Location: Murfreesboro, Tennesee
Tell us about yourself. I work full-time for a water utility as their GIS Coordinator and only licensed drone operator. I enjoy working in the GIS field, helping support engineers and field crews with their GIS, imaging, and mapping needs. I also fly for fun, mapping cemeteries and historical sites for data analysis.
What inspired you to begin flying drones, and what made you want to enter the industry as a drone pilot? I started manned flight lessons years ago and flying drones helped me stay within the aviation industry. I couldn’t afford manned flight lessons anymore and learning about drones and flying them kept me interested and connected to aviation. Having manned fight experience also helped me learn all the flight jargon needed to pass the Part 107 exam.
What were you doing before you started flying drones, and what made you make the transition? I have spent the last 20+ years in the GIS and Engineering fields working with aerial imagery. When I started taking flying lessons, I completed 25 hours of training and fell into learning about drones as a hobby. Once the Part 107 regulations went into practice, I switched to flying drones professionally for my local county government GIS office.
What drones are you currently flying, and what drone accessories do you love? I fly a DJI Mavic Pro and Mavic Air for fun and mapping missions for historical projects and cemeteries. For work, I fly a DJI Phantom 4 RTK. The best accessories so far are having a RTK base station that allows data capture at 1-2 cm accuracy. Also, having an assortment of lens filters helps, too. I think my favorite is a N8 filter? I’m not really sure as I’m still learning about photography.
What is your favorite feature on your drone and why?
The DJI Go 4 app and all the cool things you can do with it! My favorite things to do with the app are mostly free flight and recording videos. All the mapping missions I fly are planned and captured using Pix4D’s Capture app.
What drone images are you most proud of and why? I flew a cemetery, and we could see from the imagery possible locations of unmarked graves.
Have you learned any valuable lessons from being in the drone industry that you can share with our female drone community? Practice, practice, practice flying and planning your missions.
Whether it's from a creative, commercial or humanitarian perspective, tell us about your most memorable drone flight you have piloted thus far. Flying and mapping cemeteries. I have mapped several cemeteries and photographing the various headstones and monuments is always cool. I have completed aerial imagery surveys for two cemeteries that date back to the 1840s. One cemetery is still in use while the other cemetery was once threatened by a bridge development project. Both cemeteries are preserved and being cared for at this time.
Cemeteries are peaceful and mapping them helps us understand settlement patterns, family groups, epidemics, and the material culture (i.e. headstones, inscriptions, plants, left offerings, etc) can tell the story of a community. I started flying cemeteries because I wanted to see if we could determine if a bird’s eye view could give us an insight into unmarked graves and their possible locations. I pair the imagery with ground penetrating radar or a LIDAR study to look for depressions not seen with the naked eye. Having a bird’s eye view helps us look at the cemetery in a different perspective.
What excites you most about more women joining the drone industry? The use of drones is expanding in the engineering and mapping fields and it is great seeing woman expand their roles in the field.
Do you have any drone tips & tricks you can share with our audience? Learn to fly the drone by sight and by having to fly it via the remote's little orange line on the screen. You never know when you'll have to fly it back via the remote if it gets out of your line of sight.
What's the best way for our readers to get in touch with you? E-mail is the best way. My email is firstname.lastname@example.org. My Instagram is @bhall1821, and I have posted videos on Skypixel through DJI as my handle is the GISNinja. Most of the images I capture are stills until I stitch them together with Pix4D Mapper or create videos through Skypixel. I haven’t shared much online as I do not want to encourage vandals to visit these sites. Here is a link to a wacky video I created after flying Curlee Cemetery in Bradyville, TN. This is a link to Lytle Cemetery in Murfreesboro, TN.
Bethany Hall is a GIS Analyst and Drone Pilot that enjoys capturing a bird's eye view of the World.