How does your experience working in the TV industry feed your work today? I got my first TV gig—as a producer and host for my own travel show—at a young age. This experience enabled me to wear a lot of hats, including writing, shooting, editing, and, of course, directing and producing. By learning all of these roles, I not only grew my skills within the video production space, but it also enhanced my leadership skills. I have found these skills to be very useful in my position as the founder and chief executive officer of Women Who Drone, a community that supports female drone pilots and aerial content creators, where I wear multiple hats on a daily basis.
How did you discover you wanted to start flying drones? Since I was a little girl, I had wanted to hike the Great Wall of China, but it wasn’t until my 28th birthday that I decided to book my flight to hike it solo. I knew I wanted to create a video, but I wasn’t quite sure how to capture such an immense space. So, I researched and came across some drone videos. Within 24 hours, I was at the store, purchasing my first drone. One week later, I hopped on my flight to China with my drone. Little did I know that my drone purchase would completely transform my life.
When and how did you get the idea to start Women Who Drone? After my trip to the Great Wall, I became obsessed with capturing aerial imagery from above. I soon realized I had wings for my passion. Eventually, The Washington Post contacted me to feature my aerial work. The woman on the phone told me she could not find many women flying drones. Simultaneously, many women from around the world were reaching out to me about my drone work and how I had gotten started. It was then that I realized that there was a lack of community for women in the drone industry. On October 4, 2017, Women Who Drone was born.
What did you find most challenging about getting certified as a drone pilot? In the United States, in order to earn income as a drone pilot, you must be certified. So, I studied for ten days, took my test and passed. The most challenging part was learning how to read airspace maps, which help pilots determine where they can and cannot fly. For example, the AirMap and B4UFLY apps can be used to observe the airspace you are in by location. For the actual Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Part 107 exam to become certified, the tricky part is memorizing the different types of airspace classes and their colors on the maps. However, once these are memorized, it comes with ease. Just as with anything, the more you study, the better you’ll get.
How has public perception of drones affected the industry? Many people I talk to ask about drones flying over their homes and past them, and how they feel it could potentially be an invasion of privacy. However, I don’t believe it’s as simple as that. We have people walking around with their camera phones all day and taking photos that you might be in. A drone is high up in the sky, taking photos of the world versus photos of people, although there are cases when people fly drones over properties they should not be flying over. This is a pilot error, which is why education for all drone pilots is necessary.
There are also safety measures and regulations that the public is concerned about, which is why the FAA has created regulations to ensure drones are safe in the sky, such as banning nighttime flights and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) flights and requiring permits in certain areas. The Unmanned Aircraft System Integration Pilot Program, released earlier this year, is also a collaboration between the FAA and a number of drone companies—PrecisionHawk, Flirtey, Zipline and more—to safely integrate drones into our national airspace, like delivering medical supplies using drones.
What restrictions or regulations have most impacted the drone industry in the United States? There are times when it’s almost impossible to fly a drone in certain airspace even when it seems safe and you’re following all of the rules. But airspace is restricted for a reason, and it’s important to follow these rules and get permits where needed.
What emerging technologies or platforms will have the biggest impact on aerial content in the next few years? Many emerging drone applications and platforms are going to impact the way we capture aerial content, from 3-D mapping platforms like Skycatch to drone operation apps like Kittyhawk and even pilot directories like DroneEntry.
What tips do you have for a photographer who is just starting to take images or videos using a drone? I recommend mastering your drone’s joysticks and their movements and the intelligent flight features available on your drone. Practice always makes perfect, so be sure to go out there and practice, practice, practice!
What excites you about the drone industry right now? What’s really exciting to me is not only the amazing growth of this industry, but also drones’ potential to impact our society exponentially. Around the world, many of our Women Who Drone ambassadors are already using their drones to help people and the environment, from search and rescues to agricultural projects to cinematography. The potential of this industry is so expansive and full of so much opportunity. Right now, it’s only the beginning, and Women Who Drone is doing all that we can to get more women and girls involved with drone technology and careers.