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Nov 30, 2020 | InterDrone Interview

Douglas Spotted Eagle, SMG | InterDrone Speaker Spotlight

Each week at we sit down with a member of our speaker faculty to talk about drones and preview their upcoming session at InterDrone Online. This week, we sat down with Douglas Spotted Eagle, the Director of Education/Training Programming at Sundance Media Group (SMG).

SMG serves as a consultant within the sUAS industry, offering training and speaking engagements on sUAS topics ranging from: sUAS cinematography, commercial and infrastructural sUAS applications, Public Safety applications, sUAS risk management, night sUAS flight, aerial security systems, and 107 training to ensure pilots clearly understand the FAA laws.

Read our conversation below!

For those who may not already be familiar with your work, can you give us a brief overview of what you do within drones and UAS, and how you got started in the drone industry?

Our/my work in UAS began in early 2008 but didn’t blossom until 2010 when the idea for a “Drones in Broadcast Journalism” course came up for the National Association of Broadcasting, set for 2011. Although I had shot several images of events for news, it was more an individual effort, vs training others to safely operate UAS in the NAS. It’s important to remember that 2011 was pre-333 days, and nearly a decade prior to LAANC and the current regulations.

Tell us a bit about the courses you will be leading at InterDrone Online!

The Night CSI courses are amongst my favorite courses to present;  we developed the methodology for public safety several years ago, and continue to grow the workflow. Understanding data capture at night is a challenge for any vertical, while in Public Safety/Forensics, accuracy and clarity are critical. This goes hand in hand with the Night Flight course; we’ve trained literally thousands of pilots to fly in the dark, both from a theoretical and practical standpoint. The Night Flight course reveals several challenges that are generally not considered outside of a training environment and provides not only awareness but risk mitigation methodologies and concepts that are critical to safe night flight operations.

Using UAS for research is a high-value concept, particularly in the changing environments due to climate change and access to remote areas. We’ll look at an archeological site prior to the dig beginning, and how the site was documented prior to the dig. The UA provided data to assist in the layout of the site and how the site would be approached. We’ll also discuss how these same techniques were applied to a forensic capture of a large crime scene.

Last, but certainly not least, I look forward to sharing ideas on how to set up autonomous flight for a large solar field audit, using standard tools and for best battery management.

What’s the best part of your job and what is most challenging?

The best part of my job is the continuing education required as we enter or upgrade practices in ever-changing environments. UA are so very new that we’re always discovering new workflows, methods, equipment, client requirements, and processing tools. What I love most is also the greatest challenge; keeping up and on top of the changes and opportunities in the industry.

How have you seen COVID-19 shape the industry?

I haven’t noticed a great shift in the industry due to Covid19, given that flight by nature, is a socially-distanced activity. For example, if the V/O is within six feet of the pilot, you’re doing it wrong.  If nothing else, Covid 19 has increased requests for data capture at land development and construction sites, due to the group size and work restrictions. It’s true that there are Covid tests being delivered by drone, but in our area, it’s more a gimmick than a high-value reality.

What advice do you have for anyone starting out in the drone industry?

Find your niche. Take what you already know and find a means of integrating unmanned aircraft vs buying a drone and thinking it’s a vehicle to revenue simply because “you own a drone.” Understanding the needs and outputs for various verticals is critical. Without it, you’re just another person who bought a drone at the local electronics store.  Learn the regulations and how to work inside the FAA structure (assuming a US residency), so that flight is safe, risk-managed, and compliant.

Attend as many drone events as possible to not only learn various viewpoints but to network and meet the people in the global drone “neighborhood.”  Every person working in the industry has at least something to share, be it large or small, and it’s in these information-share opportunities that we all grow and improve on flight skill, risk adversity, awareness, regulatory knowledge, and general learning opportunities. Take advantage of any training opportunity that comes forward. Invest in yourself as a pilot, and the payoff will be great.