I originally posted the top photo a couple of weeks ago, before I found the legal loophole allowing me to take my drone above 120 m AGL. (It turns out I can take it 120 m above the tallest structure within 120 m.) So early this morning, in calm winds, I took it up to 150 m, almost exactly matching the view. If only my drone had a slightly longer lens, I could duplicate it exactly. At least I got the parallax right, meaning I now know the original photo was taken only 150 m up. It would not be legal for a fixed-wing airplane to fly so low today; you'd need a helicopter and permission.
I also plan to re-shoot a bunch of these after the trees lose their leaves this fall.
I found this photo of the 800 West block of Montrose in April 1891 in a Chicago Public Library collection:
Here's the same place yesterday:
A few things have changed. In 1891, Montrose was paved for the half-block between Clarnedon and the Lake, and the apartment developer had built a proper curb from Dayton to Clarendon on the south side. I expect that the city paved the rest of Montrose shortly after this photo.
The park to the left became a hospital in 1957, which closed in 2009 and was demolished in 2016. The high-rise center frame marks the shoreline in the top photo. Lake Michigan is now over a kilometer farther west after the construction of Montrose Harbor in the 1930s.
I found this photo from 1964 at Chicago-L.org, looking north along what is now the Red Line from above Buena Park:
Here's almost the same view yesterday:
So, a few changes. Two the west, three city blocks of apartments became Truman College in 1974. Wilson Yards and the Wilson Avenue Shop (the El structure in the center) burned down in 1994, replaced now by a Target and an apartment building. And all the trees have grown up.
Another thing: I found out more about how high I can take the drone. Generally, it's limited to 120 m AGL. But I can also take it up 120 m above any "structure" as long as I'm within 120 m of the structure. The flagpole on top of the Byline Bank is 58 m above the ground, meaning I could, with a quick adjustment to the drone settings, try taking it up to 178 m... Hmm...
Update, 40 minutes later: Yep. It'll go up to 130 m no problem in calm winds:
Now that I have a drone, I've been looking for historical aerial photos of Chicago. I found this 1933 photo of Uptown through the Chicago Public Library collection:
Here's approximately the same view about an hour ago:
Some things immediately jump out. First, the trees. My how they've grown! Second, in the distance you can see the construction of Montrose Harbor in 1933 and the completed harbor (by 1937) in 2020. Third, we have a lot more parking lots and a lot less grime on our buildings these days. And what the hell is that huge industrial building billowing smoke at the corner of Montrose and Clarendon (upper-right corner of 1933)?
Since drones can only legally fly 120 m above the ground in the US, I couldn't get exactly the same angle as in the original photo. My best guess from a number of clues is that the top photo was taken from an airplane flying about 250 m (maybe not even that high) AGL shortly after 1pm on a sunny but hazy early-April afternoon. The air quality in Chicago in 2020 is so much better than at any point in the 20th century that almost no aerial photos from that era will have light as sharp and clear as we get today.
I have a couple more of these up my sleeve. Stay tuned.
The Mini has a service ceiling of 120 m AGL (above ground level) by default. I can jump through some hoops to increase that, but for now, while I'm getting to know how the aircraft handles, that seems just fine.
For example, here are two shots from 110 m half an hour after sunset:
The second one is a dry-run for a before-and-after pair I really can't wait to share. I just want to say, I hope I'm giving historians of the future some good data.
Why didn't I get one of these things years ago?
A combination of crystal-clear air, calm winds, and a setting sun gave me some great shots from the Mini this evening. I visited two locations in Lincoln Square: Welles Park, and the corner of Wilson and Ravenswood. I got this still just a few seconds after taking off:
And here's the highlight reel:
After dinner, I discovered on a third flight that it doesn't shoot great video in low-light conditions. Good to know.
Update: Here's the raw video from my altitude test this morning:
We had calm winds in my neighborhood this morning, so after walking Parker I grabbed my Mini and did an altitude test. I discovered that I had to replace 3 damaged propeller blades (more on that later), but after fixing the aircraft, I popped it up to 90 m and had a look around:
In the climb to that altitude I discovered that the tallest building in the area is only 70 m tall, and trees tend to be around 25 m tall. These are very useful data points when flying a tiny UAV that doesn't have obstacle-avoidance features.
Update: Here's the raw footage from the test:
It was too windy today to get above 30 m, so I just snapped this still before taking the Mini on a "walk" down the block. But I also didn't want to waste a perfectly clear day, so I snapped this before bringing the drone back down to eye level:
When you learn how to fly real planes, you learn slow flight first, because it teaches you how to control the plane precisely. And before I do something to permanently damage the Mini, I thought learning how to control it made a lot of sense.
Alas, the forecast calls for breezy weather all weekend and into early next week. Someday I'll get up to 120 m and let it get farther than half a block from me. Someday.
This morning I took my tiny drone out for a longer flight than the short tests I've done so far, in part because at 8am the winds didn't threaten to blow the thing into the lake. I've also started mapping a source of radio interference near my house that had disrupted previous attempts to get up to real altitude.
So this morning, I went to a more open spot away from my house and took the drone up to 70 meters vertical and 200 meters horizontal from its takeoff point:
After this flight, I "walked" the drone around the block like a levitating dog, until its battery started to go and it decided to try flying back to its starting point. It took me a moment to realize I needed to cancel the "return to home" function to let it land next to me instead of a block away.
I'm really enjoying this toy. And I've only crashed it twice...
I love historian J.R. Schmidt's "Then and Now" series on his Chicago History Today blog. Mostly he posts photos he took as a kid (late 1940s through early 1960s) and contrasts them with contemporary photos.
Then, recently, I came across this photo from a location just a couple of blocks from me that photographer Bob Rehak took during an arson epidemic on 22 April 1976:
Here's the same location today:
Rehak's other photos from the era are incredible. Uptown was in a different universe 45 years ago.