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When was the last time you rushed into another room to tell your spouse about the new bag you got? Well, that’s exactly what I did when I packed my ThinkTank Airport Helipak V2.0 for the first time.
Prior to that, I had a problem of sorts, and this may also be the same kind you face from time to time. The problem was that I was going to Colorado on a ski trip and would be doing a lot of different types of photography.
I wanted to bring my DJI Phantom drone and capture scenery shots during the day. But, I’d also be skiing and wanted to bring my GoPro and all the accessories that go along with that. I wanted to keep a small mirrorless camera in my pocket for then I was skiing as well. Finally, of course, I wanted my big DSLR, all the lenses for it, and a tripod for sunrise, sunset, and nighttime shots. By the time you add chargers and accessories to all this, that is a lot of stuff. Add a laptop to that, and there was barely room for clothes in my suitcase.
I took my drone out of its old case and put it in the ThinkTank Airport Helipak. After packing the drone, the spare batteries, the controller, and everything else drone-related, this is how it looked.
It certainly held all my drone gear with no problem at all.
Here is the best part, though. See how there is still a lot of room left over after packing the drone and all the accessories? I decided I could put the GoPro and all of its accessories in there as well. There was still room in the bag, so I decided I could also fit the mirrorless camera, extra batteries, and charger too. There was still room, so I added my DSLR body and a big lens. Here is what it looked like when it was loaded up with all that stuff.
But that’s still not all. It also has a sleeve that fit my 15″ laptop. So all my stuff fit into one bag. Problem solved!
That’s what the ThinkTank Airport Helipak V2.0 is all about – traveling with your drone. More about that in a second, but first let me tell you the basics of this bag. It is designed for the DJI Phantom. As per the manufacturer, it fits well with the Phantom 4 Pro, 4, 3 (all models), 2, and 1. I personally have carried the Phantom 4 Pro and 3 Advanced in it, and both fit nicely.
The exterior dimensions are 13.6” x 19.7” x 9.3” (34.5 x 50 x 23.5 cm). The key thing to understand about this bag is that it is big. It is much bigger than most standard cases. At the same time, it is small enough that it will serve as a carry-on when you are flying with it.
The interior is big enough to hold all your drone-related items and other miscellaneous photography equipment. The interior measures 13” x 19” x 8.3” (33 x 47.8 x 21 cm). It also has a laptop compartment that measures 12.6” x 17.3” x 1.4” (32 x 44 x 3.5 cm). I believe it will carry up to a 17″ laptop, but mine is only 15″ so I don’t know for sure. I do know that it fits my 15″ laptop comfortably.
The weight of the bag itself is 4.6 lbs (2.1 kg) with all accessories. When it comes to weight, however, the problem is not the bag itself but rather what you pack in the bag. After you pack the drone, batteries, miscellaneous camera equipment, and a laptop, this thing will be heavy! It is nice to be able to carry whatever you want, but if you go crazy and take everything you own you will be in for a real struggle. You’ll need to learn to use discretion with this bag.
The Airport Helipak v2.0 is a soft case made of nylon with a water-repellent coating. I’m no expert in materials and durability, but it seems substantial and well-built to me. The zippers are advertised as “abrasion resistant.” I personally don’t know what that means (I’m just a photographer) but they work flawlessly.
This is a nice bag to carry. Much of the time, you’ll just have it slung over one shoulder or the other. Obviously, it comes with backpack straps, and these are substantial and comfortable. For those times you want to wear it as a full backpack, there is a waist belt, which is large and comfortable as well. There is also a sternum strap that connects the backpack straps across your chest. Finally, there is lumbar support built into the case, making this a comfortable bag to carry around.
The bag comes with a rain cover. I personally found this useless as I cannot imagine carrying it around in the rain. Still, others have found it useful, particularly when carrying the drone on a boat where there is some risk of splashes from salt-water.
This bag is meant for traveling. As I mentioned, it will hold a lot of stuff. That’s good news for those of us that don’t want to carry a drone case and a camera bag. This bag will be all you need.
Further, the interior of the case is customizable. You’ve probably seen this on other camera bags, where the dividers are velcro. This can come in handy, although, for the most part, you will want to leave it as is since it is designed to carry your drone. Still, for other miscellaneous items, this is a nice feature.
Obviously, when you are flying with your drone, you don’t want to have to check it. This bag is specifically designed to fit as a carry-on for any commercial flight. Here it is measured in the carry-on size used by American Airlines.
As you can see, it fits. In addition, I have carried it on several planes of different sizes and it has fit nicely each time. I have not flown on a little puddle-jumper, nor have I tried to cram the case under the seat, but I’m told this is possible.
On the other hand, this is not the bag I would choose if I was just taking my drone down to the local park. In that case, you don’t need all the storage. You certainly don’t need a bag this big. It would probably do a fine job of that, but it is just more than you need.
Incidentally, if you are using a version of the Phantom older than the 4, you may be surprised to learn that you don’t really need a case just for keeping it around and taking it down to the park. The Phantom 4 comes in a carrying case that works well for that. It is a very clever design that fits the Phantom, the controller, batteries, propellers, and cables all in a surprisingly small case. Here it is next to the Airport Helipak for comparison.
For general purpose, around-town use of your Phantom, you don’t need a separate case. Frankly, I’d just use the carrying case that comes with the unit itself.
The ThinkTank Airport Helipak case retails for $199. That compares favorably with the backpacks for sale through DJI, one of which sells for $199 and the other for $229. The DJI backpacks are much smaller (as you can see in the pictures below). In my mind, they are too small for traveling. One of these cases might work just fine for taking your drone around town though (although, as noted, I really don’t think you need a separate case for that anymore).
Bags are one of those things that I want to see and feel for myself. It is hard to get a good feel for them by looking at them online. Therefore, I went to B&H Photo to check out their selection. First, it should be noted that they apparently carry nothing that really fills the need that the Airport Helipak does. There are smaller backpacks (like the DJI models) and there are much larger cases (that are more like trunks) that would never fit as a carry-on. I did not find a comparable model there.
There are lots of different styles and needs for cases though. Some will prefer hard cases. Some will want a waterproof case. Others will want the foam inserts. The ThinkTank Airport Helipak has none of these, but it occupies a sweet spot that is tremendously useful for me and, I suspect many others. It’s for those who want to take their drone and related photography equipment with them on trips and want to be sure it can be carried on the flight.
As near as I can tell, if you are going to be traveling with your drone, it doesn’t get any better than the ThinkTank Airport Helipak V2.0. It is well thought out, well made, and it holds everything. As noted at the outset, I was instantly taken with it. A few months later and multiple trips with it, I still think it is a great choice out there if you are going to be taking your Phantom with you on a flight or otherwise traveling with it.
That said, this is not a case made for everyday local use. It is probably too big for that. Also, if you are looking for the absolute maximum in protection, a waterproof hard case might be more appropriate. But for taking your Phantom on a flight – and carrying extra gear as well – this is a great choice.