A significant member of our team got injured today at our very first, but lengthy stop at "Chernobyl 2," otherwise known as DUGA-3.
This intimidating, 150 meter tall, steel tower wall was discovered after the Chernobyl catastrophe, which is crazy to believe because of it's incredible size. I have climbed to the top of it, photographed it, taken video of it, and flown my earlier drones around it, but flying the Inspire 1 would undoubtedly be more amazing than all of those mediums put together. With that in mind, DUGA-3 was our first stop of the day.
Guarded by a pregnant, feral, but sweet dingo and an over weight, middle aged, bald man in blue camo, the gate was opened for us and the DJI team gasped as we drove in. As Arek bravely set out climbing to the top, as usual (but this time with his Phantom 3 controls and a radio to Elizabeth to tell her when he was ready for her to turn it on), I prepared the Inspire 1 - calibrate, turn on the camera, review plan of action, etc. Arek had the Phantom up already and we heard a reverberating, rattling bang come from the his general location and then got the radio call, "I crashed the drone." He had attempted to fly between two of the 150 meter towers at the top where he was standing - the ultimate "dronie" (a selfie taken by a drone). Unfortunately, it was very windy that high up and too tight a spot to navigate through with the wind. Ah, it happens to the best of us.
I know that sinking feeling when you see your aircraft careen into something, but if you don't take risks in flying, you would never get a noteworthy shot. Arek was lucky. The drone toppled onto the top level of the DUGA-3, instead of falling 500 feet down to its death. He sheared off the camera gimbal, but the drone still flies.
I was a bit more cautious than Arek and started the Inspire's flight with both me and the drone on the ground. I had learned my lesson with my two previous crashes in the zone, and even got a decent "dronie" on the DUGA, as well.
After flying at the DUGA-3 complex, I took the DJI team through the command building and one of the ancillary buildings near the antenna array. One of the first rooms we entered was a classroom where new radar operators would learn about how to manage the complex equipment and, more importantly, recognize the U.S. Intercontinental Ballistics Missiles (ICBM). Around the perimeter of the room were drawings of about 10 to 12 different US ICMB. With my rudimentary knowledge of Russian, I was able to make out Cruise Missile, Minute Man 1 and 2, and the Trident ICBM.
The next stop was just a 15 minute walk down a concrete slab path to the main control room for the DUGA-3 radar complex. It is located on the 3rd floor of the main command building where it is very dark and my custom X-LED 14,000 lumen light came in handy. The large room is mostly empty of equipment now (most laying outside the building and pilfered through), but there are a few command consoles left with still colorful buttons and gauges after 30 years.
Overall, it was a fantastic day of flying and filming. We had several other stops, but DUGA-3 really requires a post all on its own.