TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE — A small craft launches from the grass across the street from David Grant Medical Center. It heads left, then circles around the new Fisher House, in its final stages of construction, next to the hospital.
It briefly disappears against the blue sky, then returns.
In hover mode, the DJ Phantom I quadcopter, with an attached GoPro camera, snaps photos. Just as it has nearly ever Monday since ground was broken in November 2013.
Controlling the drone is Gil Gardner, 60th Medical Group medical multimedia manager, who does medical-related illustrations in photography for the base.
Before construction began, Garnder said there was talk of putting a camera on top of the hospital to capture the construction photos. He stepped up with his own equipment and has been able to document, with video and photos, the building’s history.
Gardner, a jazz guitarist, purchased the aerial filming system to make music videos. He’s done one so far. After the new Fisher House’s grand opening, he’ll use the quadcopter and camera to make more music videos.
He’s modified the unmanned aerial vehicle to stabilize the camera so it doesn’t pick up vibrations from the engine. It’s operated with a handheld remote control.
It’s also GPS-based and returns to home base if communication is lost. It picks up to 12 satellites before giving him a green blinking signal that he can launch it.
Gardner lifts it about 60 feet in the air. Federal Aviation Administration regulations say the vehicles can’t go above 400 feet, he said.
He plans to add a gimbal mount to keep the camera parallel to the ground.
A pair of virtual reality goggles are also part of the package, giving him a much closer look at what the GoPro camera is capturing.
“I can frame the photos the way I want to,” he said.
Gardner said he’s always cognizant of traffic on the road that separates the launch pad from the medical center and the new Fisher House. He’s also on the lookout for pedestrians who may be in the area.
When he came to Travis 23 years ago, Gardner said he had no idea technology would come so far.
“It’s changed so quickly,” he said.
He was involved with the construction of the first Fisher House: His boss was its director. Gardner still has the original drawings for the first Fisher House on his office walls.
“I’ve known all the managers (of the Travis Fisher House),” he said. “I’ve made some good friends over there.”
Gardner is known for playing his guitar at the home-away-from-home for military families who have a loved one receiving treatment at David Grant.
He estimates that he’s taken between 2,500 and 3,000 photos of the new Fisher House while under construction. The camera snaps one every five seconds, he said. He said he plans to compile them into a montage and possibly do a time-lapse representation.
Gardner is able to fine tune the photos with computer programs.
“There’s no way to correct the wind,” he said of the gusts on the base.
The gimbal mount should help with that, he said.
The first Fisher House opened in 1991, During that time, the Fisher House Foundation has served more than 180,000 families and provided more than 5 million days of lodging, saving families more than $200 million in lodging and transportation costs, according to its website.
The new one, the second on Travis, should open later this month.
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.