Greg MacMaster’s Air Force experience continues to serve him well. While stationed in Germany, one of his duties was to forecast the weather using surveillance drones. He put many of those forecasting skills to use during his years as a TV meteorologist — and now he’s back with the drones.
MacMaster and his wife, Kim, operate Eagle Eye Drone Service, an FAA-verified business that gets video and still photos of…well…the sky’s the limit.
“Anything you can think of in an aerial way, we can shoot,” Kim MacMaster said.
But most of the 300-plus jobs so far have been real estate shoots, they said, including making videos and photos of estates, homes, condo developments and vacant land.
Greg MacMaster was a state representative from 2010-14 and one of his projects was pushing for legislation for the safe use of drones. He wanted the FAA to license drone pilots and be able to track them. The FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012 addressed many of those concerns.
One part of the act, Section 333, bans the use of commercial drones unless the drone pilot – who has to have a pilot’s license – obtains an exemption. In fact, as of Jan. 1, a real estate agent with a listing featuring drone-shot footage or photos by a non-FAA-exempt pilot could face a fine through the local association of realtors, MacMaster said.
And, as of December 2015, even amateur drone pilots are required to register with the FAA, plus follow a list of rules, from altitude restrictions to airport proximity.
After an unsuccessful run for state Senate in 2014, MacMaster started thinking about the possibilities of a drone business of his own and filed the paperwork for a Section 333 exemption in May 2015 so he could shoot drone footage commercially.
So with a business plan, a pilot’s license, an exemption and military drone experience, the rest should have been a breeze, right? Nope.
“The learning curve is steep,” MacMaster laughed. He uses quad copters in his business, so he had to learn about helicopters instead of the fixed-wing drones and planes he had experience with.
And then there’s the left-right thing.
“You fly a quad copter toward you and right is left and left is right,” he said. “It takes a lot of practice.”
He practiced on trainer drones – “something you’d buy your kid” – that cost $30 to $80 each. The three quad copters he uses in his business aren’t made anymore but the replacement cost would be around $2,000, he said.
Kim, who works on the marketing, business and creative end of Eagle Eye Drone, is learning to fly the trainer drones now. “There are different responses,” she said. “It’s just like driving a car. They all have brakes and gas, but not each car handles the same.”
Chuck Gollay, a Realtor at Exit Realty Paramount, began using the MacMasters’ service before the FAA requirement kicked in. He thinks they make a big difference in presenting certain properties.
“You can get the whole big picture,” he said. He used drone-shot video footage to highlight an Antrim County property that was near a private airfield, and the property sold within two months.
“It’s not suited for every property,” he said, but added drone video is particularly useful for waterfront property and large lots, like the 24-acre horse farm Eagle Eye Drone Service shot. The quality is also great, Gollay said, because the MacMasters use high-end drones, good cameras, high-tech editing software and add music to the footage.
Eagle Eye charges a $250 flat fee for the video and photo imagery, Gollay said.
The video production software allows the MacMasters to remove things like a broken-down car or an empty lot, as long as it doesn’t change the listing. They can also create simulations, like the one they did for a private client that showed what Front Street would look like with nine-story buildings.
One of the oddest requests was from a homeowner who wanted to know how high he’d have to build to get a view of the bay. By using the drone, MacMaster was able to figure out the height of the tallest tree and that the homeowner would have to be up 132 feet to see the water.
They’ve also shot the interior and exterior of a 160,000 square-foot manufacturing building, a fat tire bike race, lots of tourism pictures and videos and plenty of weddings.
“We have a big focus on public safety” when flying the drones, Kim MacMaster said. “We know drones can get a little squirrely, especially over water.”
Another part of the business is drone recovery. Both MacMasters are divers and can recover equipment up to 225 feet deep.
The MacMasters are now providing online instruction to everyone who wants to get FAA certified to fly drones legally through Certified Training Institutes, located in Williamsburg.