What do you do when you plan for 2,000 people and 10,000 show up? You improvise – quickly. This was the third year we had flown the Egg Drop. The year before was mellow, happy and you got to see all of your neighbors. This year had better social media coverage. The kinks had been worked out from years prior and we were ready to party. Still, watching the cars pour in at the 2018 Egg Drop was a mixture of excitement and terror. The City of Sacramento met the challenge beautifully and we followed suit.
Every flight begins with clear airspace. Preflight for the Egg Drop begins with careful coordination with the helicopter pilot. We clear airspace. Check weather. I fly the site ahead of time and we map our plan. Then we map emergency plans. It looks something like this:
The event was flown in North Natomas Regional Park. We know the park well. Despite throngs of eager egg hunters, the site had a few advantages. Our step by step solutions below.
How we did it
I came early. I’m always there early. I need a moment of zen in the dew filled grass. That morning brought us a light fog. As my assistant sat in the car chugging coffee, I noticed the parking lot starting to fill. Two hours early. The City had responded by walkie, directing overflow traffic into the high school parking lot across the street. I’m in the air gathering extra film for that beautiful early light that I love. I filmed quickly. Had I been there 30 minutes before the event, the fields would have been filled with people. That would make my job very hard.
Keep in mind, we were still in “Don’t fly over people” mode. The red top structures you see are metal shade covers. I can safely hover over the top to gather film. Just a short time later, my assistant had to clear a path so I could get to the awning. But we were safe and we followed the rules. I was kind of like frogger. We waited for an opening, blocked the path politely with my assistant and flew through. I have a helicopter coming in so elevation is not my friend today.
The numbered sections on the baseball diamonds were sectioned off by children’s age. The team at the City of Sacramento did an excellent job of directing children to the age-appropriate area to gather eggs. So the crowd at large was concentrated to the interior sections of the baseball diamonds. That meant I could fly the outsides of the diamonds as lines formed. That changed quickly as people arrived. I continued to fly low and move back.
Here Comes the Helicopter
The helicopter is always my favorite part. The kids start yelling. The firetrucks in the parking lot hit their sirens just beforehand. This year there were just too many people. There’s no time to coordinate last minute. I fly a camera and we always give manned aircraft a wide path. I grounded. I’m known for innovation, so how did I get my film? I made friends with the firemen of course. The firetruck was the tallest thing in the parking lot.
Workaround 1 – The Firetruck
Explaining my plight to the nearest fireman, I took the propellors off my aircraft and handed him my rig. He held it high off the top of the firetruck. I controlled my camera from the ground. Quickly getting what I needed. It didn’t hurt that they all know me. Santa in Natomas starts at the same fire station every year and I film the fire trucks exiting the bays. It’s worth noting, I always have my assistant film me filming my workarounds. If the question of safety ever arises, I have proof.
Workaround 2 – The Roof
We never ended up needing this solution, but it was there for contingencies. I went the day before to practice landing on one of the metal roofs. There are several flat roofs at the site and it was a good emergency contingency to have nearby. If I needed to land quickly and safely, I could scuttle my aircraft somewhere no one could get hurt and retrieve it later. Kids love to chase the drones. Kids and drones are a guaranteed trip to the emergency room. I thought I would have connection problems. Metal objects are bad for communication with your aircraft. The problem wasn’t nearly so simple. The metal roofs were corrugated so landing on most of them took careful piloting.
In summary, always have a back up plan. Then have a back up for your back up. Come early. Plan ahead. Visit your site ahead of time. Scout your area. Bring help. Film your workarounds. And always be safe.