Eye in Vineyard sky, piloted from below
Warren Pettit wasn't always this good at flying his model helicopter above Martha's Vineyard. It took the Tisbury resident a few years before he was confident enough to hover near familiar Island landmarks and take breathtaking photographs using a digital camera mounted on the tiny aircraft. Despite a well-honed aptitude for fine motor coordination, he crashed it a few times when he first took up flying four years ago.
"Two things will put a bird in the dirt," Mr. Pettit said. "Number one, dumb sticks." In the lingo of a model helicopter pilot, that means a mistake in either coordination or judgment with the small controllers, one for each thumb, which guide the helicopter's flight from a remote radio device.
"The second reason is mechanical," Mr. Pettit said. Just as with a full scale helicopter, maintenance is essential. "For every hour in the air, it's probably about another hour on the bench. You've got to stay on top of the physics of the helicopter. It's rather unforgiving."
On the fly
On a recent morning at the Tashmoo overlook, Mr. Pettit ticked carefully through a list of pre-flight safety checks. Confident that all was in order with his helicopter, he carefully nudged the rotors into action by radio control, using the slightest movement of his thumbs on the controller sticks. The helicopter, with rotors building to a speed of 1,700 rpm, lifted smoothly out of the knee high grass and hovered about six feet off the ground. Guided by Mr. Pettit and powered by a battery that provides about nine minutes of flight time, the helicopter flew on a line about 20 yards, made a precise turn, and headed back. Later, he sent the helicopter soaring over the field at an altitude about 250 feet. Brisk winds made flying a challenge, but it's always a challenge. His skill at carefully landing the helicopter just a few yards from where he was standing offers no hint that he has been flying for a relatively short time.
Mr. Pettit, who is director of the Contemporary Music Center on Lambert's Cove Road, said he didn't understand how difficult it would be when he took up flying just four years ago.
"It's not a plane, it doesn't glide. All it wants to do is crash," said Mr. Pettit. "I'm a piano player, I know what fine motor skills are. I was shocked at how hard it is."