Droning on… Helicopters vs Drones


Most know that I am a drone pilot but don’t know how that came to be.   For the past 35 or so years, we (KJ FilmWorks) would need aerial video or photos for a film production we were working on.  This was always a very expensive way to capture footage.  I experimented with using small fixed-wing planes but couldn’t go low, or slow enough in most cases.  This all came to a head about 10 years when we hired a helicopter in North Dakota for about 7 hours and we got a $14,000 bill.   That led me to start messing with ways to put a camera up in the air.  Keep in mind, this was way before drones were a thing.  I had the idea that I could put a camera on a large remote control helicopter.  

I went to a large hobby store in OKC and the guy thought I was nuts.  He asked, “have you ever flown an RC helicopter?”  Well, no, but how hard could it be?  He sold me a tiny one to practice with.  Turns out, they are very hard to fly.  I crashed it into just about every tree in my yard and dented all the walls in my shop.  It was mostly out of control.  It was like taking a June bug for a walk on a string.  I did finally get good enough to mount a small camera on it, but it was still a mess to fly.  

About now, there were some hobby companies selling multi-rotor drone kits.  Unlike a traditional helicopter with a single rotor, these had 4 or 6 rotors.  Much like today’s drones, and they could carry a lot of weight.   Keep in mind, these were a box of parts that you had to solder, glue, wire, and program from scratch with very little instruction.  I built about 4 of these and finally got a good working aircraft that could carry a camera, and was somewhat under control when flying. 

I started to advertise my new aerial photography services and the Enid newspaper did a front-page story about me in the Sunday paper.  On Tuesday I got a cease and desists letter from the FAA, stating I could not fly for money without a commercial pilot license.  The problem was there was no such thing as a commercial drone pilot’s license.   It took several years before the government caught up with technology and I got my commercial pilot license.   Now you can go to Walmart and buy a better drone than the first one I was flying.   The new commercial drones I fly today are amazing with features unheard of back in the day.  Now we are able to capture great footage in all but the windiest days that rival anything we could get with a very expensive helicopter.