Carona Pelo Ar: journalist assembles his drones to cross Brazil

Digital nomadism is a chain of self-employed professionals who use technology to their advantage to work from anywhere in the world, managing to explore it while producing. São Paulo photojournalist Lucas Amorelli entered this trend in a rather daring way. With no prior technical knowledge, he learned to assemble his own drones and now uses them on the TV show and YouTube channel hitchhiking by air, aimed at ecological tourism.

Amorelli began his career in 2003, in vehicles such as the newspaper A Crítica, from Amazonas, and in the newspapers of Grupo RBS, in Rio Grande do Sul, as well as freelance for the BBC, National Geographic, The Guardian and others. A self-styled backpacker ever since, it was on one of those trips to faraway places that he had an epiphany.

I was climbing Huayna Potosi Mountain, Bolivia, in 2019, and the guide asked me: ‘Why don’t you create your own project, where you can share with people these trips you take, without being photography? Something that gives the feeling of being with you in places.'”, recalls Amorelli, in an interview with Canaltech.

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It was a snap, it feels like I needed to climb a mountain to see something that was in my face all the time. But just creating something and traveling and photographing didn’t make sense. Then I remembered some videos I had seen of some ‘gringos’ piloting racing drones, I thought it was incredible. And there in the hostel [albergue] where I was staying I started creating the program. This without even having a drone or having already flown it.

When he returned to Brazil, the photographer began the riskiest part: buying parts from China to learn how to assemble drones by himself, spending from his own pocket — R$5,000 at the beginning — and learning via YouTube videos. “I remember that the first one took me a week to make it fly. I was almost giving up. The investment had been R$ 800 in the drone alone. This was certainly the worst part, I suffered a lot, but today it’s worth it to manage on my own on trips”, he comments. The total investment came to exceed R$ 20 thousand.

Amorelli opted for the cheapest parts first, transforming his apartment, in his words, into “a warehouse for engines, plates, propellers and screws.” As he learned, he improved the quality of drones and got to know some suppliers in Brazil. Their presence makes it easier for the most urgent purchases, such as batteries, to be used more frequently.

The biggest test for the drones was a trip through the Rio Grande do Sul mountains, which yielded such good images that they became the first season of the hitchhiking by air. In addition to the YouTube channel, he sold the idea to the Travel Box Brazil subscription channel. It was there the debut on pay TV this year.

The producer only travels by bus, traveling with two GoPro cameras (models 9 and 10), two drones, soldering iron, tablet, power bank (portable charger), lots of USB cables and spare parts. For the second season, he left Rio Grande do Sul towards Rio Grande do Norte, choosing regions in each state crossed by the BR-101 road. Marcopolo, an interstate bus company, is the sponsor.

Lucas Amorelli, from Carona ao Ar (Image: Press Release/Lucas Amorelli)

It’s not an easy life

You may think Amorelli leads the life that everyone asked of God, but that’s not quite the case. Starting with the difficulties of keeping the equipment with you safe and sound. And what equipment: there are 25 kg of drones, cameras and parts. “I bought those rucksacks for drones, which are hard. In them I can carry all the equipment and they always go with me on the bus. This backpack is never far from me. I have my clothes bag in the trunk,” he says.

Once a job is done, the photographer disassembles everything, cleans with isopropyl alcohol and then a spray to clean electrical contacts. It still leaves the batteries in mode storage, which increases their useful life. That aside from local bad weather. “As in Brazil at this time it rains a lot, it makes it difficult, but I have been able to fly without any problems”, he details.

Lucas Amorelli, from Carona ao Ar (Image: Press Release/Lucas Amorelli)

The experience of meeting Brazilians of all kinds along the way has already yielded some funny stories, such as the time he almost lost his drone because of an angry father. “I was flying at Praia da Guarita [no RS] and suddenly I see a boy riding. Suddenly, a little uncle came screaming and cursing me: ‘Stop that, you’re going to knock my nephew off his horse!’, he said. I was startled and nearly dropped the drone on one of the cliffs. But then I explained it to him and everything was fine”, he recalls.

However, the former journalist says he is satisfied with the choice he made. “The idea was to create a program for people to travel with me, but that they would have information and would inspire them to discover the places, just as I do. It was the junction of my life as a backpacker with a photojournalist, using a new technology”, he defines. He already has plans for a third season: as soon as the covid pandemic reduces a little more, he intends to fly over other countries with his drones, such as Bolivia, Mexico and Patagonia, between Argentina and Chile.

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