James Johnson likes the way the world looks from 50 feet in the air.
A Binghamton University carpenter by day, he’s an artist, woodworker and photographer when he’s off the clock. For the past two years, his talents have come together in the form of remote-controlled quad helicopters that he builds and flies, creating videos from the onboard camera and posting them on his YouTube channel, MrHeli4444.
“It’s my passion for photography,” he says, that led him to buy his first quad copter about two years ago. “Aerial video is all the rage,” he says. He has crafted four quad copters by hand; the one at right is made from African mahogany. Fellow flyers call his copters “flying art.”
Watching Johnson fly his quad copter is like watching a snake charmer. His eyes lock on the copter while his hands subtly push and pull the joysticks, making the copter soar and dive, swoop and twirl.
“I fly as much as I possibly can,” he says. Learning to control the quad copter — mastering the roll, pitch, thrust and yaw — takes time. “It has to get into your head and stay there. The tricky part is when the copter spins around and comes at you; everything is backward. That’s where you have to practice, practice, practice until it becomes intuitive.”
Last spring, Johnson produced an aerial video of campus and showed it to President Harvey Stenger. Now Johnson’s name is among the credits in several promotional videos for the University.
“I enjoy creating nice things to look at, even things that fly,” Johnson says.