Skip to main content

Yellowstone National Park, WY
Dirty Socks and Drones

By TJ McCueFriday, June 13, 2014

  • Carousel
  • Carousel
  • Carousel
  • Carousel

The first question is whether or not the wire at the top of the fence separating us from the 3D Robotics IRIS quadcopter is electric or not. I guess all the other questions do not matter after that, so I won’t bore you with them. We still don’t know the answer to the first question, but luckily could duck under low enough to not have to find out the hard way.

We sure wanted to get our unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) back in one piece. As my 10 year old son captured his commentary of the search and recovery mission on the video camera, I have to admit I wondered if we would ever see the four borrowed props again.

“Mr. Pete and TJ McCue along with me, the photographer, brave the dangers as we try to recover the lost quadcopter. This search could take hours or even days. We may not get the quadcopter back. But we'll try!” were his words. All I heard was “We’re doomed.” Full video is at the end of the post.


Let me back up for a moment: We arrived in Montana and immediately got a text from Pete Kelsey, a Strategic Projects executive at Autodesk, offering to come hang out to do something fun for the 3DRV project. Plenty of options in Bozeman – we could go scan something or practice flying the drone. A quick side note: Pete just completed an amazing project 3D scanning and documenting the USS Arizona (article to come).

One of the coolest, cutting edges of consumer 3D technology is to use a drone to capture photos of a variety of objects to create 3D models. Later, Pete promises to show us how to use Autodesk’s Reality Computing software, ReCap and 123D Catch, to convert our photos-by-drone into 3D images, easy enough for my young son to do. But if you can’t fly well, you will not have quality photos for the 3D model. So off to Pete’s ranch home we go for a secure and safe place to practice drone flying.

Well, it was safe and secure until I wondered just how high and how far this bird would go. All of this information is available on the web, I’m sure, but not out in the middle of Montana grasslands at 4 p.m., when you’re wondering out loud about such things. I am pleased to report they go quite high and quite far. We didn’t exceed the legal limit, for those wondering. I am somewhat embarrassed (but not really since we did recover it) to report we found the boundary. I can only give Pete part of the credit for this adventure since he simply asked: “Okay, how confident are you feeling about flying that thing? It’ll take amazing pictures of the horses out in the next field, so let’s go for it.”


Moment of realization as the IRIS goes south, into the field of dreams.

The rest of the credit for foolishness goes to me. All to me. I turned the drone around to get some 360 degree video footage and that’s when it all went wrong. Once I turned it away from me, all the controls were inverted, as veteran RC (radio control) pilots know. Left is no longer left. But wrong is definitely wrong. I could not compensate fast enough before she went out of range or ran low on battery, not sure which. We watched as the drone went down into the high pasture grass several football fields away from us.

Ducking under the fence, we trudged through the grass, stepping into a few low wetland spots, where remnants of the seasonal marsh creek wound its way through. Pete gamely shed his shoes, choosing rather to sacrifice his socks to the muddy terrain. 20+ minutes later, with great relief, the hunt for the black Iris drone ended successfully. We celebrated our escapades with an impromptu sock-drying drone flight, using Pete’s quadcopter with a longer battery life. Dirty socks and drones -- a good way to fill the day.

Postscript: If you’ve been following these updates and reports, thank you. I’m a bit behind the curve, but catching up. I will provide links to new posts from earlier stops as we complete them. As I shared on Twitter earlier today, there are so many amazing 3D stories and adventures that it is like drinking from a fire hose. We are getting a flow control nozzle… ;-)

Please keep the requests and tips coming via the email form above. Many thanks for your ideas and participation. 

Check out the gear used during this training “mission”: 3DR IRIS quadcopter and GoPro Hero3 cam, which attaches easily to capture photos.

Follow along at! #3DRV

Get on the Map

Want to be a part of the 3DRV experience?


It's as simple as a tweet or a post to your wall with the #3DRV hashtag.

  • Comment on the tour
  • Share your thoughts
  • Post a photo

Want to see your post on the map?

Set Geolocation to ON for Facebook and Twitter on your mobile device.
(Please note that all fanfare posts will be reviewed prior to inclusion on the map.)

Send a
to 3DRV