When it comes to toys for the boys there is one right now that takes a lot of beating. Remote control quadcopters or drones as they're often called, have been around a while but it's only been recently that they have become affordable for amateur enthusiasts.

We've all spotted them buzzing around parks or on TV zooming above the heads of crowds, through trees and between buildings.

Stunning photography is possible from viewpoints that just a few years ago could not be dreamed of. A real fun machine - and I want one.

For around $1500 (six weeks of my superannuation money) and a little preflight initiation I could be piloting my own quadcopter.


Flying off the shelves around the world these super cool machines are certainly catching on. When I say super cool I mean just that. Quadcopters are relatively simple to fly and are fitted with foolproof - well almost - GPS technology that guides the machine right back to its point of take-off. Further, you can pre-program altitude and waypoints into its navigation system to direct it along the flight path.

The sky is the limit (notwithstanding airways rules and regulations) and being an ex-pilot, I should find the learning curve to be easy peasy.

And hey, the photographer at the Rotorua Daily Post has scored some excellent shots for the paper with his - so in terms of fun and value for money, how can one go wrong?

Easily so I've found out. To get an idea of the strife one of these marvels of technology gets into, I checked quadcopter "fails" on You Tube. Oh my. With an incompetent pilot at the controls or an in-flight malfunction, a normally docile and obedient quadcopter can turn into a beast. In the 30-minute video compilation, I saw one machine gracefully zooming in on a bride and groom exchanging their vows in the middle of a field. The impressive romantic interlude turned into disaster as the drone flew right into the couple's faces. Ouch. Smacking into the sides of city buildings where turbulent air lurks is a favourite trick, as is crashing into the trees. In our country alone there are more quadcopters perched in high branches than there are native wood pigeons.

Animals just love chasing quadcopters and countless video clips will show the final seconds of a machine as Brutus the family pet leaps up and snaps its prey before chewing it to pieces.

There is a very entertaining clip going round the internet of quadcopter video footage as it zooms between moving vehicles occasionally capturing the stunned faces of the drivers. How crazy is that? Eventually the machine slams into the side of a truck before crashing onto the road then being run over by one, two then three sets of wheels before the screen goes blank. Pulling a loose tooth using string tied to an accelerating drone is another silly stunt. Power lines, surf, gales and rain, do not take kindly to an errant drone which really in such conditions should be at home packed safely in its box.

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What comes up must eventually come down. Several dramatic clips can be seen showing a very anxious operator wading out into the water to catch his drone as it looks back at him, descending as the batteries go flat.

Hmm - with all that money tied up in such a vulnerable machine I'm not too sure now whether I'm cut out to be a quadcopter operator. Could I bear to watch my precious flying machine with all that delicate electronic componentry being swallowed up by a waterfall or dive bombed by an angry magpie? Maybe I'll just think about for a while.

Last week in a moment of weakness I thought I'd throw caution to the wind and re-register for Facebook - but got scared off again.

The following morning after renewing my account, my inbox was infested with requests from acquaintances I hardly know - with even Her Worship the Mayor wanting to be my "friend". With such social networks, I become very unsociable indeed. If anyone wants to be my friend, invite me for a face-to-face meeting over a coffee, and I'll happily accept.

-Brian Holden has lived in Rotorua for most of his life and has been writing his weekly column for 11 years.