Army Aviator looking for advice

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On 12/28/2018 at 9:17 PM, Jesse Austin said:

I’m currently an Army Aviator interested in pursuing a career in the UAV field.  Can anyone give me some pointers on how to gain flight hours and make myself marketable?  Also, are there any entry level job positions that will train helicopter pilots looking to make the transition?

You can try General Atomics.  But you will spend a lot of time deployed.  I am retired Army Aviator (OH-58D driver) as well.  Feel free to contact me at for any offline discussion.


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21 hours ago, David said:

I fly a Phantom 4 Pro and process with 3D Robotics SiteScan. It provides outstanding orthomosaics and data files. There are other programs, such as Pix4D, that provide similar benefits.  I'm exploring fixed-wing and VTOL UAVs for longer flights over larger areas, which would be needed for aerial surveys of the Everglades and construction sites.


The Phantom 4 gives you about 30 minutes flight time, right?  Is there a way to increase that flight time?  How much flight time does a VTOL give you?


I did a little google searching on 3D Robotics and Sitescan.  Both programs look fantastic!  Do you freelance or do you work for a company?

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19 hours ago, Twobirdsflying said:

Jesse, the first thing you'll want to do is get your Part 107 Remote Pilot sUAV license. You have all of the knowledge needed already. You'll need weather, loading and flight characteristics, VFR, airspace, and part 107 regs.

Most of the work being done with the sUAV is photography / cinematography and real estate. So, I would get on the phone and talk to Amazon, Power Companies, Oil refineries, security companies and police departments share your background and let them know that you want to fly UAVs. Keep in mind these are small UAVs and not Predators. 

Best of luck to you Jesse.

I downloaded some study material off the FAA website.  Hopefully that will give me the information I need for the test.  If you have any suggestions on test preparation, you’re knowledge would be greatly appreciated.  

Based on the research I’ve done so far, it seems like small commercial drones are currently more accessible for newbies like myself.  I brought up Predators as a possible path I could take to gain some experience.

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I will definitely do some research on General Atomics.  Thank you for the contact information.  I’ll sit down this week and write you an email.  Here’s my email as well:  By the way, it’s a shame the Army phased out the OH-58.  Beautiful aircraft.  I had the pleasure of flying an Alpha/Chuck during BWS.   It flew like a champ.

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They'll hit you with a bunch of questions that require the use and understanding of VFR sectionals. What drove me nuts are questions like:

You've been hired to inspect a section of railroad tracks from Podunk 1 and Podunk 2 which are just dots buried under magenta shading, so it takes 10 minutes just to find the spots.

VFR sectionals and FAA Part 107 regs. You may see questions about loading and its impact on flight performance and characteristics when center of gravity shifts. Weather usually gets a bunch of questions like cloud formations, turbulence,land mass heat retention etc.

VFR sectionals, air space, weather and Part 107 regs will get you through. Good luck.


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On 12/30/2018 at 9:04 AM, Jesse Austin said:


I'm really interested in how Law Enforcement integrates drones into their every day operations.  Do they use them for traffic and SWAT operations?

Yes, they most likely are using them for those reasons and more. I know they use them a lot for scouting out areas they will be operating in for big events. There was quite a few during 4th of july evening in the larger city in my area. Whatever they need them for, they have them.

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On 1/5/2019 at 2:49 PM, Jesse Austin said:


What would be the best equipment/drone to use for that type of work?

I don't know the answer to that question yet, but I suspect it will be a moving target, depending on 1) what our annual mission backlog starts to look like as we get more requests from internal clients, 2) The features and prices offered in the marketplace over the coming years and 3) what our management is willing to support with budget resources.

Right now, we have a Phantom 4 Pro and an Inspire 1. Long term, I suspect a VTOL system may do a better job, but for now, we have what we need in order to figure out what we're gonna need.

I haven't flown the Phantom yet (it's stationed in a field office about 200 miles away from my office).

With the Inspire, I can fly about 125 ac (imagine a square area of about 1km per side) in about 15 minutes, at 395' AGOL, on one battery, without going beyond visual line of sight (imagine a square area of about 1km per side). So I fly these 100 ac flight missions and upload them to DroneDeploy in batches of 4 missions each, which totals about 1000 images (the limit of the number of images per batch that we can process under our current license agreement with them). When I get these 400 ac georef'd mosaicked solutions back, I stitch them together in ArcGIS and load them up to our server.

With a VTOL system, I'd most likely create long 1km deep rectangles and post observers every 1 km along a levee, I would keep them in constant (ground) radio communication with the pilot so that he has continual observation of the unit and the surrounding airspace at all times. That keeps us within Part 107 compliance without a waiver, and keeps the overhead traffic safe, which is of course Job 1.

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On 1/5/2019 at 1:35 PM, Jesse Austin said:


Another great idea.  That way I can utilize my degree to some capacity.  Any idea if the EPA is using drones and if they use contractors?  I think using drone imaging would be more a cost effective option than a manned aircraft.  Plus it would give you access to those hard to reach areas like wetlands that would require a helicopter and a photographer.  What kind of software do drones use to map out topography?

I suspect that EPA will be a bit shy about "surveilling" private property with UAVs. They've gone all the way to the Supreme Court with high altitude aerial imagery, but that doesn't mean they want to do it again over drones. My guess is that they'll likely stick with satellite imagery for large scale monitoring, and go to the state regulatory agency and/or contractors for local monitoring, SuperFund compliance, etc. 

BLM and USACE, on the other hand, appear using the heck out of drones, as are some of the state Department of Natural Resources agencies. At the State level, Florida has been contracting drone work out (probably for blameshed management purposes), but I suspect that will change as case law develops, and once the technology settles a bit. City and county agencies seem to be charging ahead with their drones, especially for Fire / Rescue.

Topography requires LiDAR, and, at least in the state of Florida, requires a licensed Professional Land Surveyor / Mapper (PLSM, aka "surveyor") to produce a finished product. If it's bare ground, we can make a photogrammetric model from the point cloud where photopoints coincide (Pix 4D and DroneDeploy both offer this), but in Florida you're only going to find bare ground on disrupted land, such as construction sites or open mines (like Phosphate or Sand). Without bare ground, photogrammetry provides a surface of the vegetation, not the land. LiDAR cuts through that problem by sending a bunch of little laser pulses (several to hundreds per square meter) through the vegetative canopy to the ground, providing point clouds at canopy level and at ground level. The canopy-level point clouds are "scraped off" algorithmically to expose a "bare earth" model under the veg. Most of our LiDAR projects are large enough (~100,000 ac -> statewide) that they make more sense to do with manned aircraft. However, when once get the statewide LiDAR topography layer in place, it might make more sense to 'drape' smaller datasets on top of it.


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17 hours ago, Jesse Austin said:

Nice, that should give me a solid foundation for studying.  

What is the purpose of locating dots buried under magenta shading?  

If you're talking about reading sectional charts, the purpose is for you as a commercial remote operator to find out where you're not allowed to fly.

I've learned that, since we have to yield right of way to all manned aircraft, I still spend lots of time dropping the drone and burning battery time near the deck as someone in a Cessna loiters over the marsh at a few hundred feet, doing lazy turns and maneuvers and just enjoying the low-density air coming off all that warm water. I put in NOTAMs, I contact all the local airports and warn them, and still I get the little single-props and seaplanes cruising into the work zone. I get it, it's my job to stay out of their way, but it can be frustrating.

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  • 1 year later...

I will truely do a little studies on General Atomics.  Thank you for the contact facts.  I’ll sit down this week and write you an e-mail.  Here’s my e mail as nicely:  stitching jesse.H.Austin@gmail.Com.  By the way, it’s a disgrace the Army phased out the OH-fifty eight.  Beautiful aircraft.  I had the pleasure of flying an Alpha/Chuck during BWS.   It flew like a champ.

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  • 6 months later...

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