Pilot Spotlight: Interview with Melissa 'Missie' Ellis
Company: Vantage Point Drone
Location: Ashburn, VA, US
Tell us about yourself.
My name is Missie Ellis and live in Northern Virginia. I’m married (35 years) and have two grown sons who are married as well, with one little grandson. I started flying UAS in 2014 and spent two years learning as a hobbyist. I moved into being a commercial UAS pilot after taking and passing the Part 107 on the first hour of the first day the exam was offered, becoming one of the first women to pass the exam. I am one of two Drone Pros with the FAA Safety Team (FAAST) here in Northern Virginia.
What inspired you to begin flying drones, and what made you want to enter the industry as a drone pilot?
I was watching the start of a road race when I spotted a white UAS hovering over the runners. I was fascinated by it and watched it during the race. On the way home I googled “white quadcopter” and had one ordered by the time we got home. Only to be very disappointed when it arrived and to discover it didn’t have a camera on it. I got on YouTube and figured out what I needed to order and how to connect a mini iOS, gimbal, GoPro, and FPV. I felt very accomplished to get it up and running.
What were you doing before you started flying drones, and what made you make the transition? We had just moved to Virginia and I was recovering from a back injury that made even walking difficult. Tinkering with the UAS and combing the internet for anything UAS related information kept me from focusing on my back pain. I have always dabbled in photography, so I was enthralled to see the landscape from a different vantage point (thus the name of my company).
What drone(s) are you currently flying, and what drone accessories do you love? My go-to fleet of UAS includes an Inspire 2, Phantom 4 Pro x2, and Mavic 2. For accessories, I love the Inspire 2 battery station for the TB50 intelligent batteries. Oh-so-fast in charging, but extremely loud at first!
And for my Mavic 2, the DJI Smart Controller is a MUST for my cell tower inspections. The OcuSync 2.0 automictically switches between 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz reducing environmental interference and the 5.5-inch built-in screen display is perfect for my aging eyes. The Go Share function can transfer your photos and videos to a mobile device; as well as, the new SkyTalk to livestream your UAS’s camera view to social media.
What is your favorite feature on your drone and why?
My level of comfort in flying a UAS went up considerably with the compass mode. (The Phantom 2 didn’t have that feature.) There are times when looking up at the UAS and down at the controller you’ll lose sight of it momentarily, especially on cloudy days. I can quickly look at the map and redirect the UAS by pointing the red plane icon along the green flight path back towards the home point until I locate it in the sky. It is especially useful in difficult to discern terrain, i.e. mountains or water.
What drone images are you most proud of and why?
A 100-year-old barn used as a wedding venue ~ I love old structures!
A wreckage off in the Florida Keys ~ makes me wonder about the reason it went down and the people that were on it.
A retirement community at sunset ~ the residents have shown such appreciation for it by sharing it with their loved ones.
Have you learned any valuable lessons from being in the drone industry that you can share with our female drone community? Networking with fellow operators in your local community is key to success. You’ll find some not interested in connecting. Many operators in my area, Delaware-Maryland-Virginia are territorial and don’t like to share anything. All good, just work with the ones that will.
I know other operator’s area of expertise and can pass along jobs that come my way that are more tailored for them than me and vice versa. Offer to be their visual observer! That is how I got my foot in the door to fly in the DC FRZ (DC Flight Restricted Zone). A shout out to Geoff Green with @VSIAerial for letting me tag along with him.
Whether it's from a creative, commercial, or humanitarian perspective, tell us about the most memorable drone flight you have piloted thus far. The one image I am most proud of is the one that required the most coordination with no guarantee of capturing it. A replica of the Air Force One was being floated on a barge down the east coast to the National Harbor near Washington DC. I researched the name of the barge, downloaded the apps FindShip and MarineTraffic to track the progress down the coast and along the Potomac River. I used Google Earth to find a spot along the Potomac River that had the narrowest water section between Maryland and Virginia.
When I thought I had enough time to get to the location I drove to the spot only to discover every open area had a private property sign up. I needed to be down the cliffside by the water to capture the plane. I asked a homeowner if he would mind me walking through his yard to get to the water. He agreed (and wanted to book me for his cliffside wedding the following year). I had to fly halfway across a very wide spot of the Potomac River to get the shot. I was thrilled when I saw the plane and was so excited my hands were trembling. I nailed it and practically flew home to get it out on social media. The video was purchased and is still making me money through Storyful.
What would you say to women and girls about the drone industry to spark their interest in getting involved? The industry is still in its infancy. We are all still learning. Every field of UAS industry is open to you to decide what you like best, i.e., STEM, construction progression, marine biology, real estate, events, mapping, civil infrastructure, movie/film production, emergency agencies, precision agriculture, powerline patrol, predator control, homeland security, agriculture conservation, archaeology/geology exploration, newsgathering and beyond.
What excites you most about more women joining the drone industry? We’re opening doors for opportunities in the industry each day for women coming up after us to break the glass ceiling in a spectacular fashion.
Do you have any drone tips & tricks you can share with our audience? A simple one… When you’re flying and focused on capturing the image that made you launch your UAS, take a moment and turn your UAS in the opposite direction. More times than not, you’ll see something worthy of a pic! That was how I captured the retirement community shot. I was there for a resort, panned the UAS around, and was shocked by the glow of the sunset on the facility.
What's the best way for our readers to get in touch with you? Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you? I’m on the quiet side in regard to social media. You will very rarely see me commenting on a post, but remember I support each and every one of you with likes. Happy flying!
Drone pilot Melissa 'Missie' Ellis has received a management degree from Valdosta State University in 1985. She then spent the next 28 years traveling around the world with her Air Force pilot husband and two boys.
During the same time, she had various part-time jobs including swim coach, substitute teacher, and administrative assistant.
Missie took up photography while living in Hawaii. She started up Vantage Point Drone in 2016 and has doubled her revenue each year since opening.