Flying under the radar, over Martha’s Vineyard

There have been a couple of moments, as West Chop seasonal resident John McElroy flew his small video camera equipped drone “quadcopter” over Martha’s Vineyard, when his heart skipped a beat or two.

One moment came last summer when he flew the small, battery-powered aircraft behind a tree.

“It just didn’t come out the other side,” Mr. McElroy said in a recent phone interview with The Times from his home in the Chicago area. “At a quarter mile away, it’s pretty easy to get disoriented.”

Realizing he had only about three minutes of flight time left before the battery got low on power, and with the quadcopter still nowhere in sight, he went to his plan of last resort. He turned off the radio transmitter that controls the flight.

One of the safety features of the tiny aircraft involves the use of Global Positioning Satellite (GPS) technology. If the quadcopter loses communication with the remote flight controller, it is programed to climb to an altitude of about 60 feet, return to the point where it last lifted off, and land in the same spot.

It worked. The quadcopter lowered itself gently back to earth in front of Mr. McElroy with battery power to spare.

“It was sort of a Hail Mary,” he said.

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