Day 389 – Of helicopters

Helicopter news. Firstly, tenuously, the Cape Town fire continues today. Reports that it was under control were quickly rubbished by a huge flare-up and with the South Easter continuing to pump, the City Bowl remains the place not to be this afternoon. The helicopters were doing their bit when they could, but the wind has kept them grounded for at least some of the day. The fire is heading the other way from us at the moment, but we can still smell smoke everywhere and there is ash falling in the garden. There has been a lot of damage, not least to the UCT library:

And some video here.

Elsewhere, a local radio station reported on a trail runner who was chased by the fire yesterday. She’s pretty fast.

10 to 20 km per second is rapid.
10km/s is about Mach 30.
20km/s is 72,000kph. That’s 2½ times faster than the International Space Station travels.

Lisette was very, very lucky to survive unscathed, given that running at that speed, she would likely have spontaneously burst into flames from the air resistance alone. I don’t know how she did it.

More seriously, the emergency numbers to call in Cape Town are Landline: 021 480 7700 or Cell phone: 107.

And then, another helicopter thing, this time 287.52 million km away.

It might not look like much, but I remember the first time I flew my drone. It was amazing and that was only done in my living room. It wasn’t on Mars. And I didn’t video it.

I watched the live feed at NASA’s JPL as the data from this flight came in. Absolutely incredible.

Here’s the full video. Mind-blowing stuff.


If there’s one thing that everyone on Earth can clearly agree on, it’s that there can never be such a thing as too many drones.

And it seems that NASA are now planning to start the drone craze on Mars as well with a new helicopter device:

The US space agency said Friday it plans to launch the first-ever helicopter to Mars in 2020, a miniature, unmanned drone-like chopper that could boost our understanding of the Red Planet.

I’m not sure how they plan to get a GPS lock, given that there are no S’s around Mars, but this is NASA, and if they faked the moon landings, well, then they can do most anything. And that likely includes coming up with a superb name for this craft, just like they did with ApolloChallengerDiscovery and Titan.

And that name is… [drum roll]…

The Mars Helicopter

[sad trombone] Oh.

And they’re starting small:

Its first flight calls for a brief vertical climb of 10 feet (three meters), followed by hovering for a half minute.

Wow. 10 feet. 30 seconds. Hold the front pages.
Don’t push yourselves, NASA.

I clearly need to get my Mavic out there, stat. I’d be buzzing Olympus Mons, shooting high quality 4K video and doing dronies on Curiosity while NASA’s rookies were still putting the paperwork and requisition forms together, wondering if they could maybe risk trying a gentle turn to the right.

If you’re reading this, NASA, I am available for this kind of thing (in between my lab antics with TB). I’ve flown over the Northern Cape: I know what desolation looks like.

But I don’t think I need to be in Texas or Florida or California or wherever you’re running your circus from at the moment. If you can control a drone on a planet 55 million kilometres away, I really don’t think it matters if I’m across a bit of sea from your place.

And I’m certainly not going to Mars.

Have drone, won’t travel.