Quadcopter. It came in Military Matte Green, which seemed both appropriate and a good sign. I had flown the Kolibri before, so I knew it was a good introductory craft. It featured a conventional quad-rotor design with integrated prop guards for protection (from crashes and my dad’s easily excited German Shepherd, Blue). Plus, I knew the Kolibri handled well and the controls were intuitive and easy to pick up. It also came ready-to-fly out of the box, so all my dad had to do was charge it and he was ready to go.

Kolibri Discovery Delta-Recon Tactical Edition Wi-Fi Quadcopter with 720p HD Camera

Now, admittedly, it took him a couple of weeks to get into the Kolibri. My father is notorious for warmly receiving a gift and then setting it aside to slowly gather dust (see: the home brewer’s kit, the digital dartboard, the acoustic guitar with Best of Garth Brooks songbook). But, just after a month or so, I started receiving the same texts from my mother over and over: “Came home from school and your father was flying that thing in the house again.”

Interest in flying his Kolibri was a good sign, but I knew if I really wanted to get my dad hooked on drones, I had to appeal to his “handyman” nature. So, when Father’s Day, 2016, rolled around, I got him one of my favorite “beginner” drones, the Blade Inductrix. Only this time, I got him a model that wasn’t pre-assembled. The Inductrix is a great drone for many reasons: it’s durable, easy to pilot, and features a sensor-assisted system that makes for smooth flying regardless of external conditions. Plus, it’s available both as an assembled craft and as one you can easily build from the ground up. I ordered the necessary components—frame, props, motors, and control board—and put them in a box with a transmitter for my dad. I knew he already owned a soldering iron, so I sent him a couple of links for “how to” videos and sat back.

BLADE Inductrix BNF Quadcopter with SAFE Technology

Fast-forward to when I visited my folks during the holidays and saw that the plan had worked: my father had completely fallen in love with drone building. His old garage workstation was now a full-fledged drone assembly line. There were stacks of carbon frames separated by design type, a series of multicolored bays designated for spare motors and batteries. Props were categorized by blade number, rotation, and weight. Some pieces, like tail lights and distribution board, I didn’t even recognize. I asked about them and he demonstrated a quick installation. As he did, I couldn’t help marvel at how far he had come. Eight months prior, he picked up a pre-assembled drone for the first time; now, he was demonstrating how to solder programmable LEDs onto a custom-built multi-rotor.

Lumenier LED Distribution Board for QAV-R Quadcopter

Now, Father’s Day is here again and, honestly, I must do a fair amount of research just to keep up. Recently, my dad has gotten more into FPV racing, and is trying to build the perfect racer. I know he’s a big fan T-Motor products, so maybe I’ll send him some new motors. Or perhaps, a new Krieger frame from Shen Drones, one of his favorite DIY brands. Odds are, no matter what I get him, he’ll probably already have it, but it’s nice just to find something he really cares about.

Shen Drones Corgi Quadcopter Frame

Obviously, drone building isn’t the only worthwhile hobby to get dad into. For me, knowing my dad’s interests helped me find something he would enjoy. This year, maybe take time to consider what might make your own father happy, or what he might be curious about, and shop around that idea. The result will be a thoughtful gift and maybe even a new hobby dad can enjoy. If you need help, B&H has plenty of great gift ideas and options for getting dad into something new, or supporting an interest he already has. Visit us online to check out all the latest gear, or, if you’re in Manhattan, come see us at the B&H Photo SuperStore, located at 420 Ninth Avenue.

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