Drone Safety Is Good Business

An aerial view of the historic Liberia House in Manassas, Virginia

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

The timing of this week’s inaugural National Drone Safety Awareness Week is perfect from my perspective as a drone pilot. It comes right after my first FAA-approved flight inside what is usually a no-fly zone in controlled airspace.

The operation reinforced to me the agency’s commitment to integrating drones into the national airspace system in ways that help aerial photographers like me, all while still demanding safety as the top priority. I know the rules, appreciate the rationale behind them and willingly follow them because drone safety matters.

My side gig as a drone pilot started slowly in January 2017, partly by choice and partly because of regulatory limitations. I was cautious about flying because I was new to the field, but as a Northern Virginia resident, I also couldn’t fly close to home without getting specific airspace authorizations that weren’t readily available back then.

After getting some flight experience in less congested airspace, I turned my attention to building a business. I landed my first client by happenstance on a visit to a favorite farmer’s market in Winchester, Virginia. Then I created an online portfolio, listed my company on Google My Business and started business accounts on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

Virginia Farm Market in Winchester, Virginia

The first unsolicited call came a couple of months later. The team in a local government office wanted a unique retirement gift for a colleague – aerial photographs of her family farm, which at one time had been targeted for development into a commuter parking lot. The property was close to the no-fly zone around Washington, D.C., so I checked the aeronautical charts at SkyVector to confirm that I could fly without an airspace authorization. Then I arranged to fly on a chilly January day when the soon-to-be-retiree wasn’t home.

The client liked the photographs so much that she proposed a follow-up barter deal – aerial photographs of her family’s cabin at Leesville Lake in exchange for a vacation there. We closed that deal in the summer of 2018 and had a splendid summer break on the lake. Life as a part-time drone pilot was sweet!

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One Love Manassas

Using my FAA-issued waiver and authorization to fly at night near Manassas Regional Airport, I documented the “Turn on Your Light” walk and “Chasing Light” performance at the City Of Manassas Museum back in April. It was part of the One Love Manassas arts event hosted by Historic Manassas Inc.

In addition to shooting the night photography, I produced this video about the event.

Contact me at airscapephoto@gmail.com to provide aerial imagery services of your event.

 

The Making of an Aerial Memory

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

When you’re fighting cancer, it helps to know your friends are there for you. Leo Zambori has a whole host of them who showed their support in a creative way. They retained a volunteer drone pilot.

More than two years later, Zambori still cherishes the memory, according to his mother. “The photo was an amazing pick-me-up for Leo,” Natalie Zambori said after drone pilot Jeremy Lewis re-posted the image on Facebook in January for Leo’s birthday. “He loved and still loves to look at this photo. I remember him saying ‘Wow, all those people did that for me?’”

Lewis, the owner of Flying Dreams Aerial Imaging Services in Martins Ferry, Ohio, captured the memory for the Zamboris not long after he started flying unmanned aircraft systems. He gained early experience on the grounds of Martins Ferry City Schools and put together a video.

When Leo Zambori was diagnosed with leukemia at age 5, school officials and students wanted to let him know he wasn’t alone in the fight. Middle school principal Mike Delatore remembered Lewis’ drone work and reached out to him with an idea – an aerial photo of the student body spelling out Zambori’s name on the football field.

Lewis did the shoot solo, and it took about 20 minutes. “They all assembled on the field in the middle of the track that morning and spelled out Leo’s name along with a heart,” he recalled. “That pretty much says it all. They all came together as one to support this little boy and his family. I was blessed to be allowed to be a part of it.”

Zambori is now in second grade. He loves sports in general and baseball in particular, and he’s a loyal fan of all Pittsburgh sports teams. He has four months left in his three-year, five-month chemotherapy protocol.

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Quake Takes: Damage Assessment by Drone

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

Alaska Aerial Media’s goal of convincing government agencies in The Last Frontier to explore the next aviation frontier paid off recently after an earthquake hit near Anchorage. The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities hired the company to map the damages with its fleet of drones.

The 7.0 earthquake rumbled Alaska’s largest city awake at 8:29 a.m. on Nov. 30. Alaska Aerial Media quickly deployed its crews to document the infrastructure damage, and the DOT&PF used the footage to assess the situation remotely and prioritize repairs. After five long days of flight time in the field and editing time in the studio, Alaska Aerial Media had a solid case study for using drones to assess disaster damages.

“It’s pretty impressive technology to be able to capture it in such a small amount of time where they’re trying to restore services or restore roadways while you’re out there mapping,” Alaska Aerial Media founder Ryan Marlow said. “It worked great.”

Alaska Aerial Media is a trailblazer in the drone industry. In 2015 the company became the first in the state to receive Federal Aviation Administration approval to fly drones for commercial purposes. Its two exemptions from airworthiness regulations for specific unmanned aircraft systems applied to aerial cinematography and aerial data collection.

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Cozy Cabin By The Lake

A client of my drone company, Airscape Photography, proposed a barter deal for a private aerial shoot — photos of their family cabin near Leesville Lake in Gretna, Va., in exchange for a family weekend at the cabin. We jumped at the chance for a getaway!

In addition to pictures of the cabin, I captured colorful sunrise and sunset shots, an eerie black-and-white photo of an abandoned house and more. See the full gallery of pictures.

Want to barter for an aerial shoot at your vacation home? We’re open to your pitch! Email airscapephoto@gmail.com.

Danny The Drone Dude

Originally published on the FAA’s internal website and at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

Throughout childhood and into college, I pictured the adult version of myself in a whole host of careers. The ideas ranged from the predictable (doctor) and practical (electrician) to the sensible (electrical engineer) and fantastical (wildlife photographer).

One future that I never could have imagined, or that any aptitude test could have predicted, was becoming a commercial drone pilot. Yet here I am today, living that dream in my spare time while working for the federal agency that taught me how to do it safely.

The genesis of droning dreams
I joined the Federal Aviation Administration as a writer-editor in December 2012, just as the integration of unmanned aircraft systems into the national airspace system became a priority. Congress had addressed the issue earlier that year in a series of mandates, and the FAA published a comprehensive plan and integration roadmap in November 2013.

FAA writer Danny Glover and his son, Anthony, on the job for a client (Photo: Cedar Box Photography)

Back then, I had only a passing knowledge of drones of the military variety, like the Predator and Reaper. But as I learned about smaller unmanned aircraft systems, I started picturing myself at the remote controls. I could experience the thrill of flight without being in the air myself, a prospect that rarely appeals to me.

Periodic exposure to UAS-related issues as a writer and editor heightened my interest. I reported on the first “UAS Day” at the Air Traffic Control Association, edited some content for the “Know Before You Fly” educational campaign, interviewed an FAA lawyer about the legal landscape surrounding drones, and wrote about the Pathfinder research program.

I talked about drones at home often enough that my wife and children heard the not-so-subtle message. They bought me one for my birthday. That’s when this 1980s child of one-joystick Atari games realized I wasn’t technologically adept enough to operate modern electronic toys.

I bounced that drone off every wall and piece of furniture in our house, testing the limits of the flexible plastic construction and propeller guards. Our teenage son, Anthony, was a natural at the controls — but when I let him fly the drone outside, he promptly rebelled against my orders to stay low and away from trees. He snagged the drone on a limb 25 feet in the air.

The whole family, and probably some amused neighbors, watched as an irritated and frantic father tried mightily to rescue his new toy. I tied a small rock to a long stretch of string and repeatedly heaved it into the air until it finally sailed over the limb. A few firm, downward yanks of the string freed the drone but not the rock. It dangled 15 feet above the ground for months, prompting the occasional curious question from visitors to our house. (more…)

Surrounded By Sprawl

There aren’t many working family farms left in Prince William County, and the Virginia Department of Transportation once tried to seize Cedars Farm to build a commuter parking lot. That idea failed in 2015, so I had the opportunity to capture this photo for an Airscape Photography client.

I did the work as a retirement gift for someone at the Prince William Soil and Water Conservation District. Her husband’s parents bought the 125-acre farm in 1936. See more views of the property here.

Pumpkin Air Patrol

If you live within driving distance of Winchester, Va., and haven’t taken a detour onto Route 522, you’ve been missing one of the best roadside markets in the Old Dominion. The Virginia Farm Market is in its fourth generation of business there.

Every fall, the property famous for its red building with a giant apple on top gets even more colorful as the seasonal pumpkins arrive. This year I had the pleasure of capturing the annual scene from above for the market, the first client of my new company, Airscape Photography.

See more aerial views of the property here.

Drone Journalism After A Disaster

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

When disaster strikes these days, it doesn’t take long for drone pilots to document the damage from the air – and for people to start talking about the imagery.

The reactions tend to fall into one of two camps. Those who appreciate the aerial perspectives of nature’s fury celebrate the technology that delivers it. But more cynical viewers (usually other drone pilots) see the footage as evidence of bad behavior.

The pessimists have a point. Drone operations are heavily restricted in disaster zones because of the prevalence of emergency responders flying manned aircraft at low altitudes, and some drone pilots do break the rules. Just this week police arrested a California man for flying his drone near an airport frequented by aircraft fighting wildfires in the state.

But people shouldn’t rush to the judgment that every aerial disaster photo or video was obtained illegally. That attitude undermines the quality visual journalism being produced by conscientious drone pilots, like Josh Haner for The New York Times.

Haner, who last year used his drone skills to help illustrate the “Carbon’s Casualties” series on climate change, was in Santa Rosa, Calif., last week to film the aftermath of deadly wildfires. His footage brings the fire’s impact to life from the sky – and it was all shot legally.

“Exercising the most caution around breaking news is something I’m very passionate about,” Haner told Drone Book. “I think as a journalistic community we need to think about when we fly and make ethical decisions that err on the side of caution.”

Haner shot the footage in two locations outside the range of temporary flight restrictions imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration, a fact that he confirmed beforehand by calling 1-800-WXBrief. He also showed his remote pilot’s certificate to police at the nearest road block, and they told him where he could fly without being over an active fire.

No flight restrictions were implemented in the area of the footage for about 24 hours after the fire started, but Haner and his editors decided against flying over active fires.

“Just because we can fly in areas before TFRs go into effect doesn’t mean we should,” he said. “In this situation we postponed our flights until we felt comfortable there were no fire or rescue flights in the area even though there were no TFRs in effect for a very long time.”

The first TFR took effect as Haner transmitted his footage to the newspaper. “I was glad that I’d already finished as I don’t like going anywhere near TFRs,” he said. “It’s just not worth it.”

Another video in Santa Rosa shot by drone pilot Douglas Thron gained traction online. It featured a U.S. Postal Service truck driving through a neighborhood destroyed by fire.

“It was a trippy thing — he was actually delivering the mail,” said Thron, who was on assignment for NBC’s “Today.” “I was shocked to see him because most of the roads were blocked off, but he obviously had access.”

Thron appears to have flown his drone before a TFR was implemented for the area.

The Los Angeles Times also published aerial imagery of the wildfire’s damage, and its approach to getting the story is worth noting. “No drone was used,” Marcus Yam said in an email. “I flew in a helicopter for those aerial surveys.”

The point is that it’s possible for journalists to obey the law and capture newsworthy aerial footage in disaster areas. Dozens of journalists are, like Haner, certified to fly drones themselves; news outlets can contract the work to highly experienced drone pilots like Thron; or they can go the old-fashioned but costlier route of hiring helicopter pilots.

So the next time you see powerful aerial footage of a disaster scene, resist the urge to jump to any unwarranted conclusions about how it was obtained. Just appreciate the moment.

Blazing An Aerial Imagery Trail

Originally published at Drone Book
By K. Daniel Glover

Photo: Fireground Images

Keith Muratori has made a career out of fighting fires – and photographing them. Now he is taking his joint passions for extinguishing and chronicling flames to the air.

When he’s not on duty, Muratori listens to an old-fashioned scanner and monitors modern tools like Twitter, fire-paging text services and fire photographer groups on the walkie-talkie app Zello to identify blazes. Then he records the tragic moments with either the camera around his neck or the drone in the air above them.

“The action, operations and vivid colors captured in firefighting imagery are amazing,” said Muratori, a veteran of the Bridgeport Fire Department in Connecticut. “It’s also about capturing the history of the fire service or a fire department, as well as the opportunity for firefighters to learn from this imagery.”

A native of Shelton, Conn., Muratori earned a bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology but developed an interest in firefighting while working on a wellness program for the department that he now calls home. His wife’s admiration for her grandfather, a retired Bridgeport firefighter, also inspired Muratori to make a career change. He initially worked as a volunteer firefighter in Shelton and has been on the paid force in Bridgeport for 17 years.

Muratori’s passion for photography took root at an earlier age, and he naturally gravitated toward documenting fires on film. Fire photographers like John Cetrino and Bill Noonan in Boston and Bob Pressler in the Bronx served as role models. Muratori is one of two official photographers for the Bridgeport department.

 

Watching fires develop while he was behind the lens gave Muratori a new perspective on their behavior, and fighting them inside gave him insights into how to photograph them. “Fire photography became a perfect fit both as a hobby and profession,” he said. “Photographing fires was making me a better fireman, and firefighting made me a better fire photographer.”

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