Pilot Spotlight: Interview with Andrea Chetty
Company: Rocketmine Aerial Data Solutions
Location: Johannesburg, South Africa
Tell us about yourself.
I am a Project Engineer and professional drone pilot operating predominantly in the South African mining industry with extensive aviation experience. I have achieved my private pilot license (PPL), drone license, drone instructors rating, and have become a designated RPAS examiner (DRE). I am also greatly passionate about photography, aviation, and technology. I am quite the tech geek at heart.
What inspired you to begin flying drones, and what made you want to enter the industry as a drone pilot?
My initial goal was to become a commercial pilot but unfortunately, there is an excessive amount of red tape that one has to go through to get to that point. It is also an extremely expensive endeavor to pursue.
Therefore, due to my love for technology and passion for aviation, I began to do some research on the drone industry and explored becoming a drone pilot. I found this to be a good fit for me, offering a great opportunity for the future. And, hence, I decided to pursue my drone rating. Shortly after that, I joined Rocketmine which is a professional drone data service provider for enterprises.
Drone photo by Andrea Chetty
What were you doing before you started flying drones, and what made you make the transition? I worked as an account manager for a large FMCG corporate for six years and did quite well. However, this didn’t spark my interest and at the end of the day, this wasn’t what I wanted to do for the entirety of my working career, especially since my true passion is aviation and technology. This is what caused me to make the transition to drone piloting.
In hindsight, I am so grateful that I chose to make the change because, with the COVID-19 pandemic, countless jobs were lost whereas I was part of the lucky few that was able to work throughout the hard lockdown in South Africa. My work truly didn’t skip a beat. Following my passion really has paid dividends.
What drone(s) are you currently flying, and what drone accessories do you love? I currently fly two drones on-site. These include my personal favorite, the Sensefly Ebee X, which is best suited for survey and mapping, covering large distances in a short space of time. I also fly the DJI Matrice 210 RTK equipped with an X7S camera which works great for inspections, 3D modeling, highwall monitoring, and pre- and post-blast monitoring.
In terms of accessories, I would firstly like to point out that extra batteries are life! Otherwise, a close second (maybe even tied first) would be a decent ND filter. Due to images being distorted by sunrays, the ND filter can be used to enhance picture quality, especially in my industry where our clients expect only the best drone images. It is almost like a pair of polarised sunglasses for your drone 😉
Drone photo by Andrea Chetty
What is your favorite feature on your drone and why?
In a professional environment, I would definitely have to say that my favorite feature is that flight plans for Ebee X can be adjusted in-flight. This allows me to manipulate the drone in-flight whereby the drone will simply put in a hold, do a 360-circle while I adjust an area in-flight, and then the drone will continue as normal once you are finished like nothing ever happened. This really is such an amazing feature because now I don’t have to land the drone to make adjustments and change the flight plan which is a massive time saver.
What drone images are you most proud of and why? I entered a Pix4D photo competition in 2019 whereby the Pix4D community voted for their favorite image as taken by drones. There were 97 submissions captured from all around the world. The image I submitted won me a spot in the top five but what I am most proud of is the fact that my submission was the only African image that was selected to be a part of the top five drone photos in the final voting stages.
Have you learned any valuable lessons from being in the drone industry that you can share with our female drone community? The biggest lesson I have learned is that if you are passionate about something then go for it! Don’t be afraid to try new things even if you fail. Just fail fast, get back up and start moving forward onto the next thing. You may not get it right the first time, but practice makes perfect and with the more experience you gain, the more successful your drone flying will be. Be brave enough to push your comfort zone, get your hands dirty, and be the trendsetter. I promise you won’t regret it. Also, never underestimate yourself because you’re a girl. Girls can be hardcore, badass aviators too 😉
Whether it's from a creative, commercial, or humanitarian perspective, tell us about the most memorable drone flight you have piloted thus far. I would definitely have to say that my first drone project was by far my most memorable flight. I had to do a thermal drone inspection to monitor one of our clients’ tailings dams to ensure there were no leaks, seepages or cracks as failures such as these can be super detrimental to mine safety and productivity. It was a very memorable flight for me because of how the team came together to deliver excellent imagery to the client. At the end of the day, the client was so happy with our work, and getting such positive validation on my first flight was an experience I cannot describe in words. I have never seen a client so excited to receive their data.
Drone photo by Andrea Chetty
What would you say to women and girls about the drone industry to spark their interest in getting involved?
The industry really is so broad, and the applications and possibilities of drones are almost endless. Drone technology is here to stay and it is definitely the way of the future. So, take comfort in knowing that if you decide to pursue drones there really is so much potential and I don’t think we’ve even hit the cusp of what can be done with this amazing technology.
What excites you most about more women joining the drone industry? In South Africa, drone piloting is uncharted territory, especially for women. Because of that, I feel it is imperative that we girls assist each other to be the best drone pilots the African continent has ever seen. I think it is important that those women who are already immersed in the drone market ensure that they contribute towards making it a safe environment to enter and get more involved in for other ladies. If we can set a precedent of support this will only benefit the drone industry going forward. There really is no point in being stingy with your information and experience.
Do you have any drone tips & tricks you can share with our audience?
One of the best things you can do to produce great quality images is to know your camera inside and out. Fully embrace all the features on your camera and secondly, don’t be afraid to play around with the manual settings because that is where you’ll capture your best images.
What's the best way for our readers to get in touch with you? Please feel free to check in with me on Instagram. My handle is @andrea_chetty and I’ll be posting tons of drone images.
Is there anything else you would like our readers to know about you?
I just really want to say, don’t ever let the boys make you feel like they can do something better than you. If you put your head down and work hard you truly can gain tremendous respect from your peers in the drone space where guys will even come to you for drone-related advice because you are just as capable to learn the same skills. And this is coming from a girl operating drones in mining.
Andrea Chetty is an avid aviator currently working as a Project Engineer at Rocketmine South Africa. She specializes in aerial data capture for the mining, agriculture, and construction industries.
Andrea is a certified drone pilot who focuses on drone photography for surveying and mapping, blast monitoring, inspection, 3D modeling, and reality capture.
She is also deeply passionate about photography, technology, and everything geeky.