Unmanned aerial vehicles, better known as drones, are a big trend these days. For once, I’m actually part of a trend. Without knowing it, I’ve been moving towards aerial videography since I was a child. It allows me to combine the two defining passions of my life.
My father was a forest ranger in northern Alberta, so I grew up on the end of a runway. I have many fond memories of being allowed to go up in Bell 47s and the forestry’s Helio Courier.
I started flying radio-controlled aircraft in high school and still remember the simple six-channel radios used at that time. My best friend Gord and I would load up a couple of gliders and search for a slope from which to soar.
After high school, I studied aircraft maintenance at SAIT. Soon, I was working on light aircraft doing everything from regular maintenance to complete rebuilds. I was one of the few from my class that actually used the lessons learned about fabric covering.
In the 1980s Alberta’s economy took a downturn, and jobs in aircraft maintenance dwindled. For a while, I pursued my other love—capturing images. I started off selling cameras, but soon I was assisting a very talented commercial photographer who taught me many things about photography and advanced darkroom techniques. Later, I did audio visual shows with large banks of synchronized slide projectors. I loved the technical aspect and started a business creating slides for business presentations.
When that market was eliminated by computer programs like PowerPoint, I returned to aviation. I became an air traffic controller. I loved working in the Lethbridge tower. Every day I went to work and watched the planes. It was perfect. But then they moved me to the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR) stream. There were no planes in sight and I was not happy.
In high school, I spent many hours in the machine shop making things. I decided to pursue a career as a machinist. Quickly, I became very good at what I did because I enjoy solving problems. I never took a production job because I knew that would kill me. Instead, I became a research and development machinist specializing in prototype work. I loved being inventive and designing things. I even made things for myself, such as a computer controlled camera mount for making virtual reality photographs, and a computer-controlled foam-cutting machine for production of radio-controlled aircraft wings. The computer-controlled foam-cutting machine was eventually purchased by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for use in their low-speed aerodynamics lab.
I was still playing with photography, and when digital video became affordable, I was in like a dirty shirt. Due to family reasons, a few years ago we started planning to move to the coast. My wife Debbie and I knew it was best to bring jobs with us, so I started making videos on the side. When we arrived on the coast, we launched Story in Focus video production.
It’s been a great journey so far and we’ve decided to take it one step further. Before moving to the coast, I started building unmanned aerial vehicles. I now have two that are ready to fly. We obtained our first Special Flight Operations Certificates a few weeks ago and have several others planned for the near future.
I have found a way to combine my love of flying radio control, knowledge of how things work, aviation safety knowledge, and film skills in one package. I am doing what I was made to do and I am loving it.