Category Archives: Drone Girl Profiles

Meet Loretta Alkalay, the drone lawyer

Loretta Alkalay

Meet Loretta Alkalay, a New York-based aviation attorney and professor.

She’s highly experienced in drones, having spent 30 years with the FAA and the past 7 years doing consulting work in international aviation. She studied at Cornell University and NYU. She is a renowned teacher who has taught in India, and is currently an adjunct professor at Vaughn College of Aeronautic Engineering, Aviation, and Technology in Queens, New York.

Drone Girl: Tell me about what you do in the drone industry.

Loretta Alklay: I was an aviation attorney for 30 years. That’s not particularly surprising. When people find out I fly drones, I have 5 Phantoms, AND I am a grandmother, people are surprised.

DG: Surprised? Why?

LA: The stereotypical image of someone flying a drone is not a woman, and it’s certainly not a grandmother.

The best compliment I ever got was when I was flying in Bicentennial Park (now Museum Park) in Miami. It’s right next to the port — the center of Miami. I was flying my drone and these two homeless men had been chatting to me. On the way out, one of the them turns to the other and says, “You’re never too old to learn something new.” I felt like I gave him hope.

DG: You studied law at New York University. Why did you decide to do specialize in aviation law? Continue reading Meet Loretta Alkalay, the drone lawyer

Kiteboarder Karlie Thoma uses drones too

Our latest Drone Girl profile is a little different and features someone whose profession has nothing to do with drones, yet they entered her life, which happens to be the life of a kiteboarder.

18-year-old kiteboarder Karlie Thoma recently worked with Salt Lake City-based production company Atomic City Films to film a short film about her kiteboarding.

The film was shot in Maui, Hawaii on the Autel Robotics X-Star Drone with 4K Camera. Here’s our interview:

Drone Girl: Usually I profile people who work with drones as operators, but your story is a little different. You worked with drones so they could film you! How did this whole project come about?

Karlie Thoma: I was approached by Rhett (Director at Atomic City Films) who saw my pictures on Instagram. He then contacted me to set up a time for us to meet and shortly after that we were having lunch discussing his idea of the shoot. I recommend some of my favorite spots to kiteboard. It was difficult to narrow the spots down. There were no fly zones because the beach was close to the airport. We ended up choosing a prime location on Maui’s north shore, Baby Beach.An aerial shot from an Autel Robotics drone featuring Kiteboarder Karlie Thoma in Maui. The picture is from Atomic City Film's short film, shot via an Autel Robotics drone.

DG: How many drones were up in the air each time?
KT: There were 2 drones. One of the drones actually hit my lines and the drone fell into the water. In-between breaks I went diving but did not find the drone.
DG: What was it like working with the drones?

Continue reading Kiteboarder Karlie Thoma uses drones too

Meet Drone Girl’s first-ever intern!

I’m so excited to announce that Drone Girl has its first-ever intern! Meet Vivien Nguyen, who will join the team this summer and who expects to work on a redesign of the site layout, designing new merchandise, and maybe some other projects coming soon!

Vivien caught my eye after successfully launching her own business back in 2013 (just after Drone Girl launched),  an Etsy shop for buttons and other crafty gifts. She’s also an excellent student, and has some diverse interests including Netflix, coffee and calculus.

DSC_0091Drone Girl: Where do you go to school?
Vivien Nguyen: I am a rising sophomore at UC Berkeley! Insert obligatory “Go Bears!”.
DG: What do you plan to major in?
VN: I’m an intended CS major but would also like to spend sometime studying art or architecture if possible.
DG: What is the one thing you would most like to see in the future regarding drones?

Continue reading Meet Drone Girl’s first-ever intern!

Meet Zoe, the world’s top female drone pilot

In Zoe Stumbaugh’s world, it’s drones pretty much 24/7. Even when she’s not racing (she is the U.S.’s top female drone racer, after all), she’s designing new propellers, working on her own racing drone, or flying for fun near her home in Santa Cruz, California.

After being bedridden in her early 20s, Zoe found a hobby — racing drones. Since then, it ballooned into her winning the first ever sanctioned FPV (First Person View) race in the U.S., and she is now working on 3D Freestyle flying. Plus, she developed the world’s smallest competition-level FPV Racing Drone, the Zat 109.

I had the joy of flying with Zoe in San Jose, where she taught me what goes into FPV racing, building drones and what’s new in drone racing.

Learning to FPV from grand master @zoefpv

A photo posted by Sally French (@sallyannfrench) on Mar 31, 2016 at 6:18pm PDT

Drone Girl: How did you get into FPV?

Zoe Stumbaugh: I was really, really sick. I had to go through a lot of different surgeries. I was bound to my bed for a good 2 years. I was depressed. My friend told me, ‘You need a new hobby.’ I went to the hobby shop. I found a micro drone. Then I got a larger one. I saw videos of people flying FPV on YouTube, and thought, ‘I need to do that.’

It took me 2-3 months from hearing about it to flying FPV, because I had to build it myself. I never soldered anything in my life. I had to teach myself to do that.

Then I started winning races.

DG: How would you describe FPV to someone who has never done it before?

ZS: FPV is like having an out of body experience that you get to control. I liken it to being a monk where you can have an elevated experience and get to leave your body. Continue reading Meet Zoe, the world’s top female drone pilot

Meet the woman whose project uses drones to study El Nino’s impact on California

Earlier this week we told you about the Nature Conservancy’s Phones and Drones volunteer project. Now, meet one of the women behind the project.

As El Nino hits the West Coast, it’s a prime time for scientists to use the weather patterns as a crystal ball for future climate change. Tides are higher, and there are more storms. The Nature Conservancy’s Sarah Newkirk is spearheading a project that looks at the coast line using images from drones, shot by “citizen scientists” — essentially anyone with a drone.

For drone operators interested in volunteering with the project, visit this site.

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Sarah Newkirk

Drone Girl: Why did this project come about?

SN: I direct the California Coastal Project at the Nature Conservancy of California, and our job is to  makes sure we still have natural shorelines, but we have a land development threat. Our communities are growing, but there is sea level rise, so coastal habitats are getting squeezed out of existence.

DG: So what’s your role?

SN: We’re working to help communities and decision makers make wise decisions about using natural resources rather than sea walls.  Sometimes that means restoring wetlands, getting infrastructure off the coast. It also means understanding how sea level rise and climate driven coastal change impact how we go about this. It’s a conservation problem in 4 dimensions — latitude, longigtue, altitude and time. It’s not about our coastline today, but tomorrow.

DG: What’s the project you are doing now with drones? Continue reading Meet the woman whose project uses drones to study El Nino’s impact on California

Meet the Hawaiian woman who makes surf videos with a drone

Pake Salmon owns a Hawaii destination wedding company, but her hobby is drones. Based out of Makahu, Oahu, a well-known surfing hot spot, Salmon has found a niche photographing surfers with a drone. Here’s how she creates her stunning shots”

DG: How has the mainstream arrival of drones changed surf photography?

PS: Helicopters would come in for big waves. Now you can just send drones in and take care of that shot.

You can definitely get a closer perspective to the surfer. It’s these nice tracking shots you can get doing surfing. You can get a lot more creative with the people. You can stay low to the water and track them as they catch the wave.

Shoreline-0094DG: What do you fly?

PS: I started with the Phantom Vision 2. It didn’t come out of the box ready to fly the way drones do now, and I lost it in the ocean last year. That prompted me to get the Phantom 3 Professional.

DG: You lost it in the ocean? Continue reading Meet the Hawaiian woman who makes surf videos with a drone

Land surveying with drones: meet Heller Gregory

unnamedThe next in our series of Drone Girl profiles is with Heller Gregory, thepresident and chief pilot of GrandView Services (named after her grade school in Southern California), which provides aerial data for mapping, inspection, monitoring and maintenance.

What’s your business all about?

My husband has a soil engineering business in Walnut Creek, where he does landslide repair and grading. I had a pilot’s license. He thought it might be good to survey land with a drone. I mostly work on projects for his business, often where he repairs landslides in people’s backyards.  I use 3D photogrammetry software to do the rendering and then monitor the photos for movement. Every couple months or so as they’re repairing it, I’ll conduct a flight and make sure there’s no movement. That offers a great view — there’s no other way of doing it.

What software and hardware do you use?

I’m using both Pix4D and ReCap 360 from Autodesk. As far as gear, I just have an IRIS+. I’m collecting the data with a GoPro, which is all I need. I don’t need the big expensive drone.unnamed

How did you get into drones?

I pretty much got into it because it seemed like a viable industry that’s coming up. I’ve always been pretty tech savvy and on top of the new technology that’s going on.

I’m an empty nester, and this fell together perfectly. With my boys out of the house, I was looking for a job. So I just created my own job.  Continue reading Land surveying with drones: meet Heller Gregory

Meet the patent attorney who made the drone that won ‘Shark Tank’ happen

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Courtesy photo

The next in our series of Drone Girl profiles is with Mel Coombes, a patent attorney at  Lee & Hayes.

Got an idea for a new drone technology? Mel Coombes wants to hear it.

Coombes is a patent attorney at Lee & Hayes who has worked on drone patents including XCraft’s X PlusOne and Phone Drone, the two drones that impressed judges on Shark Tank and landed a $1.5 million deal with all 5 Shark Tank investors, including Mark Cuban.

Coombes’ expertise is rooted in the military, where she served as a former Navy pilot. Coombes was a flight and academic instructor for the U.S. Navy and was responsible for managing training and professional development of hundreds of students, and has received Navy Commendation and Humanitarian Assistance Medals for tsunami relief missions in Sumatra. She was also awarded the Navy Achievement Medal for actions that resulted in saving an aircraft.

Drone Girl: What are you working on right now?

Mel Coombes: xCraft has been consuming my life all week actually; they’re prepping their first shipment to go out this week. xCraft came to us (Lee & Hayes) just one year ago and now they’ve come so far, and even been on Shark Tank. This is all in the span of one year.

SHARK TANK - "Episode 705" - In one of the most exciting moments of "Shark Tank" history, the ante is upped when the Sharks start to bid OVER the asking price for one product and the million dollar offers start to fly. But will greed burst the bubble before a deal is set? Another pitch prompts a brutal brush-off from an irate Shark. Two parents from Salem, Massachusetts pitch their novel idea for managing Trick-or-Treaters' excess candy with a children's book and gifts; two men from Pacific Palisades, California tout their premium beef jerky made from filet mignon which has the Sharks swooning over the taste and the price point; a woman from Sand City, California pitches a full-length mirror designed to build self-esteem, and two men from Sandpoint, Idaho claim they have redefined drones with inventions that fly up to 60 mph and as high as 10,000 feet. In addition, in a follow-up on the NYC-based Bantam Bagels, the company in which Lori Grenier invested last season, we see how their unique stuffed bagels fare when given a national stage, on "Shark Tank," FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23 (9:00-10:01 p.m. ET) on the ABC Television Network. (ABC/Beth Dubber) JD CLARIDGE, CHARLES MANNING (XCRAFT)
JD Claridge and Charles Manning demo XCraft on the set of Shark Tank. (ABC/Beth Dubber)

What are the parallels you see in coming from a military background vs. the commercial and consumer drone market?

It’s kind of interesting. When I started in patent law we didn’t have a great deal of aerospace clients here, so I had very limited exposure right away. With xCraft, it’s been a lot of fun to be able to draw the parallels with my experience in the military and understanding airspace and aviation language and personalities.

Going through the user manual for X Plus One, I was just like, ‘oh! This is so awesome.’ It’s like a NATEC manual in the Navy. They’ve written it almost the same. It’s so neat that they’ve thought of all of these things and spelled it out fort the customer, to make it as simple as possible for the customer.

What’s the wildest patent you’ve ever seen in the drone industry?

I don’t think any idea is really truly crazy. Technology is moving so fast. People would have thought 10 years ago that the things we have today in drones would never happen. As long as an expert in the field can see that would happen — I have an aerospace background — it’s easy to see if something will work aerodynamically or will not. As long as it will work aerodynamically or adds a feature to the device to make it work, then the sky is the limit. Continue reading Meet the patent attorney who made the drone that won ‘Shark Tank’ happen