Civiltech’s drone program continues to soar. Drone photography enhances and supports our services across the company. This includes providing backgrounds for digital renderings and marketing materials, an eye-in-the-sky for complex traffic studies, and sophisticated surveillance for monitoring material quantities in a project’s Construction Engineering phase. Civiltech also uses its drone photography as a tool for video creation.

Two busy drone pilots are responsible for keeping this robust program flying.  Ernest Williams and Jerry Chen are both licensed with the Federal Aviation Administration, and both wear other Civiltech hats.  In addition to his piloting duties, Ernest is also a CAD Technician who provides technical support and CAD services to Civiltech’s engineering teams.  When Jerry isn’t out flying a drone, he serves as Civiltech’s Digital Rendering Artist creating visualizations of designs for presentations and marketing materials.

Ernest and Jerry recently took some time to share insights about their drone piloting experience.

What do you enjoy about being a Civiltech drone pilot?
Ernest: I enjoy that the variety of projects at Civiltech allows me to take photographs throughout the Chicagoland area. These can range from streetscapes in the heart of downtown, to suburban transportation networks, to open landscapes in rural areas.
Jerry: As a Digital Rendering Artist, most of my photographs provide aerial views to be used as backgrounds for renderings.  I enjoy when I have captured a beautiful drone photo as it helps raise the quality of the renderings.

What do you find most interesting about flying and taking photographs from a drone?
Ernest: I love seeing life from the different perspectives provided by the drone. With the drone, you can view your surroundings from 100’ above the ground.  It’s interesting to see how landscapes, built areas, and transportation networks actually work together.
Jerry: I find it interesting to see Chicago from the drone camera. I recently got to photograph areas along Lake Shore Drive and saw many beautiful places along the lake. Taking drone photos allows me to explore new areas that I haven’t seen before.

What was involved in getting licensed to fly:
Ernest: I participated in a 3-day online course, then sat for the FAA licensing exam. I enjoyed the focus on learning about different airspace classifications and regulations.
Jerry: I also took an online course followed by the FAA licensing exam. I found the emphasis on safety interesting such as identifying air control space, checking the drone equipment, observing weather conditions, and being aware of the environment around you.

What are some challenges of flying drones?
Ernest: I find the biggest challenge to be weather.  Winds are a constant consideration both before and during a flight.
Jerry: I find the time restrictions created by drone battery life to be a challenge.  The battery life is only about 20-30 minutes, so there is a short amount of time to establish all of your settings such as iso, shutter speed, position, and camera angles. As Ernest mentioned, weather is also a challenge. Weather can change quickly in Chicago, so you need to be on top of the forecast to ensure that you don’t miss a good opportunity.

Is there some new use of drones that you foresee Civiltech moving into?
Ernest: While we already employ drone technology for many different uses. I look forward to expanding on our current data analysis with the use of LIDAR data.
Jerry: I foresee us moving into next level drone technology such as Mavic series drones or DJI Air 2’s for advanced panoramic modes.

Any interesting stories from your drone pilot experiences?
Ernest:  My flights have been pretty straight forward with no funny anecdotes . . . and I’d like to keep it that way.
Jerry: I had two recent funny experiences. I was flying a drone in a park and while landing, a large dog ran towards the drone intending to attack it.  I quickly raised the drone back into the air, but the dog held its ground watching the drone until its owner intervened. Another time, I was flying near a lake and the drone was attacked by a goose.  I had not realized I was near a nest. Fortunately, the goose didn’t damage the drone.  I got my photos and left quickly!