Learning to fly – The Inspire 1 arrives

I took delivery of my DJI inspire 1 this evening and thought I’d share a few pics and initial thoughts with you. Please bare in mind that this is my first Quadcopter, I can’t give comparisons to other models in the same price bracket other than the Phantom that I have looked at in the past. None the less..

The case 
The first thing that greets you after removing the outer packaging is this rather nice looking case. It’s not a particularly tough case though, it’s fairly soft and has zip closures.

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Opening up the case reveals the Inspire 1 and and it’s associated accessories. Some of the accessories are supposed to be held in place by straps with velcro closures but even before touching these some of the velcro straps had fallen away from the case and were useless.

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The case is really not very reassuring, the quality isn’t great and while it does work well as a basic container for the Inspire I can’t see it lasting very long with real use or at the mercy of baggage handlers. I’ll have to look for a more substantial alternative.

Inspire 1 Construction
Thankfully the Inspire 1 itself is the polar opposite of the case that it comes in. It looks and feels very well built.  The aircraft felt a lot heavier than I was expecting, it really does feel quite substantial compared to something like a Phantom.

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Closer inspection of the inner workings of the aircraft reveal well machined parts and a really high build quality. As I’ve said recently the Inspire is around double the cost of the Phantom 3 Professional but looking at the quality of the parts that make up the aircraft I’m actually surprised there isn’t a bigger difference in price points. Lets face it, the Phantom 3 is mostly constructed from plastic whereas here we’re looking at Carbon Fibre and machined metal components, that normally equals expense!

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There are 8 propellor blades included with the Inspire so you get a full spare set. There have been a few revisions to the Inspire 1 since it was released and one of the most recent changes is the way the propeller blades are fitted to the motors. In earlier revisions the props would be threaded on the the motors much like on the Phantom but due to reports of props coming lose DJI added a “prop lock” which would clip over the props to stop them spinning off if they did become lose.

In this most recent revision (rev D) DJI have now implemented a quick release system for the props whereby you just push them down and turn them backwards slightly to lock them in place. If you have an older version without this new quick release system then I believe DJI is sending the updated parts out for free, either direct to customers who purchased on the DJI website or though dealers.

The Remote Control
The Inspire can be used with two RC units, a master for aircraft control and a slave unit for camera control.  I opted for just one controller for now as I can purchase a second if I feel the need in the future. The RC unit itself feels just as substantial as the Inspire, it feels reassuringly heavy and solid in the hands.

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The front face of the control unit and mounting bracket for the tablet holder are made of metal which gives the unit a very high quality feel. On the front are status LED’s, buttons for power and return to home plus the main control joysticks. The RTH button also has a switch surrounding it that controls the landing gear on the Inspire, more in that later!

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The top of the unit has the two adjustable antennas with various function buttons on either side. On the right side is a scroll wheel that also acts as a button, this is used for setting shutter speed and ISO on the camera. Above that is a button to take a still and beside that a media playback button for viewing back images and video stored in the camera.

On the left side there’s another wheel which controls the up/down angle of the camera, this is spring loaded to return to it’s centre point and the further you move it in each direction the faster the camera moves. Also on the left side is a video start/stop button and a three way switch for selecting flight modes.

On the back of the controller are two more buttons that can be customised to perform various actions, the default actions return the camera to it’s forward facing position and toggle between camera follow modes. The back also houses the various I/O ports including USB & HDMI.

Fitting the Battery & Camera

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It is recommended to fully charge the supplied battery before using it. The inspire is supplied with a mains charger with connectors for both the flight batteries and the remote control unit.  Although it is possible to connect both at the same time DJI recommend to not do so otherwise the charger can overheat.

Once charged the battery simply pushes in to the top of the Inspire and clips in to place. Now things start to get a lot more exciting as it’s time to fit the camera. The Inspire 1 ships in what’s called “travel mode”, this basically means it’s landing gear is in a midway position making the aircraft as flat as possible so it fits in the case. To fit the camera the Inspire needs to be taken out of travel mode first.

As per the manuals recommendation the first thing you do is turn on the control unit, this is done with a press and release followed by a press and hold motion until the unit initiates. Once the remote control unit is on the Inspire is also powered up using the same technique on the battery button. Unless you’re actually planning to fly the Inspire it’s best to leave the props off.

I was quite surprised how dramatic the startup process was for the first time. Various fans and motors can be heard powering up, the sonar from the positioning system starts clicking and with the various LED’s are all flashing it’s quite intimidating. Once the Inspire is up and running it is taken out of travel mode by switching the landing gear switch four times, I recorded myself doing that so you can watch it for yourself…

Once raised the Inspire is switched off again followed by the controller. The basic rule is, anytime the Inspire is on, the controller needs to be on as well, always switch the controller on first and off last.

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Fitting the camera is easy but a little fiddly. A locking ring on the bottom of the Inspire is turned to release a protective cap. There’s also a cap on the camera assembly itself which just pulls off. I found it to be a pain putting the caps back on so I put small strips of white tape on mine to show how they should be oriented for refitting.

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With the caps removed you align the mark on the camera with the mark on the Inspire and then secure it in to place by turning the locking ring. I found this process to be a lot easier holding the inspire upside down on my lap than trying to present the camera to the inspire in its normal position.

With the camera fitted the next step was to fix a device to the controller to monitor the camera and setup the inspire. I used my iPhone 6 plus. The tablet holder is by default too tall for the iPhone but there are two small foldout hooks that you can utilise to hold smaller devises, with those out the iPhone fitted really well and felt secure enough that the controller could be moved around without any chance of the phone slipping out.

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DJI have apps for both IOS and android called “DJI Pilot”.  With the app installed and running on my iPhone I fired everything back up again and the app started prompting me for the information required to registering the Inspire.

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Once everything was up and running the app then started popping up firmware alerts about the Inspire, the battery and the controller. The process for getting everything updated is quite time consuming but DJI have published a video which gives you a step by step guide. It basically involves downloading the firmware update to the included 16GB Micro SD card in the camera and then waiting while the Inspire updates itself.  During the update the inspire emits various sounds which is a little confusing if you haven’t seen the video first.

Once the Inspire 1 completed it’s update the same card was then used to update the controller. This was accomplished by inserting a card reader in to the controllers USB slot and then firing it up. It can also be done by connecting the controller to the mini USB port on the back of the Inspires camera (with the inspire off ). Here’s the video for more details on performing the update.

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So with the firmware updated and everything setup the Inspire 1 is ready to fly. I think it’s fair to say that I’m mighty impressed by everything I’ve seen so far, well everything except for the case anyway!

Let me know if you have any questions regarding anything I’ve written by leaving a comment.


Coming up

In my next post I’ll write about the basics of being safe during basic flight training and how I prepared for my first training flights. It’s very important to understand the regulations and know what you can and can’t do legally so hopefully there will be a lot of useful information for anybody else going through the same process as myself. I’m posting these articles as I figure this stuff out so if you have any advise or I made any mistakes just let me know.

In the coming weeks I’ll be writing a lot more about making the most of this great tool along with the process involved in obtaining permission from the CAA to be able to provide aerial shots commercially. Stay tuned!


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