Drones & New Disasters

We are watching this  summer’s drastic weather on the southern coast and out west with an eye towards the sky. This is the first year we have heard about incorporating independent drones in disaster areas on a larger and more structured basis to help with search and recovery, image capture for news and inspections for insurance claims.

In past years, the rule of thumb was to not fly in disaster areas because it would inhibit first-responders, especially those fighting fires or attempting air rescues during a flood. Even though this is still the case in a majority of disaster areas, with new technology and coordination between agencies, independent drone operators are being called on more often for assistance. Here are a few news items we noticed lately.

  • An app called DroneUp is coordinating FAA Licensed Drone pilots to help in disaster areas. As a pilot, we can sign up for the service and help with communication during the disaster. All flights are coordinated with FAA agencies.
  • Insurance Companies are finding it much easier to do damage inspections from the air instead of walking and crawling around dangerous sites to assess damage. ABC news had a great article about the use of drones for this purpose.
  • Fire Departments that frequently battle forest fires are beginning to use drones for fire inspection often using thermal cameras and gas sensors to better asses the situations they will be risking their lives in. Article about drones & firefighting

It’s great to see drones finally getting some good news coverage however it is still vitally important that all operators follow FAA guidelines, your local guidelines when it comes to disasters and also common sense. An image of a coast guard helicopter landing in a Houston suburb made it clear that getting images of a disaster area is far less important than rescuing lives. Stay safe out there everyone!


Cumberland River in Tennessee



drone myth – flying a drone is easy

easy can be defined in two parts:  “achieved without great effort; presenting few difficulties” the first part is probably the part we gravitate towards, without great effort. and drones can be flown without great effort….but they also present a few difficulties. it’s this second part we may dismiss. but anything that can present difficulties can not be defined as “easy”.

drone myth – flying a drone is easy

the deception in the sentence above is that it only entails “flying”. yes! the flying of the drone is easy. it’s all the other parts of operating drones that can be difficult. i have broken down the entire process into 5 difficult yet key skills to master:

  • the actual operation of the drone including preparation & flying
  • understanding aviation regulations including airspace and self control
  • camera operations for still images including settings & composition
  • camera operations and movements for video including smooth movements & stellar communication with your pilot
  • post production on images including image management & video editing.

phew! that. does. not. seem. easy. we have overcome this by focusing on the strengths of each of our contractors. the pilot flies, the camera man operators, the editor…well…edits.

for drone operators do you need to be proficient in all these key areas? no, and no one can really do these all well. so how do you master this technology? through partnerships. we know what we are all good at and team with people that enhance our weaknesses. drones are a team sport. and that is the best part of flying.

Construction site progress photo taken at twilight in downtown Nashville, TN. Image by Aerial Innovations of TN.



In the Shadow of the Moon

Yesterday, the team at Aerial Innovations of TN, Inc. witnessed a rare event; a total eclipse of the sun. In the weeks leading up to Aug 21, 1:27 pm, several of us grew ecstatic, while others, a little more skeptical, read up and got educated about what we were going to see. And since we are photographers, how we were going to photograph what we saw.

On the day of the eclipse, we were scattered around the path of totality. Some of us went north of Nashville for a few more seconds of awe. We had two photographers along the skyline of Nashville with crowds yelling out in amazement. And some of us took to our own backyards to enjoy with family & friends.

We hope you had a great American eclipse like we did. Please enjoy the images below and stay tuned on our social media accounts for videos, time-lapses and more!

Images below by Tiffany Holmes (upper left), Rick Smith (top right & bottom right), Wendy Whittemore (bottom left) and Bonnie Whittemore (she got cake!) 

The Attack of the Tomato

We got to have a little fun this past Saturday with our #DJIMavicPro. The East Nashville Tomato Art Fest is in it’s 15th year & for the past 5 years, a large tomato mural has been painted in the middle of 5 points. It originated with muralist Andee Rudloff and is now an ongoing project funded by the Nashville #ChamberEast and designed by street artist Troy Duff.

This year’s theme could be called “Attack of the Tomato”. The image of a large tomato looks like it fell from the sky and cracked the pavement around 5 points. And only the drone can show that perfect perspective! It was a dark start so we did a time-lapse first for the 4am painting party. At 5:33 we were cleared for drone flights. The ceilings were a little low but still gave us the clearance we needed to fly. By the time the 5K was to start at 7am, the art was done and selfies ensued. See the final result below and stay tuned for more footage from the mural.

From all of us at Aerial Innovations, hope you had a great Tomato Weekend!

Here are 2 videos from the 2017 Troy Duff Tomato Mural & the 2013 Chicnhair Mural

2017 Mural Drone Video & Time-lapse by Aerial Innovations of TN, Inc.

2012 Mural Timelapse by Stacey Irvin 

Mural by Troy Duff Art and Photo by Aerial Innovations of TN, Inc. & Chamber East

Drone photo of the Tomato Arts Fest street mural in East Nashville. Photo by Aerial Innovations of TN.

weekly drone myth – i’m covered!

“I’m older and have more insurance.” such a great line from the movie fried green tomatoes. it brings to light the fact that some of us have so much insurance, we must be covered for lots of things, right? but are you covered for your drone? for damage your drone may cause? or lawsuits that prove you were flying recklessly and harmed someone? unless you specifically have drone or UAV insurance, you more than likely are not covered.

myth – general liability or umbrella insurance policies cover my drone

insurance companies are starting to get smart. they have been watching as the use of drones in commercial applications increase and they are following the regulations that the FAA is enforcing. on our last policy we applied for, Aerial Innovations had to supply our remote pilot licences and also answer a few interesting questions like are we allowed to fly over 400′. there is not a lot of actuarial data out there yet so early on, the coverage we received seemed pretty general and basic. as more and more claims are made, they will start making policies very specific and very tough to defend if you are not operating legally.

for operators – if you haven’t looked into specific drone coverage yet, you may want to contact a broker that has experience with handling UAV insurance like Raleigh Harwell at WC Dillon Company. he is helping companies and operators make sure they have exactly what they need.

in addition, it may be tempting to cut corners and go with insurance on demand (yes, there is such a thing) but there are some drawbacks to this as Raleigh points out, “it’s only for liability so no physical damage coverage, they have a maximum limit of $5 million and you have flight time restrictions.” an annual policy is always best.

so before you run your drone into someones car in the parking lot, think….am i covered?

Twilight aerial photography by Aerial Innovations of TN.


weekly drone myth – airspace? what airspace?

ever wonder what airspace your project is located in? would you know how to find that information? once you know the airspace classification, do you know where a waiver is required? for awhile, these questions were somewhat murky especially to those new to aviation. flight charts are notoriously confusing and if there is overlapping airspace, it may be very frustrating. here is your weekly bit of drone wisdom from your friends at Aerial Innovations of TN, Inc.

drone myth – airspace can be confusing

so this one was not a myth until now. recently, the faa has been rolling out a new gis mapping system to help clarify where drone operations are allowed based on proximity to airports. instead of class B, C, D interpretations, these new maps  simply give a maximum altitude allowed in certain 1 square mile blocks. from 0 feet to 400 feet, 0 meaning no flights without a waiver, then 100, 200 & 300 blocks that show maximum altitude allowed without a waiver. 400 ft max altitude is allowed remaining areas. these altitudes are crystal clear on the map in any area you are operating in. (some airports areas are still being updated so check back frequently)

for drone operators:

save a quick link to the faa maps and cross check your flight location before you do any quoting or operating. if your location is within a “0” square, know how to apply for a waiver (usually takes up to 90 days) and charge for your time, this is a service you are providing. if you are working under a limited altitude like 100-300 ft., maintain the proper altitude and watch out for air traffic. doesn’t it feel good to be in the know?

Drone photo of a beautiful sunset taken by Aerial Innovations of TN.



weekly drone myth – vertical rut

this past week peta pixel published the best drone photos of 2017. this was a entry contest with a panel of judges. There was a very strong theme running through all of the winners; the same vertical angle was used in all but one image. (vertical in land based photography describes a format or ratio while in aerial photography, it is an angle taken straight down.) and it’s a very good angle, we have galleries of stunning verticals including abstracts  but there are so many other ways to make a great aerial image.

it’s easy to get stuck in a rut and shoot the same style or subject without experimenting. we are able to create a multitude of angles mainly because we have a 2 person set up when doing drone projects; pilot and camera operator. the DJI inspire series also allows us free-camera movement so we can look out to the horizon, play with the angle of the sun, incorporate clouds and shadows and close-up abstracts. for our clients, we take a wide variety of angles. always the ones they request but often several more that are interesting to us or complete the story of the project.

for those choosing images (editors, jurors, marketers) mix it up. choose various angles, involve others in your selection process. stay out of the vertical rut….unless it’s a key shot.

Vertical aerial image taken by Aerial Innovations of TN.

weekly drone myth – they won’t interfere with air traffic

It’s a big blue sky and it’s just a small object. Why would there be restrictions on where a drone can be flown? If you have been in aviation long or even remember the Miracle on the Hudson, you know it is fairly rare but collisions do happen; with birds, other aircraft and even buildings not to mention the ground.  The goal of the FAA and the focus of their regulations on drones in airspace is to keep aircraft from running into stuff. Is it likely a drone will take down another aircraft or fail in flight and severely damage property? Not likely, but not impossible.

drone myth – Drones won’t interfere with air traffic. 

The AOPA has a great article out this week about this exact topic; where drones can fly and how to contact local authorities for authorization (remember, you must be a licensed pilot to request authorization). It’s not enough to own or have permission of the property owner in order to conduct flight operations on your project.  Or if you are hiring a professional, make sure they have the information on the airspace of your location.

(The FAA just released new maps on where and what altitude drones are allowed to operate in. Some locations may still need prior authorization.)

drone operators

Know your airspace. Educate your client or company that you may not always be able to get the shot that is in a restricted space using a drone. Understand how and when to apply for waivers or authorization. The regulations are changing quickly as the technology is advancing. Monitor the FAA web site UAS area and get to know your local FISDO office. If you want to succeed, know the rules and regulations first. The sky is the limit!

Photo of a plane on a runway by Aerial Innovations of TN.

weekly drone myth – the rules don’t apply

I wasn’t going to touch on regulations 2 weeks out of 3, but this news article about illegal flying this past week in Nashville caught our attention as a case study in what NOT to do.

drone myth – the rules don’t apply to me because ________ (fill in the blank).

What is your fill-in-the blank? Are you a hobbyist that just flies for fun…but happens to be around a building your friend is selling? Or are you flying for a company that isn’t necessarily paying you to fly…but still using the images you take? Or do you think that the product will outweigh the consequences…if there are any?

This gentleman in Nashville found out there are consequences. In his flight, he blatantly disobeyed at least 5 regulations that pertain to both hobbyists and commercial operators. I say blatant because at this point in the game if you haven’t made an effort to find out what the regulations are then why are you flying at all?

for operators: don’t be that guy

I tend to say I am not on a mission to save us from drones but to save drones from us. It’s up to us as responsible operators to know and follow the regulations and to self report. This is the line of defense we can create to help keep us all flying. Once an incident occurs (injury, major damage, even death) then the regulations will come fast and furious and will be out of our hands. Let’s not be that guy….that ruins it for the rest. Safe flying everyone!!

Drone image of mid-town Nashville at twilight. Photo by Aerial Innovations of TN.




drone myth – they’re cheap!

Like most new technology and automation, UAVs (drones) promise us an easier, faster and cheaper way to complete a task. But like most new technologies, the full cost is often not in the initial price tag. With drones, we are offered a less expensive option to renting planes and helicopters, but the true costs can start to add up.

drone myth: they are cheaper to use and operate than other aerial platforms

Yes…and no….it depends. In getting calls about pricing here at Aerial Innovations, we often hear, “Well, I just need a drone, nothing expensive.” and “Wouldn’t it be cheaper with a drone?” The costs associated with the drone far exceed the cost of the aircraft. The prices you see at WalMart, Amazon and on DJI are for just the initial set up.

For professionals, we need to add batteries, ipads, additional controllers, top of the line lenses. Then there are the man hours. For our helicopter and airplane flights, we share the cost across several clients and finish jobs in several minutes. We have much less costly options for still images because we can shoot in volume and cover a lot of ground

For DIYers, the cost is affordable initially. And it’s fun! But the disillutionment sets in after a few crashes, struggling with frequent firmware updates, frustration in managing large files and videos that need additional expensive programs. And that’s even before you start pricing drone insurance (yes, you should have specific drone insurance.) It can add up. So is it cheaper? Maybe not in the long run.

for operators: don’t get dispelled by this myth, you have costs!

Don’t sell yourself short. Licensing, insurance, training, marketing…it all costs money. Just accounting for your time won’t help you last in the market for long and devalues your product. Price the project to cover ALL of your costs and help your clients understand the value you bring by being a professional (you are a professional, right?)

Dual drone controls at Aerial Innovations of TN.

the equipment keeps multiplying