Drone Girl likes to periodically profile awesome drone users. Meet Davis Hunt! He’s a pilot, but he also flies drones! He’s also the owner of ViewPoint Aviation in Boston, Massachusetts.
Drone Girl: What’s your background, and how did you get into drones?
Davis Hunt: I’ve been an aviation enthusiast since I was a kid. I got my Private Pilot certificate when I was 17, Instrument rating at 19, Commercial rating at 20, and put myself through undergrad working as a CFI. I love flying and the aviation community. My professional background is in commercial aviation. Given the cost structure of flying, with fuel prices north of $5 a gallon, I wanted to explore platforms that would allow for more competitive, affordable structure and really get creative with it. . I had seen several videos posted using UAV’s, specifically a professional-grade octo-copter. I was captivated by the idea, but wasn’t crazy about investing $15,000 – $20,000. Finally, I heard about the DJI Phantom. I was so impressed by the build quality and technology, I bought two. Currently, they don’t have names yet, but I think everything that flies should be named. Have to work on that….
DG: You’re a pilot; does that change the way you approach flying drones? Or is flying a drone different than piloting a plane?
DH: My drone flying practices are definitely heavily influenced by flying aircraft. Aviation is filled with many sayings and wisdom; one of those being “flying isn’t inherently dangerous, it’s just unforgiving”. While flying a drone doesn’t have the same immediate safety risks, it does have other risks. It’s imperative to establish safe operating principles and procedures. Extreme caution must be exercised, especially when operating near crowds. At the end of the day, safe habits and safe operation will better allow for the incorporation of drones into useful roles, while not filling the headlines with stories of accidents or incidents that make the public fearful.
DG: What is the most interesting thing you’ve photographed with a drone?
DH: A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to do some flying at the Quabbin Reservoir, about an hour west of Boston. In 1938, due to the water supply demands of Boston, a decision was made to form the reservoir. Four towns, which are under the lake were “disincorporated”, all the residents forced to move, and the towns were flooded and since have been underwater since.
DG: You fly a DJI Phantom. How did you choose that copter? Why do you like it, and/or is there something you would change about it?
DH: By far and away, most features and technology for the money. In terms of improving, make the firmware for Mac users! I would imagine a large percentage of DJI’s customers are Mac users. It’s annoying to have to use a parallel to update the firmware. As far as the Phantom itself, payload and battery life are the valuable commodities. Both are completely usable as is, but hey, if it’s a wish list….
DG: What are your thoughts on integrating UAVs into the national airspace system?
DH: It’s not often technology puts government in a position where there is truly a policy vacuum. Without getting too deeply into the merits of the FAA’s Roadmap, I’ll make a few points.
- The FAA currently defines “small UAV’s” as 55 lbs or less and recognizes that 95% of all UAV’s will fit into this category. For this system to not place an unfair burden on operators of smaller UAV’s, like the Phantom, this category MUST be sub-divided to reflect risk, range, type of operation, and capabilities of the UAV.
- The heart and soul of NAS Roadmap NextGen is ADS-B deployment (at least for operator side), which is “Automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) is a cooperative surveillance technology for tracking aircraft“. It’s entirely unrealistic to require operators of small UAV’s, going so far as to further define that as less than 10 lbs, to have expensive ADS-B transponders. Such systems are prohibitively expensive and also costly to maintain. Additionally, there would be a reduction in payload, plus the additional battery power that would be required.
- There needs to be a separate category for operators who don’t exceed 500ft and don’t operate outside of line-of-sight and furthermore, over-the-horizon. Realizing this would affect some FPV operators, maybe specify a range if outside of LOS.
- While I’m not opposed to the idea of the test sites, the wrong thing is being tested. As with anything in life, a device is only as safe as the person operating it. There should be a practical demonstration test for operators, baseline operating specifications, and practical test standards, similar to with airmen certification process. The practice of flying ANYTHING over people’s heads is a serious business. While I don’t want to see operators have an unobtainable or cost prohibitive barrier to entry, I think there must be some serious-minded commitment to safety. Flying a drone can be incredibly enjoyable. I want to see people be able to enjoy flying drones on both a private and commercial level, I just want to see both done responsibly. Translating that into a policies will be a challenge.
DG: What’s in your future?
DH: I plan to continue to operate the Phantom’s, and eventually, larger platforms for both personal and transitioning to commercial basis as regulations become further defined. This is a very exciting time to be involved with drones and UAV’s. . From a commercial basis, UAV’s have shown tremendous demand from the residential and commercial real estate markets, from golf courses and resorts, sporting events and special events, agriculture, and I’m sure other things we haven’t even thought of yet.
From kites to drones: a 365 photo-a-day, aerial photo challenge
CNN producer, first national network drone journalist speaks on legality of drone use
Scientist uses drones to count whales