Pilot Spotlight: Interview with Meghan Kirkwood


Photo Courtesy of Meghan Kirkwood

Company: Washington University

Location: St. Louis, Missouri

Tell us about yourself.

I am a photography professor and a landscape photographer. Most of my work looks at environments that have been shaped or transformed by infrastructure development. As an artist, I'm interested in how landscape images can support public discussion and reflection about land use and land management decisions. Otherwise, when I'm not working I spend most of my time running and training for marathons. I also like to tell people that while I've lived in the Midwest for the past six years, I'm originally from New Hampshire and am a pretty dyed-in-the-wool New Englander.

What inspired you to begin flying drones, and what made you want to enter the industry as a drone pilot?

I started flying drones because I wanted to teach my students to fly drones. I felt like drones would become an increasingly big part of the photography and imaging landscape, and I wanted my students to gain experience working with aerial imaging and capture devices. After I got started and continued to educate myself about the field, I found myself involved in so many interesting projects and am excited to see how I can continue to work in the field.

What were you doing before you started flying drones, and what made you make the transition?

Before I was flying drones I was teaching photography from the ground-level.

Photo courtesy of Meghan Kirkwood

What drones are you currently flying, and what drone accessories do you love?

In my classes, I work with the Mavic Pro 2 and for my own work I either use that model or a Phantom Pro 4 V2.

What is your favorite feature on your drone and why?

I think my favorite feature is obstacle avoidance. It’s pretty helpful when teaching new pilots. I’m also a very big fan of all the manual camera controls I have on my drones.

What drone images are you most proud of and why?

The drone images I’m most proud of are the ones that have come from collaborative projects (photographing bridges, prescribed burns, or landscape surveys) and those that I’ve taken for my own research (e.g. photographing pipeline scars).

Photo Courtesy of Meghan Kirkwood

Have you learned any valuable lessons from being in the drone industry that you can share with our female drone community?

After I started flying drones, I decided that I wanted to try and get my private pilot license. Learning more about aviation - and actually reading through the whole PHAK (Pilot’s Handbook of Aeronautical Knowledge) - has helped me develop more thorough safety protocols and checklists, and made me a much better drone pilot. I know not everyone can take a pilot course, but the more you can study non-remote aviation, the better informed you’ll be as a drone pilot.

Whether it’s from a creative, commercial or humanitarian perspective, tell us about your most memorable drone flight you have piloted thus far.

I think my most memorable drone flight was flying with a group of students in South Africa. None had ever flown before and they were ecstatic with all that they could see from 400 feet above.

What would you say to women and girls about the drone industry to spark their interest in getting involved?

I’d say that the field is rapidly developing and there are a lot of opportunities for motivated pilots. If you’re excited about flying, there are so many exciting things that you can do.

Photo courtesy of Meghan Kirkwood

What excites you most about more women joining the drone industry?

I’m really excited that there are more women joining the drone industry. I remember reading a year ago (I think) that something like only 5.8% of FAA Part 107 license holders are female? I hope that that number expands exponentially in the coming years.

Do you have any drone tips & tricks you can share with our audience?

I don’t know if this is a trick, but I try to get my students to practice flying and using 2-axis movements right after they master boxes. The more practice you get making finite and gentle shifts on the controls the better the footage will be.

What’s the best way for our readers to get in touch with you?

By email (meghan.kirkwood@gmail.com), or instagram DM (@meghan.kirkwood)

Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you?

I love meeting and flying with other pilots! If you’re in St. Louis and want to fly, please give a shout!

Meghan L.E. Kirkwood is an Assistant Professor of Visual Arts at Washington University in St. Louis, where she teaches Photography, including Drone Photography. She earned a B.F.A. from Rhode Island School of Design in Photography in 2006 before completing her M.F.A. in Studio Art at Tulane University in 2009. She has received numerous fellowships, including funding to participate in artist residencies through the National Parks Service, the Vermont Studio Center, and the Lakeside Lab (Iowa). Kirkwood’s photography has been exhibited throughout the United States, in Europe, and South Africa.

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