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Sky-Piks Aerial Imaging

Videography · Crystal River United States

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Article featured in xdrones.com early 2015 Weight Before Takeoff: How Denny Seabright Earned His Drone Wings May 29, 2015 FAA 333 Featured Sky-Piks Note: In an ongoing series of articles about FAA Section 333 exemption recipients, we begin by featuring the original Denny Seabright of Sky Piks (www.sky-pic.com). Like many of his peers, Denny represents is an emerging drone entrepreneur riding the wave amid a lifelong passion for aviation and photography. From 2500-pound Pipers to 3-pound DJI Phantoms, Denny Seabright has flown –- and photographed -– a little bit of everything. He sees the lighter side of the future drones, through a keen understanding of aerial imagery with roots extending deeper than those of your average UAV photographer. Once the advent of commercially available drones, his insights into what he could and couldn’t do with drones extended to dealing with the industry’s governing bodies -– at the highest levels. .“When you fly for 30 plus years you learn how the FAA thinks and operates,” says the pilot-turned-drone photog. The proprietor of Sky-Piks has gained his knowledge of how the authorities operate, the hard way, on occasion. Seabright hasn’t crashed into a White House tree or had the U.S. Park Police take him into custody for flying nearb, as a couple of recent drone operators have. Instead, Denny got his first-hand knowledge about incursions into presidential territory while at the throttle of a full-size Piper 182. “I was taking a co-worker from Winchester, Virginia down to the Chesapeake Bay to meet my son on his boat for some striper fishing,” explained the now Florida-based Seabright. “There is a big, fat, red no-fly zone right smack in the way. We have to vector around it to get from point A to point B. My flight plan on my GPS looks like a dog leg, I have flown the route dozens of times, and on this occasion my GPS went out right before I made the turn around the ring of fire. I was anxious to catch some fish, took a tad bit of chance, and dead reckoned right into our president’s airspace. Not good.” Seabright managed to land without incident at the St. Mary’s County Regional Airport in Maryland, but his son met him with some bad news: the fish might have to wait while he talked to some agents of the Secret Service variety. The plane had veered into restricted airspace en route. “After three calls to the Secret Service, Norad, and the FAA, I got to go fishing. The aftermath was a lengthy investigation and a 90-day suspension of my pilot’s license. It was just another character-building experience for a pilot.” Seabright has honed his aerial photography skills through three decades of flying small aircraft. As he began to work with much smaller airborne devices, he wanted to avoid future character-building experiences with his drones. “I was like most, working under the radar with small gigs to keep from getting busted by the FAA. I figured after seeing six of the big dogs out west get an exemption, then why not me?” The U.S. government has determined it must grant authorization before one can legally fly a drone for commercial purposes. The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) can authorize individuals to do so on a case-by-case basis pending adoption of wider policies. Since the authority resides under Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 (FMRA),(3) the license has become known as a Section 333 exemption. Denny Seabright applied for and received one, helped no doubt by his flight experience. He did the application himself via the FAA website, without third-party help, indicating it was “not that hard.” In addition to offering some legal peace of mind, the exemption has helped him find work almost from the moment he received it. “When the letter of exemption came in the mail, it was followed by a barrage of phone calls and emails. Most were trying to sell me a subscription to how they were going to make my business flourish. Some were legit,” Seabright said, adding that he has continued to receive solid inquiries. “I am getting calls from a good many areas that must have checked up on the FAA website to do all kinds of gigs.” He currently uses his drones primarily for real estate and selling pictures of nature, tasks not unlike those that originally got him into the industry in the first place, near his home. Seabright grew up in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. A love of the outdoors led him to planes, and then to photography. “When I started flying I dreamed of being a bush pilot, then it just compounded and I flew all kinds of planes,” he said. Recording images of what he saw naturally followed, and took him beyond the pilot’s seat. “I wanted the world to see the sights that I have seen. Nature, especially, is so awesome, but a beautiful woman in the right light or a city at night can be just as captivating.” In 1980, soon after earning his pilot’s license, he learned flying could be a nice gig to make money by taking his camera aboard with him. “I was taking pictures from a rented Cessna of estates and farms, framing them, then knocking on the door of the owner to sell them. At $50 bucks each, that wasn’t bad considering I was paying $25 an hour for a Cessna 150.“ Despite his background as a pilot, Seabright had no qualms about downsizing from machines that weigh over a ton to ones that weigh barely three pounds. “The use of drones is safer, cheaper, and more accurate than planes”, he says, adding that he doesn’t foresee much of an image-gathering role for larger aircraft in the future. Seabright has so far invested in three drones. “I have two DJI Phantom 2s with GoPro Hero3+ cameras on them and a new bird, the DJI Phantom 3.“ He has customized his older machines to give them new life. “Floats have been installed for recovery should they take a dive. Been there, done that. I also had to upgrade the engines to help haul the extra weight of custom landing gear and floats. Our birds sit way off the ground compared to stock Phantoms,” he said, noting that he is also “experimenting with a gimbal mount that gets the camera out in front of the prop flash on the Phantom 2.” He will eventually customize the Phantom 3 as well and has his eye on a DJI S1000. He uses stock DJI flight controllers. The stock Phantom 3 comes with a high-quality 4K camera that has proven very useful. “I can’t wait until 4K is the normal for household TV so people can enjoy the footage,” Seabright said. His drone packages currently generate about 40% of his photography business’ revenue. They offer him the flexibility to do jobs a full-size plane cannot, and helps to avoid situations like the time he had to make an emergency landing on a Dover Air Force runway that proved unpopular with uniformed personnel. Armed with his flight experience, his drones, and plans to expand into new areas like inspections and manufacturing plants, Denny Seabright looks forward to continuing to satisfy customers and, with his Section 333 exemption, the FAA as well. Gear Box Rig DJI Phantom 2 and 3 Camera GoPro on the Phantom 2, Phantom 3 is stock with 4K camera Gimbal Phantom 3 / Phantom 2 w H3 / 3D Flight Controller Stock controllers for P2 and P3 Mods Phantom 2, aftermarket landing gear to raise the camera off the ground with floats for recovery made of large pipe insulation, and gives better ground clearance. Phantom 2 also has tiger engines and velcro pads under the floats to recover in choppy seas to the deck of our boat for over water filming Add-Ons Phantom 2 has high visibility orange paint on half shell for great contrast to better see drone during filming outdoors