Come Fly With Him
by Tom Wilson, writer/editor-PCToday. Photo/video by Maxell A. Davert.
Among the many dividends of higher education is exposure to vantages foreign to one’s own. Students leave their homes and open their minds to new friends and challenging perspectives, some of which take them well beyond the familiar.
One Pennsylvania College of Technology explorer has returned the favor, providing a growing audience of followers with a fresh way of looking at the world – rising above it, in fact, for a literal bird’s-eye view.
Maxwell A. Davert, graduating in May with a bachelor’s degree in building science and sustainable design, has applied the college’s hands-on philosophy to the joystick controls of a Phantom 2 Vision+ quadcopter, equipped with a 14-megapixel/1080p camera that has treated earthbound observers to the ride of their lives.
Taking a cue from Frank Sinatra, who crooned, "Once I get you up there where the air is rarified, we’ll just glide, starry-eyed," the Greene, Rhode Island, resident lifts his viewers – as high as 1,700 feet at times – into thin air rich with wonder.
"Max has got mad piloting skills, a great eye for the right shot and a keen sense for editing," said Carlos Ramos, web designer/interactive media strategist, and one of Davert’s earliest champions at Penn College. Ramos and co-workers in Public Relations & Marketing were so entranced with the student’s work that they engaged him to gather stills and high-definition video during the college’s Centennial celebration.
Like many experiments, Davert’s is rooted in curiosity.
"I came across a YouTube video of great shots, and I wondered how they did that," he said. "And at the bottom of the screen, it advertised what it was and where I could get one." He talked it over with his parents, and a collaborative Christmas gift was born. After countless missions, zipping and zooming and spinning and soaring, he upgraded to a spiffier model last summer.
The newer drone is equipped with a three-axis gimbal that stabilizes the lens even when the aircraft pitches and rolls and yaws in turbulent conditions. An appropriate tool for a student at a college of technology, it also features such perks as a Wi-Fi downlink that can stream video to a smartphone while flying and a GPS-based autopilot that returns the quadcopter to its takeoff point should it drift out of range.
"It’s a whole different point of view from up there," Davert said, as awestruck by the results as anyone else watching.
And drift it might.
His first camera once broke free in the wind, leading an increasingly nervous Davert on a six-hour hunt. Internal tracking had marked the Klump Academic Center as its last location, but the copter actually came down farther south, near the Field House tennis courts. Captured footage shows the craft bouncing on the asphalt, as if impatiently pacing for its owner’s return. It ultimately was recovered "without a scratch on it" at the Dauphin Hall police substation, thanks to an honest passerby.
Known by his social-media screen name of "magicwake" – a nod to his other passions of card tricks and wakeboarding – Davert has put together several seamless compilations of his greatest flyovers: A soccer field in play, the nighttime neon of the Homecoming carnival, the anchoring strength of the Klump Academic Center, the geometry of traffic around bubbling fountains, the Madigan Library clock and the fluttering American flag near the entrance.
He has hovered over atria and red-roofed landmarks that momentarily defy recognition, circled the Centennial art installations, caught the otherworldly aura of the campus at twilight, and followed the sunlight across main campus’s lush green spaciousness.
There’s even the occasional self-portrait, a peripheral glimpse of Davert on the ground, nimbly controlling the aircraft through its breathtaking adventures.
He has taken it off-campus, too, to add to his library, capturing the arresting fall colors around a back-home pond and the Hadany Arch outside the Lycoming Mall, casting its wishbone-shaped shadow.
In early November, a color-enhanced picture of the campus at sunset proved the most popular yet posted to Penn College’s Instagram page: a record 184 "likes" that topped a wintry shot from Thanksgiving Break 2013.
"We’ve never had so many ’likes’ for one photo," added another fan of his work: Deborah K. Peters, a graphic designer who administers the college’s account. "He even beat a ’snow day’ pic!"
A campuswide legend of sorts whose aerial exploits have been shared online and on screen prior to Open House presentations, Davert will leave quite a legacy when he departs campus with his third diploma. (He earned associate degrees in architectural technology and building construction technology in 2012.)
He remains grounded, however, in spite of the celebrated way he has opened eyes and transcended boundaries.
"It’s really pretty neat." ■