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Drone Adventures in Herodion
by David Willner for Foundation Stone
photos and video footage by Jim Long
March/Nisan 2015/5775

So... I had the pleasure of escorting Jim Long to Herodion for the first time. We were welcomed by archaeologist Roi Porat, who gave us the historical background of the site, and showed us some of the most recent finds. We also took advantage of a gorgeous spring day in Judaea - and with the permission and encouragement of the archaeologist got the drone in the air for some photographs of the monumental staircase/arched colonnade that led from the lower site up to the palace at the apex of the mountain...

I decided to run a test flight inside the palace at the top of the hill. My goal had been to get some good aerial footage - more or less shielded from the wind, inside the compound. The test flight was pretty much uneventful - a light breeze was giving the drone a small push, but overall the control was within acceptable parameters. The clouds, and morning shadows were just right to see the on-screen controls. After a very short flight, Roi asked if I could get some stills and video over the current excavation area. I was a little concerned about taking the drone up to the top. The winds at Herodion can be quite gusty at times, but the test flight had been fine, so I decided to chance it...

Under the partly cloudy sky at Herodion we got the drone into the air. The video on the camera was fairly good - minor turbulence made for a slightly bumpy ride. You can check out the video below.

Roi asked me if I could get some footage from the bridge at the top of the site. We stood on the bridge and I was concerned that because the winds were a bit stronger on top, landing would be too tricky on the narrow bridge. I moved off to the cleared area next to the model of the site. It was only a few feet from the bridge, and it meant that I could land it without hitting the rails of the bridge. I got the critter up in the air, but the winds were whipping around the sides of the tower, and the eastern side, and try as I might, I couldn't position the drone over the excavation area. Close - but no cigar. I suspect that there was an updraft shooting thru the excavation area that the drone did not have enough mass to push through. I pulled it back a few feet and elevated to try and position from a slightly different angle. And that's when G-d, nature, and the AR Drone decided on a different course entirely...

In the pix below you can see the bridge area, the open area nearby - and the last picture where we're trying to pinpoint the drone's flight path. It all started out so promising. Gorgeous day, fantastic setting, rich in history - my kind of site - in a big way. As the drone hovered in the sky nearby, I manoeuvred myself into what I hoped was a better position to overfly the excavation area. As I did, the wind picked up took the drone - like a bat out of hell - north over PA territory. I hit the "home" button repeatedly but the air currents that it was caught in were too strong - and soon, it was 2 or 3 kilometres (as the crow flies) distant and out of wifi range. It all happened so fast. By the time it had shrunk beyond visibility, it was too late to even determine where it eventually went down. Roi brought over one of the Arab workers - Sa'id - and they determined that Sa'id would go into the village and offer a reward for finding it. Yaacov - one of the other archaeologists working the site was concerned about offering a reward for "doing the right thing." I guess there's still a chance that we'll be able to recover it. It's likely stuck in a tree, or on a roof - or maybe even crashed before it could land itself. Anyway you look at it - it was a great learning experience and a valuable tool. Our donor who made it possible literally elevated Foundation Stone's capabilities for the year and a half we had it. We had already begun exploring more serious drone models and camera configurations that have more rigorous specs. There's no question that for field work this is the wave of the present. Now we'll see if there's another kind hearted supporter with the vision to take this to the next level. For about $1500 we'll be flying again before you know it! It's spring time in the Land of Israel - and the possibilities are endless... Chag Sameach!

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