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What I've Learned from Two Months of Flying a Drone

It's been over two years since I launched Salem Realty Media in the Spring of 2022. It's been a fun ride! As an aside, I run another business, TradeshowGuy Exhibits, but that's another story. But I mention it because it's significant to how I approach running Salem Realty Media. I embrace the same philosophy in Salem Realty Media as I have for the last thirteen years with TradeshowGuy Exhibits: If you look good, I look good.

Since starting the business in '22, I knew that aerial photography was critical in the overall picture of my success. Drone photos are big in the business as they show off a property, while ground photography simply cannot. But when I started, I'd never flown a drone, and I didn't know what it took. No matter, my good friend, Tony Marino, has a company, Aerial Northwest, that's been doing drone photography for several years. He's been my go-to drone pilot and has done a great job for me. But from the start, I told him that I would eventually be doing it once I was ready.

I got ready over the winter. I studied what it took to pass the Part 107 FAA UAS (Unmanned Aerial System) exam, did my homework, and, long story short, I passed the exam on May 1, which made me an officially certified UAS Pilot. In early April, I purchased a DJI Mini 4 Pro, and have spent a lot of hours learning how to fly. I've gotten very comfortable, so much so that yesterday morning, I was navigating through the trees in a beautiful shaded backyard, easily grabbing nice shots and staying away from the branches. And it was a piece of cake. A fun job.

With each house shoot, I learned more about what angles are best, how many pictures to take, what is pleasing to the eye, and so on. It's not hard, and in fact, it's great fun. But as I posted on Instagram yesterday, it's also serious. You have to approach it from a careful, detailed, and process-oriented standpoint, going through checklists, checking out the weather, tools, etcetera.

A drone pilot wearing a fluorescent vest, waving at the drone taking his photo
Flying in between the tree branches

One big thing that I think I've almost figured out (fingers crossed!) is the aspect of getting clearance quickly in certain airspaces. Salem is heavily regulated for drone flying, in particular, within five miles of the airport. As a pilot, I've learned what needs to be done to get authorization to fly in certain areas. For example, one shoot I did this week is in an area where a UAS pilot needs ATC (Air Traffic Control) authorization to fly, period. In many areas, instant authorization can be obtained to fly up to fifty feet AGL (Above Ground Level), but to fly higher, a special request must be made (with certain exceptions, drones are limited to flying up to 400 feet AGL anywhere in the country).

The challenge with the request is that once it's been submitted, you're told it can come within 30 days—or as much as 90. If it isn't approved, you may never hear back from them at all. It kind of leaves you in the dark. But I've made a handful of requests, and they've all been approved, most within a few days, but that timeframe is not guaranteed.

The other thing I learned is that there is a huge community of UAS pilots. They're all enthusiastic about the activity and willing to offer feedback and answer questions. This means that it's not hard to get real-world experience from people who've been there and done that, making it all that much easier.

Want some drone shots of your next listing? Reach out. We're happy to help!

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Jun 09
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Congrats Tim on finding the "airspace." I have been flying a DJI Mavic Pro for 5 years with my Part 107. Let's do a Zoom and "UP" (so to speak.) Rich Erschik

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