First Click: Tourist drones are far more annoying than selfie sticks

May 11th, 2015

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Have you ever heard drones up close? They're loud. Really loud. Up close, the iconic DJI Phantom measures something like 82 decibels. That’s about as loud as an electric drill with all the warmth of swarming bees. Most drones don’t record audio because the drone (|drōn| noun: a low continuous humming sound) would be unbearable. The noise diminishes as the quartet of spinning motors and props lift the vehicle higher, but the sound remains a nuisance especially when flown above otherwise natural wonders accessible only by foot.

“Papa look out!” yelled my son, as what looked like a DJI Inspire 1 startled me with a raucous take off. At the controls were a pair of enthusiasts of indeterminate qualifications and sobriety. I watched it rise towards a religious retreat still some 237 steps above me. The waters surrounding the serene 10th-century hermitage of Gaztelugatxe were unusually calm, and the glut of tourists had yet to appear. A drone I may not have heard flying above me in peak season was now overly conspicuous, and even more annoying than the occasional selfie-stick wielding tourists blocking the narrow ascent.

Although it grew quieter as it rose, I kept the drone, and my three kids, in my periphery just in case. A mild consumer variation of the psychological distress caused by the sound of military drones — but instead of worrying about "collateral damage" from a missile strike, I was worried about the quadcopter crashing into my six-year-old daughter.

Reaching the summit I rang the bell three times per legend and made my wish — but the drone and its clueless operators were still there.

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