Category Archives: Q&A

Drone Girl profiles: Eileen Shipley, the woman who is mapping the Wild West with a drone

The next in our series of Drone Girl profiles is with Eileen Shibley, the founder of Monarch Inc.

Monarch just launched a project to aerially survey and 3D map the 19th-century mining town of Bodie, California, and original California Gold Rush town that was the vibrant gem of the Wild West and now is kept in a state of ‘arrested decay.’ Monarch used high precision UAVs to help preserve data about the historic town, using the company’s custom-built drone and 3D-printed gimbal.

Courtesy Monarch Inc.

Drone Girl: How did you get into drones?

Eileen Shibley: 5 or 7 years before I retired from defense, I was selected to run the unmanned systems division at the navy’s premiere manufacturing site for drone integration in defense. We worked with every size drone – from teeny ones to the Predator. That’s when I became aware that I had devoted my career to defense, but when I retired I truly wanted to make a difference. I thought, I know what these things are capable of.  I know these things can make a huge difference win the way we do things.

DG: And then?

ES: I led the California delegation to try to get California named as (one of the six drone) test sites. I was barely retired and I was asked to lead this delegation. I thought I should give something back since I’ve gotten so much from this community. When we weren’t selected, I figured, what am I going to do now?

DG: So now you’re mapping the old western town of Bodie.

ES: Bodie Stegosaurus Park — it was one of those thriving places in the 1880s. It became a huge thriving metropolis in no time at all. But now it’s old, it’s decaying. The state has made it a state park and they’re trying to preserve it. They put a request in to the FAA that Monarch be allowed to take our drone to Bodie and map it for them.

Courtesy Monarch Inc.
Courtesy Monarch Inc.

DG: So how did they find you? Continue reading Drone Girl profiles: Eileen Shipley, the woman who is mapping the Wild West with a drone

Drone Girl Profiles: Meet Natalie Welch, the female star of “Rotor DR1”

Here’s a “Drone Girl” with a different type of story. She stars in “Rotor DR1,” a film that portrays drones in a way that could really change the perspective on drones as a regular part of society. While she doesn’t fly drones herself, her acting has brought new life and new perspective to the industry.

Courtesy of Natalie Welch, Rotor DR1
Courtesy of Natalie Welch, Rotor DR1

17-year-old Natalie Welch is the leading female actress in “Rotor DR1,” the post-apocalyptic film following the lives of two teenagers who struggle to survive in a world mostly wiped out after a viral outbreak, but who survive, in part, because of a drone that leads them to an answer that could save the world.

Welch plays the role of Maya, a charismatic teenager who lost her parents to the virus. She plays a role of an aggressive, independent and even selfish young woman, while also serving as a strong, steady character throughout the film.

How did you get involved in the production of “Rotor DR1”?

Natalie: The process was a little different than most audition processes. My agent sent me a notification about the audition. As the team got more into it, they were debating on a few different directions to go with my character. They wanted to let the audience build the character I ended up playing, so they narrowed the search down to two girls.

Courtesy of Natalie Welch
Courtesy of Natalie Welch

Yeah, I had heard the big focus on this film was making it “community-collaborated.” Thousands of online community members developed the online series and weighed in on everything from wardrobe to storyline. (Read more on that here.)

Natalie: We both went down and filmed the same scene with Christian (the character’s lead, who plays Kitch). They had the community decide which one of us would play this character. My audition tape was broadcast to the world. It’s definitely different.

Before you got involved with “Rotor DR1,” what was your impression of drones? Continue reading Drone Girl Profiles: Meet Natalie Welch, the female star of “Rotor DR1”

Ask Drone Girl: How do I fly my drone over an event?

Photo screen grab from The Drone Dudes

Here’s the next installment of Ask Drone Girl. Got a question for her? Send your email here.


Hi Drone Girl,

My name is Laura and my son and his cousin started a droning business in Michigan about a year ago. Recently they were asked to drone a festival in our town, Lake Orion, and they readily accepted needing the exposure. I have a question…have you ever filmed a festival or in an area with large crowds. How do you launch your drone? Do you cordon off an area or have a launch pad? We’re worried about the thousands of people milling around the area and the danger of the blades of the drone.

Thank you,

P.S. the boys company is insured.


Hey Laura,

This is a great question, and I’m glad you have safety first in mind! Flying over people is tricky. Take the exposure, and give exposure to safe drone flying practices while you’re at it.

I have filmed in large crowds, and it’s tricky! People love to come up to you and talk to you about what you’re doing, and while it’s easy to want to be friendly and have a chat, you also need to focus. I photographed a crowd with a drone flying over Crissy Broadcast in The Presidio for The San Francisco Chronicle. Luckily at this event there weren’t too many people, so I was able to stand away from people in a grassy area to launch, without having to cordon off an area. Most drone injuries happen during takeoff and landing, so Continue reading Ask Drone Girl: How do I fly my drone over an event?

Ask Drone Girl: Can I take UAV classes?

Here’s the next installment of Ask Drone Girl. Got a question for her? Send your email here.


Hi there, I’m another lady from California. I recently found your website since I was searching for some drone tips and tricks for photography. I recently got a phantom vision 2 plus as a present. For a year already, I was interested in the whole drone world but haven’t really done anything. Now that I actually have the phantom, I was wondering what kind of general advice you would give to newbies that want to get more into the field? Or advice that you would have given yourself if you could go back in time. I thought it would be cool doing it as a job somehow. I tried searching for UAV classes or whatnot but since I live in California, I didn’t find anything that will get me a certificate for commercial use.



Hey Sabina!

Welcome to the drone industry, and thanks for the questions! We are lucky to have another lady pilot in California.

As far as general advice for newbies in drones: practice! They aren’t hard to fly once you get the hang of it…but you must get the hang of it.

I’ve seen newbies fly their $1000+ drones into pools. I crashed my first drone (a 1 pound, palm-sized drone) onto a roof; luckily my friend climbed up the wall and rescued it for me. I’ve heard stories of drones stuck in 50 foot tall trees. Long story short: the horror stories are real. But you can avoid them! Start by practicing in a big open field! If your neighborhood has a baseball diamond or large field, go there!

Make sure you feel comfortable flying all directions, turning all angles, flying nose in, nose away, etc. Once you feel confident — bring obstacles into the mix. Try to turn around a tree or between a bridge (with no bystanders present!).

There are some classes out there, so you’ll have to Google to see if your area has one. Though, they often are a full-time commitment and cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.

If you want to go the more casual route, check out an online drone program, such as through Udemy. It’s a lot cheaper than an in-person class and is suited for someone who is new to drones.

Honestly, I never took any flying lessons, I just practiced and learned from others I met through meetups. Check out to see if there is a drone meet up in your area! I started seriously flying in Southern California. Some of the nicest guys I’ve ever met in drones were through the LA/OC Drone User Group!

As far as getting a certificate for commercial use, that really doesn’t exist yet. You can apply for a Section 333 Exemption, but that’s technically an exemption from the FAA, as opposed to certification.

There are tons of drone companies hiring in all fields — filmmaking, agriculture, software, hardware, search and rescue.

Start flying and see where that takes you! Maybe by the time you feel confident to fly commercially, the FAA will have some type of certification program in place!

We need gender equality in the drone industry

Here’s an excerpt of a Q&A interview I did with The Best Drone Info. Read the entire interview on their site here!

Sally’s website starts her bio with this:  “If you spot a drone in the sky and the pilot on the ground stands tall at 4’10”, is wearing a sundress and has a cup of coffee nearby, then you’ve probably found Drone Girl.”, so we begin here with our interview questions.

Q. Are you really 4’10” or is that only if you are standing on your tip-toes? 

That’s not entirely true; if you include the drone, I can be as tall as 1,000 feet!

Q. At InterDrone you will be speaking about Women and Drones (aka gender equality)  which is a very important. In your opinion, are enough women getting involved in this industry?

I’m not sure if “are enough women getting involved” is the right question. I don’t think it has to be a quota. It doesn’t matter to me if 1,000,000 women in the world are involved with drones or if just 1 woman is. If it only happens that 1 woman in the world cares about drones, then that’s enough for me.

What really matters is are 100% of those women getting treated with respect. For the most part, the industry has been really open and accepting of women. However, there is a small percentage that is not. Look at marketing campaigns, “booth babes”, the executive leadership at drone companies (which for the majority of drone companies is 80-100% male), and even just the word unmanned (which is male-centric in itself). Those factors all contribute to pushing women out of the drone industry, when maybe they would have otherwise been a part of it.

I’ve seen drone companies market sales on their sites with language like “this drone is now 20% off, which will surely make your wife happy.” While on the surface I don’t really find this offensive, it implies that men buy and fly drones, and women don’t. That’s not true! But until the rest of the industry stops perceiving women as some sort of anomaly, then there’s still work to do.

The only quota I’m working to reach is gaining respect for 100% of the women in this industry.

Q. Sally, how do we create gender equality and advance the field for women?

Read that answer, plus much more of the Q&A here!

THAT DRONE IS SPYING ON ME: Drones and Society

I had the pleasure of speaking with Nicolas Goller, a computer science student at the University of Utah, about drones for the school’s site, Drones and Society. Below is an excerpt of that interview. Read the whole thing here.

Nicolas Goller: Hello, please introduce yourself!

Sally French: I work professionally full-time for a newspaper. Actually before I got that job, I had my own drone blog. I had this interest of being a photojournalist and using drones to take photos. So I sort of started thinking that since the regulations are really unclear, I could establish myself as a thought leader in drones and journalism. This is why I started the blog The Drone Girl.

Goller: So you started it primarily because of the ambiguity with the current regulations?

French: Yeah, a lot is still unknown. So much is ambiguous, so I figured that by having this drone blog, I could explore these things and show on one hand how drones can be used for good. Often, people think of drones as something that is strictly used for war. I think a lot of people ignore the consumer side of drones. They fail to distinguish that on one side of the world drones are killing people and on the other side drones are helping find lost hikers! It should not have a negative connotation one hundred percent of the time. I wanted to explore the privacy and safety issues as well.

Goller: What of surveillance and privacy?

French: Just as large telephoto lenses challenged the privacy and surveillance regulations when they were becoming more widespread, so do drones challenge the current regulations. I think it needs to be approached the same way that people have always approached handling the same photojournalism laws. Yes you can stand on a sidewalk, but there is that ethical concern. People have the implied right to privacy. I really think that people need to take a step back and view a drone as another tool and address the laws the same way they would with any other tool – this one just happens to be in the air.

Goller: So drones are basically just heightening the current issues by approaching from a different angle?

French: Yeah, exactly. People were so scared when telephoto lenses came out. Now your mom probably has one and she probably bought it at Target. A lot of people get really scared that drones might be spying on them. Going back to what this blog is for, the drones that people have are the size of a small child. You can’t miss them!

Goller: What do you think of the FAA and the current situation with regulation in the national airspace?

French: With the Parker case, the FAA said they would fine him $10,000. So he fought them in the court and won, but just recently the ruling was overturned. So it’s very unclear. He doesn’t have to pay. Then he does have to pay. What of my blog? Is it commercial? I do think there has to be some amount of regulation. There has to be a happy medium between the people who want to ban drones completely and those on the other end who don’t want any regulations.

Goller: Do the benefits of domestic drones outweigh their potential problems?

French: Yeah, but at the same time I don’t want to say we should be carefree. There definitely are problems. I think a drone crashed into a geyser in Yellowstone. There are lots of details still to be worked out. But there are many benefits to using drones. I spoke to this one man who is trying to track whale DNA. This is a big challenge; you can’t simply walk up to a whale and pull off some hair. The way they do this is by gathering snot. They use drones to fly over the blowhole and collect snot! The possibilities are endless. Continue reading THAT DRONE IS SPYING ON ME: Drones and Society

What is the deal with the drone cage?

You’ve seen them before. It’s a bird, it’s a plane…nope, it’s a zoo. What are these cages that people are flying drones in?

photo 1We asked drone fan Andrew Amato of Drone Life for his best guess during a press event for DJI’s Inspire 1 (there was in fact a drone cage present).

“I guess it’s safety first,” he said. “Sense and avoid is the next thing they have to work on, so until we have, we’ll have these.”

We also asked DJI spokesman Michael Perry for the official answer.

“There’s this psychological concern when we’re out of the tents,” Perry said. “When we’re flying at events, either people would be standing back, or we can put a cage and people will get closer to them. It’s a better experience and saves space. We’ve made something that is easily transportable and easy to set up.”

Is it to keep the drones in or the people out?

“Probably both,” Amato said. “Did you see the drink menu (at the DJI Inspire 1 event)?”

The drink menu includes items named after drones, including the Phantom. They’re all sparkly, fruity cocktails – who knew a Phantom would taste like tequila with some watermelon and lime juice?

photo 2 copy

“Too many Phantoms,” Amato said, “and you don’t want to be crashing the actual Phantom.”

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Ask Drone Girl: What flight simulator software should I use?

Got a question for Drone Girl? Email it to me!

Question: I was wondering if you can recommend or point me in the right direction of a flight simulator software and joystick that I may use on my computer as a stepping stone into the drone world.

Answer: That’s a great question, and to be honest – I’ve never used a flight simulator software! In my eyes, drones are an awesome tool because they have a multitude of entry points based on your pre-existing skill level. If you don’t have any drone experience, you can pick up a toy drone to practice on. If you have RC experience, pick up a Phantom. The graduate to a more expensive, bigger drone that suits your needs.

However, I won’t leave you hanging. Thus, I reached out to Arland Whitfield, President and Founder of The SkyWorks Project. (Check it out!)

Here’s what he told me:

You can actually use the real remote to control a flight sim on your computer. I highly recommend getting AeroSim and purchasing a Spektrum DX8. That way you can use the actual remote you are going to use to fly the real drone. The AeroSim software comes with a cord that will allow you to plug your DX8 directly into your computer! It really doesn’t get better than that. The software allows you to fly the DJI Flamewheel as well as bigger drones such as the Cinestar.

So there you go – and thanks for the additional advice, Arland! Happy flying!